Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The UMC Then and Now

Today I stumbled across the blog of Deborah Coble Wise, a UMC pastor in Iowa. She found an article written in 1969 about the Church of the future. In it, Rev. Ronald W. Tapp is interviewed about what the future of the institutional Church would be like. The writer reports,

Recently on a three month research assignment for analysis and planning, Dr. Tapp said in an interview that indications are that the organizational structures of churches "are not going to make it" to the end of the century." "The long-range prospects are good for essential Judeo-Christianity, but not for the institutions." he said.

Wow, that really describes what is going on in the UMC today. This article speaks to this particular moment in UMC history, because the Call to Action Report has just been published. This document was written by United Methodists who are trying to cope with the changes our church has been facing, especially its declining membership, and it proposes radical changes- some of which were well-received and some of which were not. Some of what Rev. Trapp predicts especially rings true:
- A re-enactment of the fundamentalist-liberal fight of 60 years ago...It already has resulted in a marked polarization of the church at all levels...the split may become irreparable.

-With Protestants and Roman Catholics "no longer in real dispute" over major doctrines, they will move increasingly toward "merger at practical levels" - between fundamental Protestants and fundamental Catholics and between liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics.

- Most institutional members will be 45 years old, and up.  "There will be a steady decrease in total membership...fewer youths will join the church." On the other hand, there will be "increasing interest in religion and Christianity" among college students and young adults but "they will continue to avoid the institutional church."

-The main theological shift will be away from doctrine of divine transcendence toward a "doctrine of panentheism," which holds that "God is in everything," in contrast from pantheism, which says "God is everything."
Whoa. All of those things actually happened, and they constitute our everyday reality right now. It's hard to believe sometimes that folks back then could never have conceived of these things, but on the other hand, a lot of UMC local churches today still behave as if it's 1969. They are denying the reality around them, or at least, refusing to participate in it.

Could there be a better way to deal with these new spiritual realities in our world than to refuse to participate? I think so. There must be a way to engage them while standing firm in the faith. And that, my friends, is the delicate balance of living a life of faith in our day and age. What do you do to keep your balance in your faith journey?

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