Folks on Twitter today are disappointed that the bishops of the UMC did not come up with a plan to save the UMC. For faithful people who care deeply about Jesus and the church, this seems a bit weird. We have a savior and the bishops are not Jesus. Why should the bishops be the ones to save the church?
Salvation in the Bible takes time. God did not immediately free the slaves in Egypt. When the people of Israel were being oppressed by their neighbors, God would not instantly give them a judge. People would often have to live in tension.
God would even sometimes create tension. I have been leading a Bible study on 1 Samuel during the season of Easter and beyond. It amazes me that God would anoint two kings. Two different people were competing for the love and loyalty of the people – both anointed by God. Saul, David, and the people of Israel would have to live in tension. It would take many years for the definitive will of God to be made known on what direction God wanted to go.
When we read the Bible, we forget how much time passes between events. How often people had to live in tension with the problems they faced and the hope that God would save them from those problems. How long did the Israelites live in Babylon as captives? God’s will and God’s desires are often only seen clearly overtime.
The United Methodist church is not the first church to have conflict. Paul writes to the Corinthians about their conflicts over spiritual gifts. They had real issues on how to use and express their gifts in worship and the life of the community. The situation was fraught with tension.
Paul did not give them a simple solution. Instead, he offered them a way through the tension. Most Christians know 1 Corinthians 13. It is Paul’s solution for how to navigate the tensions the Corinthians were facing.
What Paul offered the church is the excellent way of being in the world called love. They might not agree with each other, but they could act in love towards each other. Instead of telling them what to do, he offered them a way of being. Would this way solve all their tensions? No, but it would help them stay in community with each other.
As a church, we do not need more solutions or ideas. We need to learn the way of love and how to live with tension. Paul gives the hallmarks of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He encourages them to act in love because we only see dimly now. If we do not know everything, and we cannot see everything clearly, then we must humbly act in love.
The things of this age will pass away according to Paul. Spiritual gifts, victories, and even denominations will come to an end. What ultimately lasts and what ultimately matters are ways of being in Christ – faith, love, and hope. General Conference, the bishops, even twitter, cannot offer a solution to solve the tensions we face. It may take many years for these tensions to be resolved. What we can do, and must do, if we want to be a church and a witness to our faith in Jesus, is act in love.