Awhile back, I read a blog concerning the potential split of the Christian denomination in which I have served. It was written by Chris Ritter, a fellow United Methodist clergy. Ritter states in his blog, The Case for Covenant, “Denominations are mere relics of past moves of God.”
This sentence really caught my eye. It did so for any number of reasons. However, the fact that it was written about an organization of which I’ve been a part for the past thirty-seven years was foremost among them.
I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but from my point of view, the denomination as we have known it is not long for this world. For those who are unaware of our situation, let me just say we are struggling with issues that could easily tear us apart. It has happened to other Christian denominations and could certainly befall us as well.
“I won’t be too alarmed.”
I view this with an attitude that is somewhat removed from the fray. I’ve always been a renegade of sorts, so the whole fracas we’re going through seems somewhat par for the course to me. Many of my colleagues and I have seen this coming for a long time, so it if it all comes crashing down around me, I won’t be too alarmed.
I keep going back to Ritter’s sentence, however. It has the haunting ring of reality to it. I once heard Leonard Sweet say, “The mainline denominations have become old line denominations and are about to become sideline denominations.” Unfortunately, he and Ritter are exactly right.
I say, “Unfortunately,” because there was once something about the mainline denominations that was (at the same time) majestic and yet humble. They are no longer majestic, and they certainly are not humble these days. It does appear, however, they are about to be humbled again.
“Relics can be really cool things.”
The sad part about all this is the second part of Ritter’s sentence—“past moves of God.” Denominations like ours arose out of mighty moves of our Lord—revivals and reformations that shook the ground and caught people’s souls by the throat. They arose by standing (and building) on that ground. Then they became entrenched, and now they are mostly in need of a new shaking.
Relics can be really cool things. The remains of a saint, for example, can be a fascinating piece of history that reminds us of our roots. The sad thing about relics, however, is that they often become the objects of worship rather than a marker that points us to the real aim of our affections—namely Jesus.
If we have really become a mere relic, it’s probably a good thing for us to move on from here. The history books will keep a record of what we used to be, and that can serve as an inspiration to the church of the future. Whether we rise from our own ashes or fall to our disagreements, I pray we’d be a stark warning sign to the faithful who surround us.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]