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  • Eric Marshburn

November 2022

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Ephesians 4:1-7

There’s a little Greek word (pas) that makes almost 1200 appearances in scripture. It translates as the word, “all.” While it’s meaning is always determined by its context, we see it on full display in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. (See above)

Recently, Andrew (Andy) Rollie Wolfe, of Birmingham, Alabama reflected on why he chooses to continue following Jesus in our United Methodist family. The word “all” is woven into his insightful response:

“We are told that there are two sides in the current turmoil: progressives and traditionalists. We are being asked to choose between them, like a child who is being asked to choose between two parents in a divorce. I choose not to choose.

For me this represents a false choice for a church, which from its beginnings has brought together the best from many streams of Christian faith. Finding the connections is in our spiritual DNA.

For Methodists, the choice is not faith OR good works, it is faith AND good works. Likewise, it is personal holiness AND social holiness; works of piety AND works of mercy, knowledge AND vital piety; sacramental AND evangelical expressions of grace. For me, it is both “traditional” AND “progressive.”

Wesley was a “traditionalist.” His feet remained firmly planted in the church into which he was born and died. The instructions he sent to the fledgling Methodist movement in America were drawn with little change from the Anglican Articles of Religion.

But Wesley was also a progressive. He preached in the open air, licensed women as preachers, opposed slavery – all outside the box for the church of his time. I fear a church that is not both deeply rooted in tradition, but also open to new and often more faithful expressions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

I do not want to live in an echo chamber. I appreciate both those voices calling me to faithfulness to the scriptures and tradition AND those voices calling me to a more faithful understanding of the faith. Both have shaped and continue to shape me.

I am grateful to be a part of a church that has brought me comfort when I needed it but, perhaps more importantly, a church that has made me uncomfortable when I needed to be made uncomfortable.

As a child of the 50’s, I was brought kicking and screaming to the table over issues like women in ministry and racial equality. I was tied to the “traditional” ways we used to think about these. It took those other uncomfortable voices in the church to lead me to a more faithful understanding of the Gospel. My reluctance has become gratitude for those other voices through which I have heard God calling me to a greater faithfulness to Christ.

I shall remain a member of the church that is focused on who is included rather than who is excluded. For me, the cornerstone of John Wesley’s theology is the conviction that the love of God was ‘in all and for all’. Against any view of limited grace and atonement, Wesley declared the universal love of God for all. His life’s work was spent among those who the established church had written off. Our passion has been more about building bridges than about building walls.

I love the words of the Charles Wesley hymn: Come sinner to the gospel feast, let every soul be Jesus’ guest, ye need not one be left behind, for God has bidden all humankind.

It has been said that Methodists talk too much about grace. Maybe we are guilty of that charge. But I, for one, am glad that we do. Are we a perfect church? No. Are we in need of reform? Lord, yes. I don’t know a church that isn’t or doesn’t! I choose to stay at home in the church that made a home for me.”

Powerful words to ponder indeed …

Blessings & Shalom!

Pastor Eric

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