Alike in love?

“Alike in Love?”

(This is the second of several articles retired Pastor Mike Shockley is writing to his friends, fellow clergy and members of the congregations he served in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church for over 30 years as an Elder in Full Connection.)

Say a young family from sunny Florida moves to Minnesota. They settle in a neighborhood beside a lake (one of the 14,000 plus in the state). Their next door neighbors are old folks. They have lived in the gorgeous Gopher State all their lives.

Winter comes. The lake freezes over. The new family’s children go out to play on the ice. Cool new experience! The parents go out to watch and enjoy the kids. The neighbors next door also go out, but to shout a warning. They believe the ice is not yet safe. The parents tell them there’s no need for alarm. They believe the ice is safe. The neighbors anxiously beg the parents to get their kids off the ice. (Airhead newbies!)The delighted parents ignore them. (Stuffy old Geezers!) And the kids play on.

At the end of my first article I posed the question of whether the United Methodist Church might arrest it’s trajectory toward schism by leaving doctrinal conflicts behind and return to the priority of “love and goodness”. By that I mean Christ-like love for one another and Christ-like missional service in behalf of all people.

The call to such a return has often been made under the banner of a quote from John Wesley, namely; “Though we cannot think alike, May we not love alike?”

This comes from Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit” in which he says, “But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

This bit of context hopefully makes it clear that when we cannot think alike on matters of opinion or “modes of worship”, we may indeed (and should)“love alike”. Within Christ’s one holy and catholic (universal) church, such thinking may be widely diverse and still leave our love for Christ and each other unhindered.

But there are other matters on which we must think alike. Crucial matters. In his essay, “The Character of a Methodist”, Wesley identifies a few of those crucial beliefs. He wrote:

“We believe indeed, that all scripture is given by inspiration of God…We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule, both of christian faith and practice…We believe Christ to be the eternal supreme God…But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity we think and let think.”

Wesley distinguished between the “opinions which do not strike at the root” and the core belief statements which are “the root” of doctrine. So, in regard to such “opinions” we may think freely. But when it comes to “the root”, we must think alike. We must agree on what root Christianity is.

So, may we the people of the UMC resolve our crisis by “agreeing to disagree” on our doctrinal differences and focus on Christ-like love for one another and Christ-like missional service in behalf of all people?

Of course not. Because in the absence of authoritative and agreed upon doctrine, we have nothing by which we can measure and authenticate our love and service as Christ-like. They may indeed be loving and beneficial. (A cup of cold water to the thirsty is categorically helpful.) But whether or not they are Christlike expressions (“a cup of cold water in My Name”) depend on our knowledge, understanding and experience of Jesus Christ. That’s where doctrinal standards come in; to guide our theological reflection and help us find unity, and truth in our love and missional service for Christ.

It’s not possible to find unity in dropping our quest for truth and picking up the pursuit of loving relationships. We need divine truth to help us know what love is and what loving relationships look like.

In John’s gospel, (chapter 17) Jesus’s “High Priestly” prayer for his disciples casts a clear vision for his church, unified in both love and truth. And Jesus promised us that his Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth.

Let’s go back to the families at odds in Minnesota. The young family from the Sunshine state is excited to enjoy the new experience of their kids frolicking on the ice. Their neighbors, veterans of many winters by the lake, have come out to warn them, wildly alarmed for their safety.

All these adults believe children should be loved and cared for. But they believe differently on a crucial matter. Consequently their respective expressions of love and care are completely dissimilar.

But only one of those expressions will prove accurate – the one that corresponds nearest to the true condition of the ice. It’s either safe or it’s not safe. Not both. On this, there can be no acceptance of pluralism. It’s going to end either in a round of hot cocoa for the kids, or a frantic 911 call about the kids. The truth about the ice will make all the difference.

4 thoughts on “Alike in love?

  1. I while I appreciate your service and your comments, I am not sure of what point you are trying to make. Perhaps serving in the Western Jurisdiction would provide clarity.


  2. Thank you for your words of wisdom. It truly is the basic tenets of the faith that we are grappling with. Holding to the authority of scripture is of ultimate importance or we stand on thin ice. Not only that, but encourage other to walk out on that ice as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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