June 27, 2013

Missional United Methodism for the 21st Century – Part 4 of 6: Personal Conversion

It is quite ironic that the UM renewal event was held in a room with an adjacent office that highlights the very problem facing the denomination.

It is quite ironic that the UM renewal event was held in a room with an adjacent office that highlights the very problem facing the denomination.

The following remarks were delivered by UMAction Director John Lomperis on June 15 at the annual lunch of Cal-Pac Renewal, the evangelical renewal caucus within the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Emphasis on conversion: a life-transforming experience of repentance, trusting in Christ alone, and becoming disciples.

Article VII of the EUB Confession of Faith declares that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” which echoes Jesus telling Nicodemus in John 3:3 that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Whether or not we go to church or were born into a Christian family, every single one of us has the personal responsibility of responding to God’s call by repenting of our sin, trusting in Christ alone for our salvation, and beginning a new life of discipleship.

Whether or not you can point to the exact date you were saved, if you are truly a “new creation,” then there had to have been a definitive moment in which God transformed you from being a “child of the devil” to being an adopted “child of God,” to use the stark language of 1 John 3:10.

Meanwhile, all around us, people are dying in their sins, having never known the new life God wanted for them.

What could be a more important priority than God’s work of saving those who are perishing?

But as United Methodist evangelicals, do we really believe what we say we believe about this? How is this reflected in our priorities of time and money, as individuals, families, and congregations?

How do our congregations’ cultures spur Christians on to obey the Great Commission?  After the 2008 General Conference added witnessing as part of the sixth United Methodist membership vow, has your church accordingly updated the vows you have new members make?

How about the rest of the things to which we devote our time and resources?

My own United Methodist pastor has this great little sign on his desk which simply asks, “How will this make disciples?” We need to be asking that regularly of every event, program, and tradition in our churches. And if there is some activity for which we cannot answer this question, then it may be time to have the courage to stop diverting the church’s resources away from the mission of God.

And if we really want God to bring the lost through our church doors, then we need to stop acting like they don’t exist when they do show up.

More and more, those we need to reach are people with little to no church background.  We can no longer expect everyone to be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory. We need to think carefully about how accommodating our Sunday services are for the presence of unchurched visitors. Is it clear where to go? Do visitors have the freedom to not participate in parts of the services without standing out too much?

And while the old socially respectable churchgoing model is fading, that still accounts for a lot of the people in our churches on Sunday, even longtime, active members.

The cruelest, most pastorally unhelpful thing you can do is to lull non-Christian people into spiritual complacency by helping them think that they are already Christians.  This includes prematurely rushing people into church membership.

Perhaps the most chilling passage of Scripture is Matthew 7:21-23, in which Jesus teaches that on the Judgment Day there will not just be a few, but “many” people will actually name Jesus Christ as Lord, will even be very “spiritual” seeming people who did all kinds of impressive religious works, and even did these in the name of Jesus, but to whom Jesus will give a devastating news flash: these professed Christians never actually knew Him in the first place! And then they will hear their eternal sentence: “Away from me, you evildoers!”

So we need to be very careful to stop speaking as if everyone is already a child of God. When in our worship services we keep using language of “we Christians this, we Christians that,” and not saying things like “if you are here today and have not yet surrendered your life to Christ,” we are misleading the two groups of unconverted people – unchurched newcomers and nominally Christian churchy people – into thinking that they have no need of conversion.

The great Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones said that a church must “not only convert people from the outside to membership but also produce conversion within its own membership. When it cannot do both, it is on its way out.”

We must also make room in the life of our churches to celebrate when people do become children of God. It should not be uncommon in our worship services to see adults who have been saved giving their testimonies before everybody and being baptized if they were never previously baptized or else going through our hymnal’s ritual for reaffirmation of faith.

But if God has not yet done this in your church, have you asked Him? We all need to be regularly praying that revival will break out in our churches and our communities.

If you would like to support the work of John Lomperis and UM Action, please donate here.