General Conference 2000 - May 2 - 12

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Episcopal Address

DISCIPLESHIP AT THE TURN OF THE AGES

The Episcopal Address
The General Conference, 2000
Cleveland, Ohio

Greetings!

Following the hallowed tradition of apostolic greeting, we, your Bishops, called to be your servants for the sake of the Gospel, greet you in the name of the Triune God, and bring you his blessing of peace and joy out of the abundance of his grace. From that same grace we pray you will be gifted with wisdom and courage to do the task of this General Conference.

We meet at a momentous time, at the turn of the ages, when one millennium ends and another begins.

We meet in celebration of the 2000th birth anniversary of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Lord!

We meet to make those decisions that will enable the people called United Methodist to respond in faith, hope, and love to the challenges of the new millennium.

We meet to make the United Methodist community – multi-diverse yet connectionally and globally one – to become keenly aware that it is indeed a global community living unavoidably in a globalizing world, which, in faithfulness to John Wesley, it must claim as its global parish.

We meet to reform ourselves, hoping that in God’s mercy, God may use us to reform the world.

We meet to be discipled so that in the power of the Gospel we may make disciples of all nations!

What does all this mean for us as the one General Conference privileged to be the hinge on which the turn of the millennia has swung?

IN MEMORIAM.

Before we proceed we pause to remember and honor our fellow-servants in the United Methodist episcopacy who have gone to be at home with the Lord in the glory of life in his eternal presence. We name them in the remembrance of Jesus Christ crucified, whom God raised from the dead, with his promise that he will also raise them and us by the same resurrection, power and gather us all in a communion of saints in whose midst the Risen Lord dwells.

Ernest T. Dixon, Jr. 1922-1996

Paul Hardin, Jr. 1903-1996

Oliver Eugene Slater 1916-1997

Lloyd Christ Wicke 1901-1997

Eric Algernon Mitchell 1917-1997

William Ragsdale Cannon 1916-1997

Louis Wesley Schowendgerdt 1926-1998

William Talbot Handy, Jr. 1924-1998

Don Wendell Holter 1905-1999

W. Maynard Sparks 1906-1999

Edward Gonzalez Carroll, Sr. 1910-2000

Those whom we have just named were faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And by God’s grace we follow in their train! In "an endless line of splendor"!

I. WE ARE A DISCIPLED COMMUNITY

The General Conference of 1996 affirmed that the mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It did not, however, clarify what this means for us today. What does it mean to be a disciple? What makes discipleship possible? Is it a latent possibility in all of us so that given the right conditions it will inevitably blossom forth like seed coming alive and breaking forth through the sod? What difference does Christ make in the world through discipleship?

As the General Conference of 2000, your Bishops suggest that we think together about the biblical foundations of Christian discipleship and what it might mean for us today. We may not tell you something you don’t already know. Most Christians think of discipleship in terms of devotional and ethical practice. What we hope to do is to place discipleship – including its devotional and ethical dimensions – in its eschatological framework!

  1. The Turn of the Ages
  2. The New Testament tells us that discipleship is made possible by Trinitarian action. God sent his Son to the world in the power of his Spirit. The possibility of discipleship comes as a sheer gift through Jesus Christ, whose coming has made the ages turn.

    The coming of Jesus Christ not only ends "this present evil age," it also inaugurates "the age to come," which is supposed to happen at the end-time.

    The drawing near of God’s reign in Jesus Christ has brought good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor is proclaimed (Lk. 4:18-19, 21; Mt. 11:2-6).

    For Paul, with Jesus Christ has come the new Adam, the new humanity, and the new creation. A new future for all humankind and the whole cosmos has dawned.

    If this opportune moment is seized, it makes all the difference between a world condemned to die and a life that overcomes and leaves death behind, a life born out of death, resurrection life! That opportune time is the acceptable NOW of the day of salvation. This NOW is the cutting-edge in the turn of the ages. It divides sharply the one age from the other. In it, one can boldly say, on the one hand, "No longer," and on the other hand, confidently claim, "From now on" (2Cor.5:16).

    This NOW, however, is not a fleeting moment. It is solidly anchored in an Event that time cannot make past. Its reality and meaning withstand the passing of time. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). The advent of Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, and reigning – is always coming, always irrupting as the NOW of the day of salvation until God himself completes the good work that he has begun in him (Phil.1:6). This NOW is mediated by the Holy Spirit – God’s immediate life-giving presence – and this presence cannot be made absent by the lapse of time.

    But how does one seize this NOW so that its pregnancy may come to birth? The answer seems so simple and yet so revolutionary.

    In the Synoptics, discipleship is trusting Jesus as the bearer of the reign of God and responding unreservedly to his call to follow him, to be with him, to be with others in him, and to be sent out by him to participate in his mission in the world.

    In Paul, seizing this NOW is to believe in the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and to be justified by grace through faith. To be a disciple is to receive the new life that Jesus Christ gives, to share in his suffering, and to participate in his mission. It is to be gifted with and bear the fruits of the Spirit. It is to live a life worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ according to the Spirit, and to hope for "the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

    In John, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to believe in the one true God and Jesus Christ as the one whom he has sent. This knowledge, together with life sanctified in its truth, constitutes eternal life. It is God’s will that the Son should lose nothing of all that has been given him, and so the Son promises that he will raise what has been given him on the last day. But those whom he will raise on the last day he also sends into the world on a mission of witness and service. As the Father has sent the Son, so the Son sends his disciples into the world, although they no longer belong to the world.

    WHEN Christ is "offered" for decision as the ground to stand on in life – that "when" becomes precisely the NOW of salvation!

    To stand in the NOW is not a possibility that is latent in the natural and the human! That NOW is the result of the turn of the ages under the impact of the advent of Jesus Christ, whose coming is an action of the Trinitarian God – no less!

    To stand in this destiny-making NOW and be encompassed by it is precisely what discipleship is!

    Your Bishops dare claim that "the people called Methodist" stand in this NOW. We are a discipled community. We stand in God’s grace – prevenient, justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying. We too have felt our hearts strangely warmed and experienced the renewing power of forgiveness. In repentance and faith we have sought to live a life worthy of our calling. We ask you to join your Bishops to claim boldly but humbly that we still stand in this NOW at the turn of the century, and be ready to carry out the difference our discipleship must make in our world as it turns to a new millennium.

    Let us consider another aspect of discipleship.

  3. The Overlap of the Ages.
  4. The ages have turned under the impact of the advent of the Christ Event. But they have not completely separated. Instead, they overlap. The old has not completely ended. It continues – with all its tempting attractions. And the new has just begun. In Jesus Christ, God has confronted the principalities and powers of sin and death, which dominate the old age; and in Jesus Christ, the decisive victory has been won. The battle continues but we can live now in the assurance of God’s triumph, and in the light of God’s ultimate victory!

    There is the task – hardly begun – of establishing a new life-world with its own distinctive style, norms, and practices that express and embody the new order of things envisioned by the world to come that has already dawned!

    The overlap of the ages is critical because the demonic powers of this present age still distort, corrupt, and destroy, while the saving power of the age to come seeks to overthrow them, redeem and heal their victims, and establish a new order of things that promotes life in freedom, justice, and peace. It is within the overlap of the ages that the life of discipleship has to be lived out.

    We cannot stand in discipleship in the NOW without standing in the overlap of the ages. All of us are caught inescapably in the conflict that rages between the demonic and the redemptive. Consider where we stand today. Slavery and apartheid have been outlawed, but racism and ethnic cleansing are still with us – and we must rid the world of these demons. Colonialism and totalitarianism are no longer politically viable options for us, but we still use power to dominate, violate, and oppress, instead of to liberate, to enable, and to let be! This overlap is the sitz im leben of discipleship.

    We, your Bishops, ask you to join us in standing firmly in this overlap and to be on the side of the redemptive against the demonic.

    The direction in which to move is clear. It is to abandon the ways of the old order and follow the new way of discipleship. This is already foreshadowed by the way Jesus framed discipleship in the Sermon on the Mount in terms of " it was said to those of ancient times... But I say to you" (Mt. 5:21, 27, 31, 38, 43).

    There is here a contradiction which must be resolved in discipleship. Since the ways of the old order are rooted in "ancient times," they have become tradition. They embody a way of thinking and a pattern of acting that function as law. And so they tell what to think and do and what not to think and do. Can one easily abandon them and put an end to the old order?

    Alternatively, the ways of discipleship are not yet fully in place. They may be imaginatively envisioned but they do not have the benefit of tested experience, nor the authority of wisdom crystallized by critical reflection. They entail a new way of thinking that discerns and motivates rather than depends on the precedence of the past. And so they are to be envisioned and risked in action. Must one abandon the certainties of the old in favor of the uncertainties of the new?

    The difficulty is illustrated by the problems faced by the churches that were established by Paul. Soon after the Galatians had been found by the Gospel – which freed them from powers which by nature were no gods – they reverted to works of the law and the worship of "the weak and beggarly elemental spirits." This disappointed Paul deeply and made him fear that his work among them might have been wasted (4:8-11).

    The Christians in Corinth were troubled by issues of faith and practice in their cultural setting. Paul had to think creatively to provide theological and pastoral resources to help them express and embody what it means to live a life worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus. They were to live out their calling in interaction with their current world in ways that would express their freedom from and for it, form their identity in Christ in it, and claim and transform it in Christ.

    In the epochal change we are going through today, are we any more certain than those early Christians were in deciding insightfully what is an appropriate lifestyle in the new creation? Consider where we are today. In a situation of multi-racial and multi-cultural diversity where traditional community ties do not bind anymore, how and what kind of community can be formed? Should our congregations and conferences remain open to struggle for a more inclusive community or should we adopt a polity that organizes congregations and conferences based on race, nationality, and culture? Your Bishops believe that our polity should remain open for more inclusive fellowship – sexually, racially, culturally, and globally. Will you join us in this affirmation?

    In a capitalist economy, were people compete globally for scarce economic goods and the rich and powerful have the upper hand, how can a Gospel with a bias for the poor, the weak, and the outcast and which seeks a more just global social order, operate with some hope for some measure of success, without its disciples being martyred, marginalized, or outlawed? Your Bishops believe that the Christian norm for Christian faith and practice is faithfulness to the Gospel and not worldly success, and we must continue working for a more righteous global social order even if we suffer for it in the struggle! Will you join us in this struggle?

  5. The Already/Not Yet of the Age to Come.

The Kingdom of God is already at hand and at work. The age to come has already broken through. Already the crucified Christ has been raised as the first fruits of those who have died and now reigns as Lord. Already the ungodly are justified by faith, both those under and outside the Law. Already they are in Christ and form his body. Already the Spirit has been poured and shed abroad and the community of faith may already receive the gift and bear the fruits of the Spirit. Already a new future has dawned!

Discipleship is actual, responsive, committed participation in the alreadiness of the advent of the Christ Event. It is the cutting edge of the difference that Christ makes in the world!

There is no hope for a new future in this present evil age in which hoping is an illusion coming out of Pandora’s Box. All around us there’s evidence that this world is passing away into its own destruction. We now know that the universe if finite and that the earth has a limited carrying capacity, although we do not know the precise absolute limit. Might have we gone beyond this limit? Although we now know that the amount of energy may remain constant, some of its forms – like fossil energy – are non-renewable once exhausted by human use! We know that the waste we produce can destroy the ecosystem, and we may have gone so far beyond its repair. Given the propensity to settle disputes by war and the mass destructiveness of modern weapons, this earth might still be burned to the extinction of life! Is not hope caught up in this situation an exercise in futility? Where is hope against hope to be found?

Hope is to be found in discipleship understood as standing fast in the NOW of salvation made possible by the turn of the ages under the impact of the advent of the Christ Event. That NOW has to do with the salvation of the world, with the church only as a foretaste of the Glory that is to come!

Giving the world a sure hope for a new future – that is an act of pure grace, and is offered freely to all. That is a difference which discipleship makes!

The horizons of that hope span the personal, the social, the historical, the cosmic, and the eternal. The new future that is hoped for is nothing less than a New Creation, a New Humanity, a New Heaven, and a New Earth!

What is the content of this vision? John puts it this way: God is love (1Jn. 4:8). God loves the world with his love, i.e., with God’s self, by sending his only Son into the world (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn.4:9-10). God seeks to perfect that loving in all aspects of his creation (1 Jn. 2:5; 4:12) until all of God’s self in the fullness of God’s love and loving fills all things, and so perfects all things in God’s self as love (cf. 1Cor. 15:24-28).

God’s perfection in the world as love, and the perfection of love in the world as God’s love – that is the vision of this new hope!

Does this vision of love still shine through brightly in John Wesley’s doctrine of perfection of love in this world? Or has the doctrine died "the death of a thousand qualifications" so that it has become a darkened glass that no longer affords us — the people called Methodist — a glimpse of the vision of love’s perfection. Your Bishops believe that love is perfected best in deed though its vision is caught in doctrine. We have been taking a lead in an initiative for Children and Poverty. This initiative expresses the messianic hope that a child is a sign of the dawning of the Kingdom of God (Isa. 9:6; 11:1; Mk. 9:35-37: 10:13-16) and so is harbinger of hope for a new future. It also seeks to enlist the natural love for children – especially those mired in poverty – to care for their well-being. This initiative has heightened awareness of the misery of children in poverty, mobilized agencies and networks to improve their plight, and has made our people see that much more can be done for children in poverty. The Bishops have extended this initiative through an urgent appeal to save the children of Africa – as the hope of Africa – a continent ravaged by wars and HIV/AIDS and endemic poverty. Your Bishops believe that this initiative and its appeal must now be extended globally and become an expression of the global mission of our church. Can we together carry out this vision of love in hope for the future of humankind?

We have been, we still are, and we must become even more a discipled community. But more than this, we must become a community that makes disciples of all nations, a community sent in mission into the world until the end of the age!

II. WE ARE A DISCIPLING COMMUNITY

  1. The Purpose of Discipleship.
  2. Being discipled is for the purpose of discipling.

    The knowledge of the Father through the Son in the Spirit is a privilege granted only to discipleship. And so what makes disciples – and comes to be known and experienced through discipleship – is no other than the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

    This Gospel is made known to the chosen few for the sake and on behalf of the many. It is disclosed to the church for sharing with all of humanity. God’s love in His Son is for the whole world – that is why it is Gospel. This Gospel is entrusted to discipleship with all its benefits so that it can be shared with the whole world.

    Moreover, it is precisely the Gospel, which the world sorely needs and must appropriate in faith, hope, and love if it is to be saved from perdition – none other! Will you join the Bishops in making a determined effort to share the Gospel with the world?

    Although the Gospel is for the world and needed by the world, the world can appropriate the Gospel only as discipleship shares it with the world. Discipleship is precisely sharing the Gospel with the world! This is another difference that Christ makes in the world through discipleship! What if missionaries did not come with Spanish conquistadores to share the Gospel in the Philippines in the 16th century? The Philippines would most likely be a Muslim instead of a Christian country today! What if George C. Stull, a Methodist chaplain in the American navy led by Admiral Dewey, did not hold the first Protestant service in Manila on August 28, 1898? Protestant Christianity would not have come and flourished in the Philippines since then!

    It is the privilege of knowing the Gospel and its benefits which the world needs but cannot have, except as it is offered to and shared with it, which turns the discipled community into a missionary community! What turns it is not a logical move but a commissioning act.

  3. Resurrection and the Commissioning to Mission.
  4. The commissioning of the discipled community by the risen Lord could not have been done before the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis of the commissioning.

    By raising Jesus from the dead, God was in fact over-ruling and over-turning the unjust verdict that sent Jesus to his death on the Cross.

    At the same time, God was vindicating Jesus Christ in all that he was and in all that he said and did and died for. It is, therefore, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ that this present evil age is terminated, and the coming of the age to come inaugurated. This is the turn of the ages. Jesus Christ as risen is the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). With him as risen, the new creation begins!

    After Jesus was risen – not before – he inaugurated the apostolic mission by commissioning the discipled community into the world. The apostolic mission is his own mission as risen Lord. The risen Lord anoints the discipled community with the authority and power given him by the Father through his resurrection. The discipling community goes out into the world clothed with the mantle of resurrection authority and power (Mt. 28:19-20). Now it is resurrection authority and power that is effectively at work in the world, no longer the principalities and powers of his present evil age! The reign of the age to come has begun!

    What does all this make of discipleship – which includes being discipled and discipling the nations? It makes discipleship the new form of life in the reality of the resurrection! Discipleship at the turn of the ages is resurrection life!

  5. Mission and the New Creation.
  6. The new creation begins! It must continue until it is completely fulfilled in the kingdom of God. The renewal and transformation of creation from beginning to end is the mission of the risen and reigning Lord through the Spirit.

    And who is the risen Lord’s earthly agent in this mission? He has commissioned the discipleship community as his apostolic agent! Thus, it is the risen and reigning Lord who is present and at work in and through his commissioned agent, which in turn represents him in what it says and does.

    Discipleship is thus the missionary agency for the renewal and transformation of creation! It can be this only as a part of the new creation and subject to its power, which is resurrection power!

    The focus of the mission of discipleship is creation (cf. Mk. 16:15) which is to be renewed and transformed. The core-reality of creation, however, is life in its many diverse forms, the crown of which is human life (cf. Gen. 1:24-31; Jn. 1:3-4).

    Creation as a whole includes the conditions and processes that make life possible and sustain it in its being and becoming. Life is lived not only in its forms, conditions and processes but also through its possibilities and anticipations, which it seeks to realize and enjoy. And so life is rich and multi-dimensional. It is physical, personal, social, historical, moral, and cosmic. It even has the promise of becoming eternal as its destiny.

    But this life in its core and forms, its conditions and processes, its possibilities and dreams, its multi-dimensionality and richness – in short, the whole of creation – has been distorted and threatened with destruction by evil, sin and death. Thus, to redeem life requires nothing less than the renewal and transformation of creation.

    The raising of the crucified Christ makes him "a life-giving spirit" so that through him life is justified, sanctified, and glorified into eternal life – that is what the new creation is about (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:17-21; 6:22-23).

    The mission of resurrection discipleship as the agent of the new creation is quite simply to live by this truth and "confess" it in the midst of unbelief in a world that lives by so much that is empty and is ironically dying imperceptibly.

    Living by the truth of the resurrection and confessing it always take place in a world that is hostile with unbelief. But unbelief is not the absence of belief. On the contrary, it is believing too passionately in what is not worth believing ultimately because it falls short of the fullness of truth and does not fulfill life in its abundance. Unbelief is idolatrous belief!

    To confess the truth of the resurrection and to live by it so that in God’s mercy a hostile world may hear and see and believe and so be renewed and transformed – that is a difference that discipleship makes (Rom. 10:8-17)

    I visited an elderly woman one Sunday evening. She was dying but her mind was clear. When she found out I am the bishop, she said, "Oh, I apologize for not going to church this morning, but I sent my offering." Then she called her son – who happened to be the conference lay leader – and enjoined him to care for the work of the church. Her daughter said to me," I hesitated to show mother what she’d wear in her wake. But this morning when I sensed that the end is near, I showed it to her. When she saw the dress, she said, "Oh, it is beautiful. But my Father will give me a dress more beautiful than that." That was her way of saying: "The perishable would put on the imperishable, the mortal would put on the immortal." When I was leaving, I shook her hand and felt the strength of her grip. So I joked with her and said, "Grandma, you are still very strong. You will live up to a hundred years." Then she called her son and asked, "how soon is that?" Her son replied, "It will be another six years." Then she said, "Oh, that is too long, I am going home." The following morning she was gone! Putting on the imperishable and knowing that one is coming home at the end of the day – that is a difference that the risen Lord makes!

    Discipleship as agent is sent and so it must go. This sending and going constitute its movement. It is sent from seeing the risen Lord into the world of darkness (Mt. 28:17, 19;Jn. 20:20-21). It is sent from the NOW at the turn and overlap of the ages into this present evil age. It is sent from new creation, which count for everything, to circumcision and uncircumcision, which count for nothing! While it is no longer of the world, it is nevertheless sent to it.

    Is there not something odd or curious about this? Why would one who has seen the light return to the world of darkness? Is not the desire to remain in the glow of transfiguration a temptation to discipleship (MK. 9:2-5)?

    Moreover, this movement of sending and going entails that resurrection discipleship must take on the form of the world that is passing away if it is to be an effective agent for redeeming the world from its fate and transform it into its rightful destiny in Christ.

    Missional solidarity with the world entails a form of suffering – what may be called "discipleship suffering" – which is inescapable. This suffering – patterned after the "descent" and "ascent" of the Christ – is the way discipleship shares in and "completes" the suffering of Christ. This is the suffering of self-denial for the sake of the Gospel. This is the cross that discipleship bears as it seeks to bring about the rebirth of a dying world.

    Again, it may be asked: why would anyone go through this form of missional vicarious suffering? The only profoundly adequate answer seems to be: this is quite simply the way of discipleship, and it cannot be avoided if one is to participate in the apostolic mission of the crucified and risen Christ!

    The early Protestant missionaries who came to the Philippines risked this form of suffering. Some were young and fresh from college or seminary. Some were newly married. They were healthy and full of life. They came committed to serve the Gospel in a land whose people and culture were strange and whose climate and life conditions were inhospitable to them. Within three years their health was gone. They were sick of pneumonia, malaria or tuberculosis, or amoebic dysentery. They pleaded to go home for treatment with the intention of returning. Because they shared in the suffering of Christ, Protestant Christianity is flourishing today in the Philippines! What would be our way of sharing in the suffering of Christ today? Will consuming less so that others might have a little bit more be a form of sharing in the suffering of Christ today? A widow was being admired for raising seven children and sending them through college. "How did you do it?" asked the admirer. She replied, " I learned to live on less because I had so much more to live for." Are we prepared to risk this form of suffering? Will you join your Bishops in bearing the cross of discipleship? 

  7. Mission as Discipling the Nations.

The mission to which discipleship has been commissioned is "to make disciples of all nations." The phrase "all nations" refers to all peoples who must be understood missiologically.

For one thing, people are no doubt to be understood as God’s creation whom God has gifted with life and all its possibilities. Moreover, God has created them in his image so that they may reflect or mirror God’s reality in all of creation. If human life is the crown of God’s creative activity, then human beings reflect the dignity and power of God as Creator. And so reflecting his reality, human beings are good!

Moreover, human beings are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and thus are subject to the wrath of God. The life gifted them by God has become distorted and can only reflect the glory of God as through a mirror darkly. Since they no longer fulfill God’s purpose for them, they are threatened by the death with which they are condemned. They face a future without hope!

And finally, God proves his love in that while human beings are still sinners, Christ at the right time died for them, and thus are reconciled to God. Having been reconciled, they will be saved by his life, i.e., his resurrection life (Rom.5:6-11). Upon them the ends of the ages have turned. The NOW of the day of salvation has come. The new creation has begun. The power to make disciples already reigns. And so human beings can be discipled! And those who will disciple them have been discipled themselves; they demonstrate the reality of discipleship.

To disciple nations is to renew and transform the life-giving elements that have been distorted by evil ad sin. Instead of culturing death, they will then nurture life in all its manifold abundance, which is what they are meant to be and do in the first place!

Discipling the nations is discipling human communities! Reforming the nations – an historic mission of the people called Methodist – is an essential element in making disciples of all nations.

Discipling the nations entails "baptizing" them. If one is baptized into Christ’s death, he or she is also "united in a resurrection like his" so that one "might walk in newness of life" (6:4-5). To live out of one’s baptism is to be "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:10-11).

To be alive to God in baptism, in the NOW of the day of salvation, is to be "taught" in the ways of Jesus Christ. Being taught is being formed into Christ by the Spirit, so that one becomes a transforming agent of the new creation!

The journey of discipleship is not easy, but there is one who promises to accompany this journey, not to make it easy, but to help complete it, no matter how difficult it may be. And that one is the presence of the risen reigning Lord through his spirit.

The Spirit makes it possible to make a difference in Christ because he is the guarantee that the good work begun in Jesus Christ will indeed be finally fulfilled! As we continue our journey in discipleship into our globalizing world of today, on whom else may we depend?

III. DISCIPLESHIP IS AN ALTERNATIVE LIFE-STYLE

1. Being Different as Making a Difference.

What we have done so far – on our reading of the New Testament – is to show that our journey in Christian discipleship is shaped, motivated, and empowered eschatologically.

What this amounts to is that it makes Christian existence different from, and an alternative to, any and all kinds of life-style. Life-style means a distinctive configuring of beliefs and practices for dealing with and living in the world. Being formed to be different so that one can make a difference in the way things are– that is what Christian discipleship is all about!

The test of discipleship is the way it is different from – and is an alternative to – the life-styles available in the world. If the life-style of Christian existence is so similar to, and can be confused with, the prevailing life-style of a culture, then discipleship has lost its "saltiness" and is good for nothing (Mt. 5:14-15). This is the danger faced by Christian discipleship in Western culture, especially in United Methodism which is too closely identified with the mainstream of American culture.

Alternatively, if Christian existence is so different from the ways of a people and is regarded as an intolerable "alien" and cannot be an alternative life-world, then it no longer "gives light’ (Mt. 5:14-15). This is the peril faced by Christian discipleship in cultures shaped and dominated by religions other than Christianity.

The problem of Christian existence then is how to be both "salt" and "light" in any given culture! This was basically the issue faced by the early Christian community in Corinth which was struggling to develop a life-style that was an alternative to Jewish and Gentile life-styles. Paul’s advice to them may help us in our search for a style of life that is an alternative to a flatly secular or a religiously world-denying life-world.

Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians "not to desire evil" as some of the Israelites in their journey in the wilderness did. An example of a specific form of evil to be shunned is idolatry, especially when associated with a sexually promiscuous culture (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; cf. Ex. 32:4, 6). Does this ring a bell with us?

Another piece of advice that Paul gives is for the Corinthian Christians to adopt the attitude and practice of "having... as though not having" with respect to the institutions and values of a culture (1 Cor. 7:29-31). This general advice covers the following:

    • "having wives" – which by extension includes "having husbands" and thus entails gender, sexuality, marriage, and family life;
    • "mourning" – which refers to the causes and forms of mourning and this includes diseases, misfortune, broken relations, death;
    • "rejoicing" – which includes reasons and occasions for rejoicing, such as play, festival, good fortune, success;
    • "buying and possessing’ – which covers the whole of economic activity;
    • "dealing with the world" – which means knowing it and behaving towards it in a variety of ways.

These are institutionalized values and practices that one needs and must have. But now since "the appointed time has grown short," and "the form of this world is passing away," their necessity and value have been relativized. One must not care for them and possess them as absolutely important. Something genuinely ultimate has arrived, namely, "the affairs of the Lord." The right ordering of things is that of "unhindered devotion to the Lord" (1Cor. 7:35).

Finally, Paul gives a comprehensive instruction that seems contrary to the one just mentioned above. Paul says to the Corinthians: "So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God" (1 Cor. 3:21-23; cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

As all things belong to God, so all things also belong to Christ, including the Christian community since it cannot now belong to itself because it has been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23).

Because Christians have been freed from sin and now belong to Christ in discipleship, they are free for the world as belonging to them and so must claim it as their in Christ.

It is not the "wisdom of this age" that confers the right to own all things, but God’s love for all things in Christ who gives them to discipleship as belonging to it and confers to it the right to claim them.

It is precisely the claiming of all things for their transformation in Christ that constitutes the mission of discipleship as the agent of the new creation. Traditionally we have claimed peoples for salvation in Christ through our mission of "spreading Scriptural holiness." We have also claimed societies and their institutions and structures for Christ through our mission of "reforming the nation." We must continue both aspects of our historic mission more faithfully. But now claiming "all things in Christ" includes not only peoples and societies but all of creation as God’s in Christ. We are implicated in the modern effort of altering creation into "nature" as the object of human knowing, manipulation, distortion, and destruction through science, technology, and a style of life whose consumption of goods and services knows no limit. We must reclaim nature as God’s creation, as the theater of his glory, as having the right to preserve it in its being and integrity and to fulfill God’s purpose for it in the new order of things which the New

Testament calls "the new creation" without denigrating the human benefit from it! May we add this concern to our mission as agent of the new creation and join hands to carry it out? Is not discipleship the stewardship of all creation?

Three elemental factors are essential to the life-style of Christian discipleship: First, the renouncing of evil and sin. Second, dealing with the world but not taking it as an "ultimate concern". And third, claiming all things in Christ for God.

Configured together in Christ through the power of the Spirit, these three factors constitute the life of discipleship as an alternative to any life-style that may be available in the world. Will you join your Bishops in living this life-style?

IV. DISCIPLESHIP IS FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE

How does discipleship work as an alternative way of life in the world? Perhaps, the best answer in a nutshell is in Paul’s formula-like phrase, "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6; cf. 1 Cor. 12:31b-13:1-3; Eph. 4:15). To show the sense and direction in which love makes a difference, let us look at how this plays out in three major global issues: freedom, justice, and community.

  1. Freedom Governed by Love.
  2. A most important and exciting event in modern history has been the discovery that freedom is the defining essence of human dignity. This discovery has unleashed various revolutionary movements to secure liberty by overthrowing all forms of oppression. A characteristic understanding of freedom drives these movements: it is freedom from and so freedom means liberation.

    The idea of freedom as liberation resonates with many metaphors used to convey the idea of salvation: to redeem, to ransom, to rescue, and to make room.

    However, God’s love for us in Christ is the source of the freedom that defines our dignity as human beings. Love is the source of freedom that dignifies.

    Merely being free does not define our dignity; being free as the expression of love does! It is undignified of us to use our freedom to oppress, to exploit, to despise, to harm, to violate another. But do we fully express our dignity when we only freely "pursue our own good in our own way so long as we do not deprive others or impede their efforts to obtain it?" (J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 1859; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985,p.72).

    Still more is demanded by human dignity as love expressed in freedom for freedom. Paul tells the Galatians, since "you were called to freedom... do not use your freedom in self-indulgence" (Gal. 5:13). And he goes on to say: "Use your freedom as an opportunity through love to become slaves to one another by loving one another as your neighbors" (Gal. 5:13-14).

    The right way to express love is to freely and actively do the good that benefits another. This requires more than merely respecting the other’s rights. It demands more than simply pursuing one’s own good in one’s own way. It demands doing the good that overcomes evil and so leads to freedom!

    Here we have in a nutshell the difference that love makes with respect to freedom! Making that difference is the task of discipleship! Will you join your Bishops in making that difference? But how may this be done to the other not just as an individual but as an individual but as a community?

2. Justice is the Form of Love in Community

    And so we come to the issue of how love is expressed in freedom for the good of the community. The Christian solution to this problem is love forming the community in righteousness. Justice is the form of love in ordering community.

    Today there are cries for justice from persons within societies and from societies the world over! If there is justice at all, it is only in fragments as relics of societies that have had their day (Alasdair MacIntyre). Today societies are being drawn into global interaction and hopefully into global community. And so there is need for justice on a global scale that would form humanity into a global community. But is this forthcoming? So far, in response to the cries for justice, we only have theories of justice whose deficiencies are sharply disclosed as they seek to structure communities torn apart by injustice.

    How does faith working through love make for justice?

    Justice as right relationships (righteousness) is what orders a community well and it is what love seeks to achieve. Love does this when it establishes right relations, respects rights, motivates good deeds and right action, legislates just laws, produces and distributes goods and services fairly, including the special care of the widow, the orphan, the alien, the outcast or marginalized, and promotes the values, processes, and structures that make for wholeness and community. When love succeeds in caring for the victim of injustice and rectifies the wrong and restores order in any measure, to that degree, justice is served. When slavery is outlawed, that is a measure of justice. When apartheid is abolished, that is justice. When colonies are freed, that is justice. When labor can bargain for its welfare, that is justice. When the playing field is leveled and fair competition takes place, that is justice. When the poor are enabled to compete for their well-being and succeed, that is justice! Need we say more? Will you join your Bishops in the struggle for justice in any measure and in any form as the ordering expression of love?

    Love not only creates right relations and heals them when broken. Love also releases the energies and potentialities of the parties in relationship and moves them toward their fulfillment in a whole that unites all things and peoples and fulfills their destiny.

    In the end, when love is fulfilled in justice, the distinction we make between them evaporates, for now they coincide. Justice saves and love is just. God is just in his loving and saving in his justice. There is now only the harmony and the peace that passes understanding.

    Love envisioning justice as the right ordering of community is a task of discipleship. May we join hands in carrying out this task?

    What sort of community is ordered by justice as envisioned by love?

  1. Love Makes Community All-Inclusive.

The community of love is not only free and just but also all-inclusive. Normally, community is built through what is shared in common, such as common humanity, race, culture, language, values, tradition, etc. What is shared in common is what unifies, and unity is the bond of community. Moral norms and standards reflect moral consensus and they are used to evaluate or judge what deviates from or violates the common.

But from the perspective of faith working through love, it appears that community based on what is common or shared in common is not large or inclusive enough, because it excludes what it judges to be different from what it holds as common. It uses it own norms and standards to determine what is different. It would still be morally just if the result of the evaluation is to acknowledge and respect difference. But sometimes the evaluation goes so far as to exclude the genuinely different from community. The common that makes for community not only unites, it also divides from, and excludes out, the genuinely different! Your Bishops suggest that we must now include the genuinely different as an essential factor in a more-inclusive community.

There are many forms of genuine difference that we must take into account, such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture, ideology. We must acknowledge the real difference they represent and include them in a more inclusive community. In a globalizing world real differences will unavoidably come into close encounter. This is already happening among the people called Methodist whose congregations aim at deliberately becoming more multi-racial and multi-cultural. From the perspective of discipleship, do we have a choice except to create a larger and more inclusive community, one that is built on both the common and the different and encompassing the whole globe? And is there a way to do this other than by faith working through love? Is not God One-in-Three and Three-in-One? Is not God the One in the Many and the Many in the One! And is not love the bond that unites the One and the Many? Is this not our vision of a more inclusive community? Will you join your Bishops in realizing this vision no matter how difficult in may be?

To conclude: Your Bishops believe that the making of people as disciples of the Crucified and Risen Lord and forming them into a community of discipleship is the most radically significant event that can happen to humanity and to the world. We have seen that it is only possible at the turn of the ages in Jesus Christ. In relation to God its significance is that discipleship through the Spirit unites people to Christ who is the Son of God and so are made to participate through the same Spirit in the Son’s filial relationship to the Father. Discipleship makes people the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17), and so they can cry "Abba! Father." Discipleship is life in the sphere of the love of the Trinitarian God!

In relation to the world, discipleship is the only alternative lifestyle in the world that has a future in the Kingdom of God. The turn of the ages provides a temporal standing ground for discipleship in the NOW of the day of salvation. From this NOW discipleship moves in mission into the world to make a difference in the way people live in freedom, justice, and community in the sure hope that in the end God shall be all in all! The church as the discipled community embodies the grace of God in Christ through the Spirit and so it is the means of grace in the world. Is it any wonder then that the making of disciples is our mission? If so, let us get on with it. And may God bless us all.

For the Council of Bishops,

Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil, Presenter
Bishop Robert Morgan, President
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Secretary


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