Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Chapter Seven
Operative Theology

On Tuesday, August 19, 1997, The Reverend Pritchard Adams, III boarded the USAir flight bound from Charlotte, North Carolina to Sarasota, Florida. From there he would catch one of the flights headed to Haiti where he had served as a missionary for over fourteen years. He introduced himself to the lady in the seat next to him, who confided how depressed she was that her first husband had died and a second marriage had ended in divorce, and about her life in general. Rev. Adams talked with her and found out that she had been a (United) Methodist for her entire life of 80+ years. Further discussion revealed that she was not a Christian. Starting with the reason for Christ's coming to earth and ending with the resurrection, he invited her to accept Jesus as her personal Savior; she did. When the plane landed in Sarasota. she met her family in a much happier spirit and was praising the Lord. Rev. Adams, who is not a United Methodist, wondered how this elderly lady, a great-grandmother, could have been in church for her entire life and not known how to become a Christian.
- Personal interview with The Reverend Pritchard Adams, III

This exemplifies one of the fundamental problems in the United Methodist Church - the spiritual poverty of many members in our denomination - having a form of religion but not the substance. We believe this is for two primary reasons:
  1. Many if not most UMs have not had their lives changed by having truly accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. This is what Dr. E. Stanley Jones lamented over forty years ago. What is missed is the life-changing nature of Jesus Christ. This has resulted from the erosion of the vibrant faith that was experienced by the early founders of Methodism and by some in our denomination today. We cannot underestimate the damage this poses, not only to the debilitation of the UMC, but in individual lives as well. We need to consider the eternal dimensions of our spirituality; what happens to a person when he leaves this life? Heaven is a possibility; are they on the right path to get there? We must also consider hell; as unpleasant as it is for us to think about it, that, too, is real, and the possibility is great that a significant number of our members will go there. How does that happen? Most often, it is through the gradual erosion of our faith, resulting in ""Ten Dollar Religion" that gives the illusion of spirituality but is only an imitation. C.S. Lewis put it this way, "The safest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil."(1)

  2. The second is the loss of the authority of the Bible as God's Word. If we do not have a source of authority, we are like a ship on the high seas without a compass: on a course but not knowing where we are headed. We have nothing on which to build a theological foundation.

These are tied to a corollary view that the process of institutionalism has led us to "another agenda" having supplanted Jesus Christ as the de facto center of the United Methodist Church.

  1. As quoted by Chuck Swindoll in Seasons of Life, p. 353.


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