The church is more than a civic organization

I just returned from the meeting of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  There were about 1,000 people who attend the UMC from across WV (and Garrett County, MD) who met to be inspired to go back to their communities and “make disciples.” Our 1,100 UMC’s are looking for 2,400 people in the next 18 months to become disciples by joining our churches.  If we take the teachings from the conference to heart, what “making disciples” requires is for each of us to go back to our respective neighborhoods and love people and help people who are in need of assistance.  They will join the church and we will have “made a disciple.”  Our Annual Conference could have almost been the convention for any good civic organization.

A civic organization is defined as, “a type of organization whose official goal is to improve neighborhoods through volunteer work by its members.”  Places like the Lion’s Club do great works to help improve communities (and the world) and help people who are in need of assistance.  I’m thankful for their goal and their efforts.

But the church is more than a civic organization.  It’s good advice to send people back to their homes wanting to love and help people.  That’s very Biblical.  Christians are instructed to do that.  In the beginning of our country, the church started most of the hospitals and founded most of the universities. But the church is so much more than a civic organization.

What many in today’s church fail to realize is that while Jesus never turns anyone away, people always have and always will turn away from Him.  And the reason is that there is a cost to being a disciple.  I believe everyone in the church can agree that our desire is to see none turn away from following Jesus – He certainly won’t turn them away.  But the church is now officially offering “cheap grace”.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ““cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance”.  Likewise, he says, “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit…”

We offer cheap grace when we want the world to love us.  We offer costly grace when we want them to love Jesus.  It costs them nothing to love us.  It costs them everything to love Him.

I worry about which kind of disciples the leadership of the WV UMC has sent their people home to make.




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