"Wrangling over fences? Try open-range ministry." --- title of article by Eric Van Meter in 08/03/14 issue of the United Methodist Reporter
Mr. Van Meter seems to be upset with this fence thing in the United Methodist Church and has expressed the same in an article that has a scenario in which he expresses his frustration with an imaginary therapist.
He poses what some would view as a powerful illustration by relating an experience of helping a fellow tear out an old fence of rusted barbed wire and rotted fence posts.
What is the point of all this? It seems that Eric is suggesting that we need to get over this "fence wrangling" thing that is often prominent within the United Methodist Church -- especially at General Conference sessions with one scheduled to take place next month in Texas. The one high profile issue will be over homosexuality and lesbianism -- officially sanction these practices or not?
Open-range ministry? Is this suggesting that we get away from this thing of trying to maintain "fences" and no longer make any issue over what is right or wrong -- just go out and "make disciples for Jesus," whatever that is supposed to mean anymore in the UMC?
Wait a moment or so -- on this "fence" thing -- how did it get started in the first place?
Is Almighty God not the original fence builder? What was that which He put around a certain tree in the Garden of Eden?
No, it was not a literal barbed wire fence -- but the prohibition which in so many words said plainly, "Don't eat the fruit of that tree!" amounted to much the same thing as though it really surrounded the tree completely about 10 yards out from the trunk and had "No Trespassing" signs hanging on it!
Ooops! I almost forgot -- we need to realize that there are those clergy plus a batch of laity who write off about the first 11 chapters of Genesis as being myth -- fairy tale stuff, etc. They are not to be taken literally, so the fence idea probably has no application or meaning whatsoever in such cases. Maybe Eric is among that unfortunate group!
But let's move forward a bit -- God put up more "fences" later on in His dealings with the Israelite people. Ever hear of something called the Ten Commandments? But there were more than just a few statements forbidding certain types of behavior and relationships -- the "fence" God set up is a spiritual, moral and ethical code which enables His people to live at the highest level possible when it comes to peace, harmony, confidence and hope for the future!
But there are those who have come on the scene over time that look on these fences as being too "restrictive" -- we want to be "free" without being told what is right or wrong -- to do what we have judged to be best for us on basis of human reasoning and human "logic" which is always a deadly combination when God is placed on the bench as though He were a 3rd string quarterback!
We have been witnessing the tragedy within many church groups of a return to the ancient times of the judges -- those who want to tear out the fences that a few of us insist we must have -- this bunch is aptly described in the last statement of the book of Judges --
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. --- Judges 21:25
It appears that Jesus was also a bit concerned about the fence matter -- did He not say somewhere that not one jot nor tittle would pass from the law until all was fulfilled? I believe He said that in the Sermon on the Mount from which so many love to quote, except possibly that statement! (Matthew 5:18).
And "open-range ministry?" Well, how about Jesus' parting statement in Matthew 28 about confronting the entire world? This amounts to letting everyone know that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world -- but there is a condition -- REPENT of all known sin and false religous practices, receive Him as Savior and Lord, and commit to a life of obedience to Him! Seems there are people who want to be "Christian" by way of identity but they don't want to quit their sinning, whether that involves immoral sexual conduct, the practice of false religion (of which there are many in this world), self-centered attitudes and desires, affection with idolatrous objects (such as money), or refusing to break with personal pride and vanity!
So it is -- there will be those of us around who may be accused of being "legalistic" and other rather negative labels, but we will continue to insist that we need the "fences" for our own good and the health and well being of the church -- break down and attempt to remove the fences and you'll have a church that goes into decline! By the way, what are the numbers involving membership in the United Methodist Church in the U.S. since the big merger of 1968?