Getting Dialog Shifted into Overdrive!

Getting Dialog Shifted into Overdrive!

"Develop model to provide training in dialogue regarding theologically sensitive topics."

Goal 3, Subpoint 9, P 514 -- RS 801: Proposed Annual Conference Strategic Plan
Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference - The United Methodist Church
June 2006 Session at Grove City College, Grove City PA
Note: total space given to this resolution was 88 pages in length!
Time frame given for the dialog thing to be done is Jan 1, 2007 to Dec 31, 2007

Somewhere in the past someone got the idea that where Christians encounter opposition and differences with others the best way of resolving those differences is to enter into an experience called "dialog."

Even in the international community there is an emphasis on dialog in settling international differences in order to avoid violent conflict or to resolve it as soon as possible. The last decisive military victory for the United States took place at the end of WW II. The terms of unconditional surrender were demanded of Nazi Germany and Japan -- they were to keep their mouths shut and instantly respond as the conditions of ending war were set forth by the United States and its allies.

Then came the Korean "police action" event. Enter a new approach called "dialog" but usually the term "negotiation" was used. High officials on all sides spent a lot of valuable time wrangling over the shape and size of the table around which the "dialoging" was to take place! And it's been down hill ever since -- remember a thing called Desert Storm under Bush Sr. and a "dialog" tent out in the desert? And after it was concluded a character by the name of Saddam Hussein still remained in power!

At the beginning of these comments was a quote from a lengthy document to be presented at the June '06 session of the Western PA Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. For some time dialog sessions have been going on within the conference. The sessions have been related to "sensitive" issues such as the practice of sodomy and lesbianism and how the church is attempting to deal with that.
The "Strategic Plan" was enthusiastically endorsed and approved by the members of the session, so among many meetings and planning sessions, dialog will definitely kick into high gear and then into overdrive during 2007!

Not only is the W. PA Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church on the "cutting edge" of doing "dialog" but a lot of groups beyond the United Methodist Church are jumping on the "dialog bandwagon" as well! And when you have a United Methodist bishop publicly stating that "homosexuality is not a barrier," it doesn't take much gray matter between the ears to see where some denominations and their member churches are headed. Jan Huie's pronouncement regarding homosexuality after the Council of Bishops wound up their meeting in November '05 is an indication that entering into dialog will be demanded by an increased number of church leaders.

This means that if I choose to take the statements on the need to dialog seriously and practice them without objection then I will have to do the following:

    I will need to sit down at the table with practicing sodomites and practicing lesbians and take the position that their way of life is just as morally acceptable as mine (a married heterosexual), though I am in disagreement with that lifestyle -- therefore I must "respect" them and seek ways by which we can work together for the good of the church and "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!" The main thing is to maintain a spirit of unity in spite of the differences -- after all, we are all "children of God," are we not? Basically I have to come to the place where I am willing to admit that my "interpretation" of God's revelation regarding human sexuality, its expression, and its experiences is not only very narrow, but it is very wrong -- especially in light of successful dialogs now taking place as well as corporate statements being issued such as those by the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

    I will have to sit down at the table and dialog with a person of another religious expression such as a Muslim and take the position that his faith as centered in Allah and his practices in Islam are just as legitimate as mine in my practice of the Christian faith as centered in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord! What is required of me in order to successfully dialog is to reassign Jesus to a new position -- actually it is a "demotion" --- from being Sovereign Lord over all things throughout the universe which He created by spoken command to that of being just "one of the boys" or in the case of Islam, Jesus is just a prophet but most certainly a few rungs lower on the ladder than Muhammad, due to the fact that in Islam Muhammad is the greatest -- no competitors permitted.

So as a Christian, when I confront persons of other religions, in order to successfully dialog I have to be careful about how I present Jesus -- none of that exclusive stuff that shuts the others out -- just keep Him on the human level only and present Him as a noble teacher and One Who set an example which we ought to imitate. That's it, and then everyone will be happy and we can erase that stigma often associated with Christians that we are a narrow, radical, and intolerant bunch of fanatics who insist that Jesus Christ is the only way of forgiveness and peace with God. And further, that Jesus is the only way by which we are able to enter heaven and live in His Kingdom forever. Successful dialog will result in Jesus fading into the background and standing on an equal level with all other religious personalities who have made a name for themselves as human history has been running its course.

It will be interesting in the times ahead as to how the now oft repeated phrase, "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" in the W. PA Annual Conference is going to fit in with the dialog experiences with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.

One UMC bishop has clearly gone on record that we ought not to try to convert people in other cultures to Christianity as it brings about conflict -- rather we should just help with social and material needs and allow them to practice whatever religion they have without interference. Literally this approach makes Jesus' parting command to go into all the world and confront all people with His claims and call totally null and void!

Now for the big question -- how about looking at some well know Bible personalities of the past. How did they conduct themselves and if they were to follow the rules of "dialog' today, how would they have approached the issue or issues?

    Elijah and the challenge to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel -- the issue was over Who is really God. Elijah mocked them as they called on Baal for hours with no response taking place. In fact, as you review the statements of Elijah as directed against the prophets of Baal and their "god" you quickly conclude that he had absolutely no respect for them nor their religion!

    Now then, observing the practice of modern day "dialog" in church circles he would have been under church leadership pressure to say, "You believe in Baal and we believe in the living God of Israel. While there is a bit of difference in how we worship, we can learn from each other -- let's have joint community services together -- we'll bring a bull to sacrifice and you bring one of your children to sacrifice and we'll show the world that we can work together in unity and how we respect each other's faith. This in turn will show the people of the world that there are many ways by which a divine being can be recognized and worshipped!" (See 1 Kings 18 for the facts of Elijah's showdown with the prophets of Baal).

    Jeremiah was told by God to stand at the entrance to the temple and declare a number of things to the people as they entered. All the statements summed up explicitly amounted to a call to fully repent of idolatrous and sinful practices which were destroying the people and the kingdom of Judah.

    Following the rules of 21st Century dialog, Jeremiah would have said, "Come, let's sit down at a table with a cup of coffee and talk. Now about this 'shedding of innocent blood' thing -- I disagree with that but I understand that you do this in all sincerity -- besides, to raise a child is a burdensome thing and brings about hardship and psychological distress, so it is actually helpful in the long run to sacrifice the child and you have a unique religious experience in the process! And on the matter of your sexual immorality, I understand that you are 'oriented' to experience your sexuality in different ways. But that's OK so long as you truly love one another and are in a committed relationship -- we need to discover just how many ways 'love' can be expressed sexually. So let's just agree to disagree over these issues -- that way there will be no bitter division and walls created that will separate us." (Note Jeremiah 7).

    Paul, in confronting Elymas the sorcerer who attempted to turn away a public official from the Christian faith which was being presented, said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time."

    Dialog in the 21st Century church setting would place Paul at the table with Elymas on the opposite side. Paul in a very courteous tone would have said something like this: "Elymas, it appears that you and I have a slight disagreement over some things related to religion. But let's see where we do agree and out of respect for each other's view point we'll calmly discuss where we disagree. Surely we can adopt a position that recognizes there are many paths to the top of a mountain -- you have your way and I have mine. This way we send a message to those in the world around us that one view of life and religious expression is just as valid as any other -- it's simply a matter of choice and being sincere in following that choice." (See Acts 13 for details -- no, Paul never got into the dialog thing, but what did happen is graphically described -- the fact that Paul didn't engage in our modern style of "dialog" didn't seem to be a hindrance since Elymas was blinded as Paul predicted -- did Paul have the blessing of God or what in this matter, or was it mere coincidence?)

    However, the classic example of a strike out by the present day standards and rules of dialog in church circles would be Jesus Christ Himself! Listen closely to things He said in Matthew 23 to some religious people. He used labels such as "hypocrites," "blind guides," "fools and blind," "serpents," and "brood of vipers." And some of the statements He hurled at those people such as, "For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves…..For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Is dialog, 21st Century style, possible under such conditions as took place during the clash between Jesus and some religious leaders of the day?

    Church leaders today who are strongly pushing the idea of doing dialog to settle "theological differences" would have Jesus sitting at the table, admonishing Him to tone down His rhetoric, and above all else have respect for His opponents' points of view. Jesus needs to learn how to "agree to disagree" and to be much more tolerant of those who are in disagreement with Him!

    There was also that incident recorded in John 6 in which He made a rather radical statement, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." Upon hearing this it is said that quite a number of His disciples left Him and no longer associated with Him. It is also clear that He made no effort to stop them -- no appeal of any kind was made for them to reconsider what they were doing -- He just left them go -- the membership ranks were reduced quite a bit that day, and if an annual report had to be made, it wouldn't look good in the record, would it -- grounds for not being reappointed by church officials in that place, is it not? If Jesus were applying "dialog" policy which is in vogue now, He would have said, "Hold on just a moment -- maybe I was a bit hasty in what I said. Let's sit down and discuss this -- I'm sure we can reach some middle ground on this if we compromise a bit….!"

Well, there you have it -- some persons out of the past and how they acted and spoke. Drastic changes would have been necessary if they would have to follow the rules of "dialog" in the 21st Century! Would they have been willing to make the adjustments and changes demanded in order to dialog with those with whom they were in sharp disagreement? What do you think?

And while you are thinking, consider just a few of Jesus' claims about Himself and how you might fit that into a dialog session with a Muslim who considers Jesus to be a number of rungs lower on the ladder than Muhammad!

Some things Jesus claimed about Himself -- a few of us agree wholeheartedly with those statements which means we will not be good candidates for doing dialog in order to settle "theological differences!"

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me…..I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.….I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.…..He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day." (John 14:6; 8:12; 11:25; 12:48)

Have a happy dialog!

And now a Post Script: For those few who believe that Jesus' claims about Himself (the "I am..." statements) are absolutely true and that there are no possible options when it comes to the absolute demands He placed upon us humans (of which there are 4: Matthew 18:3; Luke 13:3; John 3:3; and John 6:53,54), there is but one issue when it comes to those "dialog" sessions. That issue is this --

"Do you repent of your sins (whether that be false religious practices, immoral sexual practices, self centered living, foul mouth language, using the day of worship for partying and pleasurable pursuits, or whatever other host of offenses against God one is guilty of committing) and receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of your life? Do you intend by God's grace to live a life committed to doing His will and pursuing holiness as the minimal standard in your aspirations each day as Jesus tarries in His glorious return to earth?"

But never forget -- in taking this approach it means that we will be instantly labeled -- we will be branded as intolerant, bigoted, racist, homophobic, fanatic, unchristian, etc. However, there is good news in this -- we only have to put up with this stuff for a short time, then Jesus, at a time determined by Almighty God, will "level the playing field in this world" once and for all -- it will be a whole new ball game with which very few will be prepared to deal as Jesus takes charge of the affairs of this fallen world, assisted by His glorified saints and His angels!

And here's another one to ponder over -- how will the Muslims, the Hindus -- the whole bunch of religions outside of true Christianity handle this one?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. --- Philippians 2:5-11

Some of us have no problem with that statement due to the fact that we've been bowing to Him and acknowleging Him to be Savior and Lord for years -- and it gets better with the passing of each day and the awareness we are that much closer to His return to earth to receive us unto Himself! Praise His Name forever and ever!

And when it comes to a dialog situation, a few of us still take the position as did the commanders at the end of WW II in regard to those on the opposite side -- they refused to dialog and without apology set the terms. So then, whatever your moral situation, whatever religion you are clinging to, and whatever you are enslaved to by way of destructive habits and practices, the terms are still the same -- unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ in a spirit of repentance from all known sin! That's the way it has been for 2,000 years and that's the way it will always be until He comes back.

"Even so, come Lord Jesus!" Check the closing statements of the book of The Revelation and you find John's quote which has been uplifting to all followers of Jesus down through the centuries!

A Significant Selah Moment!

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? even cry out to You, "Violence!" And You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
Habakkuk 1:2-2 (NKJV)

Hey! Look at the Number
of Unborn Children Brutally
Mutilated & Murdered in USA

since the USA started "liberating" Iraq
from the brutality of Saddam Hussein!

March 19 2003

Watch this for about 60 to 90 seconds
and see what happens!

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness....

It is time for You to act, O LORD, for they have regarded Your law as void. Therefore I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold! Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.

Romans 1:18; Psalm 119:126-128 NKJV

June 17, 2006
Clayton D. Harriger
Retired Elder in Full Connection
Western PA Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church
and presently pastor of
Gipsy Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Gipsy, PA
AND Non-Affiliated registered voter, Cambria Co. PA

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