What World Vision and the UMC have in common

This week, World Vision announced an employment policy change which will allow them to hire people who are in legal, same-sex marriages.   World Vision is a Christian, faith-based charity, in the top 10 of the largest charities in America,  helping millions of children around the world.   President Richard Stearns explains that the rationale for this decision had nothing to do with outside pressure but was in keeping with their practice of deferring to churches on theological matters.  Regarding homosexuality, Stearns states,

 The church is divided on this issue. And we are not the local church. We are an operational organization uniting Christians around a common mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ.

Time and time again, Stearns, along with many of World Vision’s vocal supporters, are wanting us all to “focus on the mission.”    The mission is all the matters.  It’s all about the kids.  

world vision

In this way World Vision reminds me of the United Methodist Church, or at least many of her members.  Regarding homosexuality, many are saying we need to move on and simply focus on our mission.   The mission is all that matters.  It’s all about making disciples for the transformation of the world.

In both cases, World Vision and the UMC, the mission is all-important, all-consuming, all-encompassing, and anything perceived to threaten that mission needs to just go away, please.  Even if that anything brings into question our fidelity to God.  The mission is all that matters.

While helping kids and making disciples is good, there is a missing ingredient in all of this which has me troubled.    Where is the call to be faithful and obedient to God?

It seems as though both World Vision and the UMC have taken to a form of Deism.   Deism, simply put, is the idea that God is “out there” but not very concerned with us “down here.”   He isn’t invested in our daily lives nor cares how we run them.  Deists believe that God can only be known through reason and the observation of nature and not through revelation or miracle.   As Deists, it’s easy to see how a Church and a Para-Church can assume that the decisions they make about what is right and what is wrong with regards to ordination or hiring or marrying are best resolved by looking at the world in front of us.  The God above us doesn’t care.

Of course, this presumption is repeatedly turned upside down throughout all of Scripture, God’s inspired revelation of Himself to us.   God, we are told time and time again, is omnipresent – everywhere – and desires our obedience to Him more than our sacrifices or good works.   When King Saul, for example, was all about the mission of destroying God’s enemies, he did what he thought best and paid dearly for it.   When Samuel confronted him, Saul replied, “But I did listen to the Lord!  He sent me on a mission, and I went!” (1 Sam. 15:20).   But God was sorry he had made him king because of Saul’s disobedience.   Half-way obeying God is still disobedience.

But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams (1 Sam. 15:22).

God wanted Saul to carry out the mission and obey His commands.  To do the former and not the latter does not please God.

Jesus models this dual service – to both God and mission –  over and over again.  When his mission could have been accomplished sooner, uniting all the world under his authority if he would only worship Satan, Jesus dismissed this easier, broad path in favor of serving God alone (Matt. 4:10).    When he could have run from the cross, avoiding it’s pain and shame in favor of calling down an army of angels to vindicate him, he chose instead the will of his Father over his own.  And to those who would come to him saying, “Lord, Lord,” while pointing to their mighty works, their mission, as proof of their love for him, they will be surprised to hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you,” because they lost sight of doing the will of his Father in Heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).

The mission is important, but even more important is obeying God’s commands and going about the mission in a way that brings Him honor and glory.  Where is our fear of God?

As for World Vision and the UMC, I think we need to continue helping the kids and making disciples.   For me, personally, if I were currently sponsoring a child with WV I would continue to do so.   My sponsored child would not be punished for the lack of fear displayed by a President and his board.   And my local church, the Methodist Christians I am honored to serve as pastor, will continue to receive my best care and attention so long as God calls me here in spite of the lack of fear displayed by many of our bishops and leaders.

World Vision’s decision, however, does shine a spotlight, I believe, on our Deistic mindset in both church and para-church and we must repent of this.   For far too long we have gone about the mission, assuming God will bless our charities and our churches without giving much thought to whether or not God is pleased with us.   We have made an idol of the second greatest commandment while ignoring the first.    Rather than a call from our bishops for “deep listening” of one another over this matter that divides us why not call for some “deep crying out to God”?   Why not call us to our knees, to seek God’s face and His will in all of this?  Where are the calls to mourn and to fast and to pray?   Where is the humility under-girding every decision we as a church or a para-church make, where it is made known by our public statements that we trust and hope this or that honors God and His commands above all else and that we are seeking His approval alone?

To close, I commend to you John Piper’s words on the matter of World Vision. He reminds me that God is watching, and will not bless that which ignores or defies His commands.   We may very well carry on our mission like Deists, pretending the mission is all that matters, but we cannot then pretend God is pleased and is going to bless our efforts.   That would be the height of arrogance.     Piper writes,

You cannot undermine biblical authority, and trivialize perdition and its blood-bought remedy, and expect to maintain a vibrant spiritual base. It isn’t going to happen.

Lord, have mercy on us.


3 thoughts on “What World Vision and the UMC have in common

  1. I am not unsympathetic to the charge of Deism in many quarters of the church, but not so much based on the WV debate. The work of Kenda Dean and others who have analyzed the data on the beliefs of young people conclude that a form of deism (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism/MTD) is the fastest growing religious belief among young in America.

    However, I detect that oldest of Christian enemies, gnosticism, in your post and in your project more generally. Of course, we are called to holiness. Of course, we should be concerned with Biblical fidelity and obedience to God’s word. But we should be concerned with holiness and obedience in all areas, not just sexual/relational. It was those body-denying gnostics who wanted to escape the earthly realm that have bequeathed to us so much of the quasi-spirituality of American churches, particularly the premillenial dispensationalists that just want to jetpack out of here. You might be taken more seriously if you occasionally seemed interested in some form of holiness or obedience that was not sexual in nature. There is more to the church than mission, but there is also much more to holiness than the latest LGBT litmus test that sets the social media world on fire.

    And, as a general rule, if you can’t find someone better than John Piper to quote…probably just don’t.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more that the body matters. In fact, if you had read the last post on this site you would have seen that: https://umcholiness.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/the-heart-of-our-sexuality-debate/

      I just spent a weekend with college guys on a retreat where we discussed just how much our bodies – and what we do with them – matters to God. This goes for everything to how we care for our bodies and the bodies of others to what we do with them sexually. It’s a big deal to God, and sadly, Scripture shows time and time again that calls to repentance and to fear God over how we use our bodies are rarely taken seriously.

      I think John Piper has much to teach us about taking God and his word seriously. There was a time when I despised him, though. Back when I loved my theology and my sin more than God. I’m thankful God softened my heart towards him.

  2. Pingback: Commonplace Holiness Blog

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