Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
So begins the Westminster Catechism, written in the 17th century as a means to educate the Church in the faith. It’s worth noting that of the 107 questions and answers it begins by stating unequivocally what our role as humans is: To glorify God. We exist solely for this purpose.
How do we do this? The second question tackles that:
Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
We exist so that we might glorify God and the only way we know how to do this is through the revealed will of God as stated in the Old and New Testaments of Scripture.
As the United Methodist Church continues to wonder how we can best address the current sexuality debate facing our church, I wonder if it would not do us all well to return to these simple yet profound questions of catechesis.
What is our chief purpose and how do we accomplish it?
Sadly, the chief end of the United Methodist Church appears to be something other than bringing glory and honor to God through fidelity to God’s holy word. Far too often our chief aim appears to be appeasing the culture around us or a lobby within us or even the noble yet subtly idolatrous goal of church unity.
Today, the Connectional Table of the UMC voted to put forward a proposal to the General Conference, a “Third Way” to move us beyond the impasse in our church regarding homosexuality. The Rev. Kenneatha Bigham-Tsai, chairperson of one of the subcommittees proposing this “third way” had this to say about how they came to their decision:
“We believe this proposal will keep everyone at the table, allows for the exercise of conscience, better provides for the inclusion of LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and best maintains the unity of the church.”
Notice what is lacking from the logic behind this decision. This is but one example of many found in and throughout our church where we – and by “we” I mean both sides of the aisle – have lost sight of our purpose for existence: To bring glory to God. Instead we have fallen prey to the always alluring idol of worldly glory, choosing to please the desires of humankind rather than submit to the demands of God.
Unity while forsaking fidelity to God’s rule is rebellion.
This disease is rampant in our church and our current struggle is but one of many ways in which it manifests. Far too often pastors and leaders in the church organize around the wrong question. We ask how might we make the folks we serve happy or how we might increase our attendance or how we might slow our decline when the first and primary question we need to ask ourselves is how well are we glorifying God? How well am I conforming my life, my thoughts, my will, my desires, my hopes, my words to the rule of God as set forth in the Old and New Testaments? How much am I submitted to God’s ideas over my own or yours?
So long as we make decisions based on polling or money or lobbies or probability of fallout we will fail not just as a denomination but as human beings. We will fail to live up to our chief end which is to bring glory to God. It’s fascinating to me that the Westminster Catechism was written as a means to help bring the Church of England into greater conformity with the Church of Scotland. In other words, their goal was a more unified church. How did they proceed? By directing everyone’s goal towards glorifying God.
As we move forward, may we prayerfully consider whether every decision we make and every vote we cast is one that brings glory to God through submission to God’s word. To do anything else might result in keeping us united but united to the wrong things with the wrong goals and a god that is of our own making rather than the one revealed to us through Scripture.