Later this month, Bishop Lindsey Davis will end his 12-year tenure as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, now the largest U.S. Conference in Methodism.
MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Davis’ career in North Georgia — in his own words.
In the April 1998, shortly after a UM pastor in Nebraska was acquitted on the charge that he violated church law by performing a “same-sex union” ceremony, Bishop Davis addressed a conference of the theologically conservative United Methodist Confessing Movement held in Tulsa, Okla.
The following is a condensed version of his remarks. Full audio is posted below.
I come this morning because I believe it is important for us to be in Christian conversation about the future of our church…. Here in this place are clergy and laity from some of our most vital congregations. And I want to listen carefully to what you have to say.
I come also this morning with a troubled spirit because of the crisis which confronts our denomination.
On the surface, our difficulty appears to be a crisis of polity — a struggle centered upon the order and discipline of our denomination…. However, I believe there is a deeper crisis just under the surface of our present trouble.
One does not have to go very deeply into a discussion of issues related to the subject of homosexuality — or the nature of Trinitarian faith, or the meaning of the Incarnation, or many other issues within the life of our Church — to discover starkly contrasting understandings of Scriptural authority and the nature of divine revelation…
John Wesley proclaimed the centrality of Scripture for doctrine and holy living. For him the Bible was the basic authority for the Christian life — and where its truths appeared clear, there was no alternative but obedience for those who desired to be completely faithful to God….
Unfortunately, we have significant voices within our Church who have a diminished view of the centrality of Scripture. Alien theories of biblical interpretation have assumed a prominent place in the thinking of some of our brothers and sisters….
So our current crisis seems on the surface to be centered in polity, in order, in discipline, and law. But under the surface it can also be seen as theological in nature.
But I want to go to an even deeper level, and suggest to you this morning that our real crisis — the real crisis that confronts our church — is in fact one of personal holiness, especially among our spiritual leaders….
In my view, the greatest crisis affecting our Church today is the lack of spiritual leadership in the pulpits and in the pews of our congregations. Simply stated, we have far too many pastors, we have far too many lay leaders who are not on the path, who are not open to the Lord’s teaching, who are not open to the Lord’s leading, who are not willing to be instructed, who are not being daily transformed by the grace of God, and who do not know how to lead others in this process of spiritual transformation and change.
My dream for our Church is that every clergy person and every lay person, every district superintendent, every bishop, every board and agency staff person, every seminary professor, every missionary — anyone who has anything to do in leadership within the life of our church — would want nothing more than to be transformed daily, moving closer and closer to having the mind and the heart of Christ.
John Wesley preached sanctifying grace — we’ve forgotten how to preach sanctifying grace — the notion that God not only does something for us, salvation in this world and in heaven to come, but that God also done something within us.
By God’s daily intervention and transforming grace we can move steadily toward a life of holiness. And as we attend to the spiritual disciplines — and that is where we have dropped the ball so often — as we attend to constant prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, Christian conversation and worship, acts of mercy and acts of compassion, as we attend to those spiritual disciplines then God’s sanctifying grace will work within us to give us a life of peace, and assurance, and hope, and faithfulness.
Our Church literally cries out at all levels for this kind of spiritual leadership — transformational people who can lead others toward the fullness of the Christian life….
This is not a time for pessimism. “If we believe in the goodness of God” — do we? — “If we believe in the goodness of God, and if we believe in the sovereignty of Christ, how can we not believe in the ultimate triumph of righteousness”
Friends, those of us who support the classical tenets of the Biblical faith are not on our way out. We’re on our way back in! Now is the time for us to remain unflappable, determined, wise, and very assertive….
It is also a time, I think, for spiritual humility. Over and over again in Wesley’s letters he cautioned his followers to guard against “evil” or “idol” human reasoning, and to lean upon a simple trust in God. These days to come in the life of our Church call for all of us to recognize the finitude of our wisdom and knowledge, and to trust — maybe as we have never trusted before — in the transforming presence and unlimited power of God’s grace.
As one bishop in our Church, I will seek to exercise clear and positive and prayerful leadership in these days to come. I ask you to do the same. My prayer for you is that you will keep the banners of faith flying high.
We must live our faith so effectively — and so redemptively in contact with the agony of our time — that our people will say in their hearts, “Here is hope! Here is hope!”
Listen to streaming audio below (24 min.) or download an mp3 (5.7MB).
Editor’s note: The initial meeting of what became the United Methodist Confessing Movement was convened in 1994 in Atlanta — by Bishop William R. Cannon, Dr. Maxie Dunnam of Asbury Theological Seminary, and Dr. Thomas C. Oden of the Drew University School of Theology.
Their purpose, in the words of the late Bishop Cannon, was to call the church “to renew itself through adherence to the standard teachings of Christianity and the basic doctrines of the United Methodist Church.”
Participants at the initial meeting included bishops, pastors, and seminary professors, as well as laity from all five U.S. jurisdictions of the United Methodist Church.