Steve Hawthorne, director of the prayer ministry Waymakers, offers interesting insights about the event we call Palm Sunday, which this year is celebrated on April 1.
He notes that in the days leading up to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had “instigated a movement of hope throughout the towns and villages of the entire region” as He performed miracles and answered prayers.
By the time He rode into Jerusalem to shouts of praise, “the whole city was stirred and [people] asked ‘Who is this?'” (Matt. 21:20).
For several days after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus taught at the temple, and “all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19:48).
By the end of the week, of course, the Lord’s adversaries had him arrested and crucified. But Scripture says the arrest occurred during the dark of the night, “because [Jesus’ enemies] were afraid of the people” (Luke 22:2).
1) “Palm Sunday shines as prophetic picture of the spiritual awakening Christ desires to bring [in communities everywhere]”; and
2) “Whenever there has been revival, it has been a partial fulfillment of the promise of Palm Sunday.”
To help pastors, Sunday School teachers, and small-group leaders explain the significance of Palm Sunday, Waymakers has posted background information here, along with three sermon suggestions.
Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Steve Hawthorne teaching about Palm Sunday and Holy Week. He was recorded in 2008 at Christ Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation associated with the Anglican Church in North America. (Player won’t work? Click here.)
A Palm Sunday prayer: “Father, we pray for spiritual awakening and shouts of praise here, as Jesus enters our city with His presence and power. Stir people to ask, ‘Who is this?’ — that we might proclaim to them the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.”
The following review is by Ray Nothstine, managing editor of Religion & Liberty, a publication of the Acton Institute.
He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
He also served on the staff of former Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss).
This review was originally published in a slightly longer form on the Acton Institute Power Blog.
Some links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.
Methodism was once the largest denomination in America. The faith grew rapidly from America’s beginning and has traditionally been characterized by aggressive evangelism and revival.
It has carried a vibrant social witness, too. Methodist Church pronouncements once garnered front page headlines in The New York Times.
Its high water mark undoubtedly came during prohibition, the greatest modern political cause of the denomination. Methodists even built and staffed a lobbying building next to Capitol Hill believing a dry country could remake society.
In Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century(Bristol House, 2012), Mark Tooley has chronicled Methodism’s denominational political pronouncements from William McKinley, America’s first Methodist president, to 9-11. Tooley has unearthed a staggering amount of official and unofficial Methodist declarations and musings on everything from economics, war, civil rights, the Cold War, abortion, marriage, and politics.
Tooley, who is also the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol House, 2009), offers little of his own commentary on the issues in Methodism and Politics, instead allowing Methodism’s voice for over a century to speak for itself.
What emerges is a denomination that begins to recede in significance, perhaps because of the sheer saturation of its witness in the public square. But its leadership often trades in a prophetic voice for a partisan political one, and sadly at times, even a treasonous voice.
Methodists not only led on prohibition, but were out in front on issues such as women’s suffrage, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement. While they did not always carry a unified voice on these issues, even many Southern annual conferences and bishops broke with the popular political position (in their home states) of defending segregation.
While support for the New Deal and greater federal intervention in the economy was not rubber stamped by all Methodists, an emerging and often biting anti-free market voice would dominate official pronouncements.
This continues to this day with declarations calling to support greater government regulations, single payer health care, and a host of measures calling for government wage and price controls.
Way back in 1936, one Oklahoma Methodist pastor offered his own advice to some of his brethren:
Why do [these Methodist Reds] not get passports, emigrate to Russia where they can prostrate themselves daily before the sacred mummy of Lenin and submit themselves to the commands of Joseph Stalin?
Soft on totalitarianism
Tooley chronicles the pacifist sentiment that began to overtake the denomination the 1920s. By the 1980s, a denomination that once was harsh in its critique of communism became one in which a committee of bishops would pronounce that “actions which are seen as ‘Marxist-Leninist’ by one group are seen as the core of the Christian message by others.”
President Eisenhower with Methodist bishops in 1959
Perhaps most shameful was the action of several bishops during the American hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran, from 1979-1981.
United Methodist Bishop Dale White said of the new Islamic fundamentalist regime, “I know there are individuals in the Iranian power structure who do trust The United Methodist Church.” White offered assessments of the new regime being “democratic.”
The United Methodist General Conference sent a message to Ayatollah Khomeni declaring that the UMC hears the “cries of freedom from foreign domination, from cultural imperialism, from economic exploitation.” Methodist officials even participated in pro-Khomeni student demonstrations in Washington D.C. and met with (and offered praise for) officials in the new Iranian government.
Some of the people who came over especially the clergy were hypocrites because they came to aid and comfort the hostages but ended up giving aid and comfort to the Iranians and actually making it worse for us.
The election of President Ronald Reagan naturally sent many United Methodist Church officials into a tizzy. “People voted their self interest instead of the Social Principles of the church,” Bishop James Armstrong concluded. “It looks like United Methodists with everybody else forsook their Christian idealism at the ballot box.”
Some United Methodist Bishops had already declared their denomination much more aligned with the Democratic Party. It was downhill from there for many Methodist leaders, as they coddled the Sandanistas and “Brother Ortega” in Nicaragua and dove head first into the nuclear freeze movement.
President Johnson addresses Methodists in 1966
In the 1990s, one official of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries bewailed the Republican Congress by saying, “White, male supremacists now wear suits. They talk states rights and anti-taxes. The climate of hate and violence is a challenge to us.”
Not to be outdone, General Board of Church and Society official Robert McLean declared that the GOP Contract with America effectively “cancels” the Sermon on the Mount. Most recently, some UM officials have joined forces with the left-leaning “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign.
Because The United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination, today the growing influence of theologically conservative African is counter balancing what Methodist progressives and political liberals can accomplish. Indeed, the liberal influence has been shrinking for decades. And because progressives have made so many predictable pronouncements, they no longer speak with the weighty spiritual authority The Methodist Church once held.
Dedication of the Francis Asbury statue in D.C. in 1924
American Methodism in 1900 was growing, confident, largely unified, and politically formidable.
One hundred years later, it looks back over decades of steep membership decline and political marginalization, as church officials were no longer presumed to speak for most church members.
In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge said of Francis Asbury, one of the first two Methodist Bishops in early America, that “he did not come [to America] for political motives,” but came to bear “the testimony of truth.”
One wishes Methodist denominational officials would not only follow more of Asbury’s doctrine, but his praxis as well.
The United Methodist Church is the last of the mainline churches to hold to the biblical view on marriage and the practice of homosexuality, and the pro-homosexual lobby knows that getting the UMC to alter that stand would greatly advance the homosexual agenda. To that end hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of it from outsiders not connected with the UM Church — have been poured into an effort to overturn United Methodism’s present stance.
From the UM Book of Discipline
¶161F Human Sexuality — We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children.
All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults.
We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.
The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
¶304.3 Regarding Clergy — While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world.
Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist position on matters related to homosexuality is clear: All persons are individuals of sacred worth; marriage is between a man and a woman; the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.
But we live in an increasingly secular society that is moving toward the acceptance of homosexual practice and, tied to it, homosexual marriage.
A vocal group in the church — those who call themselves progressives — agrees with the secular world. As one person said: “Society around us is leading the way about accepting of homosexual practice and the church is lagging behind.”
The progressives include some who by title and position are considered leaders in The United Methodist Church, including bishops, seminary professors, and board and agency staff.
What to watch for
So we come to General Conference 2012. While there are many petitions seeking to change the church’s historical stance in regard to human sexuality, three groups of petitions bear special watching.
1) Petitions that would have the church redefine marriage so that it is no longer a covenant between “a man and a woman” but between “two persons” (see an example here—PDF).
The main religious argument is an inclusion/exclusion argument — i.e., we should not deny two men or two women who love each other the privilege of marriage because to do so is judgmental and restrictive (for progressives being judgmental and restrictive are practically the only personal sins left to condemn).
2) Petitions from several annual conferences would place disclaimers in the preamble to the Social Principles (see an example here—PDF).
These petitions want the preamble to state that unanimity of belief, opinion, and practice has never been characteristic of the Church. Therefore when there are significant differences of opinion in the church (such as around the practice of homosexuality), these differences should not be covered over with false claims of consensus, but embraced with courage as the people of God continue to discern God’s will.
The important thing is “celebrate our differences” and stay together.
The logical question to ask in response to these petitions is: Why then even bother? Why have any statements of faith? Why have any Social Principles? Why appeal to any biblical teaching? When all the chaff is blown away these petitions want us to say that, in practice, the United Methodist Church has no standards. Whatever is said in doctrinal standards or Social Principles is only a matter of opinion.
3) At least two petitions direct the church and the world to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices “until the Spirit leads us into new insight” (see pages 273-276 of this PDF file).
“Until the Spirit leads us into new insight?” The assumption behind the statement is that whatever Scripture says, whatever church tradition holds, whatever the truth claims made by Christian groups of all times and in all places, these teachings are not adequate to serve as the basis for our moral standards.
Apparently, in these modern, secular times we are waiting for the “new insight” the Spirit offers us.
Petitions such as these typically make reference to “unity” and all being “people of good will” and “working together.” But when Christian faith with its appeal to Scripture is attacked and replaced with ideology based on personal preferences and subjective experience, we have long departed from unity and good will and working together. We are talking about two different religions.
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
March 2, 1791: Methodist founder John Wesley dies in London at age 87. At his death, the Methodist movement had 294 preachers and 71,668 members in Britain, plus 198 preachers and 43,265 members in America. Today Methodists number about 30 million worldwide.
Among Mr. Wesley’s last words: “I’ll praise my maker” and “The best of all, God is with us.”
Use the player below to listen to a 1950s-era radio dramatization of Mr. Wesley’s final moments, with actor Miron Canaday as John Wesley. (An mp3 CD of the 30-part radio series, “A Brand from the Burning: The Story of John Wesley,” is available from Moody Audio. Order here.)
March 9, 1831: Evangelist Charles Finney concludes a six-month series of meetings in Rochester, New York.
The meetings, often called “the world’s greatest single revival campaign,” led to the closing of the town’s theater and taverns, a two-thirds drop in crime, and a reported 100,000 conversions.
March 10, 1748:John Newton, captain of a slave ship, is converted to Christianity during a huge storm at sea. He eventually became an Anglican clergyman and the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
March 10, 1880: Commissioner George S. Railton and seven women arrive in New York City to establish the Salvation Army in the United States.
March 21, 1778:Charles Wesley, brother of John and author of 8,989 hymns (including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, and Christ the Lord Is Risen Today), dies at age 81.
March 31, 1816: Pioneer Methodist bishop Francis Asbury dies at age 71. During his 45-year ministry in America (he was sent here in 1771 by John Wesley), he traveled on horseback or in carriage an estimated 300,000 miles, delivering some 16,500 sermons.