Such a dirty word. We hate doing. It grates on me whenever I have to do it.
I’m a United Methodist pastor. Back when I was in college I spent a year fasting and praying over the issue of whether to stay in the United Methodist Church. I’d been exposed to quite a bit of separatist literature, so in light of the contrast between my evangelical understanding of the faith and a general non-evangelical approach evidenced in mainstream United Methodism I felt the dilemma intensely.
So I prayed.
The word that came to me – though I’m not sure I can explain how it came, was, “Stay until they kick you out.” Staying in has meant that I have had to practice submission. I submit to a system that is not only sometimes misguided, but sometimes actively involved in what I think is wrong.
This submission conflicts with the notion that the bets guidance for living your life is “To thine own self be true.” Authenticity is important to me. I enjoy my own idiosyncrasies – just ask my children sometime. But I am not the center of the universe. I am not infallible. I am neither God nor a god. So I submit.
First, as a follower, of Jesus, I submit to his Lordship. This Lordship is exercised in the flow of history, most importantly in his life, death, and resurrection, but in a continuing sense through his people. The Lordship conflicts not only with my own feeble claims to Lordship, but with all other claimants as well: even the United Methodist Church. So if the United Methodist Church gets to the point where it adopts the position of some of its theologians and bishops and turns from its doctrinal stance in the mainstream of the Christian tradition, my submission to Jesus will require my non-submission to the UMC.
But, in the meantime, here I am submitting to the instituted authorities of the UMC. I rarely feel these authorities bearing down on me. I feel no restrictions from anywhere on what I can teach and preach.
But where does submission stand elsewhere in the church? In the past several years, those who favor the “full inclusion” of self-avowed practicing homosexuals in the church have often practiced non-submission. Is this because they are evil and out to destroy the church? Some have sugggested so, but I seriously doubt that is their motivation. Do they think this issue strikes at the heart of the gospel and what the church is about? Listening to what they have to say, it sure seems that way.
But I’m curious how the freedom to choose one’s own sexual identity came to be so integral to the gospel. It sure looks like the motto of “To thine own self be true” has become the heart of their message.
This urge toward self-consistency (that’s what I take the motto to be seeking) misses the point of human sinfulness. I’m a sinner. Deep inside, I’m broken. As a follower of Jesus, as one who wants to be like Him, I cannot take my own inclinations, drives and orientations as guides for my life or as models to follow. Sure, its the easiest way. Of course there are times when I feel like I have no choice. But through the Holy Spirit I do. I submit my profoundly non-Godlike nature (with its inclinations, drives and orientations) to God’s authority so he can remake me, transforming me into the image of Jesus.
Boy, it’s hard to let go sometimes. Submission is tough. But I’m convinced it’s good for me – and for those around me.