“We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God…but as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” ~ John Wesley, On The Character of a Methodist
This has long been one of my favorite quotes from John Wesley.
Even as a youth, years before I ever heard those words, “think and let think”, uttered, I knew on some deep level that this is what we did as Methodists. I remember speaking to a friend about why I liked the United Methodist Church my family had been attending for a few years and I said, “I like that they teach you about Jesus and let you figure the rest out on your own. They don’t tell us how to vote or what to think.”
Sometime after that I received my calling into ministry. Over the next ten years there would be feverish bouts of study and discipleship followed by frantic bouts of hiding from God. During that time I heard those words, “think and let think” for the first time and realized that the church in which I had grown up was doing a great job at living into the theology of its doctrines.
During the ten years I spent discerning and struggling with my call to ministry, I was evolving as a person. I was growing (having received that calling at the age of sixteen, I had a lot of maturing left to do), and I was experiencing new things, meeting new people, and seeing how Jesus was pouring out his grace in diverse ways throughout this world.
In the ten years since I finally answered the call and embarked on the journey to ordained ministry, I have become a new creation–born and reborn over and over again as God has turned my world upside down and right-side up again. I’ve been shaken to the core of my soul, and I’ve had wounds I didn’t even know existed healed. I’ve been asked to pick up a cross, brutal and rugged and bloodstained…and I’ve had Christ yoke himself to me and ease the journey.
And through it all, I’ve come to embrace the “think and let think” phrase more and more. God has changed me tremendously. If you could see the person I was fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t recognize that person as the one you know now. Not only was I younger and thinner–I was extremely conservative, very shy, and uncertain. I was looking to the conventional wisdom of my culture to help guide me in my faith–it informed how I voted, what stances I took on hot-button issues, and how I related to others.
Now I tend to be outspoken and not very shy, though still quiet in large gatherings. I’m a lot plumper than I once was, have more grey hairs, and I find more inspiration in the rituals and liturgies of the church at worship than I do in conventional wisdom. I no longer let my culture tell me how to vote or think, or what stances to take–now the simple test I put before all those issues is one question: “How does this reflect the love and grace of Christ?”
As a younger woman I fretted over what it meant that there were people calling themselves Christians who didn’t think and act and understand the world as I was taught to do. I worried about schism and about how to convince those who thought differently from me how to “come around” to “right thinking.”
Now I don’t worry so much about schism and I’m not concerned with coercing others into a “right thinking”… and yet, even as it seems that in my soul I have become more relaxed and more trusting of God’s wisdom and guidance, the world around me has become more and more polarized.
It seems that no matter what I do, there is someone waiting to whap me up-side the head with a Bible and screech about how wrong I am. And I know that I am not alone. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over the past week with ministers and laity who have had their very faith questioned because of things like who they have voted for, what political party in which they are registered, the books they read, their positions on current issues, etc…
That’s when I recalled a status update Rachel Held Evans posted on Facebook a while back. As a public figure and writer, she often comes under fire for one reason or another. I’m not sure what the back story for the status update was–perhaps she had just been dragged into another debate, perhaps she was simply sharing a thought that had come to her–but it has stuck with me:
“The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. You’re not ‘contending for the gospel’ when you disagree with someone on gender roles; you’re just disagreeing on gender roles. You’re not ‘contending for the gospel’ when you debate predestination and free will; you’re just debating predestination and free will, as Christians have done for centuries. You’re not ‘contending for the gospel’ by interpreting Genesis 1 as literal science; you’re just interpreting Genesis 1 as literal science. You’re not ‘contending for the gospel’ when you take to Twitter to call faithful Christians with whom you disagree heretics, false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, Bible-haters, and gospel-deniers; you’re just being a jerk. The Gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners-saved-by-grace committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and saying, ‘Welcome. There’s bread and wine. Come and eat. Let’s talk.'”
None of us has a corner on the gospel. It is a complex and living word filled with mystery. Just when we think we’ve figured it out God comes alone and shakes this big snow-globe we live in and suddenly everything looks different. I know. God has shaken me up more times than I count. So… yeah… let’s think and let think. And let’s let Jesus do the judging.