Dr. Timothy Tennent: Into 2021 by Faith
Ecclesiastes 3:1 wisely reminds us that “There is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” 2021 promises to be a “turning year” in the sense that this will be a hinge year which will separate the “season” of what we have known from the “season” of what will be. There are several ways in which this year promises to be a “turning year.”
First, 2021 represents a huge “turning year” in the political life of the United States.
I have never believed that Christian identity fits neatly within any political party, whether it be Republican, Democratic or Libertarian. I think struggling against political realities is a common experience among Christians, especially in recent years when facts and truth have become more commodities and perceptions, rather than building blocks of a shared cultural narrative. We often find ourselves voting for a lesser evil even as we fight for a greater good. 2021 is a time to recognize that we may face different challenges than we have faced previously, but we always have to recognize the challenges of our times. We must be faithful to Jesus Christ, resolute in our faith in the gospel, and steadfast and courageous in our witness. The season which is before us will test the church in new ways. We must be reminded afresh of the wisdom in Hebrews 11, which declares that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth.”
The second “turning” which we will experience in 2021 will be the receding of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early 2020, the hope was to invest a few weeks of isolation and economic “shut down” in order to “bend the curve” and to protect the capacities of our intensive care units. Gradually, we all recognized that the normal patterns of our lives were being radically altered. This was not going to be a quick fight, but a prolonged struggle. It eventually became evident that the actual goal was to reach “herd” immunity through the aggregation of three numbers: First, those who have sufficient numbers of the right kind of T-cells and, therefore, were/are already highly resistant to COVID-19. Second, those who have contracted COVID-19 and have recovered and have antibodies which will protect them for at least some period of time, and third, those who get vaccinated and fall within the 95% for whom the vaccination is effective. When the aggregate number of those three equals approximately 80% of the population, then we will be in a substantially different situation than we are in today. At the present pace, that percentage will probably not be achieved until late July. However, the point is, 2021 is the “turning year” for COVID-19.
The pastoral work which will eventually emerge in the wake of COVID-19 will be immense. The focus during 2020 has been on physically protecting the vulnerable. We can all debate endlessly about the wisdom of the response to COVID-19, but we can agree that we have not even begun to fully grasp the full emotional, social, economic, and psychological toll of this pandemic. Aging parents isolated in nursing homes, restaurant owners who have lost their life investments, blue collar workers who are losing their homes, the emotional toll for many who have not been physically touched for almost a year, and the loss of education for many children who (for many reasons) have not been able to learn through zoom class technology, are just a few examples of the wreckage left behind by this global pandemic. The church has an enormous opportunity to be an agent of healing and grace as we turn from the pandemic to the realization of the full toll of COVID-19.
The third “turning point” of 2021 will be the dissolution of the United Methodist Church.
This will likely not be a simple split into two parts, but a series of breakaway groups. For example, we have already seen the first wave of departures with the formation of the Liberation Methodist Connection (LMX) on November 29th. This group cannot even be called a Christian movement by any theological, biblical or historical standard. Yet, even the prospect of a United Methodist Church with the traditionalists gone (as per the Protocol agreement) was apparently not “progressive” enough for this group. The currently set date for the 2021 UMC General Conference is August 29 – September 07. At that time, there will be several additional divisions in the United Methodist Church, including a new denomination organized by the Wesleyan Covenant Association members. This makes 2021 a vital year for faithful, prayerful and courageous leadership by pastors in the United Methodist Church. If you are a member of another Wesleyan stream denomination such as the Wesleyans, Free Methodists, AME, Nazarene, Salvation Army, or Christian Missionary Alliance, you should follow the UMC break-up with close attention, not only because many of the departing members may very well end up in your church, but because we are all invested in the vitality of the Wesleyan message in our world.
Yes, 2021 is a “turning year” for many reasons. But, the greatest turning of all is when someone turns their heart towards Jesus Christ. May this be the year when we see hundreds of thousands of men, women and children turning to Jesus Christ in a renewed way. This is the hope of your calling. This is the prayer of the church. This is the glory of the gospel.
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