This month, our General Conference meets to elect new leaders for the next quadrennium, and enact new or amend existing legislations in our Methodist Book of Discipline, among other matters. This responsibility is entrusted to 42 delegates elected by their Annual Conferences. Most Methodists in Singapore would be unaware of – even uninterested in – the proceedings, except for the outcome of the episcopal election.
When we reflect on the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, it might not have occurred to many that it is left to us human beings to determine its composition, organisation and activities. Think about it: What we believers decide and do affect Christ’s Body.
What is our Lord Himself doing about this? Surely He is not unaware of what we do. He is also active in the processes taking place in His Body, for He has said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Not only will Christ build up His Body, He also declared that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (ESV). He will not let His Body – the Church – decline to death.
The fact that our actions affect the Body of Christ and the truth that He will build His Church are not mutually-exclusive realities. It is not a case of “either-or” but one of “both-and”.
It is similar to what happens in our physical body. There are physiological processes that function to grow, strengthen and heal the body. But the body needs the input of external resources and substances to aid the natural processes. When both aspects complement each other, the body is able to resist attempts to weaken and destroy it.
However, this illustration falls short of the reality of what God is doing in His Body, because in 1 Corinthians 3:16 we are told that the Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within it. What God does to build His Church is not from the outside; He is on the inside working out His purposes to build it.
Yet God gives us the freedom to make our decisions that affect His Body. If it were me, I would not allow anyone to make decisions regarding my body, unless I was sick. That appears to be our modus operandi sometimes – we desperately turn to prayer only when we are in serious trouble. When the situation is fine, prayer becomes a mere formality.
Actually, God wants us to treat the Church as our Body as well: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:27). The context is the exhortation for Christians to pursue love (1 Cor 13) in the exercise of their spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14) which are meant to build up the Body of Christ. Just like we are to practice self-care of our physical bodies, we must do the same for our collective spiritual Body, the Church. Christ builds His Church even as we do the same.
It is an amazing example of the wisdom of God that this dual effort is the way He builds the Church. God does not make certain persons do what He wants for the Church; this would only make such persons mere robots. Rather, He allows us to do our part of our own volition for the Church, while at the same time He accomplishes what He desires to be the best for His Body.
Sure, we can glean clues about His expectations for the Church from our reading of the Bible. And there may be occasions when the Church seems to be in a quagmire for apparently making bad choices. But let us not forget God is also working out His plans and purposes at the same time.
Every time the General, Annual or Local Conference comes around, it is an opportunity for Methodists to behold the inscrutable ways of God in action.
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Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup –
was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2012. He has been a Methodist pastor for more than 30 years.