When I was in seminary, a professor whom I highly respected shared with me his opinion that Jesus didn’t have to die. An intelligent man, he had a superb grasp of the English language and the ability to clearly express his theological beliefs, so there was no misunderstanding him. He believed Jesus’ death was the unfortunate result of political and religious conflict. As he saw it, it was a death that could have been avoided had Jesus or the other players made different choices.
This perspective seems to fly in the face of a very important point Jesus made during his brief conversation with Pilate. When Pilate questioned Jesus’ silence, he reminded Jesus this his life lay in his (Pilate’s) hands, and that he might want to consider giving a defense. Jesus responded, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate knew that he had the power to free Jesus or have his crucified. What he didn’t know was that God was the one ultimately calling the shots concerning Jesus’ life. Though Pilate was unable to perceive this truth, he was nevertheless only doing what the Father had designed.
While God’s sovereignty has never been a foundational tenet of a Wesleyan theological worldview (Wesleyan being the belief system based on the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism), we still hold to the belief that human freewill has limits—and that we’ll probably never fully understand the ins and outs of those limits while still living on this side of heaven. The point is, there are times when we think we’re choosing to do something when in fact we’re unknowingly living into God’s larger design.
Taking Jesus at his word, I believe that the power of our United Methodist bishops to appoint clergy to their respective local churches is a power granted to them by God. Yes, the bishop is the human agent making the final decision, but their decisions are not just their own; discussions and decisions are bathed in prayer and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God not only has a hand in the final decision, but at some level is working to fulfill his ultimate purposes. Because this is so (and I believe it is), we can rest assured knowing that pastoral changes are rarely, if ever, contrary to God’s will. This is not to suggest that pastoral changes are easy, but it may help to know that God is working out his larger purposes when he “allows” these changes in pastoral leadership.
For those of you looking forward to receiving a new pastor, you can be delighted that God’s plans and purposes involve such a change at this particular point in time. For those of you who are not ready for a pastoral change, may you be comforted that God knows what he’s doing, and that he’s the one who’s ultimately in control.