The Methodist Church has always been involved to my knowledge in social activism from its very inception. For decades now the church has fought the pressures from within and outside groups to change the teaching, or to be more exact, the doctrinal teachings of the church and church law. Both of these efforts always conflict with biblical standards and centuries of Christian beliefs and standards. Like right on cue I came across an article in the publication, The Next Methodism, written by Timothy Tennent, basically answering the question “What’s next”. Before I get to far into this there are many denominations experiencing this rush for change driven by the demands of our present times and fueled by societal, cultural, and agenda driven groups. I am somewhat uncomfortable with the following statement in the opening remarks of the article.
“there is an understandable excitement about the launch of the next Methodism out of the ashes of the current tragedy known as the United Methodist Church”
Not only is this statement, in my opinion as a Layman in the church but also a person who is very familiar with this traveling caravan of disruption and one thought idealism, offensive and not accurate but to be fair in this world of uncivil discourse, I will rephrase that to read… It is not accurate, at least from the pew I am sitting in. For decades same-sex issues have dominated District and General conferences as well Annual and to be clear they were not the only issues that were dealt with at these meetings but they were the most emotional, disruptive and hurtful to the body of the church. What is the issue that has brought us to this stage? If you replied same-sex, you might be wrong. The reason I say this is that I am guilty of not understanding or seeing the big picture myself. While I don’t agree with some of the things written in his article…. I do appreciate Mr. Tennent pointing me to the bigger picture.
For decades many books have been written and read, position papers published, conversations and positions taken about just this issue alone.The disturbing thing about the issue now is that we, the church, are leaning toward the consideration that the most likely way to settle it, as being a spilt… in common terms… a divorce, a nasty one that would necessitate an equitable distribution of assets. Can you imagine that! There are those among the church who believe that we, God’s people, should divide what belongs to God among ourselves to satisfy an unreasonable horde of administrators and well educated theologians and unreasonable people of the faith! I must insert what I believe to be true… The majority of these people are sincere well meaning disciples of the church.There is much more here than many of we the laity know about and I include myself in that number. This from Asbury University… “John Wesley’s primary focus was upon the doctrine of salvation and the relationship between grace, faith, and holiness of heart and life. First, Wesley taught the classical doctrine of original sin and the absolute inability of human beings to save themselves through virtuous works. …”
“The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America was created in early 1843 as a result of a schism from the Methodist Episcopal Church over slavery, holiness, and the arbitrary use of episcopal power by the parent church.”
The word, episcopal power is of interest to me in this sentence. Many folks in the Pew are concerned that their voices are not being heard by leadership of the Methodist Church. A definition of which is:-of a bishop or bishops, • (of a Church) governed by or having bishops.
Consider this if you will please, from the United Methodist Resources:
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2012
The Ancient Creedal Faith
The United Methodist Church professes no faith other than the ancient Christian faith, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), rooted in Sacred Scripture, interpreted and taught by the Early Church Fathers and the Ancient Ecumenical Councils. This same grace-centered and Christ-centered faith was reasserted by the Reformers and was affirmed by the Anglican Church in which the Methodist movement first arose.
A creed by definition is a summary or statement of what one believes. It originates from the Latin credo meaning “I believe”. Some things have changed and one item seems to be that there is less use of the Methodist Creeds as in the past and yes people are talking about that. To what degree is this and what do these creeds say about us? There will be link at the end of the blog that will provide more information. I have struggled with this blog because one man’s cause is another man’s aggravation and the last thing the church needs is more of that. So let’s take a little break learning with history from classroom.synonym.com . There have been many divisions in the Methodist Church over the years since 1784 through 1840’s, and into the civil war which caused more division because of the bishops refusal to take an official stand on slavery. I like the fact that folks at “classroom” use the word division, seems a bit more civil than split. Then, in the 1880s, there were other divisions, some due to a concern that John Wesley’s teachings on holiness were not being emphasized enough within the whole body of the church. I am open to being corrected but in an effort to wrap this up allow me to share just a few more points with you. Timothy Tennent, in his written discourse points to some thoughts and acts that basically sum up where we are at due to previous actions. A flagship reasoning for the split in United Methodism over the ordination of men and women who are in same-sex marriages and The removal of wording in the Book of Discipline.I always believed for years it was because of these Nine little words.
The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. (303.3 Methodist Book of Discipline)
It has among the outside pressure groups been a standard rallying battle cry, picked up by other social justice warriors. They have so far been successful with the disruption and negative thoughts directed toward the United Methodist Church but have not been able to gain their goal. Sometimes an issue is so disruptive that it chokes itself… So they change the narrative to one that takes a little more finesse and requires some knowledge of the issues. The article includes three acts that are found in Billy Abraham’s chapter of the Next Methodism and is entitled “Doctrine or Death”. Now I will re-print those here for a hopefully clearer picture of where we find ourselves today as written by Mr. Abraham. Remember that what you are about to read is verbatim from his writings.
Act One was the confusion that the replacement of the ecumenical creeds with Wesley’s 44 canonical sermons and his Notes to the New Testament led to the false idea that Wesley was not committed to the grand ecumenical tradition.
Acts Two was the rise of social activism and human experience which further distanced Methodism from historic doctrinal confessions.
In Act Three the United Methodist church further distanced itself from the grand ecumenical tradition, replacing it with a form of pluralism which allowed endless innovations of both faith and practice. Mr. Abraham comments made note of the fact that In Act Two we lost our Wesleyan heritage. He also notes that In Act Three we lost our very identity as a distinctive Christian movement. The failure of many of our official UM seminaries and episcopal leaders to guard our Christian identity led to our current untenable situation where we no longer have any viable basis for unity in mission, doctrine or experience.
I am going to step back in the Pew to close this out. I do not favor a split, division or any other means of settling these obvious differences that may occur other than the use of that good old Methodist 3 legged stool, Reason Tradition and Experience. Mr. Tennent and Mr. Abraham, both used that stool to arrive at their positions and though I would consider myself not entirely in their Pew, I respect and admire their work and thoughts. I realize it might be a bit pretentious on my part…. I close with this thought…. Nothing of any value is ever conceived or blessed in an atmosphere of distrust, rancor or absence of God’s blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Unity in the body of the believers and Our God will survive this issue. The Church shall not be split and stand.
Life is Good