Note: This is a follow up post to my previous blog entry on recent events in the United Methodist Church [UMC]. This entry will focus on the historical basis of UMC doctrine. Although I could never be considered a theologian or church historian, I will write on my understanding from learned people who fit that bill. If there is anything worthy in this writing, all glory to God. If any misstatements or inaccuracies, they are all on me. To Almighty God in Heaven be all glory, honor, and praise!
If you perchance read my last post, I am grateful. But regardless, I will attempt to succinctly sum up the essence of the issue:
- The United Methodist Church has experienced a 40+ year decline in membership since the 1968 merger
- The chief issue surrounds the authority of Holy Scripture, more specifically regarding boundaries in human sexuality, the definition of marriage, and qualifications for ordination of pastors and bishops.
- A called General Conference [GC] in 2019 affirmed the traditional position on these matters
- A diverse group within the UMC agreed to a plan and protocol of amicable separation, given the firm divisions in the church
- This group pledges to support legislation at the regularly scheduled May 2020 GC to implement the Plan of Separation
Fair Disclosure: I consider myself a conservative evangelical in support of traditional Christian doctrine handed down by the saints of the past (faithful followers of Jesus Christ pledged to contend/defend the faith once and for all entrusted to them ~ Jude 1:3).
Sources: Re the doctrinal history of the UMC, I rely heavily on the treatise “The Trust Clause Governing Use of Property in the United Methodist Church: Faithfulness to the connection according to established doctrinal standards” by Thomas C. Oden, the late esteemed professor at Drew University School of Theology.
Abbreviated Doctrinal History of the UMC
- The Official Doctrine of the UMC has been established since the earliest days of Methodism [Late 1700s], and includes:
- Wesley’s Standard Sermons
- 25 Articles of Religion [condensed from the 39 Articles of the Church of England]
- Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament
- These doctrinal standards were further confirmed by the Confession of Faith, adopted in the 1968 Methodist-EUB merger
- The First Restrictive Rule of 1808 states: “The General Conference shall not revoke, alter or change our Articles of Religion, nor establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.”
- Bishops and ordained clergy are sworn in under an oath which includes a requirement to defend the doctrine enumerated above, or be subject to disciplinary action
- Although perhaps not well-known by the average United Methodist, UMC doctrine is officially well-protected from addition, deletion, or dilution. It would require ¾ of the annual conferences to affirm the change, and 2/3 majority in the General Conference. To my knowledge, this very difficult constitutional test has never been met.
My Commentary on UMC Doctrine and these matters
Despite these very strong protections, and that fact that UMC doctrine (as defined above) is substantially in alignment with post-Reformation traditional evangelical faith, I feel that many in the denomination have violated their vows by preaching and teaching a different gospel. Unable to officially change UMC doctrine, many have sought an alternative way, with the knowledge that (for the most part) no disciplinary actions would follow. Such persons have espoused, or taken part in heretical/apostate teaching [see below], administered or approved [even through inaction] same sex ceremonies [in violation of the UM Discipline], and ordination/appointment of ministers who are in same sex relationships [also in violation of the Discipline].
Several years ago, I was one of several signatories bringing charges against a retired bishop. The bishop was teaching and writing material that clearly denied key tenets of the Christian faith [not just UMC], such as the denial of the virgin birth and denial of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. The matter made its way to the Council of Bishops, who held a proceeding but took no action against their episcopal colleague. Although thankfully over the years certain pastors have been disciplined via church trial, others such as the Bishop in my case, have not.
Salient points: I state the above without personal animus toward any (including the retired bishop); quite the contrary, I love each with the love of Christ. It is with much sadness that I give the assessment above. If I am in the wrong in any way, I humbly ask forgiveness. One last point; any one sin is no more, or no less egregious than any other. None of us are without sin.
Separation without Anxiety?
Because I have long believed we are at an impasse within the UMC, I am glad that a plan is moving forward to allow the UMC to be divided into at least two distinct denominations. One will be a Traditional (conservative/evangelical) offshoot, while the Post-Separation UMC [PSUMC] will almost certainly be more liberal. The PSUMC is planning for a vote (after a successful separation vote at GC2020) to remove language prohibitions against same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. How this will be accomplished given the First Restrictive Rule, I am unsure.
Following separation will be a period of transition, in which annual conferences and local churches will align with specific post-separation denominations. I am asking all fellow UMs [and others] to pray for Almighty God’s guidance and discernment in these matters. Although these are weighty spiritual matters, we should not be anxious about them. Our Heavenly Father is already moving in this process. I pray that the decision of my heart, and that of my local church, will be according to His will.
There will be no denominations in Heaven, only the redeemed Body of Christ. We operate as imperfect beings within man-made affiliations; the membership thereof will not save any of us. Let us yield our will to that of Christ, fall before Him in humble submission, and ask Him to renew and restore us.