United Methodism’s Future, Part II: History and Doctrine

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.

Cling

It is a manifestation of our human condition that we cling to things.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally, symbolically. And the nature of the items to which we cling has a bearing on the outcomes we experience in the various spheres of our lives. If we cling vociferously to material things – wealth, possessions, and the like, this most often occurs at the expense of our emotional and spiritual well-being.

The Bible is clear about divided loyalties:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

Elsewhere, the Bible describes the love of money as the root of evil [1 Tim 6:10] (not money itself, but the unbridled love and desire to possess it).

Having to go through a lifetime of acquired possessions in my parents’ house after they went into long-term care was an eye-opening experience. I’m not judging my parents; both came from very humble poor roots and rose to professional careers and a wonderful family. I was and am blessed by them.

But after 60 years together, they accumulated many items. They were not obsessed with stuff; it just kinda piled up over time. Many of those items now have a new home, either in another house or the landfill.

God desires that we cling to Him and His Word in life and faith. I have been in Psalm 119 lately. The Psalmist declares:

30 I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.

31 I cling to Your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame.

Paul exhorts us in his letter to the Colossians (Chapter 3, Verse 2);

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

This verse is pretty clear to me, where I need to cling. I also like the word “Set” – an action verb. God enables the transformation of our minds toward Him; our act of will and volition based on His power and promises brings it into execution.

I pray that you will decide to cling to the King. #Jesus

Substandard Care

We are all caretakers of souls…

Ours, first and foremost. What are we feeding our soul? What dangerous and toxic influences are we allowing free and unfettered access to the innermost parts of our being? What old clingy habits do we need to remove, and forcibly evict?? How can we effectively lead others to Christ if our own souls are in shambles?

But also the souls of others. Those with whom God has entrusted us with a spiritual fiduciary responsibility. Children, grandchildren, even those pesky kids that sometimes run amok at church. Are we investing in the proper development of their souls? But there are countless others, from our family, friends and neighbors to school and work colleagues, to random people we meet in not-so-random God-ordained opportunities. Every day.

Substandard care from an engineering or architectural perspective may result in weakness and fatigue in a structure that may not be visible at first, but eventually results in collapse and destruction.

Substandard care in a soul may also result in destruction, but one which is eternal and irreversible. While a building may be rebuilt, a soul at death without faith and trust in Jesus Christ is destined to spend eternity in Hell. There is no greater human tragedy.

What can we do? First, ensure our own soul is covered by the blood of Jesus on the cross. Second, love and care for other souls in a way which points them to the Christ. Life on earth is short and fleeting, and there’s no time for shoddy care of precious souls.

We are called by God to care for souls, just as He does…

Acts 20:28 (Easy English Bible) You should be careful about yourselves, and about what you are doing. Keep safe the people that the Holy Spirit has asked you to help. Lead all the groups of believers. Some men have their own sheep. They feed the sheep and they keep them safe. Be like that kind of man. All the believers belong to God because Jesus died for them. He gave his life blood for them.

The Mockingbirds

“God is not mocked.”  Gal 6:7

But seemingly He is.

  • The Democratic Party booed God at their national convention in 2012
  • Students at Columbine High (CO) were asked if they believed in God before being shot and killed by a couple of their classmates
  • Athlete Tim Tebow was relentlessly vilified and ridiculed for publicly expressing his faith in Christ

There are just a few examples off the top of my head.  You might think of others as well.

“God is dead.”

So declared Friedrich Nietzsche in the latter part of the 19th Century.  How wrong he was, he quickly ascertained one second after his death.

And those who would pick up Nietzsche’s declaration today are wrong as well.  The more man attempts to stamp out and kill the Christian faith, the more it grows and multiplies.  It’s like a harried man trying to stomp out a fire, only to have three or four pop up in its place.

Let the mockingbirds sing their anthem.  We, whose faith is minimized, marginalized, maligned, and worse – are praying for their souls.


Gal 6:7
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.

Lord, If Thou art Willing

Lord If Thou Art Willing

And when he came down from the mount, great multitudes did follow him, and lo, a leper having come, was bowing to him, saying, ‘Sir, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me;’ and having stretched forth the hand, Jesus touched him, saying, ‘I will, be thou cleansed,’ and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith to him, ‘See, thou mayest tell no one, but go, thyself shew to the priest, and bring the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony to them.’ [Matthew 8:1-4]


And having sternly charged him, immediately he put him forth, and saith to him, ‘See thou mayest say nothing to any one, but go away, thyself shew to the priest, and bring near for thy cleansing the things Moses directed, for a testimony to them.’ And he, having gone forth, began to proclaim much, and to spread abroad the thing, so that no more he was able openly to enter into the city, but he was without in desert places, and they were coming unto him from every quarter. [Mark 1:43-45]


I have been pondering on this passage for a while.  I prayed this very same prayer that the leper made, while waiting on the Lord to heal my nerve pain.  And He did answer my prayer, although in an extended healing over time rather than the quick relief [like the leper] I had asked for.  I am still on that journey to recovery – but amazed at how far I have already come.  Or rather, how far He has carried me.


I am struck by three things in this passage.


First, the leper asked unabashedly for Jesus to heal him.  He recognized Jesus as a source of healing, fought the crowds to get near Him, and knelt before the Lord to make his request.  I imagine Jesus loves this kind of dogged determination to get close to Him.  The leper was a social outcast.  I can picture others making efforts to avoid this man as he made his effort to get to the Lord.  The leper is a picture of all of us with the stain of sin in our lives.  We are not clean, but we recognize Jesus as the One who can take away our sin.


Second, the leper anticipated the healing.  To be sure, he asked the Lord “if thou art willing,” but at the same time he stretched out his hand to be healed.  Because perhaps of what he had seen or heard about Jesus, he had full confidence that Jesus would in fact heal him!  What great faith!  In the same way, we can have full confidence that God will heal us.  First, to heal our heart of the sin that comes between us and God.  Second, often through physical or mental healing according to His will.  And third, in our final and ultimate healing when He calls us home.  We will not suffer the infirmities of this physical life when we reach our final reward in glory!


Finally, despite Jesus’ stern warning not to tell anyone about what had happened, the former leper could not contain the joy inside of being touched by God.  We can, I think forgive this man for disobeying Jesus’ command to keep it quiet.  Jesus probably wanted less focus and attention on the miracle itself, and more focus on lives changed forever by Him.  We see from the parallel passages in Mark and Luke that instead of telling no one, the former leper made such a fuss, so to speak, that Jesus had to move His ministry out of the city and into the desert.  If you think about it, leprosy is a very visible disease. People who knew this man could not help but see the change. And he could not help but proclaim the work of Jesus in his life! 


We as believers in Jesus should also exhibit a manifested change because of His healing in our life and soul.  We should also have joy so pent up inside that we cannot fail to tell others about what Jesus did for us.



Lord, if thou art willing…I am willing; be thou cleansed

Shipwrecked

Shipwrecked

Author’s Note:  I will be speaking frankly about the perils of allowing sin a foothold, even to the point of a believer embracing and loving sin more than their calling or ministry to the Kingdom.  I am speaking as a man, but temptation, sin, and destruction of faith can occur in the life of any believer.


1 Timothy 1:19

Keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.


2 Corinthians 11:25

Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.


The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two [actually three] about shipwrecks.  In carrying out God’s mission to spread the gospel, Paul saw and experienced many hardships.  And a ship is a hard thing to slam into reef or rocks.


And thus, Paul – having experienced shipwreck firsthand three times – saw it as the perfect metaphor to describe what happens to certain believers in Jesus Christ who are sucked into temptation, sin, depravity, greed, pride, the lies of the Devil, perhaps even outright rebellion against God.  Essentially – usurping His rightful place on the throne of their hearts.  And suffering massive damage to their faith in the process.



Recently as last night I was told of a believer who is currently going through divorce.  He has led ministry groups in the church.  But now there is rumor of a long history of infidelity and affairs.  To be fair, I haven’t spoken with the man in question, or even confirmed the rumor.  But it brought to mind the devastation that Satan is wrecking on the church, especially with those in positions of ministry and leadership.  Particularly with men and sexual sin.


Several years ago, a pastor friend of mine recounted the story of a church elder who was widely respected in the community, led ministry and Bible study, started new churches, etc…  My friend relayed the story of an unnamed woman who came to him and described this elder often spending the night and getting up next to her in the morning.  The Elder was unmarried.


Unfortunately, I have other examples of shipwrecked ministry.


Of course, it doesn’t have to be sexual sin; it could be greed. It could be pride and desire for power and control.


I have seen the darkness of the soul, and I have no desire to see it again.  But always it looms, watching and waiting for an opportunity.


Here is the bottom line:  We can never, repeat – NEVER – take a day off from guarding and protecting our hearts and souls from the demonic forces that foment sin.  NEVER.  We can never take off the armor of God, never allow some shallow, worthless pleasure in this life take the place of Jesus Christ the Messiah in our hearts.  NEVER.  Never give in to the siren song of temptation that leads us to steer our ship of faith right into the rocks.  NEVER.


If you are struggling with a sin that is crippling your relationship with God, I am praying for you now.  Father, we say “we are only human”, or “we have needs,” but that is a lie from the devil, because we use it to rationalize and justify sin.  Forgive all of us who have glorified hedonistic pleasure, greed for money or material things, or the desire for power, as idols in place of you.  Cleanse us of all unrighteousness.  Give us a desire for more of You, then to be filled with the Spirit, to spread the gospel to others – who like us – struggle with sin.  Hurl our sin to the bottom of the sea and give us new hearts for You.  Turn our shipwrecks into monuments of lives radically changed; not drowned with sin, but rescued by the Life Preserver, Jesus Christ.  To Him be all honor, glory and praise, forever and ever, and in His mighty name I pray. Amen.