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.

United Methodism’s Future

**NOTE**  This post is aimed primarily at fellow UMs, but may be of interest to any who are concerned with the future of evangelicalism, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and making disciples for Jesus Christ.  While there are sharp (and deeply held) convictions about the issues described below, my goal is and always will be to speak the truth in love, even if others do not consider my words to be so.  There is no intent of animus, and I love each of my fellow UMs with the love of Christ.  If there is any fault or error below, the blame rests with me.

 

A Brief Refresher

The current United Methodist Church [UMC] is the product of a merger which occurred in 1968.  Since that time, membership and vitality of the UMC in America may be fairly characterized as “on the decline.”   American UMC membership has declined by approximately 4 million since the merger.  In contrast, the UMC in Africa and the Philippines and other parts of the world is growing.   Further, there appears to be a large disconnect between the laity in the pews and the episcopacy [bishops] and institutional leadership of the UMC Boards and agencies, and most denominational seminaries. The laity [and thankfully many pastors] tend to be more conservative and traditional in their views than these denominational leaders.  The chief issue between UMs over the last several years concerns human sexuality and the definition of marriage.

 

Not just a Sexuality Issue

Every four years at General Conference [GC], petitions to change the historic teaching of the UMC on human sexuality [which prohibits ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex marriage ceremonies] are brought forward, and are continually defeated with substantial and generally growing margins.  I (along with many other evangelicals) believe the crux of this debate to be the larger issue of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.  I believe that God created humanity [in His image], and also created marriage between one man and one woman.  Any expression of sexuality outside these bounds is not in harmony with Scripture.  That said, homosexuality is no more a sin than heterosexual adultery, or other forms of sex outside monogamous heterosexual marriage.

 

2019 Called General Conference

The UMC convened a called GC in 2019 to address potential solutions, ahead of the regularly scheduled GC2020.  The GC2019 affirmed [yet again] the traditional stance of the UMC.  While the vote caused consternation and resentment among many, I believe it was the correct decision and again reflected the views of many in the pews.  The vote was also important in that it led to a greater understanding of the need to explore options for separation.  A diverse group representing both traditional and progressive viewpoints has since met and adopted a Protocol Statement supporting a plan of “amicable separation,” and a pledge to support legislation at GC2020 to implement this plan.

 

Amicable Separation

Perhaps some in the denomination have not wanted to contemplate the “break-up” of the current UMC [understandable to a point), but it has been an inevitability for some time.  We are and have been a much divided denomination.  Having to endlessly deal with the same issue at successive General Conferences detracts from our mission [“You have nothing to do but save souls” – John Wesley].  Thus, I was pleased to read that a group had reached agreement to allow UM annual conferences, individual churches, and each UM to determine which of the successor denominations to affiliate and worship with, once the UMC is separated into components [initial steps planned for GC2020].  Certainly, a planned amicable split is much preferred to an unpredictable contested breakup.  I will be in prayer about the upcoming GC, and I urge all reading this to join me.  Truly, prayer and fasting is called for at times such as this.

 

The Protocol Statement

The diverse group mentioned above issued their Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation (“Protocol”) on January 3, 2020.  There is a lot we do not know yet, and I am making generalities, but I will be referring to that part of UM that is moderate-progressive as the Post-Separation UMC [PSUMC] and the more traditional part of the church as Evangelical Methodism [EM].  The reason for this distinction is that the Protocol provides a separate plan for the traditionalists, as we will see below.  Among the provisions of the Protocol:

  • Annual Conferences [AC] and local church [LC] congregations may vote to join one of the new denominations formed under the plan of separation. At least one Traditional denomination will be formed, with a block of UM funds to be segregated for the EM denomination(s).  Otherwise, such conferences or churches would become part of the PSUMC.  Individual UMs would be able to follow their church/conference decision, or could move to another church that best reflects their beliefs.
  • Conferences and churches that vote to leave shall maintain their assets and liabilities
  • All current UM clergy would keep their pensions, regardless of their eventual denomination
  • Annual Conferences [USA] may choose [through a 57% majority] to affiliate with a different denomination than the PSUMC.
  • Interestingly, Central Conferences [non-US] require a 2/3 vote to disaffiliate from the PSUMC. Why the tougher threshold?  Theologically, the Central conferences would seem to align more with the EM denomination, but have a higher threshold to get there.  My own personal feeling is that many of the African UM churches would leave UM altogether than be affiliated with a church that further deteriorates positions on human sexuality.  Just my thoughts.
  • A local church may vote [with majority threshold set by church Council] to affiliate with a denomination different than its AC

 

Next Steps

  • The Judicial Council of the UMC [the denominational “Supreme Court”] must declare any proposed legislation originating out of the Protocol as constitutional.
  • Prayer and love and grace are needed in ample quantities as this process moves forward. These are not easy decisions by any means.  As a “lifelong” UM myself, it will not be easy to think about the post-UMC landscape.
  • No matter where we stand currently on the UM spectrum, we love and respect with dignity those who align elsewhere
  • I pray that amicable separation will be healthy for the mission of the sharing the gospel, making disciples, and impacting our world for Jesus Christ

Not Ready

I sit at my Dad’s bedside, as he slowly progresses toward the end of his earthly life and beginning of his forever life with Jesus in eternity.

I contemplate the last 4 years.

I was not ready when Dad went through an event in which he lost a lot of his cognitive ability.

I was not ready when my parents began to lose control of their ability to live independently.

I was not ready when he and Mom needed to be moved to an assisted living facility.

I was not ready when Alzheimer’s became so prevalent for Mom, when she needed hospice care, and eventually when she went home to be with the Lord.

And I’m not ready now, when Dad has followed the same path as Mom, and is going home with Jesus.

Assuredly I should have been ready. I’ve lived long enough to know that life always changes. But in my heart I always wanted my parents to stay just as they were. I know it’s selfishness on my part.

And now I’m not ready for the grace that Jesus bestows, despite my weakness and failures. Assuredly I do not deserve it.

Psa 34:18 Jehovah is near to those of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit.

Psa 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

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

Pay Now or Later

An oil filter manufacturer once made the following pitch in its advertisements; “you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

The meaning of course was that in maintaining the engine of our car, we can pay a few bucks every now and then for a new filter, or pay a mechanic a large bill later if we fail to maintain the engine.

I know this is an imperfect analogy, but all such human attempts to describe Jesus will be thus.

We can ignore Christ, fail to maintain our soul, and go through life on borrowed time so to speak. But one day, either at the instant of our physical death or at the moment of the Lord’s return, we will be called to account for our soul.

Allow the Holy Spirit to filter out all the impurity of your soul. We will all bend our knees and pay homage to the Lord of Heaven. Much, much better to pay now by giving up our sins, receiving His forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life, than to pay later through eternal death in Hell.

Amen.

Poem:

Payday [Rom 6:23]

I want it
I need it
I love it!
It’s fantastic…
don’t blow a gasket!

Might I suggest you read the fine print?

Living your own way
does have it’s payday
The only problem?
It’s a deathly wage

05/30/14

The Dividing Line

This entry relates to a recent Twitter post:

Try to imagine the accumulation of all your sins through today. If we’re honest, the number is staggering. Now extend that thought to every person who has ever lived or will ever live until Christ returns. It’s a number beyond comprehension. Think of how any one individual sin grieves God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the crushing weight of the rebellion of mankind that fell on the back of Jesus Christ.

Our sins put Him there. The nails held his physical body there. But it boggles my mind how Jesus and the cross could keep from plowing through the earth to physically cut it in half, loaded as He was with all our sins.

It’s a mental picture to be sure, of the impact and weight of sin, but in fact Jesus & the cross does divide the earth. Jesus himself said:

 
Luke 12:51-53

Do you think that I have come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.  For from now on, there will be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.  They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

I also thought of the three men who professed to follow Jesus, but gave excuses for not doing so.

 

Luke 9:57-62

As they went on the way, a certain man said to him, “I want to follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  He said to another, “Follow me.”  But he said, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.”  But Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but you go and announce the kingdom of God.”  Another also said, “I want to follow you, Lord, but first allow me to bid farewell to those who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 

On the surface these are not unreasonable requests. But Jesus knows the heart of these men. And He is certainly making point, an emphasis, on the radical nature of being a fully devoted follower and disciple.

So what about us?

I profess freely that I have not loved Jesus with my whole heart. I have fallen short of His standard and His love. And what’s worse, sometimes it’s as if I try to keep one foot on each side of the dividing line. One foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom. It’s like trying to straddle a fissure line during an earthquake; in the end you just get swallowed up whole.

Our collective sin, grievous & voluminous as it is, did not break the back of Jesus. His triumph is our redemption.

 

~~~ . ~~~

 

Poem:

World-Breaker

He came to bring a message the world had no taste to hear

To build a bridge to Heaven, He first buried death and fear

The world was broken on His back, His hands, His feet

Our Lord Jesus, Messiah broke the back of sin

and the world became complete

01/26/15

The great Imposter

*Quick Post*

Just a quick reminder to all of us. Satan is not only our enemy; he has no substance whatsoever. His entire existence is based on pretending to be something he is not, and never will be.

  • Satan aspired to be God himself ( Isaiah 14:12-14)
  • Satan masquerades as an angel of light, when in reality he emanates nothing but darkness and emptiness (2Cor 11:14)
  • Satan could never be the Warrior- Protector Lion that Jesus Christ is, so he became a destroyer lion instead. (1Pet 5:8)

Yes, he is powerful and persuasive, but we can put Satan and his evil machinations under our feet, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Poem:

God Boots

Savage dark fool
what’ll it take to get
rid of you?
Stubborn as a stunted mule
Forensically ice blue
Incident to
the slaughter house
that rules
the hearts of men
to their eternal doom

You’re the one I eschew
Drive the stake of the flag
clear through
the banner of the Most High God
as here I take a stand
with your puny dominion
under my shoe
the Lord of Heaven
my armored boots

11/29/2012

Rom 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Merry Christmas! Happy Resurrection!

It may seem odd talking about Christmas just a few months into the new year, but I was thinking about attempts in recent years to banish Christ from Christmas. Whether it be governments limiting or outlawing nativity scenes, or the push to change “Merry Christmas” to simply “happy holidays.”

Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t noticed as much of an outcry about using the phrase “Happy Easter.” Perhaps it’s the name of Christ that is offensive to so many?

But why would you want to banish someOne who has been throughout human history the greatest Force for good?

Now before you begin take exception to this statement, I acknowledge that Christians (as well as others purporting to know Him) have made mistakes at times and done more harm than good. Because they are flawed human beings. That’s not my point.

I’m just wondering why you want to banish someone who has contributed so much to our civil society, even if you do not believe in him as the Son of God? Why do we have a law against murder; because it is written “Thou shalt not kill.” Even if you are an atheist, why would you not want a neighbor who believes in serving others over himself?

I will always say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Easter”, “Happy Resurrection Day”, “Happy day that Christ rose again and conquered death so that my sins, although grievous, could be forgiven and I might enjoy fellowship with my savior forever!”

And I pray that you can say this also. I pray that you have peace in your heart now and forever more. In need of a God like this? Almighty then!

Sabotage

Soldiers, mercenaries, terrorists.

Any of the above will do.

With a boldness unparalleled, these agents of warfare penetrate deep behind enemy lines. Their mission is clear; leave a wake of destruction through stealth, planting of minefields, and ambush of unsuspecting and unprepared combatants.

Even though multitudes of their fellow soldiers have been discovered, trapped and eliminated, they keep coming, undeterred as madmen from the denizens of Hell. Because that is exactly who they are.

The demonic minions of Satan never rest, never tire, never waver from the destruction of their enemy; which is that fellow or lady in the mirror, by the way.

Only one thing stops them in their tracks. One weapon that brings them to their knees.

“the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” [Eph 6:17]

And of course Jesus, who is the Living Word.

And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. [Mark 1:34]

I implore you as I remind me:

1. Put on your armor and keep it on [Eph 6]

2. Guard your heart [Prov 4:23]

3. Pray and Read the Word, especially when the forces of evil strike, intent on sabotaging your heart and faith.

In the strong name of Jesus, Amen.

Poem:

War on Self

I declare war
on the ruinous me
the kind that sneaks around
and loves the darkness deep
Who suppresses Christ
in favor of emptiness

This man is marked for death –
so that the new creation
can thrive, cloaked in the Holy Spirit

Charge!
And do not stop
do not look back
until you have thrust the spear
deep into the blackened heart
and reclaimed the King’s territory

To Him be honor, glory and praise
Forever and always

07/24/13