A Letter from Rob Renfroe on the State of The United Methodist Church

The year was 1738. The Church in England was ritualistic, cold, and lifeless. It had the form of religion, but it lacked power, was largely unconcerned about the masses, and was irrelevant to their needs.

Everything changed on May 24, 1738. An English clergyman had been seeking God. During a Moravian prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street, he found the One he was seeking – or better, the One he had sought found him.

John Wesley experienced the presence of God’s Spirit in a profound way while he was listening to a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. He described the experience in his journal: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Rob Renfroe headshots 001

Renfroe

No one could have imagined the far-reaching impact of Wesley’s experience. But it gave birth to a movement that would revive the church, transform British society, and become the greatest spiritual force in the New World. It would eventually bring people to Christ on every continent. Today, 60 million persons are his spiritual heirs. Sometimes we wonder: can one life really make a difference? What God did through John Wesley answered that question with a resounding, “Yes!”

I believe Wesleyan orthodoxy is one of God’s great gifts to the world. At its best, when we are true to Wesley’s vision, we combine head and heart, a belief in instantaneous conversion with an emphasis on the spiritual disciplines, and personal faith with a commitment to transforming society so that it reflects the values of the Kingdom. You and I are not only the beneficiaries of Mr. Wesley’s legacy; we are to be stewards as well, protecting and promoting the legacy for the glory of God and the salvation of a lost world.

A Legacy Threatened

I rejoice in what God did at Aldersgate Street with John Wesley on May 24, 1738. And I grieve when I think about what is being done to it in our time. Believe it or not, some liberals within the UM church, going back to retired Bishop Joseph Sprague and before, have denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ and the necessity of faith in Him for salvation.

That staggers me. Why even be part of a Christian ministry?

At the same time, progressives have championed a sexual ethic that contradicts what the Scriptures clearly teach. And today, those who pride themselves as centrists, and even our best known UM pastor, are now stating that parts of the Bible may be discarded, because some sections of the Scriptures were inspired by God and others were not.

It breaks my heart. But it also puts fire in my blood. What John Wesley gave his life to is being undermined.

One Church or Two?

Thank God that strong leaders are stepping forward. In the past six weeks I have twice joined 60 leading UM pastors and theologians on a conference call to discuss the crisis we are facing. The consensus is that if we are one church, we cannot act as if we are two. And if we are two churches – one that accepts the authority of the Scriptures and the full divinity of Christ and one that does not – then we should no longer pretend to be one.

At General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh, Dr.  William Hinson said he believed it was time for the UM Church to admit its deep differences and find a way to part amicably. Rather than being respected for his honesty and his desire to end the pain that our divisions bring, he was castigated, mocked, and made a villain by progressives and institutionalists. In other words, he was treated the way that prophets have always been treated.

The 60 UM leaders I have listened to are convinced that the UM Church can no longer continue as it is – doctrinally divided and with a growing number of bishops who refuse to enforce the Book of Discipline and who now openly promote gay marriage and encourage their pastors to perform such services. I cannot at this time tell you what the group will propose. But I can tell you that what these leaders will call upon the church to do will be done with grace, but also with firmness. There will be no desire to create winners and losers as we go forward. No need to create villians or punish those who are on the other side. But the status quo is unacceptable. We must go forward – and not as two churches pretending to be one. Either we must renew our commitment to Wesleyan orthodoxy as one church with faithful bishops, or we must become two churches, both free to pursue what we believe God would have us do.

No one foresees asking traditional United Methodists to walk away and leave the denomination and our churches to the progressives. If separation becomes necessary, it would require a careful, thoughtful, and fair process that honors the contributions and the sacrifices that orthodox United Methodists have made. Expecting a faithful majority to hand over what we have given our lives to build is simply not on the table.

Although I cannot tell you is what the future will be like for The United Methodist Church, I am certain that in four years, we will not be where we are now. We will have come together as an orthodox church. Or we will be on the way to becoming two churches, one orthodox and one progressive. Or we will be in complete chaos and those of us who are orthodox will no longer be able to support a church whose leaders and bishops are not willing to enforce the beliefs of the church.

Steadfast, Strong, and True

The first option of a return to orthodoxy is the most desirable, but not likely. The third option would be disastrous, but could easily come to pass. The middle option, though regrettable, may be our best way forward. The church will be different in four years. And I need you to stay with us during this time. Don’t get discouraged. Keep praying. Keep being faithful where you are. Keep proclaiming Jesus.

Yours in Christ,

Rob Renfroe

President

Comments

  1. Creed Pogue says

    Do you believe that changes will be made to our ordination standards or the chargeable offenses? If not, then it is more likely that those who are pursuing the changes will be the ones to leave.

    Should some discretion be taken out of the judicial process of The UMC? Should moves be made to have each area in the USA support their own bishop? There are positive steps to be taken. We should focus on those.

  2. George McClain says

    Dear Rob,

    Thank you for the clarity with which you lay out the Good News perspective on the current situation in the UMC. On one assertion I would request greater clarity, namely regarding the assertion that retired Bishop Joseph Sprague “has denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ.” That’s a fairly serious charge for which many of us would like to be familiar with the evidence.

    Looking forward to your response,
    George McClain (executive director emeritus, Methodist Federation for Social Action)

  3. W. L. and Lynda Hall says

    We are very sad that it has come to this, but we are delighted to see some of our church leaders step out in boldness, yet in love, in an effort to bring about a resolution to the division that has existed in the UMC for many years. We are very much committed to and believe in the authority of God’s Word. Many things in this world may change and evolve, but His Word is eternal. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and we pray that a solution can be achieved that will allow us to continue to be part of the UM church. May God give great wisdom to these leaders as they pursue a harmonious solution.

  4. James Schott says

    Thank you for assuming the mantle of leadership in this vital and most divisive issue. I recently completed reading Pastor Hamilton’s book, “Seeing Gray in a Black and White World” and now am just about finished with Pastor Arnold’s book, “Seeing Black and White in a Gray World.” Rev. Arnold’s rebuttal of some of Adam Hamilton’s views has strengthened my personal stance and I fully support Good News and the task before them. We, my wife and I, have been supporting the Confessing Movement Within the UMC for a short time in addition to our tithe to our local UMC. It seems to me at least, that there could be some duplication of effort in this cause and because financial resources are limited, is there a way or means to combine, share, or determine where resources should be prioritized? We support you and the most vital of causes.

  5. It comes down to this: will you follow Christ? No matter the cost! It’s not the easy road! Christ warned us ahead of time. Will you sell all you have and follow HIM? Stop making deals with evil! The children are watching and you are teaching them by example.

    Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor 6:17-18.

    He promised,
    Robin Williams

  6. Kenneth J. Collins, Ph.D. says

    Kindly stop referring to those folk who are disobedient to the General Conference, who flout the clear moral standards of our Book of Discipline and who advocate aberrant, unholy sexual practices as “progressive.” This loaded language is tantamount to lying. It is not progress in any sense to undermine the four great marks of the church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

  7. Is there any reason not to appoint a lay minister to become an officiant at gay weddings? There would be no need for ordained ministers to perform such weddings if we had an official alternative for this new social reality. Admittedly, there were no lay ministers appointed to this duty in the New Testament, but frankly, there was no such thing as a worship leader or a youth pastor in the NT either, and I can’t think of a single UMC church in my local area that doesn’t have both.

  8. Guest said, “Is there any reason not to appoint a lay minister to become an officiant at gay weddings? There would be no need for ordained ministers to perform such weddings if we had an official alternative for this new social reality.” For me, this is not a solution at all. It represents the kind of legalism condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23:25&26. The issue is not the ordained status of the person performing the ceremony, it is calling the ceremony a wedding that bothers me.

  9. The progressives/liberals are going to arrive at the 2016 General Conference as the “good guys/gals” with a “compromise” to “save the church” with a “reasonable plan” to “agree to disagree”. They will try to persuade a majority of delegates to vote in a plan giving conferences AUTONOMY on the sexuality conflict. In other words, make official what is currently happening. This would be a TOTAL DISASTER leading to open warfare across the conferences. It would drive hundreds of thousands more from the church because good people would not hang around for an open and ugly fight? It is my prayer that Good News, The Confessing Movement, and other orthodox Methodists will come together with a plan to prevent the liberals from seizing the agenda, taking over the talking points, and tseizing control of the emotional appeal in 2016 leading to the passage of any such “compromise plan”. It could turn out to be an “easy button” train to board unless a strategic plan is in place going in to derail it. Realizing that Adam Hamilton’s “agree to disagree” initiative was defeated in 2012, that should be good incentive to be out front of this early on and head it off. Orthodox Methodists have only two options to support at General Conference 2016. One, legislation designed to bring all conferences and general church leaders back in line with the Book of Discipline with real consequences for not doing so. Two, should the above fail, then legislation to begin a process for an amenable separation. Doing nothing is not an option. Orthodox Methodists cannot accept nothing out of General Confetence no matter how it’s framed. That would be simply an endorsement of the current state of the church and the actions of its law breakers. As mentioned, chaos would reign, forcing orthodox churches to consider law breaking as a strategy by stopping their apportionments. Unless this schism is resolved in 2016, the United Methodist Church is finished as a viable denomination.

  10. Jim Wolfgang says

    I find this talk of further dividing the body of Christ,s church, the estimated 11 million United Methodist Church around the world infuriating. Despite the flaws, it is the truest model of the New Testament church in any tradition of Christendom. In the N.T church every congregation,and individual- including those with “apostolic authority” was subject to the authority of the Jerusalem Council: the General Conference of the U.M.C. is our equivalent body and it is the only biblically authorized place where theology for the entire U.M.C. is to be discerned- not some teleconference of 80. Despite the high sounding rhetoric churches/denominations do not split over theology, they split over property,politics,purse, power, and pride,and one or more of those five is where you will find those advocating schism in the U.M.C. to be- no matter what their theological leaning is. No schism in Methodism happened without sin being at the root, and this threatened schism is no different. In the N.T. the apostles worked out their differences through the Jerusalem Council, and the biblical model for us then is the General Conference- the only equivalent body we have. It is a lack of faith/faithfulness to our Lord to abandon the model He inspired His church to follow in the N.T., particularly when the majority is gaining strength which advocates a traditional biblical model of marriage, and human sexuality. Like the Beroeans of Acts 17:11 search and see if these things are not so. Yes, there are clergy being unfaithful to their vows in our understanding of Christianity as defined in the Bible and the U.M. Discipline- fix the problem; that is a vow I made to God and the U.M.C. when I was ordained, and if you are clergy, so did you

  11. mitchell chapman says

    We need to start sharing the gospel to the Jew and the muslim. Jesus wants them to be converted and we are the ones He will use. The sooner a split happens the more souls will get saved. We need to focus on
    the muslim students at our colleges and begin to share the gospel with them. Jesus has brought them here
    because in many muslim countries the cross preached is a felony.
    It is a waste a time to try and change those who do not want to REPENT. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman and
    He will move onto those who want to repent of sin and be lead by Him.

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