The Roadblocks to Our Future

Renfroe

Renfroe

The United Methodist Church is in trouble. And we have been for a long time. “Mainline churches stand today not merely in a crisis of numbers, but in a deeper crisis of faith. Though often portrayed as a crisis of politics or demographics or moral values or sexuality, it is more profoundly a crisis of biblical authority and theological integrity,” Dr. Thomas C. Oden wrote in his 2006 book Turning Around the Mainline.

“Powerful voices within the denominational leadership grossly diminish Christian teaching, refuse to follow reasonable discipline democratically arrived at, and discriminate unfairly against those who disagree with them,” Oden wrote. “Permissive leadership often looks the other way as opinions gain currency that are obviously contrary to ancient and historic ecumenical Christian teaching. No one calls them to task. Sometimes it appears that no one can.”

Oden is a highly qualified analyst of our theological situation. After all, he has spent the last 17 years editing the 29-volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, as well as his four-volume collection of John Wesley’s Teachings. He was the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at United Methodist-related Drew University Theological School in New Jersey from 1980 until his retirement in 2004.

Dr. Oden wrote the words above several years before a number of our bishops indicated they would no longer enforce our Book of Discipline’s prohibition against pastors performing same-sex weddings and before an entire jurisdiction voted to ignore our denomination’s statements regarding homosexuality.

We are in a crisis. In the midst of a crisis, however, it is too often those who name the crisis are blamed for disturbing a faux peace.

Reactions are swift and condemnatory. The accusation of being schismatic is thrown around frivolously. Resolutions are hastily passed to proclaim unqualified loyalty to the institution. Just sign on the dotted line if you believe in unity, we are told. Viola! Click your heels and the problems are resolved.

Oh, that it were that easy. Instead, many institutional leaders simply blame those who are pointing out the dilemma. When the prophet Elijah called out King Ahab, Elijah was attacked as being the “troubler of Israel.” In today’s context, if you pinpoint and name the trouble that is wreaking havoc in the church, you will most likely be called the problem. It happens time and time again. When the arrows of accusation come your way, let me remind you that you are not the problem.

• You’re not the problem when pastors break the covenant they took an oath to uphold.

• You’re not the problem when you have watched church meetings such as the General Conference and the Connectional Table be repeatedly hijacked by those who would break the communion chalice, desecrate the altar, and turn a worship service into political theater.

• You’re not the problem when you have obeyed the rules for 45 years, and the other team breaks the rules repeatedly and then has the temerity to say you’re schismatic. Furthermore, you’re not the problem if you are stunned to see the referees refuse to enforce the rules – in fact, they applaud the other team for breaking the rules. Who could blame you for not wanting to play a game that’s rigged?

• You’re not the problem when you’re dismayed to discover that the Western Jurisdiction votes to ignore the Book of Discipline and at the same time doesn’t even pay for the full compensation of their bishops – you do, through your apportionments.

• You’re not the problem when your partners in a covenant are unfaithful and say they intend to remain unfaithful and you admit that you can’t live that way.

• You’re not the problem when the other side asks you to compromise but you know – from past experience – that they will never be satisfied with a compromise.

• You’re not the problem when you have waited in vain for
40 years for the bishops to explain, defend and promote our compassionate, balanced and biblical statement regarding sexuality.

• You’re not the problem when people who do not fully believe in the Articles of Religion accuse you of being too conservative just because you do.

• You’re not the problem when people call you a “right winger” or a hater or not really a Methodist simply because you agree with the Book of Discipline.

• You’re not the problem when you’re told by people who don’t believe in the full inspiration of the Bible that you take the Bible too seriously and too literally.

• You’re not the problem when you believe that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life, and you’re told that Jesus, contrary to what he said, is merely a way and a truth and a life as if he was merely one more religious leader.

United Methodism has a problem. But it’s not people who believe salvation is found in no one else but Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

We have a problem, but it was not caused by people who believe “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore none of it can simply be set aside to accommodate the mores of a permissive culture.

We have a problem, but it was not caused by people who combine grace and truth and who believe both are essential to the Christian faith because both were essential to the ministry of Jesus.

We have a problem, but it was not caused by those who believe that all persons are persons of sacred worth but that sexual practices outside of heterosexual marriage are incompatible with Christian teaching.

We have a problem, and it will not be solved by laypersons, pastors and bishops who are more interested in keeping a troubled church together than they are in fixing the problems that trouble us.

We are in a crisis. And if our church is to remain one church, our leaders will have to heed the prophetic words of Dr. Oden. Our solution is not a progressive sexual ethic or a hybrid polity that makes us more congregational than United Methodist. Our way forward together is to accept the authority of God’s word, affirm our historic Christian faith, enforce our Book of Discipline, and honor our process of holy conferencing. Otherwise, we may move forward but it will not be together.

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News.

Comments

  1. Pastor Rob,
    God bless you! Well stated and beautifully offered. It’s actually refreshing to be told I don’t have to be ashamed for believing in God’s word and living in the Wesleyan tradition.

  2. Dave Nuckols says

    Must it be us vs. them? Let’s still be “we all”. We can continue in Christian ministry together in the Wesleyan tradition. We will be a more effective witness together. And a more effective mission together.

    In essentials unity, in non-essentials tolerance, and in all things love and charity.

    Our situation is so unlike the Episcopalians of 2000 and 2003 and ACNA of 2009. Our mission field in USA is dramatically different in terms of public – and yes American Methodist public – opinion on same sex marriage now in 2014 vs 2012 and 2008. If we split we hurt the UMC not just in US but worldwide. So in furtherance of the Great Commission worldwide, let our leaders across the ideological divide and across all continents find a new way forward without schism.

    Our ecclesial leaders – who also have been democratically elected (more broadly than any caucus group leader of left or right) – need to see the issue isn’t pure secular influence, and isn’t just generational. Public opinion is a symptom not the cause. The Holy Spirit is moving human society now for LGBTQ inclusion just as in past generations it moved human society to include Gentiles, all races and women. The movement shows up not as a divide between progressives and evangelicals. Increasingly we see evangelicals – pastors, scholars and yes gay evangelical Christians, their parents and allies too – revisiting the authoritative Biblical text and reaching a new inclusive conclusion in the model of Christ’s own ministry. So increasingly many of our our bishops see this and are acting as best they can through a difficult transition. They deserve or prayers instead of your scorn.

    Come on UMC! We can pull together. We can do great things on a global basis. We can make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world!

    • The UMC has a serious problem. I Cor 5 tells how we are to deal with problems of morality.

      Dave, one day we must face reality. Jesus said “The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who do evil and they shall be thrown into a furnace of fire.” Secular ideas don’t come from the Holy Spirit. Remember he said we will be held accountable for every word we say.

    • Dave,
      God’s Word does not offer Christians a multiple choice spiritual journey. There exists one door…one way…one truth. If you are suggesting that the work of the Holy Spirit is to revisit, correct or reinterpret scripture, we could not be in a more pointed disagreement. There are numerous topics on which Christians find themselves standing against the tide of societal pressure. We are called to be a peculiar people…we are reminded not to conform, but to be transformed…we are warned not to add to God’s Word or to subtract from His Word. Unity of the UMC, at the price of capitulation to society or surrender of God’s Word, is not the ultimate goal. The goal is to stand before God one day and hear Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joys of your Lord.”

      • Dave Nuckols says

        Responding to Skipper, Jim and William,
        What I’m suggesting is that human society have interpreted scripture wrongly with respect to marriage equality much as we interpreted scripture wrongly for centuries wiht respect to slavery, race and the role of women in the church. I do feel the Holy Spirit is at work correcting today’s error as it did those previous errors in the 19th and 20th centuries. The sexual ethic of the church should promote chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage of two people. The same rules should apply to gay folks as applies to straight folks. I recommend James V Brownson’s book for a careful and scholarly treatment of the bibilical foundation for this view. Similarly for a more readable but still Bible-based treatment I can recommend Matthew Vines new book.

        My position is completely based on faithful reading of scripture and prayerful discernment. I do not suggest others change their view of marriage and sexuality for any other reason.

        But I do suggest that we in the UMC can survive and thrive as a church whilst clergy and members hold differing views on this matter. Church teaching on homosexuality is not core doctrine and not required for Christian orthodoxy. So while we each should hold fast to our own understanding on this particular matter, and that means acknowledging a disagreement, surely we can do God’s kingdom-building work together based on our common orthodoxy and common mission. It is the argument and contention over one disagreement that is so plainly hurting our church today. It is not that we disagree but rather that we are so disagreeable, contentious and unyielding in prosecution.

        Next I will add that the debate has moved from one between progressives (mostly holding a revisionist view of same-gender marriage) and evangelicals (mostly holding a traditional view of marriage). Now we see the debate within the evangelical community generally and within the conservative scholarly community too. While not yet a majority opinion within evangelicalism, there is now a very credible position, from the perspective of high view of scriptural authority, that argues for affirming same-gender marriage. Increasingly younger evangelicals take this position too. So, the trope that “this isn’t just about homosexuality, it a crisis of biblical authority and so much more that separages progressives from conservatives” won’t hold up. And any who split off in hopes of a new Methodist church free of this controversy, they will be sorely disappointed to see the controversy remaining within evangelicalism.

        So there is not a stable end-game in holier-than-thou splits seeking perfect agreement in particulars. So much healthier and so much more biblical to seek unity in the essentials and then redirect our energy from this disagreement and towards making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.

        We in UMC do not need to follow Episcopalians and Presbyterians into schism. We do need our leaders generally to reinforce the middle by “keeping the main thing, the main thing.” And we especially need leaders on both left and right to extend more graciousness, work harder at mutual understanding, and basically love each other like Jesus loved. We should not be looking to ACNA and ECO for a path out of a mainline church. We should be following Jesus in building the Kingdom of God and working towards greater Christian unity.

        • Dave,

          We don’t get to re-interpret Christian Basics. These were firmly established around 300 A.D. I would suggest you concentrate on whether or not you would like to accept them. It will change your life!

    • William T says

      Dave,
      The Holy Spirit will NEVER, EVER move human society, and certainly not the church, in a direction that contradicts the Word of God as contained in the Holy Bible. That would be impossible, a part of the Trinity opposing the other parts.

  3. Thank you for being faithful to God’s word. You have more support than you realize. God bless you and those who diligently contend for the faith.

  4. Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth says

    Powerful. column. Thank you for articles that keep reminding us of the history of our denominational struggle. The way forward is indeed: upholding the Discipline and honoring holy conferencing (which must cover, among other things, the authority of the Bible and the content of the Church’s faith). This way forward can be attempted out of obedience to Jesus Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church. (So calls for unity are not always based upon institutionalism.) This way forward requires — requires! — living faith in God’s Word and providence, and joyful obedience to the same Word.

    • theenemyhatesclarity says

      Good words, Rev. Paul, especially the part about unity must be based on more than institutionalism.

      In Christ,

      The enemy hates clarity

  5. Thank You for an excellent article. I hope the Leaders of the Renewal groups, out there, will use this wisdom to embrace a strong effort for the General Conference of 2016. Further, I hope readers of this article will call on their Church officials, to instruct their Delegates to all official meetings, to plan for an adequate and Holy remedy for the Methodist Church. We can not long endure as a Vital Church under the present conditions of lawless behavior, unrighteousness, and faithlessness as described by this article.

  6. William T says

    Yes, the ONLY way forward is to humbly yield to the authority of Scripture — thus putting all other things aside. That is the only place the church can find unity, whether it be one church or an orthodox/Bible church as the result of a division. Rob Renfroe describes this schism to a tee. And, it is long past time for orthodox Methodists to emerge from timidity, political correctness, accommodation, reluctance, and guilt — and firmly stand on the only thing that can be a way forward, the authority of Holy Scripture.

    Orthodox Methodists have no choice but to unify and rally around Good News headed to General Conference 2016.

    It is my prayer that the Methodist orthodox organizations ((Good News, Confessing Movement, et al) will get together, work together between now and General Conference in order to develop a comprehensive strategy and work that strategy at conference. May God bless their faithfulness and hard work.,

  7. Melinda Shaum says

    Pastor Rob-
    Thank you for boldly stating what I thought we all held sacred, The Word of Our Lord aka The Bible. Thank you for stating that wanting to follow these teachings is not the problem. Thank you for explaining that agreeing not to “cause a problem” is not the answer. Thank you for your words of encouragement for those who will stand on the teachings of Our Lord, even when we stand alone. Thank you for not sitting on the middle and stating that is not the answer.
    Thank you and I pray that The Lord continue to bless you!
    Melinda Shaum

  8. Dale D> Brown says

    If we erased all reference to homosexuality from the Discipline, we would not have solved the problems we face as a church. That’s just the flashpoint of our conflict.
    We would still be on different pages as to our view of scripture, of who and what Jesus was/is, and whether the church is here to be chaplain to those in, or apostle to those not yet in. How many people are Christ followers because we are? That’s the prime question we need to deal with.

  9. Thank you!

    You are not the problem! Yet it is so true those who do not want to see blame those shining the light. We wait, and see, rather than restoration, unlimited and increasing crumbling. The UMC is unequally yoked within.

  10. Donald Johnson says

    Well said. I agree with your analysis of the situation.

    The litany of grievances you enumerated in your article sounded reminiscent to me of another document that all of us know from July 1776. The litany of events described in that document were never adequately addressed by the King. After enough time of long-suffering by those aggrieved, change occurred – separation.

    I pray and hope that is not the outcome of The United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, it is not hard to imagine that day coming absent the intervention of the Holy Spirit in a mighty way.

  11. Thank you Pastor Rob for an outstanding article. Even in our small rural church we are totally dismayed that some Bishops and other church leaders are flagrantly ‘doing their own thing’ without repercussions. Although I haven’t read the book by Andrew Vines, the commentaries I have read by Bob Stith, a former national strategist (Baptist) for gender issues, states that the Vines’ book/position isn’t new. I cannot understand why homosexuality has been singled out as totally different from other acts of disobedience to Christ such as heterosexual sin, lying, cheating, gossiping or any other sin. My prayers go with Good News as you try to keep us informed of this very troubling issue that very well may split the Methodist denomination. Jody Wilson

    • Mrs. Ginger Turner says

      Dear Pastor Rob: Thank you for standing firm for our Triune God and His Holy Word. I concur and congratulate and support your stance. In the post modern world there are many efforts afoot in societal culture which is infiltrating the Christian churches, including the UMC, attempting to recreate Truth. Jesus told us in John 14 that He is tge Way, the Truth, and tge Life. Their strategy includes aggressive (in your face) pushing and repeating of their mantra. The repeated repetition becomes a false truth..a lie. I think the proponents of maintaining the Book of Discipline and Holy Scriptures need to take a similar consistent approach..The membership of our UMC congregations need more teaching on foundational scriptures of God’s creational design, a reminder of holy conferencing described in Acts 15 (a change was made re: circumcism, but all were cautioned to maintain sexual purity), what Jesus said about marriage and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, dying to self, the consequences of disobeying God’s Word..yes, under the New Covenant which was foreshadowed by the Old Covenant. In the Old Covenant God laid out appropriate sexual behavior without exception. The physical punishment for disobeying these sexual conduct rules was death…In the New Covenant Believers are taught that spiritual death will occur for disobeying these sexual conduct rules. Jesus met people where they were at that time..He forgave or healed or taught..but He did not condone the sinful behavior and showed instead the way that person/s should go if they want to enter the Kingdom of God. We don’t understand why certain people are born with same sex attractions as well as why each person is given specific personalities, talents, or proclivities as well as why new born babies can be born with cystic fibrosis, deformities or other conditions or diseases. The Lord has equipped us to withstand temptations of every type, including same sex attraction if we humbly repent of our sins and ask Him to help us to overcome. As a strategy I ask that you consider a campaign of preaching boldly about these concepts and doctrines. Misinterpretation of what Love is, what judging is or isn’t and what dying to self means in our walk toward holiness (books of Peter)..being separated unto God as His peculiar people, and the joy obedience brings needs to be preached..Putting oneself first by rationalizing and disobeying God’s Word is idolatry! Re-defining the definition of marriage is against nature’s design! But our church shoukd welcome any and sinners of which I am one. Either live a life of celibacy or practice sex within marriage (between one man and one woman) in order to please the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ! I also request a call for fasting and prayer with suggested prayer points and scriptures. I believe if we cry out to God that He will move in this matter. Respectfully yours and may God grant you His Wisdom as you bear His Standard..the Holy Scriptures.

  12. Bill Tyson says

    Christians, not just methodists are faced with the issues discussed in this article. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God we as a body of believers need to continue to trust that God is in control and things going on in the world today are not unique to this day and time. We must pray that God would grant each of us the strength and wisdom needed to continue the task He has layed on each of our hearts.We all have a lifetime to serve, we all need to pray , pray that Gods will be done, be the hands and feet. We need to seek both God and opportunities to serve, we need to unite as Christians no matter which denomination we chose to be part of, always keep in mind it is ALL about Christ. We have a lifetime to serve but no man knows how long a lifetime will be, get busy TODAY ! May God richly bless, guard and keep each one of you, may God restore a right Spirit within us and never let the joy of our salvation be taken for granted , there is enough to share let’s do so with The Bible as our guide..

  13. Catherine Sufrich says

    It is actually very simple. …. Either we believe the Bible or we don’t. It is the word of God or it isn’t. If we don’t believe it then why do we study it at all? Why do we call ourselves “believers”?
    The Bible, in both the Old and the New Testament clearly states that homosexual behavior is a sin that God does not condone. For example First Corinthians 6:9-11 says :
    “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people-none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. (NLT)
    Either we believe the Bible or we don’t. If we don’t believe the Bible, why do we go to church and why do we call ourselves “Christian”. Does that title mean any more to us than “Rotarian” or “Kiwanian” means to a member of some other world-wide club? Why?
    Catherine Sufrich, Local Church Servant

  14. Catherine Sufrich says

    Those of us who study the writings and practices of John Wesley can’t help but be reminded of those prophetic words near the end of his life: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” (‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.)

  15. Barbara Norris says

    In response to Dave:
    2 Timothy 4:3-5
    “3) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4) and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. 5) As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

    That time is here, Dave. Progressives have chosen to ignore the above warning from Timothy. They are accumulating “for themselves teachers to suit their own likings” and they truly are turning “away from listening to the truth.” Sadly, their goal seems to be to become those “teachers.” Unfortunately, too many of our own UMC clergy seem to have chosen that same goal. And too many lay people are following. And that’s the real harm being done.
    It is time to part company with those who hold God and His Word in such low esteem.

  16. Book of Discipline’s prohibition against pastors – how can you prohibit something or someone? Please don’t do it. Forgive and let go. Christ died for all of us, without any exception or prohibition. We should take an example from Him. He is a good pastor, He is a good leader. In fact the best of all. Would Jesus prohibit someone or banish someone because of his/her love? Would He do that? He knows exactly and best from all of us what is Father’s will. And if Father’s will is that those two people will love each other then let them be.

    I personally don’t know Father’s will. Therefore I can’t judge. If I were so holy as Jesus and if I knew all and why all is happening and if I knew Father’s holy will, then I could judge. But now? What do I know? What am I to judge someone else?

    I guess I have enough problems in my own faith. I am a sinner. I am not faultless. Fortunately our Father knows it, He knows what are our strengths and weaknesses. He knows them better then we do.
    So can we really judge? Can we really point out with our fingers and say who is sinner? Do we know God’ s will?
    I don’t think so.

    We are still far from being perfect. But we can work on becoming perfect. So let’s concentrate all our efforts and strengths for improving our own selves.

    You know why I love God the most? Because He has answers for all of our questions. And He is so perfect and wise that some of those answers He keeps for himself and so He tests our faith and our love for Him. Let’s concentrate on this love and nothing more.

    aneta

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