Archive: A Liturgy from our new Social Creed

The Atlanta General Conference adopted a new Social Creed. It contains this liturgy, intended for unison reading by United Methodist congregations, as an expression of what we believe.

“We believe in God, the Creator of the world and society; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin to misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends. We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind. We joyfully receive, for ourselves and others, the blessings of community, marriage, sex and the family.

“We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth and the aging; to the improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of ethnic and religious minorities. We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the good of themselves and others, and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights of property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

“We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world and to the rule of justice and law among nations. We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept His commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world.” science and after exhausting all legal recourse to disobey laws deemed to be unjust.”

… endorsed the principle of selective conscientious objection to all wars or to any particular war.

… favored the right of public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining.

… approved the right of every person “to die in dignity.”

… affirmed equality of men and women “in every aspect of common life.”

… declared abstinence from alcohol and marijuana to be a form of faithful witness.

The newest social creed represents a continuation of the direction taken by our social creeds since the first one was adopted early in the present century. A sample is the new litany (left) which is now part of our Social Creed, extending its influence into worship.

Evangelicals hold many and differing ideas about what the Gospel means when applied in modern life. Good News has repeatedly declared that social concern, based upon Christ’s teachings and directed by His Spirit, are “must” for all Christians. We have also declared that social concern, without the necessary spiritual framework, is half a gospel. We register concern that the General Conference failed to preserve this vital balance; instead it devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy to institutional matters and social concern without “equal time” for things of the Spirit.

Smorgasbord in Doctrine

Smorgasbord is a Scandinavian buffet supper. Everybody goes up to a serving table loaded with many kinds of food. You help yourself to everything that appeals; you ignore what you don’t like.

This total individualism in eating resembles the new doctrinal position adopted by the Atlanta General Conference. Its outstanding feature is “doctrinal pluralism” which means anybody is free to believe anything—with no negative limits.

This individualistic, anti- Biblical approach to theology was adopted by the astonishing majority of 925 to 17. Such a lopsided vote can probably be explained by a combination of reasons: 1) The enormous prestige of Dr. Albert Outler, chairman of the 36-member Doctrinal Study Commission which produced the report. He is the denomination’s most famous theologian and there was no questioning his concepts. 2) Smorgasbord theology appeals to lots of United Methodists. 3) Delegates probably did not comprehend the radical significance inherent in the commission report. The likelihood of ignorance was increased by the fact that the commission’s document, in final form, reached delegates a relatively short time before the General Conference began. This minimized serious thought and church-wide discussion. 4) Seeing that the final report sounded less radical than expected, many conservatives heaved a sigh of relief and voted “yes,” thankful that even a semblance of the Gospel remained.

The doctrinal report, as adopted by General Conference, has three sections. Part I conveys the idea that “doctrinal pluralism” is native and natural in our E.U.B. and Methodist traditions. In other words, we have never had clear faith requirements nor firm outer limits as to what is and is not acceptable to believe.

This is not true. You can see for yourself. Since the time of Wesley, we have had very clear and specific statements of “our doctrines.” You can read these in the 1968 U.M. Discipline, pages 35-95. Here, basic Bible doctrines are clearly spelled out as the essential core of faith. The unspoken corollary to these positive statements is that failure to believe them is not acceptable.

This understanding is based on an elementary law of logic: whenever you say something is true, you automatically, ipso facto, deny the opposite, whether or not the negative is stated. For instance, if you say a cow is white, you automatically deny that the cow can be black—without stating this specifically. And if you declare that Christ’s resurrection is a stated article of belief for Methodists, then you simultaneously declare that failure to believe the resurrection is out of bounds.

Thus, each positively stated doctrine in the Articles of Religion and the E.U.B. confession has an automatic, negative counterpart. Together, these negatives constitute the negative outer limits which are a real and vital part of our Christian heritage.

This positive-negative principle is often stated in the Bible. One example is I John 4:1-3: “My dear friends: do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God. For many false prophets have gone out everywhere. This is how you will be able to know whether it is God’s Spirit: everyone who declares that Jesus Christ became mortal man has the spirit who comes from God. But anyone who denies this about Jesus does not have the Spirit from God.”

Over many years, various theological confessions have developed in the Church in a continuing attempt to make clear the boundaries (outer limits) of acceptable faith. To claim that United Methodists are outside this process of defining doctrinal limits does not square with the facts. As one example take the resurrection of our Lord. The third Article of Religion, established by Wesley and printed on page 37 of our 1968 Discipline, reads as follows: “Of the resurrection of Christ. Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again His body with all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherewith He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He returns to Judge all men at the last day.”

Christ’s resurrection is likewise confirmed as a faith-essential in Article II of the E.U.B. Confession (Discipline page 44).

These and other historic doctrinal positions of our denomination rest, in Christian tradition, upon the familiar Apostle’s Creed—which, in turn, rests upon the Scriptural foundation of I Corinthians 15:12-34, summarized as “If Christ had not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins” (verse 17).

For all these reasons it is a dangerous distortion of truth to suggest as does the doctrinal report, that Methodists have never established positive-negative limits for authentic faith.

That United Methodists today are unfamiliar with the essential doctrines (positively and negatively defined) simply reveals the extent of our unfaithfulness to a doctrinal heritage that is both strong and clear.

Fearing compromise of the basic, essential doctrines, Methodism has always had in its church law a Restrictive Rule. You can see this on page 21 of the 1968 U.M. Discipline: “Article I—The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrines.”

If the doctrinal report, adopted by the General Conference was, in fact, a revocation, alteration or change of our doctrines, then it is illegal. But if no substantial change has been made, then the Atlanta vote is legal.

Good News believes that the adoption of the doctrinal commission report in Atlanta is a clear violation of this Restrictive Rule. It has been successfully circumvented by claiming that “doctrinal pluralism” is nothing new. The acceptance of this idea by United Methodism’s supreme court, the Judicial Council, led them to rule during General Conference that the new statement does not exceed the constitutional limits imposed by the Restrictive Rule.

Good News is not alone in interpreting the commission report as a “new thing.” On page 8 of a special issue reporting the General Conference, “Engage Magazine” describes the doctrinal statement as “… a new formulation of doctrine. … ” And on page 18 it is referred to as ” … a new doctrinal statement. … ” “The Texas Methodist,” on page 4 of its issue of May 21 says ” … the General Conference adopted, almost unanimously, a new formulation of Christian doctrine. … ”

One illustration of the radical departure is the fact that the report nowhere specifically mentions the atonement of Christ (i.e. His death upon the Cross paying the sin penalty, and thus effecting salvation for those who believe). Instead, the new statement suggests that we are saved by the Incarnation (i.e. Christ’s coming into the world). Thus the Cross is done away with.

God’s grace, Biblically expressed in the cross, has been radically redefined as ” … God’s loving action in human existence through the ever present agency of the Holy Spirit. … ” (Report, pg. 31).

The commission did not point out that John Wesley distinguished between opinions (not essential to salvation) and those doctrines which were-and therefore must be believed. A case in point is the mystery of Jesus Christ having two natures: perfectly God and perfectly man. This truth is a keystone to Biblical faith, and no pluralism was allowed by Wesley—Methodists had to believe. Period. But HOW these two natures existed in Jesus, that was a matter of opinion, so Wesley permitted Methodists to be pluralistic about their understandings of How Christ could have two natures. Thus historic Methodism was non-pluralistic on vital matters and pluralistic on secondary considerations only.

The crucial importance of Section I is clear: it is the cutting edge whereby a radically new and different theology has now become official, thanks to the masterful manipulation of the Doctrinal Study Commission and the historical and doctrinal indifference of voting delegates.

Section II of the document includes as “landmark documents” the Articles of Religion and General Rules inherited from the former Methodist Church, and the Confession of Faith, brought into merger by the former E.U.B.’s.

Section Ill describes theology as an ongoing process which evolves in a continuing progression, with minimal attention paid to fixed points of absolute truth. All is relative—meaning that today’s truth can be obsolete tomorrow.

The new report—now law for our denomination—largely sets aside God, the theos of theology. The name of theology is given to an assortment of largely human perspectives: Women’s Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Third World Theology, Theologies of Human Rights, etc. The primary accent is upon man’s ideas and problems instead of God’s truth, being, and His ways of dealing with the world. Muted is the central emphasis upon the great revealed truths of Scripture and historic Protestantism: the intimate reality of a God both transcendent and immanent; God’s sovereignty over the universe; man’s lost, sinful condition; the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ; His atoning death upon the cross; Christ’s bodily resurrection; the reliable authority of Holy Scripture as God’s guide for the Christian faith and life.

Heretofore, these Bible doctrines have stood as immoveable rocks of orthodox truth, around which have swirled and ebbed centuries of theological definition and speculation. Now, since Atlanta, the rocks are hidden for United Methodists. Instead, we are to trust primarily in fluctuating tides of human opinion. Gone, or greatly diminished, are the divine certainties which bring to the human soul a sense of God’s peace and eternal purpose.

Under the new doctrinal statement, United Methodists officially affirm the Trinity and say that salvation is in Jesus Christ. But these affirmations are robbed of authority because now other affirmations are acceptable even if they conflict. This is something like a city establishing a 35 mile an hour speed limit—but posting limit signs for 35, 45 and 60 m.p.h.

Is anyone excluded from the United Methodist Church on the basis of belief? Since Atlanta, the answer is “NO!” We have done away with the theological “musts,” so now, it is perfectly proper for a United Methodist to believe that Jesus never rose from the grave-or that our Lord never even existed! Since there is no “out of bounds,” logically nothing can be wrong.

This kind of total tolerance makes many people feel comfortable, but it is anathema to those whose faith is tuned to the New Testament. Lacking the exclusive New Testament claims that Christ is the ONLY Way to God, the commission report often sinks to a level of vague generality which allows for any interpretation one wishes to make. This ls sure to happen; in fact it has been going on for decades even though we had doctrinal limits as a permanent part of church law. The doctrinal degeneration of Methodism since Wesley is plain to see.

In the presently individualistic theological climate, experts may use traditional words like “salvation,” but imbue such words with private meanings that greatly differ from historic Methodism—and from the understanding of laymen.

For example, when a humanist says “salvation,” he does not mean liberation from sin’s bondage as a miracle of redeeming grace worked in and through Jesus Christ. Instead, “salvation” is used to mean improvement of the social order accomplished by education, political pressures on city halt, etc.! Thus experts play the game of re-interpretation, changing the meaning of words while ordinary church people think an authentic Gospel is being preached. Thus are the innocent deceived.

This game of paint-it-any-color-you-choose theology is officially endorsed by our new doctrinal position. Although the report does acknowledge an essential core of truth, the specific content of this core is never made clear. Hence it is a document full of loopholes; almost any opinion can be justified on the basis of a United Methodist’s right to believe anything.

Some sincere evangelicals praise the new doctrinal position. They declare that it honestly states what has long been a fact: United Methodists believe, preach and teach just about everything. Certainly this is true. But acknowledging that we have become doctrinally pluralistic is not the same as stating what God wants His children to be and to believe! Such reasoning in support of the General Conference action is like urging a couple to get married in order to make legal after-the-fact an illegitimate pregnancy.

Other evangelicals welcome the new doctrinal policy as “better than what we expected.” Said one leading churchman who participated in the commission, “When we started, the liberals wanted to throw out everything!” Speaking with an eye to political realities, it is perhaps better to have half a loaf than none. The trouble is that certain items of New Testament truth are not negotiable—either you hold them or you are not Christian.

Still another evangelical rationale is that the new statement, while far from perfect, does call the church to serious theological study and discussion. Out of this, the argument goes, evangelicals may be able to bring those in error closer to the truth. The emphasis is placed on dialog and the need for “openness” so dialog will happen among the various theologies of United Methodism.

One flaw in this idea is the universal indifference to doctrine among United Methodists. The 925 to 17 vote shows this clearly. Few preachers talk much about doctrine and this subject rarely, if ever, finds its way onto the agendas of district and annual conferences. A major shift in priorities and personal interest will be required before United Methodists get interested enough to dialog about doctrine. Also, by minimizing points of absolute truth, the new doctrinal position cuts the ground out from beneath dialog. You can’t dialog meaningfully without having different perspectives to dialog from.

Given the widespread state of unregeneracy in United Methodism, dialog may well be impossible until everyone faces the basic command of Jesus, “You must all be born again” (John 3:7). As Paul observed, “The man who does not have the Spirit cannot receive the gifts that come from God’s Spirit. He really does not understand them; they are nonsense to him, because their value can be judged only on a spiritual basis” (I Corinthians 2:14).

Historically, dialog seems to have been mostly unfruitful in bringing to truth a doctrinally erring, theologically indifferent majority. Rather, we see God’s Kingdom advancing as men aflame with zeal for Jesus Christ flung His demands and commands into the teeth of the religious Establishment and the culture which the religious Establishment reflected. In the resulting chaos and polarization God’s Kingdom advanced. Truth boldly proclaimed, not genteel dialog, seems to be God’s chosen way.

This idea can be seen in “Why Conservative Churches are Growing” by Dr. Dean M. Kelley of the National Council of Churches (reviewed on page 57). He says, ” … those who disdain or distrust [ dialog], among Christians at least, are those whose religious groups are growing, while those who engage in [dialog] are the ones whose religious organizations are shrinking. So is dialog a good thing or not?”

The idea of pluralism is borrowed from sociology, where it refers to something right and proper: people of many opinions living together in a state of reasonable toleration. But transferring this idea to theology is something else! What may be good in societal relationships, i.e. tolerance for differing views, amounts to heresy when measured against the radical exclusiveness of New Testament Christianity in which Jesus claims, “No one comes to the Father except through me(John 14:6). Good News believes in sociological pluralism, that is representation of various elements of opinion in operation of the church—i.e. membership on committees, cabinets, etc. This was the thrust of our spring issue’s editorial, “Making Pluralism Real.” But pluralism in basic doctrine is something else! This we reject as non Biblical and non Methodist.

“One Way!” is the Christian affirmation. One way to know God. One way to be cleansed from sin. One way to overpower sin’s dominance. One way to hope greater than any disappointment. One way to life everlasting with the Father Above. One way for every person to harmonize life’s purpose with an Eternal purpose. That one way is Jesus Christ! If you stand with Him you cannot also stand with those advocating other routes and substitute saviors.

Where do we go from here?

What are evangelicals to do, in the aftermath of Atlanta? Many are quitting, feeling that the United Methodist Church has abandoned and betrayed Christ, the Gospel and its members.

Good News feels deep sorrow and pain at the exodus of these brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not condemn any person for following God’s leading, but we feel strongly that God calls us to remain. This has been our motive from the start. This is why, back in 1966, we incorporated this Movement as the Forum for Scriptural Christianity WITHIN the Methodist Church. In all our meetings and printed materials we have urged “stay in the Church.”

To separate or not to separate, that is the basic issue. And so we feel it desirable to share with readers why we believe the most important place for evangelicals is inside the United Methodist Church.

First, Jesus has not called us to pleasant, easy, painless fellowship. Instead, He has called us to die for the cause of Gospel righteousness. Escaping from turmoil is a copout—like a soldier deserting the front line trenches. Jesus says to disciples: “The time will come when anyone who kills you will think that by doing this he is serving God … The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16:2, 33b). We must expect to suffer for Christ.

Second, Jesus said His disciples were to be leaven in the loaf and salt for seasoning. If the leaven loses contact with the lump of dough, how will the loaf be leavened? If the salt disdains contact with the meat, how will the meat be preserved? If believers, who have the truth, turn their backs on unbelievers, how will the unbelievers hear the Gospel and be saved? There is no greater evangelistic mission field than United Methodism! Here God can use every believer who is tough enough to stand the gaff.

Third, John Wesley thought of Methodism as a renewal movement with the larger Church which then, as now, needed revival. Becoming a Methodist Church happened only after Wesley died in England, and in the New World when the Revolution put the American Methodists on their own. To be a real Methodist means to be part of God’s saving remnant within a church-even though this church may be totally disobedient to the Gospel.

Fourth, The Bible’s idea of separation involves two steps. First, Christ calls us to Himself. We come to Him out of the world, surrendering all that we have and are to His service. This act of conversion separates believers from those who have not made the saving faith commitment. But this “coming out of the world” is only the first step. Then Christ, who summoned us out, also sends us back in. He said to His disciples, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples” (Matthew 28:19a). “As the Father sent me, so I send you [the disciples]” (John 20:21 b).

Rightly understood, the Bible’s twofold idea of separation prevents anyone from thinking of it as a negative act only—”come ye apart.” We evangelicals should not waste our energy trying to find a place of safe immunity from the dirt and pain of the church. Rather, we should understand that God has set us apart to serve Him where the need is greatest: among the lost sheep of Israel. In our case, this means the United Methodist Church.

Fifth, God does not depend on majorities. In the past He has worked miracles through tiny remnant groups which fear only displeasing the One who has called them-the One whom they know as Father. Who cares if we are a small minority? Numbers and success are pagan preoccupations. To gain control the denomination means nothing; to be faithful to Jesus Christ means everything. “Who will accuse God’s chosen people? God Himself declares them not guilty! Can anyone, then, condemn them? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:33, 34a, 31b).

Urging evangelicals to remain within United Methodism, we now suggest some hints on how to remain …h ow to survive without compromise on essential matters. Since the situation is grim, let’s look first at the negative side of survival.

A car will not run without gasoline—and a great religious Establishment cannot run without money. The money comes from where? From local churches! Why should local churches keep on giving money to those who are destroying the Church? By continuing to support the destroyers we are something like the man who had termites in his house. Foolishly, he fed them vitamins so they could destroy his house faster!

Already, money cutoff and diversion are being widely practiced as some churchman’s ultimate act of good stewardship. There is talk of a broad coalition of many who wish to change the direction of the church. Since General Conference, we have heard increasingly serious talk of such a coalition which could send out missionaries independently … publish church school and other types of literature cleansed of Biblical compromise … and bring about a massive redirection of funds toward institutions and projects which unashamedly name the Name of Christ and honor Gospel priorities for mission.

Probably this development will “hang fire” while evangelicals watch to see whether the church continues to ignore those things which we consider important. Continued insensitivity by the church could trigger formation of a much wider anti-Establishment coalition that has yet existed.

There is need to unite in challenging our bishops. We must call them to stand up for what they really believe … to lay their lives, careers, and prestige on the line for Jesus Christ.

One of the saddest aspects of the present church scene is that some bishops apparently hold a faith that is privately evangelical—but they do not allow this faith to interfere with episcopal duties and decisions!

Being elected for life, our bishops ought to be fearlessly independent servants of Christ. Instead, they often appear to be slavishly fearful of upsetting the institutional status quo—of keeping up their intellectual respectability, even at the price of floating with the tide of humanism. Would to God that the episcopal prisoners might be set free from the chains of conformity! Would to God they might become spiritual leaders rather than just administrators! Would to God that one bishop might cry out boldly in protest against the rape of the church! If one rose up under power of the Holy Spirit, 10 or 15 others might find courage to stand with him.

Let us pray for our bishops. And let us have courage to speak honestly to them—not as peasant to master, but as one Christian to another. Let us realize that God, not the bishops, is sovereign, and that the United Methodist episcopacy can do nothing which God does not allow them to do. Fearing only God, who has power to destroy both soul and body in hell, we do not quake and tremble before bishops or bureaucrats. It is the wholesome fear of the Lord which brings a person ultimate freedom in today’s institutional church.

Let us stop supporting destructive seminaries; let us stop buying faith-perverting Sunday school literature; let us shut the purse to programs which do not centrally exalt Jesus Christ. And while we are at it, perhaps laymen ought to stop paying the salaries of preachers who use the pulpit as a place for promoting politics, culture, philosophy, amateur psychology, economics and Godless programs of any sort.

So much for the negative side of our survival. A positive side must also be given. Here are a very few of the things we can do.

We who believe in prayer have hardly touched the possibilities of a gigantic and continuing prayer intercession for Holy Spirit revival and renewal of the Church and its leaders. If as much time had been spent praying as complaining, the Kingdom might be here already! Let us be positively about the business of prayer. Why not a nationwide effort involving tens of thousands of laymen and pastors? Good News stands ready to back such an effort (see page 53).

Also, let us be guided by the Spirit into fresh ways of mediating Christ to people around us. A fine example is found on pages 12-21 of this issue. “The Shepherd of Brooklyn” shows what can happen when a man is converted and the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to the infinite possibilities of ministry at his doorstep. If thousands of U.M. pastors and laymen likewise followed the Spirit into bold new strategies of Gospel mission, the Church would be transformed—and America!

There is nothing unChristian about politics practiced for a Gospel purpose. Therefore let us organize at every level; let us take full advantage of the freedom that is ours. Let us elect lay delegates to Annual Conference. Let us elect delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. Let us elect bishops too. Let evangelicals work systematically to gain control of key positions in the local church: the Committee on Nominations first, then Pastor-Parish Relations, Education, Missions, Finance and Administrative Board.

Remember that a small, dedicated, unified group banded together and supporting candidates by block voting can win against a large, disorganized, apathetic majority. Non evangelicals have long practiced this art so they are hardly in a position to complain if we unite politically as an avenue of our service to Christ.

Finally, let us remember it is not enough to make fine, orthodox-sounding sermons. Here we have stopped, all too often! Too often we have set back in smug, spiritual self-satisfaction, allowing the Body of Christ to be captured by the enemies of Christ.

In the Christian life, it is faith-generated ACTION that separates real Christians from pretenders. We believe God is looking for people who will DO SOMETHING to cure the church.

Dante, bless his medieval soul, was on target when he said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

We are far from defeated! In fact, we have hardly begun to “fight on for the faith which once and for all God has given to His people” (Jude 3b). RIGHT ON!




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