Dr. Chris Ritter

Dr. Chris Ritter

The United Methodist News Service recently published a commentary by Glen Alton Messer II arguing that United Methodism encompasses “many theologies . . . united under ‘one big tent.'” Our friend the Rev. Chris Ritter, pastor at Geneseo UM Church in Geneseo, Illinois (Great Rivers Annual Conference), responded with the following critical review.

Do United Methodists Need a Bigger Tent?

By Chris Ritter

I just read “Methodism a ‘Big Tent’ from the Beginning” by Glen Alton Messer II. This historical analysis is one of a growing number of recent statements making the case, seemingly, for solving our current divisions by further expanding our tolerance for diversity of belief and practice.  If a big tent is who we United Methodists are, why not go… bigger?

I primarily want to delve into Messer’s historical claims, but first let me say a word about the current project of re-defining Methodism.  The energy around finding a new definition seems to emanate from those who find themselves drifting outside the established one (which is something like “churches, clergy, and conferences operating according to the Book of Discipline of the UMC”).  Having failed to change our covenant by the established means, some are selectively ignoring that with which they disagree as they are shielded regionally from accountability.

To read Dr. Ritter’s entire message, click HERE.


  1. De Facto: in practice but not officially established. This looks to be the current plan of the progressives. They can call it a big tent or whatever, but the longer they can keep their lawless a and non-Biblical practices from being officially addressed, the more likely those practices will become established and more difficult to stop and turn back. They see delay and the passing of time as their allies. And, they are counting on apathy and complacency to assist this effort. Will the “big tent” cave and accept de facto governance of the UMC, or will there be an uprising that forces a special General Conference to address and solve this schism?

  2. Thanks for posting this article by Dr. Chris Ritter. Dr. Ritter’s historical references are quite interesting and illuminating; they remind us of a time in the Wesleyan world when decisiveness was not understood as unchristian. Dr. Messer’s article, “Methodism ‘a big tent’ from its beginnings,” was a companion commentary on the UMNS website that followed mine, “Maintaining the church in a chaotic time.” By offering these two commentaries, UMNS wanted to present different takes among United Methodists on ecclesiology. So, how big should the United Methodist tent be? That, it seems to me, is decided by General Conference. At its best, General Conference, in response to the Word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, establishes The United Methodist Church’s doctrine and discipline. Doctrine and disciple, which are supposed to be held and upheld by the whole church, determine the tent. Under the tent, there is a wide diversity of theologies in play. (Notice the difference: Doctrine is for the church, theology is for the individual or group within the church.) But they can be held in check by the church’s doctrine and discipline. The United Methodist Church is wise to lovingly maintain its doctrine and discipline, and to keep its tent walls rolled up, so the world can look in to see what is going on and so disciples can easily enter the world to do what they have been called to do. Again, thanks to Dr. Ritter — and also to Dr. Messer.

  3. Are we headed towards Unitarianism ?

  4. Sounds like the Big Tent idea is a super duper place at the end of the Broad Road. Why is it that somehow I cannot imagine The Lord of Holiness excited about it. He is walking on the narrow road of holiness that leads to eternal life And few find this narrow way. But the Broad Way thAt leads to eternal separation from Kingdom holiness and true fellowship with God well that is the road that leads to the Big Tent solution. Yep, that’s where the with it crowd hangs out! Except Jesus won’t be found there in the big tent with all the with it people as he wasn’t that popular. As he spoke to the Big Tent people about how sinful they were they ended up killing him. The narrow road is where you will find Jesus and the remnant that are his true followers. Not wide not big but narrow is the way that leads to life and few are those who find it! Good luck you only have one life to get it right!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List!

Click here to sign up to our email lists:

•Perspective Newsletter (weekly)
• Transforming Congregations Newsletter (monthly)
• Renew Newsletter (monthly)

Make a Gift

Global Methodist Church

Is God Calling You For More?


Latest Articles: