Archive: Come, Let Us Reason Together

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

Late this summer we were saddened by an ugly accusation.

An editorial published in the September issue of the Interpreter, official United Methodist program journal, accused Good News of plotting to form a separate church.

If this is true, then Good News deserves to be condemned, for we have lied about our intentions. But if the ugly accusation is false, then Dr. Roger Burgess, author of the editorial, has come close to slandering tens of thousands of United Methodists.

This is not the first time we have heard this accusation. It has floated vaguely in the background, and some United Methodists have used it as an excuse to avoid taking seriously Good News’ concerns about the church.

But now the ugly accusation is in print. Publication in an official journal of the church has caused some people to suppose that Good News has been officially condemned by the United Methodist Church.  This is not true. But the wells have been poisoned; suspicions have been planted across the church as to our motives.

For this reason it seems necessary to comment on eight specific indictments made in this editorial. “Come let us reason together,” as Isaiah said.

Since Good News began in 1966, we have tried to make our motives clear. Our corporate title is, “A Forum for Scriptural Christianity WITHIN the United Methodist Church.” We have said many times that we desire to work within the denomination. We have urged countless discouraged people not to quit, but to stay in the UM Church.  Often we have been successful in this effort.

Nevertheless, we stand accused of plotting schism.

Indictment #1: Good News has criticized “the established church as weak and sick, thereby undermining confidence.” We have been critics and we shall continue to criticize, as directed by reason and conviction. We have not been perfect, but is criticism necessarily wrong? What about Dr. Burgess’ underlying assumption that criticism of an institution “undermines confidence?” Should loyalty be a matter of unquestioning acceptance?  Has blind conformity become the highest United Methodist virtue? If so, we have come a long, long way from Otterbein and Wesley who differed boldly, powerfully and persistently with the church in their day.

Good News is not the first to describe the church as “weak and sick.” Among the guilty are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nathan; Micah, Paul, Savonarola, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley and Otterbein. Jesus Christ was a stronger critic than all the rest. We are not ashamed to be included in this company.

History records that the institutional church often has been “weak and sick.” That is why the heavenly Father sent prophets, and why the prophetic spirit is needed afresh in each generation. To exempt the church from criticism is not justified by Scripture, reason, experience or tradition.

Other United Methodists freely criticize the church, why is Good News alone condemned? What about the flamboyant criticisms of the Rev. Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Memorial UM Church San Francisco? What about Dr. Burgess himself, the author of this editorial?  He vigorously criticized the church after the 1972 General Conference merged his Board of Health Education and Welfare into the Board of Global ministries.

We doubt that our criticisms have “undermined confidence” in the church. If the church was not very weak and very sick, our criticisms would roll off like water shed from a duck’s back. Good News has expressed openly the shattered and crumbling confidence of multitudes.  We have made public the frustration and heartbreak of many loyal United Methodists. Good News speaks for them; many are afraid to express themselves. These criticisms need to be said.

Indictment #2: Good News has established a “statement of doctrine as a rallying point and [plans to] issue a study book.” The 1972 General Conference urged all United Methodists to “accept the challenge of responsible theological reflection.”  This appears on page 79 of the current UM Discipline.

We had supposed we were fulfilling this challenge when our Good News Task Force on Doctrine and Theology spent more than one year preparing the “Junaluska Affirmation, pages 22-28. Is it schismatic to follow the Discipline? Or does Dr. Burgess really mean that the General Conference has stimulated schism by encouraging United Methodists to “do theology?” Is he saying that our theological statement is irresponsible? Read it and judge it for yourself.

Will the “Junaluska Affirmation” become the theological rallying point for a new church? This seems to frighten Dr. Burgess.

Since the time of Wesley, doctrine has not been a major cause of division among us. Other issues divided our forefathers: slavery, episcopal power, rental of church pews and religious formalism. But doctrine is not the major reason why Methodists have split off to form new denominations. And today, no statement of doctrine has enough appeal to attract many United Methodists into a new denomination.  Only radical dishonoring of UM doctrinal standards and their Biblical base could change this. Are Dr. Burgess and others moving in this direction? For example, if the UM Church should relax its present opposition to homosexuality, then hundreds of thousands will be driven out. Should this happen (and we pray that it won’t) a new church might be formed. The “Junaluska Affirmation” could help provide its doctrinal foundation.

A glance at history may be helpful.

Back in the 15th century, a Roman Catholic theologian named Martin Luther nailed a document containing 95 theses or propositions to a church door in Germany. He did this in order to open theological debate. He wanted to clarify theological contradictions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Scriptures. He succeeded! His 95 theses set in motion a chain of events which resulted in the Protestant Reformation. Luther did not choose to leave his church: he was kicked out. Why? Because he dared to differ with the hierarchy and because his convictions, based on Biblical theology, were not subject to crippling compromise.

Could history repeat itself?

Things have changed since Luther’s day. Expulsion of any group seems unlikely in a pluralistic church. But the accusations of Dr. Burgess conjure up fears of church division. This may be like tossing a lighted match a haystack.  There is deep discouragement   abroad in the church, and our leaders must be cautious about prophecies which could become self-fulfilling.  Hundreds of thousands have already quit United Methodism, and exodus continues unabated as our leaders pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Ugly accusations against evangelicals can turn the already alarming exodus into a torrent. If members vanish, who then will keep the church institution running?

Indictment #3: Good News is preparing its own “training and confirmation materials for membership.”  In 1976, we will make available materials to help pastors train junior high school students in Biblical faith before they join the church.  The denomination ought to make such materials available, but it does not. Our efforts to secure the needed materials met with a closed door in Nashville.

A survey of 1,200 pastors (500 responding) showed 85% dissatisfied with denominational confirmation resources. Therefore many are forced to improvise (one pastor reported using the novel, Bridge Over the River Kwai as a confirmation resource for his junior high youth).  We choose to fill the vacuum, and believe the United Methodist Church will be stronger as a result.

Is the church at the mercy of insensitive bureaucrats? Or is there a time when the bureaucrats must be bypassed in order that Biblical.  teaching resources may become available to those who desire them?

Indictment #4: Good News is proposing to develop its own theological schools. Many United Methodists agree with Dr. Ed Robb’s diagnosis of our UM seminaries, page 32. There is no need to elaborate here on the points which he has made so clearly. Since there has been much controversy about Dr. Robb’s address, we urge you to read it yourself and judge its validity.

If people choose to see schismatic implications in Dr. Robb’s message, there is an easy solution.  Let the denomination make adequate provision for orthodoxy in the theological education of our church. This could be done in either of two ways.

Several seminaries could be designated as orthodox. These could be staffed, administered and financed by UM evangelicals. This would still leave the majority of UM seminary facilities and faculties dedicated to secular humanism, naturalism, existentialism, or even a stronger Biblical viewpoint. So our proposal ought not to be threatening-especially in a church which prides itself  on encouraging different opinions. … the validity of varying views.

A second way would be to have in each UM seminary some professors who present the traditional view of Scriptural Christianity in theology, church history, Christian ethics, evangelism, devotional life, preaching and church administration.  This would require adding qualified professors and library resources at every UM seminary. It would require that the Biblical evangelical position enjoy the same academic freedom presently being accorded to non-evangelical and fragmented Biblical viewpoints in our seminary faculties, libraries and student bodies.

Indictment #5: Good News is talking about its own missions program.  In the center of this Good News magazine is a supplement about the work of the Evangelical Missions Council, created by Good News in 1974 as a means of dealing with the crisis in UM world missions.  EMC and Good News are usually linked together; actions of EMC credited to Good News, as well as the other way around.

As has been often stated, we are seeking a clear channel by which we can faithfully fulfill the Great Commission as United Methodists. Our first choice is to do this through our Board of Global ministries. But here we encounter a serious difficulty.  Contrary to Discipline’s good statement on missions, the Board of Global Ministries has substituted unofficially a radical, secular concept of missions. (You can see this in any issue of New World Outlook, the board’s official magazine).  Instead of welcoming us as brothers and sisters … instead of including us at the level of policymaking and program-planning, board leaders have patronized us with dialogue and effectively excluded us from the decision-making process.

We think that our dollars and our missionary candidates should be invested in an aggressive, creative outreach to win billions of lost people to Christ. To the extent we can do this through the Board of Global Ministries, we will. But we insist on the right, as United Methodists, to be ecumenical. The Kingdom of God is larger than any one denomination, including our own. The call to world evangelization is certainly bigger than one mission board. We intend to fulfill the Great Commission wherever God allows. We shall not turn down opportunities to cooperate with the Board of Global Ministries-this is a part of our responsibility. Nor should we refuse to become involved when calls for help come to us directly from autonomous Unite Methodist bodies and their leaders overseas-nor when United Methodists are doing missionary work in other evangelical organizations.

The United Methodist Church practices liberal ecumenism through heavy support for the National and World Councils of Churches. Good News would like to extend UM ecumenicity into orthodox areas also, thus fulfilling the “catholic spirit” of our heritage. If this frightens anyone it may reveal they have too narrow a vision of Christ’s Universal Church.

Indictment #6: Good News publishes its own general periodical.  We have done so since 1967. Why?  Because our denomination has provided no publication where evangelical viewpoints can be expressed extensively, and where our theological thrust can be made. It has seemed only right that we finance and create our own publication, not diverting funds from the treasury of the church for our purposes. We should be pleased to discontinue our own publication if the denomination should provide a comparable communication opportunity for us.

The United Methodist Church has a poor track record with general periodicals. For nearly 20 years Together, New Christian Advocate and, more recently, United Methodists Today floundered and died (see Summer ’75 Good News, p. 79).  Had Good News been published by the UM Church, chances are we would be dead and buried along with other official magazines mentioned above. We sense that the denomination is embarrassed by a maverick publication which grows, while official publications die. Are we being criticized for paying all our own bills, instead of adding to the deficit of $6,260,000 paid by the UM Church to subsidize general periodicals over the last 18 years?

Indictment #7: Good News conducts regional and national meetings.  In an effort to meet people’s needs, we have held six national convocations. Next year, by God’s grace, we shall hold one in each jurisdiction.  In addition, there have been many regional meetings held by Good News people.

What’s so dangerous about meetings? Ours are paid for by Good News people, so no financial drain on the church results from our gatherings.

Perhaps the fear is caused by our independence: Good News meetings are planned, financed and controlled by Good News people. We should think churchmen would rejoice when a group of United Methodist is able to fly on its own, rather than remain dependent on denominational staff and finances.

We have not heard Dr. Burgess express fear because many other UM groups also meet on their own.  Women. Ordained women. Blacks.  Asians. Youth. Young adults. Indians.  Chicanos. Charismatics.  Methodist Federation for Social Action.  The list is endless.

For United Methodists, going to meetings is as natural as breathing.  So by our frequent meeting we bear witness to the fact that we are true United Methodists.

We mean to threaten nobody.  We seek commonality in Christ, and to share together in the Biblical faith of the Universal Church. That is why we meet.

Indictment #8: Good News is discussing establishment of its own organization to elect its own bishops. Of all Dr. Burgess’ charges, this is the most surprising.  Every other UM group is up to its ears in the politics of electing bishops … everybody except Good News, that is. We are not promoting anybody for bishop. We never have.

At our most recent convocation, an idea was offered during the closing minutes of a major address. This was enough to set off the alarm bells of those who fear evangelical resurgence. Is it wrong for only evangelicals to talk of electing bishops?  Is this the much-advertised pluralism?

Dr. Burgess says that Good News.  ought to follow the example of United Methodist Women and Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  They have been successful in impacting the denomination, Dr. Burgess says, and Good News would be also if we copied them.

One thing makes this impossible:  Good News is primarily a theological movement. What motivates us is a desire for Biblical theology to be practiced in and by the UM Church.  This is a much different motive than the caucuses. They are primarily political, with theology incidental.  No caucus has produced a statement such as the “Junaluska Affirmation.” For the caucuses, theology is the tail rather than the dog. But for Good News, politics is the tail and theology the dog.

This explains why the caucuses operate as they do. Given their first priority as church money and church power, nobody can question their effectiveness.  They do have denominational “clout”; Good News does not.  But political power is less important to us than theological integrity.  This comes first on our agenda.  This explains why Good News alone has developed a major theological statement. Why Good News alone talks about the issues of seminaries and world missions. Why Good News alone among the special-interest caucuses publishes its magazine and is preparing materials for confirmation and youth membership training. The driving force behind all we do is transcendent theological concern. This dimension of church renewal is unique to Good News.

Where lies the real danger of dividing the UM Church? With Good News and its primarily theological concern? Or with those who cause large numbers of United Methodists to lose confidence in the church by promoting causes which are contrary to Scripture and repugnant to the feelings of ordinary people?

Is it possible that the only schismatics in the United Methodist Church today are the people who take seriously the teachings of our denominational forefathers? If so, this indicates how far the church has departed from its Biblical foundations.


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