Thank you Good News, and Steve Harper for distilling the essence of Wesley’s spirituality. “Embracing Wesleyan Spirituality” (July/August 2011) reads like an invitation to join together in experiencing a warm and wonderful place of the heart.
For more than 50 years I have had a keen interest in reading the writings of John Wesley and those who have sought to explain their understanding of him and his work. I believe that Harper has captured and communicated the totality of what Wesley was/is all about, sharing not only the essence but the challenge for those of us who would “follow in his train.”
Harper reminded us of the sources, the undergirding if you will, of Wesley’s doctrine and hence of his spirituality. Hopefully, we, as his children in the Faith, will take to heart Wesley’s emphasis on the supremacy of Scripture. “To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8:20) became what we might call his mantra, as he interpreted scripture by scripture, as a matter of course. Only when Scripture was silent or of doubtful interpretation did he turn to Tradition (which he defined as “antiquity:” the ancient church fathers’ writings, with the practices of the saints, up to the early fourth century); followed by Reason (meaning logically developed argument); and lastly Experience (i.e., the historical experience of God’s people through the centuries—he wrote: “Neither…by the experience of this or that particular person”).
I pray that we will hold tenaciously to these supporting pillars of Wesley’s spirituality. If we lose the supports, we lose everything.
The authority of Scripture
The Wall Street Journal recently carried an op-ed by David Aikman, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, about the persecution of non-state approved churches in China (July 11, 2011, “Beijing’s Theology of Repression”). Aikman explained that the Chinese government has approved one Catholic Church and one Protestant Church which stay within government approved boundaries and control, while persecuting the many independent and largely underground house churches. The article noted that “the faith that TSPM (government churches) adhere to is what church history calls liberal theology, while the faith of the house churches is evangelical theology.” That line brought to mind what happened in Nazi Germany.
Church leaders, pastors and theologians who led the state approved churches were liberal, while leaders, pastors and theologians of the Confessing Church were evangelical. Why would there be this repeated pattern? Liberal theology tends to downplay the inspiration and authority of Scripture, while evangelicals hold a higher view of Scripture. When you don’t believe in the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, you have no solid anchor to hold you, no Truth with a capital T, so it’s easier to compromise and drift into the path of least resistance.
A United Methodist pastor from Russia told me the same is true in Russia, where the state-approved Orthodox Church places little emphasis on Scripture and more on tradition, while non-state approved churches are almost all evangelical and/or Pentecostal and hold a much higher view of Scripture. While the non-Orthodox churches do have a measure of freedom, they are viewed with some suspicion by the state and face occasional roadblocks that the Orthodox Church does not.
We see the same tendency in the United States, particularly in the mainline churches. One after another, the more liberal mainline churches have followed the path of least resistance, surrendering formerly biblical stances on homosexuality and other doctrinal/ethical issues to stances that are more in line with the opinions of secular society.
Of the mainline denominations, only the United Methodist Church has resisted this trend, due in large part to stalwart conservatives in the U.S. and the growing African delegations to our General Conference. One has to wonder if this is one of the reasons the UM Church is declining more slowly than the other mainline denominations. (But let us not call our slower decline a victory!)
While the General Conference has voted to maintain a biblical standard regarding homosexuality every time the issue has been raised, the issue is coming back in a variety of forms.
• A group of retired bishops issued a statement calling for the Church’s stance to be altered.
• The recent trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong of the Wisconsin Conference resulted in a mere slap on the wrist. The Rev. DeLong performed a “holy union” ceremony for two homosexuals. Unrepentant and unremorseful, the Rev. DeLong was found guilty and received a mere 20 day suspension from ministerial duties and was ordered to prepare a document “outlining procedures for clergy in order to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit, or lead to future clergy trials.” She has said she will perform such ceremonies again if asked.
• Meanwhile, several hundred clergy have signed statements that they will officiate at same-sex ceremonies. Their plan seems to be that, if charged, they will so clog up the system that efforts to discipline them will fall apart. And you can be sure there will be yet another effort at General Conference to change the official stance of the United Methodist Church.
While there are many angles to consider (political maneuvering, church growth and health, the unity of the UM Church, etc.), let’s not forget the foundational issue: the Divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. Without that, we have no firm anchor to keep us from following the path of least resistance, whether the winds blow us toward serving the interests of the state or blending in with secular society.
Northwest Hills UM Church
San Antonio, Texas
The DeLong Challenge
My thoughts on the “DeLong Challenge” are as long as we take a process stand on addressing these offenses they will only continue to multiply. What speaks loudest in any breach of contract or in this case vows is to eliminate one’s financial compensation within a set period of time. I would error on compassion considering today’s economy. Give them thirty days notice.
With the possibility of losing their compensation along with retirement may allow them to rethink how ‘right’ they really think they are. They are playing poker and are doing an excellent job in their bluff. What are they really losing by the most recent example?
Clergy who are casting aside their vows should not be allowed to continue, period. If a further example is needed consider this. Most everyone has a drivers license, right? It comes with responsibilities and accountability. So what would happen if there were people who now felt that speed laws did not apply to them? It may be simplistic, but why is the United Methodist Church rewarding bad behavior with such lax responses. In order to heal a wound one must address what is the cause of the infection. I’m growing tired of the stance that rogue clergy are exempt from accountability.
May we one day regain our unity in Christ’s service,
Gives me hope
I wanted to thank you for your uncompromising article in the latest Good News. I am an ordained minister in the Wesleyan denomination, serving under InterChurch Service appointment as Minister of Youth and Music in a United Methodist congregation. One of my biggest hesitations to taking this position, which I believe to be an assignment from the Lord, was the issue of homosexual unions and homosexual clergy and my perception of how it’s been mishandled in the UM Church in recent years.
Your article gives me hope that there is still a strong voice for doing what Scripture instructs, and what the UM Book of Discipline requires. May the Bishops heed your clarion call for greater accountability and integrity on this issue. I believe that, should the result be numbers of clergy leaving the UM Church, God can and will replace them with men and women who are dedicated to the Scriptural positions to which the denomination holds.