Archive: What is “This Gospel”?

By James V. Heidinger II, Chairman Good News Board of Directors

Good News has always been interested in theology. The movement began over 14 years ago out of a concern for theological issues. My initial interest in Good News came as I heard its leaders raise theological concerns in the United Methodist Church. The Junaluska Affirmation was a careful attempt by Good News to reaffirm the historic faith of the Church. More recently, at our summer board meeting, a proposal was passed for Good News to establish a special emphasis, culminating at the 1984 General Conference, on historical Methodist/EUB theology.

The issue is far more than academic. Paul wrote to Timothy, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (II Timothy 1:11). The real question is, what is “this gospel” which we have been appointed to preach and teach?

In the service of ordination for elders in the UM Church, each elder promises to “give faithful diligence duly to minister the doctrine of Christ … and in the spirit of Christ to defend the Church against all doctrine contrary to God’s Word” (p. 50, Book of Worship). There are at least three assumptions here. First, that there is doctrine contrary to God’s Word. Second, that it can be identified, and third, that we are morally committed and obligated to defend against it. One might wonder how long it has been since the UM Church has taken doctrine seriously enough to “defend” against any contrary doctrine.

The truth is, friends, that in our United Methodist Church today, nearly anything goes doctrinally or theologically. One can deny nearly any tenet of traditional Methodist doctrine and get away with it in the name of theological pluralism. It is time for a new honesty among United Methodist clergy about what they no longer believe.

The real issue between liberal and evangelical United Methodists today is not a “personal vs. social gospel” issue. It is, rather, the issue of the historic New Testament Gospel vs. a more recently-created religious system that makes use of much Biblical terminology, albeit with different meaning given to the words. Years ago, Dr. Machen called it “another religion.” The Apostle Paul called it “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). We would call it “heresy.” (By definition, “heresy” is doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine of a church or religious system.”)

Now all this may sound like we are not being of “catholic spirit.” But let’s hear Wesley clearly in his often-quoted sermon on “Catholic Spirit. ” His gracious, non-dogmatic spirit was toward “opinion,” and not basic doctrine. Under “opinion,” he included modes of worship, forms of church government, forms of prayer, forms of baptism, and details concerning the Lord’s Supper.

Wesley describes and develops what he means by the question, “Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?” He spends no less than seven lengthy paragraphs, some 64 lines, asking, “Do you believe … Do you believe … Have you the divine evidence …?” Wesley then goes on to deplore the “unsettledness of thought,” and “this being ‘driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine.'” He states a remarkable and unpluralistic affirmation: “A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun, in his judgment concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine.” In major doctrine, Wesley was no pluralist! He was “fixed as the sun.” (Wesley even sounds a bit dogmatic!)

It is time for theological definition. If you don’t think so, try taking the following statement from Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, and drop it in the midst of a Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for consensus:

The Apostolic proclamation reflects the characteristic elements of the gospel, namely and centrally, God’s offer of forgiveness of sins and new life on the ground of the substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of the divinely incarnate Redeemer. This one Mediator, moreover, now exalted, rules already as the supernatural source of the church’s continuing life and as the invincible Lord. (God, Revelation and Authority, by Carl F.H. Henry, Vol. III, p.64.)

If any two items could be agreed on it would be an amazing accomplishment. Friends, our critical need today is for theological integrity within the United Methodist Church. “For this gospel, I was appointed a preacher.”


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