: United Methodist Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While Joel is on vacation, I promised him I would contribute a few original posts this week on here. For the past year, Joel has given more of his energy to the United Methodist Church and the -ism Schism controversies within it. What are the reasons for schisms, and who are calling for them. There are some rather unwise persons out here in Christianity calling for schism over their pet issues, without even knowing what it means historically. Do they not understand that schismatics desire bloodshed? The history of Schisms in Church history is a rather gory one. The Protestant Reformation brought with it about a century of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. The Eastern/Western Schism in the 11th century was followed by the anti-Greek Orthodox Crusades in the 14th century and the invasion of Constantinople. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus declared Indians as non-persons, and pretty soon Africans replaced First Nations persons as the enslaved class, only to have thousands of “Christians” die in battle for the right to own other people during the U.S. American Civil War.
What I am trying to say is this: religious bloodshed does not happen in a vacuum. The context for each of these conflicts is church schism. The one primary example of church schism is the Donatist controversy. Blood was shed on both sides. The Donatists rejected men as bishops if they were suspected of turning over fellow Christians and the already rare copies of sacred writings. The Donatists believed their words and actions made them the one true Pure Church. The debate became about tribalism versus the Church Universal. I don’t think the Donatists were in error; they just needed to understand our righteousness comes from Christ, and not our own beliefs or commitments.
I do believe it is possible for progressives and conservatives to fellowship together. When yet another leader of the NeoCalvinist movement was selected to a high position within the Southern Baptist Convention, I said to myself this is problematic. I mean, I live across the street from Southern Baptists who identify as more Armininan. The Southern Baptist church I attend is labelled as “liberal” by Al Mohler because it ordains women deacons, and yesterday, we had the honor of having an ordained UMC elder provide the sermon for us yesterday. Her message was a testimony to the possibilities of church unity. Not only did she recognize the persecution of Christians around the world, but also the racial divisions that keep us separated here at home. She reminded us of Paul’s teaching of biblical solidarity, that Christians are all of one body. Schism is an attempt by one limb of the body in order to several all the others off. Schismatics are inherently prone to violence, and they will inevitably fail.
Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I was moving out of the cult of fundamentalism to a more robust and liberating faith, an Australian pastor, Mark Stevens, advised to me to refrain from being as liberal as I was once fundamentalist. I am eternally grateful for that piece of insight. Of course, the reverse is true as well. I know of a pastor who was once an extreme liberal but now is as conservative as he was once liberal, even to the point of fundamentalism.
I am equally happy that I found the particular United Methodist Church I did. I detail some of this in a recent Sunday morning sermon:
There are plenty of UMC churches that are not so familiar with the middle. Rather, there are many on the far right and many on the far left. Hal Taussig is a United Methodist minister who has created a “New New Testament.” He preaches a Gospel far, far removed from even mainline Christianity. Then there are those churches who believe the Gospel requires a fundamentalistic lockstep into legalism, with no room for disagreement. In fact, some of these pastors have taken to forums to suggest any who disagree with their interpretation of Scripture must repent.
Let me stress this point. Many of us believe that Scripture is primary and as such, our authority in guiding the Church and the Christian. We just disagree, given new facts (via Reason), with the previous interpretation that homosexuality is a sin.
One of the things I’ve thought about since engaging with the vileness on some of these forums is the Catholic Church and their sense of unity. Rome has core doctrines and views. Yet, there are plenty of Catholic groups proposing change. However, they are all still Catholic. I do not want to paint a rosy picture of how these groups worship together while seemingly working a part; however, I believe that the focus on the Eucharist helps to shield many of these groups from the desire to rip each other to shreds. I am not sure we have such a thing. The views of the Eucharist in the UMC are pretty far ranging, from Zwingli to Hahn. Further, we have different views on a variety of issues. But, our central view is that God’s Grace is free to all. Perhaps we should focus on that.
There have been calls for schism within the United Methodist Church. This has happened before in American Methodism. In the days before the War Between the States, the southern Methodists went their own way in order to protect slavery. Let’s not kid ourselves. Even after the union in 1939, the old Methodist Episcopal South still remains as the bastion of conservative evangelicalism within the UMC. The resistance to challenging slavery, the resistance to women ordination, and the resistance to progress in Civil Rights generally hails from one specific area. Further, it was this area that gave rise to the Evangelical Methodist Church. And it is this same area that today has a resistance to full inclusion. Schism only allows extremes to develop. Schism is not viable and I still maintain, unbiblical.
Please do not get me wrong. I do not think that all pastors who believe homosexuality is a sin are against women ordination or are for slavery. Rather, there is a same intellectual tendency to hold tightly to the past. Liberals have an intellectual tendency to fling away anything that smacks of the past.
I further do not believe separation is the key either. Rather, what I do believe is that we need to teach the power in covenant and the responsibility to uphold that covenant. The Book of Discipline is not simply document from a bygone era, but that which makes us Methodist. Yes, it has changed and will change, but to discard it is to create extremes. We need discussion. Separation and Schism will prevent discussion because it provides for us a way to isolate ourselves from being challenged. In teaching the duty and obligation to the covenant, we are in a real sense teaching the duty and obligation to the local church, to the family, and even to God.
I cannot help but call attention to the fact that the so-called bible belt has the highest rates of divorce. Perhaps it is because there is no obligation any more to the covenant. The use of “covenant” has lost all meaning. Thus, when changes occur, people react selfishly and rush to leave, forgetting that a covenant is not merely about uniting in agreements but uniting even in disagreements.
And thus I return to Mark Stevens and his advice. He demanded that in my liberalism I remain challenged unlike I was in my fundamentalism. If we isolate ourselves from discussion, we will become the extreme. If I had isolated myself from conservative elements in Christianity because I was coming from a far right sect, I would have done great damage to myself and my faith. I did not. I, instead, found a rather uncomfortable middle. From there, from the notion that iron sharpens iron, my faith has grown. I want to be challenged by conservatism and liberalism. As such, I do not believe separation or schism offers any positive notion, but instead will help to further stifle American Christianity.
Is our unity, then, confined to matters of polity? Are we only held together by the trust clause and our pensions? I really, really don’t want the UMC to split. I would consider that a great tragedy. Yet what are our main reasons for staying together?
I’m going to do something different. I’m going to turn off the comments for this post to direct you over there.
But, my answer is this… if one schism is bad, then maybe all schisms should be reexamined.
Further, where in Scripture is the Church allowed to split? Yes, we can “put people out” or even leave but to split and each go their own way?
The UMC should remain together due to doctrine and a commitment to Wesleyan theology. Yes, there are issues about personal holiness, but I do not believe these issues outweigh the great union caused by Wesleyanism. There are groups acting within the UMC to seek division. These groups should be called out for the damage they are doing to the work of the Church and the universal Body of Christ. But, if we can unite truly on doctrine, then we must find common ground there.
My own issues with the UMC’s historic itinerancy system; however, I believe it is for the best and Jack Kale is perhaps one of the best examples of why this system needs to stay in place. The Church is not a cult of personality, nor is it based on the pastor. If the local church has only grown with the pastor, perhaps the quantity is not exactly the quality it should be.
In reading Kale’s interview, he never mentions God except to validate his pastoral calling. He never mentions the leading of the Spirit. And why should he? When has the Spirit of God ever commanded breaking oaths, destroying unity, and creating a cult of personality? The politics of the system is decried. So, instead of working to change it from whatever position he has entrusted to the Bishops, he has divorced himself of the small democracy and instead made himself king.
Jack Kale is the very reason we need the itinerancy system. Rather than change the system as Kale and others recommend, we need to rely upon the Spirit – as we say we do – when casting our fate into the hands of the Bishops who make these decisions.
It would be difficult to state that this is a double standard. Why? Because Hamilton and Slaughter are in different conferences than Kale and others. Thus, they are under a different Bishop.
If we are truly Spirit led, then we must have faith in that process and not go about changing a system that has kept the cult of personality out of the worldwide Methodism (generally) for 200 years.
There are certain structures and theological stances within the #UMC with which I am dissatisfied. I strongly disagree about their ordination process. “This Holy Mystery” is a start, but we need a better affirmation of the real presence. And why do we use grape juice!!! Further, we need a deeper look at our Arminian and Pietist heritage as well as what it means to be Wesleyan.
We need to get rid of the enthusiasm running rampant in our churches and institutions of higher learning.
Even with those things, and these are the items I’ve discussed openly, there is something about the UMC.
It provides a structure geared to accountability. We have boards and trustees, elders and bishops. We even have a court system of sorts. We can provide accountability without shaming, shunning, or exile. We can extend our hand of fellowship to non-Christian groups as easily as to Christian groups.
It remains, at least via the Book of Discipline, committed to the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith while not restricting us to a certain “group-think.” It is prima scriptura, rather than sola or, God help us, solo. It recognizes the value of the Creeds and other canons of the Church.
The social structure of the connection is amazing. It allows conservatives, moderates, liberals and others to join together in a vibrant community and, in many quarters, celebrates this rainbow of thought. It ordains women. It allows for change, albeit slow. It is a global Church. It has a history of supporting justice movements in the United States.
We aren’t Calvinist. We aren’t pentecostal, either (although it seems that this particular vein, one contrary to explicit statements by Wesley, is trying to grab a foothold via Branhamites). The UMC has three simple rules: Do no harm; Do good; Stay in love with God.
In a well-written post on the current debates regarding the pastors who are forsaking the Book of Discipline, David Watson writes,
Church law matters because it allows us to go about our work together. It is not always right, but it is a necessary way of organizing our corporate life. Apart from this realization, the UMC cannot exist.
Intercourse, the title of this post, is not just about sex. Intercourse is about the exchange of ideas and the connection between people. The Book of Discipline is our intercourse. It is how we exchange our ideas and form our connection. When it is broken, we no longer have a connection. A sexless marriage is a roommate situation. An intercourse-less UMC is a baptist denomination.
News is breaking almost constantly of UMC pastors who, in breaking their vows to God and to the rest of the UMC, decide to officiate homosexual marriages. This is against their promise to uphold the BoD. I wish news would break equally about UMC pastors who refuse to follow other rules, such as the social principles, but alas, no news exists.
You know my position on this. Whether it is achieved by Luther’s Two Kingdoms or through the 14th Amendment or because I believe it is right, homosexual marriage should be allowed. There are a lot of sins, but I do not believe this is one of them. Further, I believe the denial to the human the right to love is an abomination to Natural Law and is in of itself a sin.
If the BoD was unchangeable, then the avenues the pastors are traveling may be more acceptable; however, it can be changed while maintaining the proper place for Scripture. Therefore, I cannot follow these pastors who would break the BoD. After all, I don’t support the more conservative pastors who likewise break the BoD.
There are two comments on Dr. Watson’s blog I wanted to respond to, but did not feel his blog was the proper place. In one, a commentator decries bigotry but uses the ignorant phrase regarding pharisees. This is a self-inflicted wound, but it is one showcasing a lack of introspection. The other one is rather jumbled, more so than my usual lack of writing skill. To deny that homosexuality is a sin is not to change the authority of Scripture. Rather, it is to uphold the authority of Scripture in all matters of salvation. What we deny is the usual interpretation. These are the same arguments that once revolved around women ordination and segregation. Scripture is primary in the United Methodist Church and must remain so, however, we must allow that our opinions about it are not.
We need less sex in the UMC and more intercourse. We need that connection rather than momentary meetings, such as General Conference or Annual Conferences. Rather, we need to respect one another in our connection and try to resolve these tensions without ignoring the concerns of the other party.
“In these days when we are spending so much money, time and energy in the task of healing or growing the church, my hope is that we will see that our work is less about saving the church and more about proclaiming the presence of God to both the souls who compose it and those who dwell outside it.” – from The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry by David Rohrer
This was my response:
I read a statement today popular among church-planters (I’m not against Church Planters, but these Church Planters are of the type who see no hope in traditional Christianity, mainlines, etc… and are off to start their own) which goes something like, “It’s easier to make babies than to raise the dead.” While I’m all for making babies, as Christians, we are sorta supposed to be about raising the dead. I mean, look at Ephesians 5.14 and the many verses which show the connection proclaiming the Spirit with the life which it brings. We do not need to make babies to save the Church – we need to resurrect it by, in the Spirit, proclaiming life.
It was a rant… yup, but these two things sort of coincided in such a way that I finally realized why that statement in the article made me mad. I haven’t read the book, but it looks interesting. I tend to think that we treat pastors as if they are the CEO, psychotherapist, life coach and Martin Luther. Further, we see the Church as some place we go to and the structures of the Church as a permanent thing. We see those who disagree with us as the enemies. As the pastor in the article said – it was easier to run away than to work within the Church to resurrect the dead. We are Christians. We are sort of founded on the whole idea of the dead can be raised. Proclaim the Gospel. Preach it. Pastor. Teach. Lead. Pray. Shut-up. Stop worrying about the Church as a scaffolding structure and remember what the Gospel is. Don’t run away from a fight, but raise the dead.
Pastors often find themselves struggling to survive in the wilderness of the contemporary church scene. How do they remain faithful in light of the marginalization of organized religion, denominational strife, rapid demographic change, falling numbers and a general malaise among church members? Many pastors feel helpless, others hopeless. Sociologists and pollsters diagnose the problem but can’t seem to come up with a solution. Is there hope?
Author and pastor David Rohrer believes there is. John the Baptist also lived in the wilderness, yet crowds journeyed there to hear him. Why? Because John “affirmed what people already knew: that they were in desperate need of something more than the mundane practices of a religion that had been cut off from its source of life.” John called people to remember their covenant relationship with God, which was established in the wilderness, and to let God guide them once again across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
Pastors, says Rohrer, “don’t primarily exist to build and maintain the institution of the church. We exist to do a particular work through the church. In short, we don’t simply have an institution to create, refine or maintain; we have a gospel to preach.” John’s prophetic voice prepared hearts to be receptive to Christ’s work among them, to be transformed by the power of God. Herein lies hope!
Using illustrations from everyday church life and decades of ministry experience, Rohrer carefully crafts a lively and realistic pastoral theology for ministry in the sacred wilderness. If you are a new pastor you have a sure guide here. If you are a veteran preacher you’ll find just the refresher course you need to invigorate your ministry.
So what is the solution? After all, we are Protestants. We don’t have any formal structure or approval process to hold us accountable. There is no one who signs the checks for Evangelicals. Therefore, aren’t we sleeping in the bed we made? While I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, I don’t really think that the outlook needs to be so grim. I simply believe that we need to think deeply about these issues. There is a way that we can keep ordination “organic,” yet insure that we are not ordaining unqualified hounds.
Tim Challies is currently in a firestorm over comments which he made about women in ministry, even to the point of reading Scripture in public. For him, and others in the Reformed Tradition, it is simply not allowed.
Over the years there has been near-endless discussion and disagreement about 1 Timothy 2:11-12. There Paul writes to Timothy and says, “Let a woman learn quietly and with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” …. What we can all agree on is that these words, whatever they mean, are in the Bible and are, therefore, given by God for our instruction. These are not sexist words; they are God’s words.
No, that’s not God’s words. Those are actually, and ironically so, man’s words. What Scripture actually records is this:
Many times, we confuse the English, or other language, translation with what Scripture actually says. Let’s change Challies’ translation and see what might happen?
Over the years there has been near-endless discussion and disagreement about 1 Timothy 2:11-12. There Paul writes to Timothy and says, “They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.” …. What we can all agree on is that these words, whatever they mean, are in the Bible and are, therefore, given by God for our instruction. These are not sexist words; they are God’s words.
Over the years there has been near-endless discussion and disagreement about 1 Timothy 2:11-12. There Paul writes to Timothy and says, “But to teach I permit not unto a woman, nor to have dominion over the man, but to be in silence.”…. What we can all agree on is that these words, whatever they mean, are in the Bible and are, therefore, given by God for our instruction. These are not sexist words; they are God’s words.
The translation one uses makes a difference, no doubt, but the big difference is that when one appends the phrase “God’s words” to the translation – it enlivens the translation and adds weight to that particular translation, weight which is thrown around to drive home one agenda or another. As for me, I do believe that women can read Scripture in worship and be pastors….
I know, I’m going to a dark place, but….
BTW, click those links for a fuller discussion on the text and translation issues in question.
Introduction: Hincmar, a monk from the Abbey of St. Denys on the outskirts of Paris, was elected archbishop of Reims in 845 by the bishops of the province meeting at Beauvais. Since the conversion of Clovis (482-511), and more than ever since the Carolingians, with Pepin the Short (751- 768) and Charlemagne (768-814), initiated their reforming policy, the Frankish bishops were, for all practical purposes, selected by the king. Hincmar had in fact been known at the court of Louis the Pious (d. 840) since 822, and he was to remain loyal to the cause of Charles the Bald (d. 877) in the King’s conflicts with his half brothers. The son of Louis the Pious by a second marriage, Charles was made by his father King of the Western Franks despite the agreement of 817 on the division of the Empire: only the sons of the first queen were to inherit the crown. With the treaty of Strasbourg in 843, Charles’s position became, like that of Louis the German (d. 876), King of the Eastern Franks, fairly secure. On the contrary, Lothair (d. 855), whose imperial ambitions had provoked the coalition of his younger brothers, Louis and Charles, found himself on the defensive. Pepin, King of Aquitaine until 833, had died in 838 and his kingdom, never officially recognized, had been given to Charles the Bald.
I have posted an article about the ongoing discussion whether pastors should be paid or not by the church and whether there is any real Scriptural basis to do so. …you can read it here. Tell me what you think?