The other person in this conversation asked to not be named and I will honor that. There are good points made here. It was an honest conversation that was even polite. Notice that there is not much of a change however. This shows that we can talk about things. It also shows that even if we talk about them, it does not necessarily change anything. I will use an alias to represent my conversation partner.
ME: A lot of people keep talking about unity in the essentials, and I am even ok with the concept. What we inevitably end up having to answer is what is then essential. So let’s take the easy road and say faith in Jesus is the essential. We will order our faith around that. Then of course we must talk about who Jesus was, Inevitably we must turn to what Jesus taught since He is the essential. If He taught that loving Him was expressed, in part, by following His commands, so what then did He command and what does that mean? Like most things, it is a great slogan, but when you look at it deeper, it gets more complex quickly. My challenge then is this. When you use the phrase, be ready to define what the essentials are.
INIGO MONTOYA: I have heard this argument a lot. You define the essential and then build upon it. What needs to be figured out is where the foundation ends and the building begins. Just for argument’s sake could not the “Articles of Religion” and “Confession of Faith” or some similar set of statements be named essential. Part of defining the essentials is in finding the line where people are comfortable saying anything beyond this is OK. The problem, I think is that we disagree vastly on where that line is. I think many fundamentally disagree on what is non-negotiable. I’m very sympathetic to the idea of finding and agreeing upon the essentials, but we’ve been without them so long, in naming them we will find controversy. It will not be as simple as it should be.
ME: I am all for using our full standards of faith as our essentials. I even support trimming them down to 45 of Wesley’s sermons, but adding in his OT comments since we use the NT comments. It is not that we have not had them, we have, it is that those in leadership have been allowed to ignore them. Are you agreeable to using our current standards of faith as the essentials? If so, what should the church do when a pastor, Bishop, etc. teaches contrary to those essentials?
IM: I am. I think those are the trials we should be having. We are called and ordained to uphold the doctrines/teachings of the church.
I think what challenges many is that issues of human sexuality are not included in those standards. I don’t see nor think that is a “standard.”
ME: They are included in our standards of faith though. That is the rub. That is why traditionalists support the trials and the like that you just said we should have.
IM: Where exactly in the standards of faith? The confession and articles? Are you including the social principles?
ME: “Article VI — Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.”
This is now me and not the article. The first admonishments against sex between two of the same gender, specifically males in that instance, is found in the section of Leviticus dealing with moral commands of God.
Wesley also preached against Buggery and sodomy (his words) which at the time both legally and theologically included, but was not limited to sex between two of the same gender. His sermons are part of our standards of faith.
Wesley’s NT comments, also a standard of faith, call the action sinful.
I am not at all including the social principals as those are not counted as standards of faith.
IM: I’ve never seen this argument before. Thank you. I still don’t know that I agree. But I think this is one of the best arguments I’ve seen argued from our standards. I wonder what, and I’m thinking on the fly, moral standards are set for eternity and which (if any) might be cultural. I sense that may be the rub.
ME: It is the argument that I have always made form our standards. I want to be clear, the Bible is the standard of course, this is how the UMC understands the Bible. The argument that this is new is simply false as this has been the understanding of the Methodist movement from the beginning…it did not magically appear in 1972.
“I wonder what, and I’m thinking on the fly, moral standards are set for eternity and which (if any) might be cultural. I sense that may be the rub.”
I am not sure that I understand this. Are you trying to say that moral commands of God change? The article talks about moral commands of God. It is a bit ambiguous to be sure and it is in many ways left to us to determine what those moral commands are. When the articles were written by Wesley (who adapted them from the Anglican articles) there was not the doubt over this. If we take them as they were meant in their time, then their meaning is clear. It only becomes muddled when we try to see it through our eyes instead of through the eyes of the time it was written.
IM: We use the standards as a lens through which we understand scripture.
I was thinking out loud: does our understanding of the moral code found in the law change? I have a feeling that our (I mean, by “our,” not so much you and I but Christians in general) understanding of where the civil and moral precepts of the law start and stop and their implications (literal or pointing to a bigger spirit of the law) is where the rub comes.
Again though, we’re drawing conclusions from the standard. Disagreements about those conclusions should be defended based upon those standards. I think we’d have better discussions if we started with the things that we are called to agree upon (the standards) than immediately starting from our point of disagreement. Emotion is important, but it muddies and hinders reasoned discussion. If we can acknowledge we start from the same place, we might get further in the discussion before emotion takes control. The challenge though is that I don’t know, generally speaking, that everyone really can agree that we start from the same spot. And, I think, that is more of a progressive/liberal issue than a traditional/conservative issue. Liberals can too often downplay orthodox belief and even deny that there is a standard of faith beyond “love God and neighbor.” I disagree with the far left on that. I think there is a standard.
I’m not sure how I’d rebut your argument, but I agree with where you start and see how you got there. For that I am grateful.
(That’s all pretty rambling, I hope it makes sense) To your last point: I agree, but again it is hard to say what a 21st century Wesley might say. We argue over what the 18th century Wesley said. We are all products of our time.
ME: I agree on the starting points. What I, and many, probably most, traditionalists have said, is that we do not have a starting place and this is why there is no real conversation. You are talking about what a 21st Wesley might say. It is a fun chat, but I do not care and don’t find it remotely relevant to anything. I do know what the 18th century Wesley said, and I can reasonably interpret meaning by understanding his time, place, conventions of language, historical context, etc.
When dealing with scripture, I do my very best to not look with 21st century eyes to determine it’s meaning, I try to look through first century eyes for the NT and older eyes for the OT. If the faith was indeed once and for all delivered, it matters what it meant at the time of writing, and then how that applies today. If the command of God was that wearing the color blue is a sin (to pick something silly for the sake of conversation), then it is a sin today just as it was a sin when it was written.
What most of us see the problem as has nothing to do with homosexuality at all, but with the place and purpose of scripture. Just yesterday I had a UMC pastor chew me out (he has several times and I have since blocked him) because there is no such thing as the moral law and we are not required to follow any moral command of God because of grace. That is not even close to any understanding of Wesleyan theology, yet he is an ordained elder in the UMC. Another ordained elder that I have personally interacted with denies the trinity as it understood historically, denies the incarnation, denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and says that the crucifixion has not meaning and was just a political maneuver by the Romans. That is far from anything Wesleyan. Those things are in fact properly called heresy.
So we come to the topic at hand which is a heterodox belief, that is to say outside of the teachings of the church, but not so far outside that it is a heresy (a teaching that threatens eternal destiny). Our contention is that it is basically impossible to discuss a heterodox belief when the actual problem is heretical. That is to say that the real divide is not over homosexuality, but something much much deeper. Homosexuality is simply a proxy fight for the real problem. I know many orthodox believers who have a heterodox belief regarding homosexuality. With those believers there can be conversation. The majority of the voices that do not find homosexuality sinful however are heretical in their core doctrine, so with them, there can be no conversation.
IM: I think we are on the same page. We just come to different places.
ME: I do too and that is a place where we can have conversation. Denomination wise though, I do not know if we can until we deal with our doctrine in a serious way.
That is the end of the relevant portions. Now this was a healthy chat, no nastiness or name calling, just an exchange of ideas and understandings. One might say we even had it around a table. I do not question the faith of my conversation partner nor do I believe he questions mine. It was a great chat. At the end of it though, we are both still where we started theologically. Sitting and chatting around a table is great, but it rarely changes things.