An argument from “The Standards of Faith of the United Methodist Church” part 4

This should be the end of what has started here, and continued here and here. I know that it is not the most exciting reading, but as it has been challenged that the United Methodist Standards of faith do not address the current debate about LGBTQ issues in the church, it is necessary to show that it does. Thus far the crux of the argument has been Article VI and the supporting evidence surrounding it. Here we will shift a bit to some general statements from Wesley’s sermons and New Testament notes to wrap up the argument.

We shall begin with sermon 38. The point of this sermon is not sexual immorality, but there are some telling statements here about how sex between two of the same gender is viewed in our standards of faith. “But how easily may we know the cause from its effects! These are sometimes gross and palpable. So they were in the most refined of the heathen nations. Go no farther than the admired, the virtuous Romans; and you will find these, when at the height of their learning and glory, “filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, despiteful, proud, boasters, disobedient to parents, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.”” This passage from the sermon is used as an illustration to demonstrate the the adversary (Satan, the devil, the prince of this world, really, choose your title here) is at work in the world, often without notice. We earlier addressed the meaning of “without natural affection”, so I don’t feel the need to rehash it here. For Wesley then, and as a matter of the United Methodist Church standards of faith, the fact that such affections exist is evidence of the work of the adversary in the world today. Wesley would also say in this sermon, that the work of the adversary binds people with chains to earth and hell. There is little doubt then about his feelings on the matter.

In Romans 1:26-27 (For this cause, God gave them up to dishonorable affections. For even their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another; males with males working out shamefulness, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was fitting for their error.) we find other comments by Wesley. Of the verses he says, “Therefore God gave them up to vile affections – To which the heathen Romans were then abandoned to the last degree; and none more than the emperors themselves. Receiving the just recompense of their error – Their idolatry being punished with that unnatural lust, which was as horrible a dishonour to the body, as their idolatry was to God.” Some would postulate that this is a passage referring only to the Romans, but this is not the case. First, we must consider all of the evidence that we have thus far. Wesley has made clear in sermon 38 that such affections were evidence of the work of the adversary in the world. We have also established the view of the Articles on the moral law regarding the matter. When the evidence is examined as a whole, we see that yes, this is a reference to the ‘heathen Romans’, but the reference is as an example and not limited to only them. We see again a link between sexual immorality and idolatry, but that is a different blog entirely. Of note here is Wesley calling such unnatural lusts as being a horrible dishonor to the body. We see here that this is a result of the sin nature of man, confirming what Wesley said in sermon 38 that the presence of such unnatural lusts is evidence of the workings of the adversary.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.) we find more telling comments by Wesley. “Idolatry is here placed between fornication and adultery, because they generally accompanied it. Nor the effeminate – Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good – natured, harmless people are ranked with idolaters and sodomites! We may learn hence, that we are never secure from the greatest sins, till we guard against those which are thought the least; nor, indeed, till we think no sin is little, since every one is a step toward hell.” Here we have Wesley placing sodomites, again, the meaning of which we discussed earlier, with idolaters and those who do not take up their own cross. Again, we see that there is little doubt how Wesley viewed this.

In the book of Jude, verse 7 (“as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, in like manner to these, committing fornication, and going away after other flesh, laid down an example before-times, undergoing vengeance of everlasting fire. “)  we find Wesley commenting in this way, “The cities which gave themselves over to fornication – The word here means, unnatural lusts. Are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire – That is, the vengeance which they suffered is an example or a type of eternal fire.”

There is little doubt then, from the examples above, how our standards of faith in the form of Wesley’s sermons as well as his New Testament notes view the matter. Some would say that these views only apply to sexual acts outside of marriage, but in viewing Wesley’s notes, sermons, and the Articles of Religion, there is no evidence of this. Such a view then is contrary to the United Methodist standards of faith. In support of this, we shall look at the teaching of Christ and the comments of Wesley on said teaching.

In Matthew 19:4-5 (“And He answered and said to them, Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife, and the two of them shall be one flesh?) we find Jesus answering a question about divorce from the religious authorities. The first thing that Jesus does here is define what the intent of God was, from the beginning. Wesley had this to say, “He said, Have ye not read – So instead of contradicting him, our Lord confutes them by the very words of Moses. He who made them, made them male and female from the beginning – At least from the beginning of the Mosaic creation. And where do we read of any other? Does it not follow, that God’s making Eve was part of his original design, and not a consequence of Adam’s beginning to fall? By making them one man and one woman, he condemned polygamy: by making them one flesh, he condemned divorce.” At first glance this seems to have little to do with same sex marriage, but upon closer examination, it is the strongest argument against it. First, these are the very words of Christ about the intentions from the beginning. To to sound trite about it, but Jesus was there in the beginning after all, so He would have first hand knowledge. With Wesley’s comments, we see the condemnation of polygamy being made here specifically. This is significant as polygamy was a form of marriage that was outside of God’s original intent. The precedent that is established here, by Christ, is that a form of marriage that is outside of God’s original intent is to be condemned. As we have no other precedent from Christ, or the other New Testament writers, it seems the wise, not to mention theologically sound, decision to follow the precedent and condemn any marriage outside of God’s original intent.

The claim was made that the Articles of religion do not address the United Methodist language on homosexuality. Over the past several postings, not only has it been demonstrated that they indeed do address the topic, other standards of faith, namely the sermons of Wesley and his New Testament notes, do as well. While there is disagreement on what this or that verse means, or how those verses should be applied, there is little confusion as to what the standards of faith have to say on the matter. The articles of religion are described as “the basic standards for Christian belief in the Methodist church in North America. First published in the church’s Book of Discipline in 1790, the Articles of Religion have continued to be part of the church’s official statement of belief.” That very description shows that not only is the matter addressed, it is part of the official belief’s of the church, and a basic Christian belief for the church. While some would say this is not a matter of an essential belief, I would say to them that the basic standards for Christian belief certainly should be called essential. If they are not, then nothing can be.

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3 Replies to “An argument from “The Standards of Faith of the United Methodist Church” part 4”

  1. Thank you, Scott, for a very well researched piece. I was originally planning to say “well researched and reasoned piece,” but the reasoning was not so much your own, as pointing out original Biblical and Wesleyan reasoning.
    Now the question remains, how do we convince the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops, and the called General Conference in 2019?

    1. Thank you, especially for noticing that the reasoning is not my own. This ongoing argument was settled long before any of us was born.
      As for convincing anyone? No clue. Speak the truth, educate people in what the United Methodist church believes and why? Other than that, no clue.

    2. Accept that there will be a split. Just address the best, easiest, method to accomplish the split, with the least disruption. Least economic impact. Least social disruption. How that is achieved, I have no idea.

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