#UMOrthodoxy: Holy People, Faithful Church (preamble)

3c8ac922c338bc8374bc87c39ab4b27bThere was some concern that this conference, put on by the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy, was something that it was indeed not. For a brief moment, let me talk about that. This was not a secret strategy session of the vast right wing conspiratorial arm of the church. We did not plot a takeover of the denomination, no inquisitors elected, nor was I titled as a grand inquisitor. (A shame really as they get super nifty robes) Much to my chagrin, the Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei was not established. We did not end by publishing the Methodist Maleficarum. Human sexuality was not mentioned, save to make certain that there was an understanding that is not actually what we are fighting over. What we have is similar to the situation currently in Syria with rebels. Rebels opposing the government of Syria and the terrorist groups there armed by the C.I.A. are fighting similar rebels with similar goals armed by the Pentagon. We have also seen this type of proxy fighting in Yemen. The point? The United States has finally figured out how to fight a proxy war with itself, and we as United Methodists have followed in that example to indeed fight a proxy war with ourselves. It was mentioned much more eloquent than I did, but you get the idea. So really, for all the talk of perhaps moving of goalposts, the reality was that the goal posts staid where they always have been…just past the goal line of orthodox Christian faith. I know it may be difficult to believe, but it really happened. A group of orthodox Wesleyans got together and talked about orthodox faith, how our Wesleyan distinctness works within that, and what our responsibility is in the larger body of the United Methodist Church. So yeah, it was a weekend of theology nerds talking about theologically nerdy stuff. Nothing secret or crazy there.

What did happen was an idea. It took place over several speakers and presenters. It started small during the first worship as we contemplated the apostles filling Jerusalem with the teachings of Christ. It challenged us to bear witness to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that entails. It challenged us to recognize the risen Christ as the authority and the church as what He has established. It pushed further into what Wesley would have called a Catholic Spirit actually is (spoiler alert sermon 39 does not say what you think it says). We spoke of holiness and what being set apart does and should look like. We talked about God’s holiness primarily as we lack any on our own. We talked about stories (I know how to cook a wolf now) and telling the right ones, but especially making sure that we tell The Story..The Only Story. That of course being Christ and Him crucified. One more thing, the story is only good if your audience can understand it. That matters too. For those worried this was some sort of political event, we did discuss politics….and really how orthodoxy should transcend them, not be mired in them. Not only should, but must in order to be effective. We even talked about the importance of the internet and social media to use a new medium for the old message (hence this rambling this morning). We did talk about the future of the UMC in some very honest and blunt terms. That was refreshing and healthy. We even talked about what place the orthodox faith has in that. We’ll here more later today as well, but I have no reason to suspect that it will be related to any of the concerns voiced.

In the days and perhaps weeks to come, there will be more on some of the specific ideas touched on during this weekend, but as there was a great deal of confusion among some as to what this is, let me try to explain. The orthodox (sometimes referred to as the historic) faith of the church is basically contained in the Nicene Creed. You can find that in the hymnal if need be, and sometimes (though not often enough I imagine) we even say it in church. We talked about that. In fact, I happen to think that the majority of United Methodists actually have an orthodox faith and simply do not know that is what it is properly called. We talked about our Wesleyan distinctness and traditions of holiness, both personal and social. We talked about where those two things meet to form what is indeed a Wesleyan orthodoxy. So, there were questions aplenty about what this was actually going to be and the answer is rather simple really. I mentioned that what did happen was an idea. Of course I can only speak for myself, but that idea is actually not just deceptively simple, but perhaps the most necessary idea we can have moving forward. We spent the weekend asking what boils down to two questions. Who is God, and what does He look like reflected in us. That is what our Wesleyan orthodoxy answers. That is why it is distinct. That is why it is the only Truth of the church.

17 thoughts on “#UMOrthodoxy: Holy People, Faithful Church (preamble)”

  1. Please say more about the meaning behind “Human sexuality was not mentioned, save to make certain that there was an understanding that is not actually what we are fighting over.”

    If there was broad consensus at your gathering that the church need not have nor enforce a specific position on same sex marriage, that would be truly newsworthy and constructive towards the renewal of UMC and towards an articulation of UM Orthodoxy that is both true and winsome. If y’all failed to take up that question and reach that conclusion, then it would belie the point you seem eager to make in the quote above. I’ve been praying the group would free us of the false charge that UM Orthodoxy requires all pastors have and act upon the non-affirming view of same-sex marriage. I know some in your circle believe that but I’ve feared the issue would be swept under the rug. Continuing to pray for you all.

  2. OK I will try to be a little more clear. This had nothing, and let me say again so we are clear, nothing to do with LGBTQIA anything other than the understanding that those conflicts are a symptom of deeper issues in the church. IE, those particular battles are a symptom of a larger issue, not the issue themselves. That is not called sweeping under the rug, but it might just be discernment. So, in essence, no, not everything in the UMC has anything to do with sex, go figure. As for the rest of your comment, since it is completely off topic, I really just don’t feel the need to address it.

    1. You miss my point. The question of same sex marriage must be addressed in the orthodoxy discussion but perhaps not as you seem to think I want. I believe that neither support not opposition of same sex marriage is a required element of Christian faith nor of the UM expression of it (UM Orthidoxy). Sure, you and I disagree on the morality of SSM. I gather – but maybe I’m wrong – that we agree it should not be a required or essential belief of Christian Orthodoxy but we disagree if you think it should be a required belief within UMC.

      Some self-described adherents of UM Othodoxy say that opposition to same sex marriage is a required belief and we should punish clergy who act to the contrary. This threatens the unity of the church, and yet I realize mere unity is not the concern of this discussion. The pertinent point to this discussion is that those insisting dogmatically that orthodox UMCers oppose same sex marriage are harming the cause of UM Orthodoxy both with respect to truth (what truly does UM Orthodoxy require or not) and to evangelizing the Good News.

      So given all the talk of schism and accountability led by the conservative side and predicated upon the LGBTQ-related disagreements, it seems to me a conference that focuses on UM Orthodoxy should address whether this SSM question is adiaphora or set-in-stone.

      To say it is merely a symptom of deeper issues is to pretend that the SSM-affirming view is only possible when one first rejects orthodoxy and biblical authority (or whatever you suppose is the deeper issue). I contend that there are some self-identified orthodox UMCers (including some self-identified evangelical and conservative) who affirm SSM. The question I’m asking is whether they are to be welcomed or shunned by this new self-proclaimed group “UM Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy.”

      1. Dave,

        SSM/ordination (of which conference attendees were not asked their views, and some expressed positive views of one or both positions) is the presenting problem.

        To break Discipline, means to ignore the authority of the Church, and the will of the people. This means, that the real problem is a poor ecclesiology. We see the same on the far right with, as one presenter said, congregations who simply want to be a “bible church.”

        “Free Churchism” is not Wesleyan, and I’d argue against the Creeds.

        Your attempted slight at the last line is beneath you — unless you assume ThD and PhD and others are somehow less scholarly because, well, they disagree with you.

        1. Joel,
          I wasn’t trying to slight UMSCO nor any attendees by asking the question whether or not a position on SSM should be a required element in Christian orthodoxy generally or UM BoD specifically.

          I understand your thinking that, because opposition to SSM is in fact in the BoD, therefore clergy who break the rule should be punished.

          Still a fair question to ask whether or not the group actually took on the question of whether opposition-to-SSM should be considered as part of UM Orthodoxy. What I take from this exchange is that (1) the group pointedly did not consider question whether or not UM Orthodoxy should or should not include a position on SSM, (2) the conference quite explicitly wanted to avoid the topic of SSM, and yet (3) the group believes that clergy disobeying the rules against SSM are a bigger problem than the rules themselves. If I now understand that correctly, then my criticism is the group is poorly named if their concern over ecclesiology trumps the concern over right belief. Because if, as I think you and I both believe, SSM should be adiaphora, then making rules on it and focusing so much denominational energy on enforcing it cannot really be considered “right belief.”

          While that was my question, I guess I now have the answer. I hope you will understand my criticism as friendly and constructive. I believe there is a core of UM Orthodoxy that is important common ground for our denomination. I believe it needs to be better defined and better taught in seminaries, better led by bishops, better taught by pastors to church members and more effectively offered by all members to non-members. There is something important and good that UMSCO have in view and I wish them well in getting to the core of that. I feel UMSCO would have better success in that if we as a denomination didn’t make SSM an obstacle in our BoD.

          1. This is the final attempt I am going to make to explain this and try to shake you out of your narrow everything is about LGBTQ questions view of the church. (That is called activism b the way, not constructive criticism)
            ” What I take from this exchange is that (1) the group pointedly did not consider question whether or not UM Orthodoxy should or should not include a position on SSM”
            (another) false assumption on your part. This group did meet and discuss matters with the understanding that that question is not the primary reason for the current situation in our church, but a symptom of the larger issue. A cough does not cause a cold, a cold causes a cough. LGBTQ matters are not causing the issues in the church, rejecting the authority of the church is. The same is true of conservative churches who teach Calvinist theology for example. The problem is not that they are teaching Calvinism, the problem is that they are rejecting the authority of the church.
            “(2) the conference quite explicitly wanted to avoid the topic of SSM,” Again a false assumption and honestly proof that you have not paid attention to the conversation. There was brief discussion. It was decided that it is not the problem but a symptom. Don’t confuse your thinking that LGBTQ questions should be the center of everything with a lack of discussion. Just because the conclusion is different than what you want does not mean it was not discussed. The OP said as much….that it was discussed and seen t be a symptom of the problem.
            “3) the group believes that clergy disobeying the rules against SSM are a bigger problem than the rules themselves.” Yet one more time you show that you are not paying attention to anything and insist on making everything about LGBTQ matters at the exclusion of all others. One can reject and act contrary to the authority of the church in a large variety of ways. Those that do this are the problem. THAT is the problem. The rest is symptomatic of that problem. Logically, the LGBTQ issues that you so desperately want everything to be about can not be addressed in any real and honest way until the authority of the church is restored and respected. If the authority of the church does not matter, then it does not really matter her position on anything. You are putting the cart before the horse so to speak.

          2. Dave,

            We can agree and disagree what is adiaphora is, but what is essential is actually obedience to the covenant. Scripture takes a hardline against those who vow and then break that vow.

      2. “To say it is merely a symptom of deeper issues is to pretend that the SSM-affirming view is only possible when one first rejects orthodoxy and biblical authority (or whatever you suppose is the deeper issue).”
        Well to put it bluntly, no it isn’t. It is to say that the issue that is actually threatening the church is those who are acting outside of the authority of the church by doing as they please, while claiming the authority of the church by acting as a pastor, bishop, etc. IF that is not simple enough an explanation, I can not aid your understanding.
        ” I contend that there are some self-identified orthodox UMCers (including some self-identified evangelical and conservative) who affirm SSM.”
        Nothing in this post has said otherwise. You are seeing everything as an LGBTQ issue, and quite frankly, everything isn’t.

        1. Obviously you see the acts of ecclesial disobedience by some as a bigger problem for the church than what I would label as anti-gay (and inconsistently so) prohibitions contained within the Book of Discipline. I see it just the opposite. In addition to being the root of our disagreement (if I understand you properly), it also causes us to sometimes “talk past each other” which is frustrating for us both. I also hear you say the ecclesial disobedience of some needs to be addressed before we can address changing the rule they are breaking. Easy to see why you might take that position, but where GC to take that approach as well, there’s no way to resolve the impasse. Remember please that the number of clergy breaking those rules (in Biblical Obedience as they see it) is a far smaller number of clergy than those who obey the rule for covenantal reasons even while believing the rule itself is wrong; so the impasse leaves these good folks in a bind.

          Next, Scott, I’m sorry that my attempts at genuine engagement have exasperated you so. It seems from the two comments back this morning that I’ve somehow pushed you over the line into rudeness and condescension. You misunderstand me if you think that LGBTQ issues are all and solely important. A fair reading of my comments here (including the notion that it should be adiaphora so that pastors can decide for themselves which gay and straight weddings to officiate or not) shows that not to be the case. I do in fact care about truth, unity, mission and spreading the Good News. And also leadership and the maintenance of our institutions as well. My work as lay leader in a successfully growing local UM congregation and also within my annual conference on Board of Ordained Ministries etc show this. It is fair to say I’m “activist” (and a parent) on LGBTQ inclusion but for reasons fully congruent with those other concerns.

          I’ll continue to watch and have fond hopes for UMSCO, and I’ll continue to follow Unsettled Christianity for Joel Watts’ always interesting writing. But I’ll refrain from commenting on your posts, Scott, for the next six weeks at least. Please enjoy the break. 🙂

  3. It is nice to know that someone is taking care of the ignorant majority. But perhaps it is “rejection of”, not “ignorance of”.

    “Regarding doctrine, we are convinced that ignorance of our doctrine is endemic among United Methodists…”

    http://umorthodoxy.org/2014/09/19/why-united-methodist-scholars-for-christian-orthodoxy/

    “Regarding doctrine, we are convinced that ignorance of our doctrine is endemic among United Methodists, not only about what United Methodists believe, but also how our doctrines fit within the so-called Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy dating back to the earliest church. Methodists have been generous to a fault, wishing to draw the circle as wide as possible to include all people (or as many as possible). But this generosity has bred confusion and bondage, not clarity and freedom. We cannot be held together by denominational structures alone and we cannot talk about “shared mission” if we don’t have shared vision. That vision starts with some core theological commitments and some theological boundaries.”

      1. Of course, when I speak of rejection of doctrine, I speak of rejection of the “interpretation” of doctrine; “interpretation” by the vastly more intelligent members of this group. Us endemically ignorant people can now sleep comfortable at night, being so well taken care of 🙂

        Perhaps, the group should change their name to The Ministry of Truth.

          1. There again, that is your interpretation.
            I certainly have no problem with the group trying to influence UMC policy or decisions. But I would suggest they delete the article on “Why United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy?” Or revise the section below:

            “we are convinced that ignorance of our doctrine is endemic among United Methodists,… Methodists have been generous to a fault, wishing to draw the circle as wide as possible to include all people (or as many as possible). But this generosity has bred confusion and bondage, not clarity and freedom.”

            I am sorry, but this connects doctrine, in some strange way, with restricting the participation in the church. Might as well be strict Calvinists! I do not think this was meant. At least I hope not. But that is how I read it. So look at my comments, as more a suggestion to edit the group’s web page. It would be more appropriate to call the group a PAC (political action committee) driven by their interpretation of scripture and doctrine. But certainly not a “Quorum of the Twelve”, “for correction”, no matter how exalted they may be (or think they may be). I’d say, leave the interpretation of doctrine to the actual UMC existing structure. Try to influence it by this group, fine. But even with thoeogical degrees, sorry, but they don’t have any more weight, than the average UMC member, as far as I am concerned.

          2. OK. Maybe I should have posted this from their website, instead of what I did. It sums it up pretty well.

            DISCLAIMER
            United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy has no official relationship with The United Methodist Church or its boards or agencies.

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