Kevin Watson wrote a good piece about his struggles with centrism, and, remarkably to me, he actually got a response to some of what was brought up by Adam Hamilton no less. I am hoping for the same frankly as I have some pointed questions that I have been asking for some time without answer from the self identified centrists. If any of you reading this happen to know Adam Hamilton, please feel free to put this in front of him and ask if he or someone else could answer.
Adam Hamilton has recently, with many others, signed on to support (yet another) centrist type group called Uniting Methodists. I have submitted many of the following questions to them as well. So, hold on and here we go. If you happen to be a centrist and are reading this, feel free to answer the questions as well. I’m really trying to understand and ask questions to do so like I keep getting told I need to, but it is proving difficult to get any sort of actual answer.
First, the Uniting Methodists say the following in their affirmations: “We accept and uphold the Doctrinal Standards and Theological Task of The United Methodist Church as stated in our Discipline. ” The doctrinal standards of the UMC are the Articles of Religion, The Confession of Faith of the EUB, Wesley’s NT notes, The General Rules, and Wesley’s standard sermons. In light of the acceptance of the standards of faith, how is it that you reconcile allowing for varying understandings of human sexuality in regards to Article VI (“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.” Articles of Religion), especially as illuminated by sermon 38 (“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.”) and sermon 34, as well as his NT notes, specifically regarding Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, as well as Jude, and adding in the whole council of scripture, including the so called clobber verses found in Leviticus? A summary of the understanding of how these things fit together may be found here with links to continue on from one writing to the next. How does one affirm the standards of faith in one breath, and then allow for, and perhaps endorse, theology that is contrary to those same standards the next? In case there is some doubt as to the meaning of Article VI, it is easy to discern as it was adapted from the Anglican Articles by Wesley for the American Methodist church. The Anglican understanding, which is rooted in classical reformation theology (and before in much of the writings of the early fathers as well), recognizing three purposes to the moral law. 1. the usus politicus, that is the use of the law in the body politic, 2. the usus pedagogicus, the use of the law in convicting us of sin and leading to Christ and 3. the usus normativus or tertius usus, the use of the law as a rule of life for the Christian. It would seem that sexual behavior falls clearly into the ‘rule of life for a Christian’ category.
The Uniting Methodists say this in their affirmations as well: “Despite our differences, we are committed to remain a part of, and support, The United Methodist Church and to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I assume that this mission is based in the great commission (minus the transformation fo the world bit, that is God’s job, but a different rabbit hole for a different day) which reads (NKJV)
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen”
How am I, a a lowly layman, supposed to fulfill this under your understanding? Jesus taught about marriage. What should I then teach about marriage? Which version? How do I explain that yes, Jesus taught this, but yes, half of my church disagrees, so it may or may not be correct? How is that credible? How should I go about selling that? How can a denomination stay together with any sort of integrity if the very policies of said denomination prevent the fulfillment of the Great Commission? I am not going so far as to say that Christians can not disagree on matters, and that Christians can not even disagree about human sexuality, but I am saying that the commission implies that there is a teaching of Christ and that we are to transmit that teaching, to the best of our understanding under the instruction of the church. The instruction of the church, under this type of system, would then be ambiguous at best. Are we to instruct people that Jesus, and as a consequence scripture, is ambiguous as rule providing little instruction?
The Uniting Methodists say: “We believe our differences on the questions of same-sex marriage and ordination stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority.” In some cases this is true, in others it is not true. Failing to recognize this is problematic at best and disastrous at worst. My personal experience with various United Methodists, pastors and laity alike, has shown me that this is not always the case. I am not saying that it is the majority of the time, but it is a reality that should be recognized. What do you mean by Biblical authority anyway? It’s a great term, but nebulous without explanation. Do you perhaps mean that scripture is the rule of Christian faith and practice as Wesley believed and as is articulated in the Articles? If so, are not proper sexual and marital choices matters of Christian faith and practice? If that is the case, and I believe that it is, not having a coherent teaching on human sexuality i telling the congregation of the faithful that the church, the very bride of Christ, makes no claim to knowing the truth about human sexuality and it’s proper Christian expression, so they are on their own. In essence, you claim that the church would not be able to teach proper personal holiness. How can a Wesleyan denomination say such a thing with integrity considering that it is one of our Wesleyan distinctive traits?
The Uniting Methodists say: “We are committed to both evangelism and social justice as essential to the expression of vital United Methodism.” I find very little of Wesley that corresponds to modern notions of social justice, and can not help but notice the absence of social holiness (or any mention of holiness) in your assertions. Where is it in Wesleyan theology that you find the modern notions of social justice and why is it that you have left out any references to holiness which is, and has been, one of the most distinctive parts of Methodist tradition going back to the United societies. In fact, much of that holiness is reflected in our general rule, which are a standard of faith that you affirm. Why the addition of the modern notions of social justice combined with the exclusion of any mention of holiness?
I have more questions, but this should do for now. I have to be honest here, I really don’t expect answers in truth. I hope that I get them, but I do not expect them. Right now centrism seems to be little more than what I like to call cotton candy theology. It taste good going down, but has no nutritional value and just turns to rot until it is brushed away. Watson suggested that centrists don’t get crucified, and Hamilton suggested that it is a difficult place to be as there is criticism from all sides. I am suggesting that, until there are some real answers that go past Sunday school platitudes and stand up to rigorous questioning that centrism is really just the lukewarm that is neither hot nor cold. We all know what happens to that. I hope that the centrists prove me wrong with some actual answers. Time will tell. Until then, I am brushing it away to avoid the rot.