Malleus Progressivorum chapter the third, what we believe in the UMC

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There is not going to be much original here because well, there doesn’t need to be. It has occurred to me that there are some who think that the big tent of United Methodism means that anything goes so far as belief and that is simply not the case. To clear up any confusion about that and to make perfectly clear what the UMC claims to believe, I will post quotes from here:

Just as creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed summarize the belief of all Christians, the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confessions of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church form a foundation of doctrine for United Methodists. They, along with Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions and Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, are “standards” of doctrine for United Methodists.

Sorry, but that sounds an awful lot like being firmly rooted in the creeds, so when I say that we should be, I am not being unfaithful to the UMC but rather being faithful to it. When I say that if you are operating outside of the Apostle’s (and other creeds) that you are not practicing Christianity, I am not being unfaithful to the UMC I am simply agreeing with the standard of faith that is provided. I am not kicking anyone out of the big tent, I am recognizing that the UMC said they were not under the big top to begin with and affirming that I agree.

When the Methodist movement in America became a church in 1784, John Wesley provided the American Methodists with a liturgy and a doctrinal statement, which contained twenty-four “Articles of Religion” or basic statements of belief. These Articles of Religion were taken from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England—the church out of which the Methodism movement began—and had been the standards for preaching within the Methodist movement. When these articles were voted on by the American conference, an additional article was added regarding the American context, bringing the total number of articles to 25.

These articles became 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.

The articles may be found here.

So briefly, yes we are Trinitarian, yes we believe in the virgin birth, yes we believe that the crucifixion was necessary for salvation (by whatever substitution model you would like and probably a combination of all of them), yes we believe in the canon and their authority, yes we believe that the scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation, yes we believe that right belief is the precursor to right action and not the other way around, yes, there is a standard. The confession of faith echos this and is also part of the standard of faith for the UMC.

There is a distinctly modern, and most probably western,  idea that everything has to be remade, reexamined, rethought, and redone. I suspect that all of us think that way about some things and while the need for reflection is real, it does not mean that we simply ignore and throw away everything that has come before.  That being said, the UMC adopted these things in 1968, so this is not some sort of orthodox hijacking of the church but rather the things that have been the standard since the UMC was founded. Yes, the world is different than it was in 1968, but I don’t believe it so different that the entire basis of our faith must be thrown out in favor of something that those who came before could not even recognize.

Now, unity is the hot button issue of the day in the UMC. We need to be unified. David Watson and Drew McIntyre have excellent pieces on the subject.

I agree, unity is and should be the goal of Christ’s church. In the UMC the above is how we express unity. There is a tremendous amount of room for variation of belief and discussion of specifics that exists in our statements of faith, and I find that good, but the fact remains that that there are statements of faith. Do those statements answer all of our questions? No, but they do provide the frame work that we can operate within to find the answers to those questions. When you operate outside those statements of belief you are not promoting unity in the UMC and when you operate outside of the creeds, you are not promoting unity in the Christian church as the UMC and most other protestant and Catholic faiths understand it.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (just because I like my Latin)  “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things” the phrase has been attributed to just about everyone, and we Methodists like to give it to Wesley so I will too. The question keeps coming up about what is a necessary thing and what is not, and I admit that there is wiggle room in the articles of religion and those things need to be and eventually will be (or not) hashed out within the framework of same said articles., but there are things that are plainly clear as essential to United Methodists, but also to Christianity as a whole. In our tradition, we reaffirmed those same essentials 40 years ago give or take, that is to say within the lifetime of many living United Methodists. In a historic perspective, that is barely enough time to say that it has even existed, yet already people clamor to change it.

There are many who clamor that orthodoxy is outdated and antiquated, that truth is subjective, that God changes, that question the identity of Christ, and more. They of course claim that those of us who follow orthodoxy are relics of a bygone era and need to get with the times.  To them I say that the faith delivered once and for all is as timeless as the Father, Son and Spirit it describes, that the God who inspired is still is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, that truth does not change just because we label it subjective, and that those relics of a bygone era are still here and have weathered all this before and will weather it all again. Once the shine is off the new theological toys that come out, the new faith boxes are broken down and discarded and the great yard sale is finished, we’ll be here with the same faith we’ve always had ready to welcome you back like we have throughout the history of the church. Heresy is fun for a season,  but orthodoxy is true for eternity and as a resurrection people we understand that the long game is the only game worth playing.

Malleus Progressivorum, chapter the second Adopted or not

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Adoptionism is the belief that Christ was born human, not of a virgin (to most historic adoptionists, but not all), was not pre-existent,  lived an exemplary and sinless life in accordance with Jewish law and because of this was, at some point in his later life, commonly at his baptism or at resurrection, was then adopted by God and became divine.  To be clear this means that Jesus was not born divine, was not “the Word made flesh”, and by it’s nature rejects all models of substitutionary atonement and also is at odds with the Christian understanding of the Trinity. It also shows God as rewarding Jesus for the deeds of a good life, and by such could be seen, and is seen by me, as endorsing and setting up a faith that is based upon the works of a man and not the grace of God. It paints God as some great all powerful being in the sky who requires works of us for a reward obtained as if the forgiveness of our sins is some sort of supernatural allowance for doing our Christian chores. If we are rewarded for works then it only stands to reason that the opposite would be true as well.

Adoptionism was popularized by those seeking to reconcile Jewish  belief with the teachings that Jesus was the Son of God, as well as a reaction to the claim by many gnostic sects that Jesus only appeared to be a man, but could not be a man because all matter was evil. It was examined by three synods, denounced by two and was eventually labeled as heresy by Nicaea and the doctrine of the Trinity. (Nicaea and the evolution of trinitarian belief will be dealt with at a later time in this series.) Some consider Paul and Mark to contain some allusions to adoptionism, but those claims have been discredited by the majority of scholars throughout history. The first known and historically recorded instances of adoptionism was with the Ebionites, a judaizing sect that insisted on following Jewish law, revered James the brother of Jesus and, by and large, rejected Paul.  As an interesting side note, some current adoptionists (some being generic. The idea is out there and mentioned, but I have no idea how many or few actually hold to this) claim that the gospels were edited to make the Ebionites look bad as well as mistranslated Isiah to support the idea of Jesus as uniquely divine from birth.  In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart D. Ehrman supports the idea that certain scriptures were purposefully altered to deny textural support for the doctrine, but his scholarship in many of his assertions has been questioned by his contemporaries. This is important as these are the beginnings of adoptionism both in the ancient world and also today. Adoptionism would reemerge again in the 8th and 12th centuries and was again condemned by Alexander III. So, from it’s inception as a Christology until the 12th century, it was officially examined by theologians and church leaders 5 times and struck as heresy 4 of those five times. Based on history, it can not be said that it did not have a proper examination by theologians and religious leaders.

There has been a modern resurgence in adoptionism as a Christolgy, which is attributed to the historic Jesus movement that seeks to demystify Jesus and put Him in the proper historic and cultural context. This is both true and unfair. I do not believe that all who understand that a historic understanding of culture in the time of Christ is useful in understanding the message of Christ buy into these ways of thinking (I do not and I personally know many others who understand context helps understanding, yet do not deny the Trinity and other core doctrines of Christianity). With the movement toward understanding Jesus the man, there has been, in some circles, an over emphasis on His humanity to the point of denying his divine nature. The modern belief of adoptionsim seems to also hang upon the idea that several passages in the scriptures have been mistranslated to the point that their entire meaning is wrong, and therefore our belief is wrong. I am not a linguist, nor am I a scholar, so I, like many people rely on others to translate for me. The difference between me and some others is that I apply a variety of scholars to arrive at conclusions an do not hold stock in one. I also apply the tradition and history of the church, my understandings of scripture, as well as my ability to reason.

The ancient view of adoptionism relies heavily on a God who rewards action rather than extends grace and the modern view of adoptionism relies heavily on people like Bart. D. Ehrman who claim that the scriptures have been purposely changed to support orthodox belief and have been since Nicaea. This seems to wild for me to believe. The concept of some ancient conspiracy to purposefully lead all believers of Christ astray in favor of some heretical belief is best saved for the plot of a Dan Brown novel and not the basis for faith in God through Christ. The idea of a God who rewards action is a works based faith, not one one based on His mercy and love for creation.  I realize it seems so small and I recognize that many have a live and let live philosophy about personal faith, but our Christology strikes at the very root of what shapes the rest of our faith and consequently our actions. It is of vital importance that we get Jesus right as He is the core of faith after all. If God has adopted Christ based on His works, then how can we believe that same God will not hold us to the same standard of works? How can we be assured of being the children of a loving God? This strikes not only at the heart of our shared Christian faith but at the heart of our shared Wesleyan heritage of being able to know and take comfort in the assurance of salvation. Jesus did not need an Aldersgate moment as adoptionism suggests, He is the reason that an Aldersgate moment can exist.

 

 

Malleus Progressivorum Introduction

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First of all, please excuse my tongue in cheek title as I am having some fun with the outpouring of criticism I have received. Since I have been accused of heresy hunting and inquisitorial ideas, I figured I may as well roll with it and have some fun. After all, no one expects the Methodist Inquisition. This will evolve into a series of posts examining some of the ideas that I have encountered in Progressive “Christianity” and their new way of thinking. I am starting with how to find a Progressive “Christian” church as that seems to be the logical first step.

This is motivated by a couple of things. The first, believe it or not (I suspect that for most of you it will be not, but I have been surprised before) it is out of concern and love that I began this and continue on with it. While I would not presume it is my place to stand on a street corner and pronounce to everyone “you are doing it wrong”, I do presume that it is my business to address those men and women who call themselves Christian that are indeed following teachings that are out of line with the scriptures as expressed in the historic witness and tradition of the church.

Second this is motivated by my love for the church as it is expressed by the history and tradition of it. The church has indeed changed and new ideas have been examined and accepted or discredited as time has gone on, but her historic and faithful witness has remained and is best expressed I believe, in the Apostle’s Creed, reprinted here for your convenience.

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis,inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,remissionem peccatorum,carnis resurrectionem,vitam aeternam. Amen

…or for those not fond of Latin:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
Amen

(From The Book of Common Prayer; I accept that “Descended into hell is a point of contention.)

Finally this is motivated by both examining what some of the common ideas in the Progressive “Christian” movement are, and by doing so bring light to those who agree and disagree as well as those who self identify as Progressive “Christians” yet might not understand what is being taught and shown as truth. It is, after all, vitally important what we believe as right belief leads to right action and not the other way around. If the ends justified the means, then the inquisition would have been a good thing and not one of the darker periods of church history.  As a note, this is not about LGBTQ arguments and debates, so any mention of them will be only for reference not as a required belief of any group of Christians one way or another.

So, onto how to avoid, erm….find….a Progressive “Christian” church. This is a link on how to go about finding a Progressive “Christian” church. I have found myself very thankful for it as it also can be used as instruction on how to avoid a Progressive “Christian” church. I have issues with it as I think that it unfairly attaches certain movements (notably those which agree with full inclusion) with Progressive “Christianity” but that is for another time. Coming from a Progressive “Christian” pastor, I shall accept that he believes this to be an effective way to find a Progressive Christian church so I shall as well. The same said pastor uses the 8 points of Progressive Christianity and expounds upon them in his book in a longer format. (The 8 basic points may be found here) The first 6 points of the piece are sort of common sense and standard fare sort of advice and easy enough to follow. I do think that he unfairly ties churches that support full inclusion with Progressive “Christianity” as I do not find that the two are necessarily linked and that in doing so he hurts their cause. Point number 7 though is where I want to start my concentration…

“You may not be able to find a progressive church near you. If not, you’ve got some options. One is to help to try to transform the most liberal one you can find toward being a progressive congregation.”

This is how the point begins. So, he actively advocates a form of evangelism, that is to say spreading his version of the faith, to others, but with other works condemns those who do the same.  If I, for instance, were to go to a Progressive “Christian” congregation and attempt to transform it into one conforming to the Articles of religion and the Apostle’s Creed for example, not only would it be met with resistance, but I imagine outright hostility. Beyond that however, he is actively, in the case of the UMC should one follow his advice, calling for people to openly disagree with, and ignore the tenants of our faith, but also to encourage others to do the same. That is far beyond the live and let live attitude he claims to support, but is rather an open invitation to cause disruption and try to subvert the faith as expressed by the UMC, and depending on the denomination as he is speaking to all, perhaps their beliefs also.

“Another option is to start a home church or meet up group for progressive Christians. Progressivechristianity.org provides this listing of progressive Christians to help you locate kindred spirits near you! Finally, a last resort might be to find fellowship and a “para church” community in one of the many progressive Christian Facebook pages.”

I am all for home groups and think that they can be an important and vital part of faith. I wish here he would have at least said in addition to attending a church. The danger here is that without proper direction and guidance, there is a greater potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding the scriptures. Yes a small group is important, but not in isolation from the church but in addition to the church. The progressive Christian Facebook pages are virtual echo chambers where no thought of historic and traditional Christianity can be found, heard, or tolerated. This again is far from the everything is open to questioning attitude that is claimed to be possessed as well as far away from the “big tent” idea that the UMC was founded upon and that is claimed to be supported.Before closing, a word on the “big tent”. Yes, the UMC was meant to be and still should be a big tent denomination allowing for a variety of thoughts and ideas as we move forward for truth. It is not however an infinite tent. There must be some sort of baseline belief that is required or you simply have no identity. This applies for the Church Triumphant, the Denominations, and even individual Christians.  As I have many times before, I submit that the best and least restrictive “minimum requirement” if you will is to be found in the Apostles Creed. There is a very big tent that is allowed there and plenty of room in it, but it is not infinite. There simply are beliefs that are out of bounds. How to avoid a Progressive “Christian” church is a good start in avoiding those ideas.

 

Why we can’t have nice things in the #UMC…Progressive Methodist addendum.

Let me begin by admitting fully that I have no idea what Progressive Methodists actually believe. I don’t say this to be mean, I say it as an honest admission and also as a statement of part of the problem. An awful lot of people claim to be progressive Methodists or progressive Christians, but there is no real codified system of belief so it seems. The only points of belief seem to get eviscerated when anyone tries to speak about them as not being representative. In the case of an evangelical Methodist, I have some expectation of the focus of their theology as it relates to Methodism. With a Calvinist I know where they are coming from. I can see the benefits and draw backs of Lutheranism, etc. With the progressive United Methodists I do not. I can understand that not all progressives are defining themselves by the 8 points (if comments are to be believed most do not) and that is certainly their privilege, but what do you believe. What are the core points? What is the doctrine? Surely it is more than ‘full inclusion’. If this is really all it is then jump under the reconciling banner and let’s move forward with attempts at solutions. I don’t think that is it however. I understand and appreciate that you have disagreements with the conservative Christians, but say what you will about them, you know where they stand and what to disagree with. I mention this in the hopes that it can be explained to me so that I can process and examine your beliefs and thoughts as they differ with traditional Methodism. Part of why we can not have nice things could very easily be we are using the same words but speaking a different language.

 

Why we can’t have nice things in the #UMC…or the 8 points of Progressive Christianity part 2

Progressive Pickin'
Progressive Pickin’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The eight points I am referencing can be found here.

It was apparently not made clear enough by me that I am dealing with these 8 points and those in the UMC that ascribe to them. I accept that all of those who say they are “progressive” are not necessarily Progressive as defined by these points. Sorry for any unintended confusion. Part 3 will indeed be about progressive Methodism and I will share my thoughts on it there.

5.  Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

So much here…first of all, we find grace through Christ…any other ‘ grace that you may thing you are finding is a pale reflection of Christ at best and a falsehood at worst. As for more value in questions than in absolutes…well that is just silly really. First of all, you do not at all find value in those who question you, your eight points or anything about you really. If I question your belief or lack thereof, you do not respond with o my, how valuable, but rather a hearty defense of your position. Secondly, I find it difficult to believe that you actually believe this or want that as a principle of life. How about you come into a store and I decide that your $1 has less value than the next person’s $1? See that would be $1 not having an absolute value.  Let’s say that I thought person A had a greater value than person B. See that is how not having an absolute works. Everything becomes subjective and at the mercy of our opinions. Since none of us are anywhere close to perfection, that is a frightening thought. Without an absolute, there can be no God, as God Himself has proclaimed Himself an absolute. This seems a lot like cotton candy…tastes good and is a little fluffy, but quickly dissolves and has no nutritional value.

6.  Strive for peace and justice among all people;

OK you have a good one so long as we understand what justice is, and so long as we ignore #5 as justice requires absolutes…

7.  Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

I have no idea what this means…if it has to do with being a good steward of the Earth and using it’s resources responsibly, I am all for it. If it has to do with all fossil fuels are bad and need to be abolished then I find it silly and unrealistic. If it has to do with some sort of sentient Earth new age Wicca type ridiculousness, then I will offer my services in reading the Latin of the Roman Ritual so that whoever believes this can have it expelled. Give me a little notice though as my Latin is rusty.

8.  Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

This finally I agree with. No conditions, I think it is a good idea.

As an overview, several of the comments on the first part of this go a long way toward why this, as a whole is so dangerous. I believe this type of Progressive Christianity to be very small, but it has large effects. It has introduced the idea that there can be no absolute, that justice is subjective, and that equal somehow means we all deserve the same in any sense except for the biblical one where none of us wants what we deserve. They have introduced the idea that somehow respecting another’s faith means that I must treat it with the same value as mine. I have a great amount of respect for those who follow the disciplined way of Shinto. That respect is not agreement, nor does it mean I assign it the same value as my faith in God. Nothing on this earth has the same value of my faith in God and any idea that something should is dangerous to the faith as a whole, and to the UMC especially as we struggle to find our way. This sort of Progressive Christianity had widened the gap between the conservative and liberal Christians. What was once a small gap where we could agree to disagree on several things and if nothing else at least recognize that we have more in common than we differ on to a great chasm where  automatically anything even remotely critical of or different than we believe is somehow a person assault against us instead of a statement of belief or experience from someone else.

This brand of Progressive Christianity has spawned groups like Love Prevails that has made it a part of their mission to be disruptive, groups like RMN who has demonstrated by their actions that they are unwilling for compromise and by accepting money from political activist groups have put the value of the dollar over the value of the people they claim to serve, it has spawned other liberal groups who are inflexible and other conservative groups as a rubber band effect that are equally inflexible. For every Love Prevails who exists to disrupt and spew their rhetoric there is a Westboro Baptist and vice versa. It has in many ways corrupted Good News from a group who held conservative values and helped others uphold them to a sort of political action committee. It has created a right/left dichotomy from what used to be a center right/center left coalition.  They started with this sort faith (if you can call it that) which puts the created person and their thoughts and opinions above the reality of a Creator God and His truth. It has literally turned many of the core tenants of the Christian faith upside down and placed imperfect people in the place of a perfect God.

While not every one who would call themselves a progressive does not ascribe to these points, and surely no one (I think anyway) that calls themselves a conservative would say they ascribe to these points, we can find parts of them in our thinking and how we have treated each other.  We can find small elements of point 4 or 2 or 8 etc in our theology, our philosophy, and in our interactions. We open the door to dangerous thoughts and ideas and then act surprised when they translate into action. I am sure that those folks who ascribe to this ar well meaning and I am equally sure that they are on the path. It just is not the path to God and that is why they are a danger. That is why (in part) we can not have nice things as every good and perfect gift is from God. I don’t see good and perfect gifts on this road.