Sometimes conflict creates clarity.
This current season of debate within the United Methodist Church has caused us to talk a lot about what really connects us. What exactly is our connecting point? The Book of Discipline? The Articles of Religion? Social principles?
Or just the logo?
In the midst of conflicting ideas, we can clarify what matters most and recommit to the beliefs that keep our communities of faith firmly tethered to an orthodox Christian worldview.
Ours is a confessional tradition. There are essentials upon which our theological house is built. These essentials should help us navigate the debates before us and I am confident they can bring clarity to our conversations in the days ahead.
I consider these three foundational truths to be non-negotiables for a Wesleyan worldview:¹
The exclusive nature of Jesus Christ. We believe, as Christ himself taught, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Methodists are not universalists. We recognize that claiming the exclusive nature of Jesus’ messiahship creates a set of questions around salvation for those who live in other places and embrace other faiths. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are confident in our call to preach the Gospel as truth whenever and wherever we’re given the opportunity.
Our covenant within the United Methodist Church is founded on its Articles of Religion, which profess an orthodox understanding of this gospel. They are grounded in Christ as the exclusive savior of the world. If we’re going to remain connected, we must insist on a relationship built on integrity and true accountability around those Articles of Religion.
The authority of the Bible. The Bible contains all things necessary for salvation. We trust it as it is written in the Old and New Testaments and believe it to be the Living Word of God. This value includes but is certainly not limited to an orthodox theology surrounding life, marriage and human sexuality. The Bible is the one book with power to hold a relevant conversation in any culture or time.
The global nature of the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all people in all cultures. It doesn’t change. We trust that this gospel is the same gospel for all people everywhere in the world. Put another way, if he is not Christ for the whole world, can he be Christ for any of it?
Methodists are incarnational and global in our approach to evangelism. We seek partnership with those within the Wesleyan tradition around the globe, not just as people on the receiving end of mission activities but as fully invested members of this expression of faith. To entertain the notion of dividing the United Methodist church theologically by creating a central conference for North America or the U.S. is a blow to this core value. We must reject any revision of our structure that further separates our connection geographically. The world is our parish.
These essentials are the glue that hold our connection together. A rejection of any of these three core values is a rejection of our most basic DNA and without theological DNA to connect us, this isn’t a family any more. It is just another loosely governed non-profit.
May God be in every conversation at General Conference and make it holy by His presence.
¹ I am grateful to to Dr. Timothy Tennent who inspired the development of these essentials through an address delivered at Asbury Seminary in 2015. I am also grateful to Tom Lambrecht for his insights on three key issues facing General Conference 2016.