Are we connected? (Three non-negotiables for the United Methodist Church)

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.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

13 thoughts on “Are we connected? (Three non-negotiables for the United Methodist Church)

  1. Some of us might find as much or more unity in a theology of the hands and feet — I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me something to drink….what you did to the least of these my brothers and sisters you did to me.

  2. We’ve been fighting this battle for 45 years… and to be entirely honest I’m tired of it. I think a lot of us are tired of it. Every 4 years… this one topic dominates. It sucks up all the oxygen and leaves no room for anything else. This infighting has, in my opinion, kept the UMC stagnating on the sidelines for half a century.

    It is time to move on. There are two sides. These sides are not going to wake up tomorrow and change their minds. They cannot co-exist… and the Church cannot move on with its mission as it stands.

    It appears to me Schism is the only way to move forward. And I believe more and more Schism is starting to be seen as a painful medicine that tastes awful… but is necessary to cure the disease.

  3. Since there has been a reaffirmation on the Authority of scripture i believe its also high time we revise key doctrinal issues in line of what scripture says

  4. What are everyone’s feelings about the quadrilateral as a means of understanding Scripture, and in particular, experience? Are only one’s own personal experiences valid? Are not others’? When did we give up on trusting others’ experience? And what about grace, piety or social holiness? Why are they not mentioned here? Are they no longer important to us as Methodists?

    As troubled as I am about our emphasis on “authority” (always someone else’s definition, it seems, often “not negotiable”), I worry more about our forgetfulness of basic Sunday school-level teaching about Wesleyan beliefs on grace and freedom, and of the generous invitation to “think, and let think.” The brothers had a blueprint for working through differences. We forget this are our own peril, as General Conference is ably demonstrating.

    Or, perhaps the Wesleys are no longer relevant or useful to Methodists.

    Thoughts?

    1. You raise quite important issues, i have had a problem with some of Wesley’s doctrine. He was great as a preacher but failed as a theologian. There is need to review some of the key doctrine

      1. To discard Wesleyan theology is a direct affront to Methodism. Far too often, the pews of Methodist Church are filled with confused Baptists who seem to be in the wrong theological system…

    2. ” I worry more about our forgetfulness of basic Sunday school-level teaching about Wesleyan beliefs on grace and freedom, and of the generous invitation to “think, and let think.” The brothers had a blueprint for working through differences. ”

      I think we’ve been working that system for 45 years and so far its produced no results. This is a case of irreconcilable differences.

    3. A view from the UMC pew: I am no Wesleyan scholar, but several years ago, as a result of a situation that developed in my long time local church, I decided to sit down with Wesley’s sermon, “The Catholic Spirit”. I discovered there was the first part which basically describes what you quote with “think, and let think”; something that was drilled in me a long time ago. What I did not know was there is a second part that describes the person of the truly catholic spirit. Because of the older version of English, it took a couple of reads before I grasped how Wesley understood who the person of the catholic spirit is. I also realized that the United Methodist Church has grasped only the first part of the sermon and totally lost this second crucial part. Based on his description of the person of a truly catholic spirit, I feel confident that he would be appalled at the theological diversity currently running rampant within the UMC. You really ought to spend some time with the entire sermon and see what you think. As an alternative, a short cut would be this post on the matter by Kevin Watson, a true Wesleyan scholar:

      https://vitalpiety.com//?s=catholic+spirit&search=Go

      Here is an excerpt from that article:

      “My impression in reading the “Minutes” of early Methodist conferences is that Methodists were talking about basic Christian doctrine. But they were doing so with the kind of specificity that led them to begin to note points of emphasis that were different from other contemporary Christian communities. They asked questions like, “Have we not then unawares leaned too much towards Calvinism?”[2] And so in early Methodist “Minutes” of Conferences, you find Wesley and his followers wrestling with areas of agreement and points of disagreement with other Christians.”

  5. Your third “essential” seems to conflate two different concepts — the global nature of the gospel, and local cultural (not timeless, not never-changing) norms that are NOT “the gospel in its purest form.” The Book of Discipline goes far father than “the essentials,” and so it makes sense to me that cultural differences can be present and still be connectional, and geographic governance is a perfectly fine way to implement that.

    1. I agree. In some ways we say that we are global in scope, yet, how much of our effort at General Conference is focused on North American issues? Regional autonomy to deal with the cultural questions of how we relate to one another (as the Central Conferences experience) makes sense. Then our General Conference time could be better spent dealing with issues that relate to a Global Book of Discipline and the essentials that we all aspire to.

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