If you’ve been keeping up with ecclesiastical news, you may have noticed that the United Methodists are making headlines. Earlier this year, in April, I wrote “What’s Up With Those Methodists?,” briefly explaining the brouhaha in the United Methodist Church. Today’s article is an update and a more detailed account of the inevitable division of the church.
Rather than go into a history lesson on Methodism, which might be as tedious as reading one of John Wesley’s sermons, you can get the brief (?) Wikipedia facts here. If you really want to do some digging, scroll down in the linked article to the section on 2020-2022 schisms, but please remember that Wikipedia is giving you the common and popular view of what’s going on. The views in this article are my thoughts on why it’s time to leave the United Methodist Church.
The Methodist church has been around for over two centuries, but the United Methodist Church (UMC), was formed in 1968 by the joining of the Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren.
The UMC is organized and defined by its Book of Discipline (BOD) which contains the law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church. It was originally published in 1784 and has been published every four years since then, following the meeting of the General Conference, a worldwide delegation of United Methodist delegates. This delegation passes legislation which is then included in the new publication of the Book of Discipline.The latest BOD was published in 2016–there was no General Conference in 2020 because of COVID.
Basically, ever since then, the UMC has been headed for a breakup. The division is one of Traditionalists v. Progressives (in political terms, Conservatives v. Liberals). But why, after over 200 years Methodism, can we not just all get along? Well, that depends on who you talk to. So be patient with me for a couple of minutes as I attempt to explain.
All United Methodists–bishops, district superintendents, clergy, laity, and congregants–take vows to abide by the covenant set forth in the BOD. In a nutshell, here’s the problem: UMC bishops are refusing to discipline those who break their vows, even if those vow-breakers are other bishops.
We Traditionalists have called on the Council of Bishops to abide by the Book of Discipline, but the Bishops in the United States have blatantly refused to do so, thus violating their own vows to the denomination and blatantly defying anyone to do anything about it.
Progressives are shouting that Traditionalists don’t love Jesus because we adhere to the definition of sin found in the Scriptures. In other words, the Progressives would have you believe that we Traditionalists must hate gays because we identify homosexuality as a sin. Although sin is mentioned throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the Scripture that is the most-quoted as condemning the practice of homosexuality is from the Book of Romans. In Chapter 1, the Apostle Paul describes what has happened to humankind:
25 …they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,
27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.
29They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,
I’ve always believed that, as Christians, we are called to love the sinner, but hate the sin. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. The complete UMC position on human sexuality can be found here.
The crux of the matter is that we Traditionalists welcome the LBGTQ+ children of God, but if they don’t acknowledge and repent of the sin (repent means “turn away from”), we don’t believe that they can be ordained, nor may a UMC pastor perform a same-sex marriage. In other words, I am happy to have a practicing LBGTQ+ person worship next to me in church, but I don’t believe he or she should be an ordained pastor, nor should a same-sex marriage union be condoned by the church. Progressives want to remove any restrictive language about LBGTQ+ individuals from the BOD. They don’t just want to ignore the sin–they want to change the definition of sin.
Enough about the homosexuality issue. Here are the additional reasons that we United Methodists can no longer “just get along.”
The short book, Are We Really Better Together?, by Rob Renfroe and Walter Fenton, succinctly sums up our differences. Both authors are Traditionalist UM pastors who have aligned with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). The GMC is just one of the iterations of Methodism that offers a choice for congregations that choose to leave the UMC.
Renfroe and Fenton write:
Are we really together? ….Our differences go deeper, to some of the foundational questions of what it means to be the church: Is Jesus Christ the only way to God? Is His death on the cross the only means for salvation? Are the Scriptures fully inspired and authoritative for revealing God’s will and binding on how we should live our lives? We [Traditionalists] believe the answer to these questions is a resounding Yes! while others in the church [Progressives] would answer differently. The painful truth is that we cannot agree on these central matters of faith…. If we are one church, we cannot act as if we are two. If we are two churches, we should not pretend to be one.
The truth is we are two churches. We see the inspiration and the authority of the Bible differently. We have different sexual ethics. We disagree on marriage and ordination. We understand our mission differently. We are even divided in our proclamation that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth, and the life. These are not small matters. And there is no ‘way forward’ that will unite us.
As a lifelong Methodist–I was baptized into the Methodist Church when I was an infant and confirmed as a teenager–this division in “my” church is painful. But we United Methodists are not alone. Four other major Protestant denominations–Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians–have already divided over many of the same issues.
I welcome your comments, and you have questions, feel free to ask. I’ll be happy to explain further and/or to point you in the direction of other writers who have similar views. To be fair, I’ll even point you in the direction of writers who have disparate views.
As Christians, we know that there has been only one perfect human being. We Traditionalists do not believe that we are perfect, but we do believe that abiding by God’s Word is in keeping with His will for us. And we also believe that we must disaffiliate from an institution that seeks to destroy the United Methodist Church by sacrificing it on the altar of “Tolerance.”
Please pray for our church. We vote to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church on November 6.
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