unofficial cm page


Article


Dialogue Between Strange Kindred:

The Foundational Documents of the Confessing Movement with Response by Rev. Allen Gibson


Pastor, Ashland Christ United Methodist

Ashland, Kentucky

The CM text will be set off in an indented style, and will be in a different color. This text has been downloaded from two WWW Addresses:

http://www.goshen.net/gnm/confess.htm

http://ns1.sccoast.net/umc-one/confess/confview.htm

[New Official Confessing Movement Homepage]


An Invitation to the Church

I.

The United Methodist Church is at a crossroads. We face either the peril of abandoning the Christian faith, thereby becoming unfaithful disciples of Jesus Christ, or embracing the promise of becoming God's instrument in a new awakening of vital Christianity. The causes of the crisis are complex and multiple. However, we believe that the central reason is our abandonment of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and asserted in the classic Christian tradition and historic ecumenical creeds. Specifically we have equivocated regarding the person of Jesus Christ and his atoning work as the unique Savior of the world. We have been distracted by false gospels. We have compromised in our mission to declare the true gospel to all people and spread scriptural holiness. For the sake of the kingdom of God, it is now time for action.

The invitation extended here inaccurately represents our current situation. One would get no argument from most quarters that the UM Church faces some very divisive debate and critical choices in the coming years leading into the 21st century. This paragraph seems to suggest that theological apostasy is rampant in the UM church, especially in its use of rhetoric such as "we believe that the central reason is our abandonment of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and asserted in the classic Christian tradition and historic ecumenical creeds."

The very first statement of Part II of the Discipline (Doctrinal Standards And Our Theological Task: Section 1--Our Doctrinal Heritage) is "United Methodists profess the historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit." The first claim of the theological section of our constituting document is exactly that which the Confessing Movement says we no longer claim as a church.

It is true is that there are some people at all levels of the church that either (a) do not accept this claim, or (b) interpret what that claim means differently than those who framed the Confessing Movement's Document. But to say that the actions of a few individuals within a community (actions which are contrary to the stated mission and identity of the community) are somehow normative for the whole of the community is a faulty argument. It would be akin to me claiming that because those who framed the CM documents do not understand the claims of the faith in precisely the same way as I do, they are not part of the faith.

And, that is the crux of the debate. The rhetoric used by the CM defines the discussion as follows: To be a Christian is to be in consonance with the ancient faith and creeds. The UM church of today is (in our judgment) dangerously close to no longer affirming that faith and those creeds. This means that at least those who would lead us in this direction, if not the rest of us, are dangerously close to no longer being Christians.

The choice of the name, The Confessing Movement, is a self-conscious appropriation of the heroic tradition of dissident church in Germany during Hitler's reign. In the Barmen Declaration, the Confessing Church of Germany rejected the claims of Hitler that he was the messiah. The Confessing Church responded in faithfulness against a state church that had allowed the powers of this world (and more precisely the power of Hitler's reign) to co-opt the Church of Jesus Christ for temporal, political, and evil ends.

More recently the World Alliance of Reformed Churches declared a status confessionis with regard to the Reformed Church of South Africa. Reformed Christianity worldwide declared that support of institutional racism placed the South African Church beyond the boundaries of the true church of Jesus Christ. The WARC spoke very clearly and directly: " . . . we regard this as an issue on which is not possible to differ without seriously jeopardizing our common confession as Reformed Churches." They went on to state clearly what the key issue was: "We declare with black Reformed Christians of South Africa that apartheid . . . is a sin, and that the moral and theological justification of it is a travesty of the Gospel and, in its persistent disobedience to the Word of God, a theological heresy."

The Confessing Movement in the UM church has chosen hallowed ground for this disagreement. In choosing this particular ground, the debate is charged not only with what might or might not be appropriate theological interpretation with regard to ethical and moral action; the debate is really about who is a true Christian and who is not. If one has doubt about this, simply pay attention to the final few sentences of the CM's Invitation to the Church: "We have been distracted by false gospels. We have compromised in our mission to declare the true gospel to all people and spread scriptural holiness. For the sake of the kingdom of God, it is now time for action. "

II.

The renewal, reform, and healing of our church can come only through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot yet see clearly how God will lead us along this path. However, with John Wesley we affirm both the apostolic faith of the universal Church and the Wesleyan distinctives which give form to our faith, as articulated in the doctrinal standards of our own church (viz., the Articles and Confession of Faith, Wesley's Standard Sermons and Explanatory Notes). These constitute the essential, unchangeable truths of our tradition. We gladly own this anew for ourselves and seek to reclaim it for our whole church.

This is a tricky paragraph. It begins by affirming what is affirmed by the UM Church as a whole, again in the Discipline, that we are grounded in the apostolic faith and are experiencing that life of faith from some very distinctive Wesleyan perspectives. The CM affirms what the whole UM church affirms, that the Articles and Confession of Faith are "doctrinal standards that shall not be revoked, altered, or changed." So, when the CM takes a position affirming those two doctrinal standards, as well as the Sermons and Notes, they are not taking a contrary position to the whole of United Methodism. They may be engaging in a political and theological disagreement with those in the UM Church who take interpretive stances that are at variance with those held by the adherents of the CM. That would be a much more limited conflict than the one they imagine or stake out in their position papers.

The comment toward the end of their second paragraph, that these elements "constitute the essential, unchanging truth of our tradition" is a troublesome one. Wesley, as a reformer, sought to bring forward into his own contemporary time what he understood to be the essentials of the ancient faith. But the history of Wesleyan studies is one of charting John Wesley's own changing understandings of those ancient elements of the faith. While Wesley did not change in the basics of his faith in God through Jesus Christ, there are numerous nuances of his positions on nearly every major issue of Christian Doctrine that confront the Church even today. It seems that Wesley himself understood that while Truth may well be Truth, our appropriation and understanding of that truth is always at best provisional. In his sermon "Catholic Spirit" Wesley coins a wonderful phrase to describe this condition-- "Invincible Ignorance." What he means to say by that phrase is that "to be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some, is the necessary condition of humanity."

My point here is this-- the issue here should not be whether or not UM's are Christian, or even whether or not the institutional leadership of the UM Church are Christian. The real issue, hidden either by poor choice of rhetoric or by careful choice of rhetoric, is that there is an honest disagreement within the UM Church about what constitutes faithfulness to Christ and faithfulness to the Wesleyan tradition as it is embodied in the UM Church. Either this document is carelessly worded so that the real issue is not in the forefront, or this document is carefully worded so as to cast what is an internecine disagreement between two factions as though it were a Kairos moment, where "the Church is divided against itself and its day of judgment has come."

A secondary issue is whether or not this issue must be resolved in a binary fashion. Is it not possible for there to live within the same church family persons with honest disagreements about matters of interpretation? The CM suggests that the only appropriate resolution to their perception of the crisis at hand is that everyone come to their point of view. As we will see, at least in this invitation document, they are a bit unclear as to what that would mean.

III.

Under God's judgment and by God's grace we covenant to participate in the Spirit's reconstruction of the church, which has been built upon the foundation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We covenant to engage in a revitalized mission which expresses our historic concern for social holiness and fidelity to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. To all United Methodists--regardless of race or gender--who desire to contend for this faith, we extend an invitation to join us in this endeavor.

Here we come to the call to action of this invitation. Since it has not yet been demonstrated by the framers of this document how it is that the UM Church or her leadership or even any particular community within the UM church has deviated from that ancient faith once for all delivered to the saints, it is hard to know exactly what this call to action means except that it sounds pretty good. The implication of the next sentence is that somehow the UM church of our time is unconcerned with issues of social holiness and is somehow less than faithful to the Great Commission. The problem is that the MFSA (Methodists for Social Action) would lay a similar charge against the UM church. And, those who work for affirming the theological rights as well as the social rights of homosexual persons would lay the same charge against the UM church. This becomes a matter of interpretation, and is a matter appropriate for discussion among those who disagree. Is it truly the basis for the formation of a Confessing Movement in the tradition of Barmen and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches? Have we arrived at a moment of status confessionis, of irreconcilable differences? In my mind, that has not at all been demonstrated by this document.

As to fidelity to the Great Commission, the lack of scriptural citation in the document implies that there is only one commissioning passage in the Gospels. In fact, each Gospel ends with a commissioning scene. Mark's Gospel ends with the charge to follow after the Risen Lord, who has already gone ahead of the disciples to Galilee. Mark's implication is that the life of discipleship is a life of following after the Lord who is already going on before us, not behind us. Matthew and Luke give us similar commissioning scenes. Matthew's, the more familiar, sends us into all the world to make disciples. Luke's scene nuances that a bit, calling those who are sent forth to be "witnesses of these things," and to proclaim "repentance and forgiveness of sins . . .to all the nations." Luke's Gospel also holds the admonition that those witnesses, and by implication we as well, are to do that work only in the power of the Spirit who will clothe us with power from on high. John's gospel has a very interesting commissioning scene in which Jesus breathes Holy Spirit into the disciples, thus re-creating them in consonance with the creation account of Genesis 2-3. Then he sends them forth with the very mission he was sent to accomplish-- a mission wrapped up in announcing and proclaiming the forgiveness of God to the world.

Since the Church has preserved these four differing and yet complementary commissioning scenes, and since the term used by the CM tends to be more closely identified in the popular mind with the scene at the end of Matthew's gospel, one wants a more complete statement by the CM about their intent by the use of the phrase "fidelity to the Great Commission." Is their point of disagreement simply about a narrow view of our commission by Jesus, to go and make disciples? Are other efforts to proclaim the reconciliation of the world to God through Christ not valid, or less valid, than whatever the CM means by their unstated understanding of the Great Commission? Is this a move to reduce the Gospel to a few sound bites, negating or flattening the rich diversity of the Gospel witness to the call of Christ upon our lives?

In order to enact the Discipline's call to "doctrinal reinvigoration" and to avoid schism and prevent mass exodus, we intend to form a Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church. By this we mean people and congregations who exalt the Lordship of Jesus Christ alone, and adhere to the doctrinal standards of our church.

These are nice words, but as I have already sought to demonstrate the choice of rhetoric by the CM is precisely designed to create schism. The choice of the CM is to use language that is traditionally used in the life of the Church to divide persons one from another over doctrinal understandings. This is their purpose-- not to engage in dialogue about what all of this might mean, but to declare and challenge and insist that what they say is the right way to say this faith we share.

The final sentence is where the first sentence is undone. The implication is that only those who are in the CM confess Jesus as Lord. Only those in the CM can be though of as adherents to the doctrinal standards of the UM church. To confess Jesus as Lord and to adhere to the standards as they proclaim them is to be a member of the CM. But, to not do these things, to not be a member of the CM, is at best not to be a UM and perhaps not even to be a Christian. This is the implication of their rhetoric.

We call upon all pastors, lay persons, and congregations to join with us in this Confessing Movement and to challenge and equip their people as agents of God's kingdom.

Again, implied here is that those who are not joined in this movement are not challenging and equipping their people as agents of God's Kingdom.

We look to the Council of Bishops for doctrinal oversight according to paragraph 514.2 "to guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and Tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically." In particular, we ask the bishops to affirm their own teaching authority and to declare our church's commitment to Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of the world.

Long before the CM, there was a Council of Bishops issuing Bible studies and theological papers on diverse issues of social justice and God's kingdom. Long before the CM, bishops gathered to guide the church through difficult times by seeking out God's word for today. Before there was a CM seeking UM renewal, there was the Bishops' magnificent theological and social reflection, based upon scripture and the life of worship, called Vital Congregations and Faithful Disciples. Does the CM mean to suggest that these efforts to guide us were not exercises of the Bishops' authority as overseers and teachers in the church? Or, are they suggesting that the Bishops' direction in these matters is contrary to what those who align themselves with the CM want the Bishops to say? Again, is the issue really that the church is not doing anything, or that in the opinion of some the church is not doing what it ought? And if it is the opinion of some, why should the rest of us listen?

Why should the Bishops reaffirm what they are already practicing-- their role as shepherds of the church and leaders of God's people in matters of holiness and spirituality? Is the Shalom Zone initiative not an example of leadership in social holiness? Why should the Bishops reaffirm what is already the case, that the UM church as an institution professes its faith in Jesus Christ as Lord?

We call upon the seminaries of our church to transmit the historic Christian faith. We call upon the boards and agencies of the church to fulfill their primary role of being servants of the local church.

Again, the problem here is lack of specificity. In what ways are the UM seminaries not transmitting the faith? These are serious charges, brought with no documentation. These are charges that make accusations that go the very root of each Christian person's existence. That they are made so easily and carelessly is disturbing.

IV.

The crisis we discern extends beyond our denomination. We witness similar strains and struggles among our sisters and brothers in all the churches of the West. Because we are baptized into the one universal Church, and because the problems we face will best be resolved by utilizing the gifts God gives to the whole community of faith, we rejoice in the stirrings for renewal that we see among other communions. We commit ourselves to praying with them for the coming of the kingdom in our midst.

Other UM's like myself see great value and hope for renewal in the work of the WCC, COCU, and in groups like Sojourners. One wonders, again because it is unsaid, the groups with which the CM feels most at home.

The major critique I have of this document is that it uses a broad brush, little documentation, and vague language to create the impression that something awful is going on and that the solution can be easily fixed if we'd all just say the right words and do a few basic things. This ignores the complexity of the issues involved, and also our own invincible ignorance about such matters. The document implies that much of what is being done by the UM church today has little or no value in the Kingdom's mission, and that those responsible for this state of affairs may even be beyond the boundaries of the faith.


A Confessional Statement of the Confessing Movement

Within The United Methodist Church

We Confess Jesus Christ: The Son, The Savior, The Lord

During the first week of Easter, 1994, a group of 92 laity, clergy, bishops, and professors gathered to consult about the future of The United Methodist Church. We issued "An Invitation to the Church" for others to join us in exalting Jesus Christ as we confront the crisis of faith within The United Methodist Church. In love for the Church we [a gathering of over 800 United Methodists meeting in Atlanta, Ga. April 28-29, 1995] now present this Confessional Statement for the renewal and reform of The United Methodist Church.

One thinks of the great ecumenical councils of the early Church, when hundreds of prominent Bishops and Scholars would gather for months and even years to confer and debate the critical issues of this emerging faith in Jesus as the Christ. One thinks of the record of those councils where everyone was invited, where both sides were thoroughly presented and argued, where Arius and Athanasius confronted one another. One thinks of an even more ancient tradition of conference, one represented in the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15, where vigorous and two sided debate around issues of major concern were taken up by the church.

One then contrasts that with this scenario, where 92 similarly minded persons (who may or may not represent authority within the UM church) began a process, and where 800 similarly minded persons ( who may or may not represent authority in the UM church) gather for a few days to approve this statement. If the CM people truly believe that what faces us is similar in gravity to the issues that faced the Church at Chalcedon and Nicea, why then did they use such an obviously deficient process to frame their response? Could it be that they are less interested in creating dialogue between disagreeing sisters and brothers than they are in staking out their own theological and political turf? By choosing what seems to be the second option, the CM is embarked on a path that can only lead to contention and schism. Had the first option been chosen, the possibilities for growth, reconciliation, and healing could have been more easily realized.

Preamble

The crisis before us is this: Will The United Methodist Church confess, and be unified by, the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ; or will The United Methodist Church challenge the primacy of Scripture and justify the acceptance of beliefs incompatible with our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith?

The short answer, as we noted in our previous commentary, is that it already has confessed its faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. The second clause of this preamble gets to the real heart of the issue-- there are some in the UM church whose understanding of the role of Scripture and the ability of the church to respond to contemporary issues in authentically faithful ways is very different from those who frame the CM documents.

The United Methodist Church is now incapable of confessing with one voice the orthodox Trinitarian faith, particularly Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of history and the Church. While giving assent to Jesus Christ as Lord, our denomination tolerates opinions that "strike at the root of Christianity" (John Wesley). Our Church suffers from private versions of the faith that do not find their root in Scripture.

This is true, yet not true. Yes, there are those within the UM church who would have difficulty confessing the orthodox Trinitarian faith in an orthodox fashion. And, those divergent viewpoints are "tolerated," perhaps even encouraged. In the Wesley sermon quoted here, Catholic Spirit, there are seven questions that define for Wesley the heart of what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ:

  • Is your heart right with God?
  • Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
  • Is your faith filled with the energy of Love?
  • Are you employed doing not your own will, but the will of the One who sent you?
  • Does your love for God cause you to serve God with fear?
  • Is your heart right toward your neighbor, loving your neighbor more than yourself?
  • Do you show your love by your good works?

If these seven questions can be answered affirmatively, then whether or not one is a Methodist one can certainly be considered kindred in the family of God. Note that in no way is it required that certain orthodox formulae be recited or held for this kindred spirit to be recognized. And while the Trinitarian nature of God is implied here, there is no insistence upon any of the several creeds of the ancient church as a test of fellowship in the faith. In fact, each of these questions can only be answered subjectively-- they are questions that ask for a self definition, not questions to be answered by some outside evaluator.

In making this argument, I am more than willing to concede that while Wesley could find a way to be open minded about who was a Christian, he was very strict about who could be a Methodist. If the argument offered by the CM is that they are speaking as to authentic Methodist faith and not to the broader issue of who is in the Christian family, that is fine. My counter argument is that the strictness of Wesley is not being observed even by those who would stand in his place today. The Methodist family would be very small indeed if we insisted upon strict adherence to the General Rules of the United Societies. In addition to attendance in church on a weekly basis and frequent communion, the Methodist would also meet in a small accountability group weekly, willing to answer very personal questions about one's spiritual life and to take reproof and correction with regard to the same.

Further, to be a strict Wesleyan Methodist, one would refrain from buying or selling on the Lord's Day (including going out for lunch after church!); fighting, quarreling, suing another Methodist, or "using many words in buying or selling"; charging interest on loans made; speaking evil of governmental or church officials; wearing of gold or costly clothing; or engaging in "softness and needless self-indulgence."

My point here is that even those who wish to put themselves within the authentic stream of Wesleyan Methodism have made interpretive choices about which parts of that tradition they will keep and which ones they won't. Even people who do not keep all of the General Rules, who wear gold and nice clothes and eat dinner out on Sunday, feel as though they are authentically Wesleyan Methodists. So, perhaps others might also be authentically Wesleyan Methodists as well, who hold to differing views of the right ways to live out their faith.

The purpose of this Confessional Statement is to call The United Methodist Church, all laity and all clergy, to confess the person, work, and reign of Jesus Christ. This Statement confronts and repudiates teachings and practices in The United Methodist Church that currently challenge the truth of Jesus Christ--the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all. Aware of our own sinfulness, we who make this Confession submit our common witness and our lives to the judgment and mercy of God, as attested in Scripture, the written Word of God.

We Confess Jesus Christ

The Son

"He (Jesus)... said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:15-17 NRSV)

We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit's help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God. Confession of Jesus as the Son is essential, not a matter of personal opinion. It is a matter of revelation, which was given to Peter and to the Church by God whom Jesus called Father. With Peter and the other Apostles, we confess that Jesus is the Christ. We confess with John and the other Apostles that in Jesus of Nazareth, the Word made flesh, the eternal Son of God has come into the world to make known the fullness of God's glory in grace and truth (John I). Therefore we confess, in continuity with the apostolic witness of the Church, that Jesus Christ is "true God from true God" (the Nicene Creed), the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My favorite critique of this passage is made by another critic of the CM who notes that if one reads the whole passage cited and not just the quoted verses, one discovers that right confession by Peter does not prevent him from acting inappropriately and even being called by the name "Satan" by Jesus himself. So, to simply stake out one's turf on the right confession of Jesus as Lord is not a complete enough act, even for Jesus himself. Peter is called Satan because he thinks like people think, and not like God thinks. (paraphrase from the CEV)

The quote pulled from the Nicene Creed gives an incomplete statement of the true faith of the Church, as does this whole paragraph. This paragraph focuses on the Divinity of Jesus Christ exclusively, which is a reduction of the faith delivered once for all the saints. The Nicene creed goes on the state that this One who is "true God from True God" also for our sakes became enfleshed and became man. Article II of our Articles of Faith insists that we understand Jesus not only as true God from True God but also as "very God and very Man," truly human as well as truly divine. The long form of the Creed of Epiphanius tells us that Christ is not only true God from true God, but also "was made man, that is, he assumed full humanity: soul, body, mind, and whatever constitutes man, excepting sin." The Athanasian Creed, with which Wesley would have been equally familiar, insists that saving faith knows that Jesus is an equal part of the Trinitarian Godhead. But it also insists that saving faith professes that Jesus is "both God and man. . . he is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in his divinity, but inferior to the Father in his humanity..."

The point being made is that this statement of faith, designed to be an anchor for those who wish to stand in the stream of authentic faith, is incomplete and carelessly framed so as to reduce the wholeness of what the Church through the ages has understood and taught about Christ.

We repudiate teachings that claim the person of Jesus Christ is not adequate to reveal the fullness of God (Heb. 1:1-3). We reject the claim that the maleness of Jesus disqualifies him as the true revelation of God. We reject the claim that God can be fully known apart from Jesus Christ. According to the apostolic faith, such teachings are false and unfaithful to the Gospel.

As to the first of these three repudiations, one is hard pressed to know if the CM is saying that the UM church as a whole is making this statement, or if there are groups within the UM church insisting on this point. The implication of this rhetorical strategy is that this is a broadly held view, an implication made more powerful by lack of attribution. In my experience with the leadership of our church, I have never heard this statement made. I would like for the CM to tell me why they feel they must repudiate it. Who is saying it, and in what context?

As to the second statement being repudiated, I am aware that some elements of feminist theology indeed do make this assertion. But, is the UM church as a whole making this assertion? Are there groups within the UM saying this? If the goal of the CM is to renew the UM church, why would they need to repudiate this saying if it were not a broadly held view of the church? And yet, I doubt they can demonstrate that it is held by any but a very few people, if at all.

As for the third statement, the CM places itself in conflict here not only with some vague enemy but with many millions of Christians whose faith belongs to the Orthodox tradition and to the Roman Catholic tradition. The Orthodox church split off from Western Christianity precisely over the issue of whether or not the Spirit of God must be mediated through Christ or is free to work in the world as God wills. The Orthodox came down on the second position, and this is one of a few central issues in their split away from the Western Church.

IN his most recent book Agenda for the Third Millennium, Pope John Paul II addresses these issues as well. While firmly stating that the Church has the duty to "unhesitatingly . . . proclaim Jesus Christ, who is 'the Way, the Truth, the Life,'" the Pope goes on to say that followers of other religions can receive God's grace and be saved by Christ "independently of the ordinary means established by him..." This is a nuanced position that would lead to a different practice of authentic faith than the position outlined here in the CM document.

Again, if the CM is arguing that the only way to be an authentic Wesleyan Methodist Christian is to hold to this view, then that is fine-- but it is a different argument than the one they seem to be making about the true roots of authentic faith. If they are allowing that one might be Christian and hold different views, than that is fine-- but again that is a different argument than the one they seem to be making here.

The Savior

"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NRSV)

We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit's help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of the world. In him, we see not only the fullness and the glory of God, but also the model and power for our own freedom from the bondage of sin and death (Heb. 2:14-18). Through his obedient life, teaching, and ministry, his death on the cross for the sins of the world, and his bodily resurrection, he is the Savior of the world. God through Jesus Christ conquers sin and death, brings salvation to this rebellious world, and reconciles "the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

With the possible exception of some who might be more Catholic and Orthodox in their view of how the salvation God offers impacts those who are beyond the family of the Christian church, I cannot imagine that there are many persons who are indeed insisting that something other than this statement is the official doctrine of the UM church. The CM movement makes this confession in the context of calling the church back to the roots of its faith, and yet the confession it makes seems no different than the confession that most of not nearly all UM's would make.

We repudiate teachings that repress, turn away from, or offer substitutes for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus. We oppose any redefinition of the Christian faith that diminishes or eliminates the saving work of Jesus Christ in order to make dialogue with others more agreeable. We reject any claim that regards the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection as merely one salvation among others. According to the apostolic faith, such teachings are false and unfaithful to the Gospel.

Again, if the CM is focusing on the UM church, who is saying these things being repudiated on behalf of the UM church? Is there an official position being offered that indeed suggests that any of these positions are now or ought to become in the future the official doctrine of the UM church? The difficulty here is that while the CM is targeting theological positions that are being espoused either by individuals within the church who are not representative of the UM church as a whole or by persons beyond the connection of the UM church, it is acting as though these positions somehow are the official position of the church and that they are held by many in the church. I contend that is simply not true. The CM offers no proof that their contention is true. Since they make the charge, they need to prove their case.

The Lord

"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority." (Colossians 2:6-10 NRSV)

We confess, in accordance with Holy Scripture and with the Holy Spirit's help, that Jesus Christ is the one and only Lord of creation and history. In the midst of many competing voices, the Church seeks to hear, trust, and obey Jesus the Lord and his commandments (1 Cor. 8:5,6). True authority in the Church derives from, and furthers obedience to this Lord. True authority in the Church holds the community accountable to this Lord, especially when teachings and practices arise that undermine or deny his Lordship.

Again, who disagrees with this? Even those who may feel the ire and wrath of the CM act as they do and do what they do out of their own sense of obedience and faithfulness to God's call upon their lives. The CM seems to deny them the right to that self-definition, saying in effect that to do what you do, to say what you say, means that you cannot at all be acting in a faithful way. Again, MFSA, Affirmation, Good News, and MSUM all believe they are acting as God has directed them and to do otherwise would be to be unfaithful to the God they know. And between each group there are serious disagreements.

Invincible ignorance strikes again.

Notice again that the key for Wesley in extending the hand was whether or not in your own self-definition you were meeting the requirements of his seven questions. If both sides (CM and whoever it is they have in mind) both believe that they are being faithful, by the very fact of their existence the CM is saying that they truly doubt that the other side is being faithful. There would be no need for a group to create a prima facie status confessionis if they trusted that those with whom they disagreed were still members of the faith.

We repudiate teachings and practices that MISUSE principles of inclusiveness and tolerance to distort the doctrine and discipline of the Church. We deny the claim that the individual is free to decide what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil. We reject widespread and often unchallenged practices in and by the Church that rebel against the Lordship of Jesus Christ. For example:

experimenting with pagan ritual and practice

consuming the world's goods without regard for the poor

accommodating the prevailing patterns of sexual promiscuity, serial marriage and divorce

resigning ourselves to the injustices of racial and gender prejudice and condoning homosexual practice

ignoring the Church's long-standing protection of the unborn and the mother

Any new teachings in the Church that seek to set aside the biblical witness cannot be established by votes, or appeals to personal experience, or by responding to contemporary social pressures. According to the apostolic faith, such teachings and practices are false and unfaithful to the Gospel.

One person's misuse is another person's prophetic act. Jesus was frequently accused of misusing principles of inclusivity to distort right teaching when he welcomed women of ill repute and common, uneducated men into his inner circle; when he chose the company of tax collectors and sinners over the company of proper and well heeled Scribes and Pharisees; when he took the side of a woman caught in adultery against those who had every righteous reason to seek her punishment. The CM seems quick to declare what it is Jesus is against, and what it is Jesus condemns.

Of the five points cited here, I suggest that only three are operative for the CM. The Cm rarely if ever speaks in any fashion that shows much more than a cursory concern for over-consumption by American United Methodist Christians, unless it has to do with UM apportionments. Then, the rhetoric sounds much more like republican anti-tax rhetoric than theological debate. As to the issue of racial justice, it bears noting that the leadership of the CM regrets the obvious lack of widespread involvement of minority communities in the framing and acceptance of this document.

Increased involvement of minorities, as well as most of the rhetoric of the CM, has to do with the three real issues for the framers of the CM document. The first, adoption of pagan practices, is a direct reference to the Re-Imagining conference, which was a non-UM ecumenically sponsored event attended by UM's. If this is all the CM is about, they should simply say so and address that small issue of a few hundred women gathering to say a few things that the CM didn't approve of.

The second point has to do with human sexuality. This issue spans several of the bulleted points. As to inappropriate heterosexual behavior, the CM affirms what seems to be commonly called a family values platform-- husband and wife in one marriage for life with children. Insofar as the UM church officially calls for celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage, the UM church and the CM are in agreement here. What the UM church adopts as a compassionate stance toward those whose lives are impacted by divorce and remarriage is viewed by the CM as accommodation to worldly standards of immoral conduct.

As to homosexual practice, we begin to get into the most heated area of disagreement with folks in the CM and some folks in the UM church. One wonders if the official position of the church on homosexual persons as persons of worth and value who are available to receive the grace of God and participate in the ministry of the church as are all other baptized Christians is acceptable to the CM? One suspects not, and so here the CM is perhaps (although here again it is an unstated issue) taking a position contrary to official UM doctrine.

The final issue that is operative here has to do with abortion. It is important to note that overwhelming majorities of UM's at several General Conferences have supported the official positions of the UM church as expressed in the Discipline regarding these matters. If the CM is taking up a contrary position, then they will need to articulate that more clearly. They will also have to drop the mantle they love to wear, of speaking for a silent majority of UM's.

The Confessional Charge

This, then, is our confession: we confess that Jesus Christ is the Son, the Savior, and the Lord, according to the Scriptures. The United Methodist Church has never had an institutional guarantee of [doctrinal] diversity without boundaries. We implore other United Methodists, laity and clergy, to join us in this confession. Relying upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we vow to make this confession in the congregations, boards, divisions, agencies, seminaries, and conferences of our denomination. We will faithfully support United Methodist activities, groups, programs, and publications that further this confession, and we will vigorously challenge and hold accountable those that undermine this confession. All the while readying for the coming of Jesus Christ in power and glory, we welcome ecumenical partnerships in the advancement of this confession.

Bold words to end what has been basically a very weak document. In spite of their assertion that we are surrounded by enemies and headed for apostasy, no offer of proof about any of these assertions was given. Time and again, it has been demonstrated that most of the fanfare over the CM's statements is without warrant, since they confess what the UM church already confesses.

In spite of insisting that they are not trying to create schism, they are in fact doing just that. By choosing inflammatory words and issues about which to speak; by using the rhetorical device of ungrounded assertions as to reality without offering any proof that what they say is really is truly real; by promising a confrontational style as they "vigorously challenge and hold accountable those that undermine this confession . . ."; the CM is indeed seeking to create schism.

By acting as though in their hurried and uncareful consideration they have managed to state the whole of the authentic faith of the Church while they have in fact truncated that faith, the CM is doing the Church and the UM church a great disservice.


Allen's Homepage

LifeSpirit Online!

Things I've Written page


Back to UCM Homepage