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Penultimate, Ultimate, and Other Thoughts Prior to Tulsa

by John Gardner - 14 Apr 1998


Good early morning. I have reflected on the Confessing movement, the United Methodist church, and my role as a Christian during recent months as part of the dialogues on theological diversity, my own growth and sinful nature as a Christian, and my service in the Confessing movement itself. I set out the following personal theological reflections as one offering to those on this list who are going to Tulsa and to those who are unable to attend since all of us want the best results as we attempt to be faithful members of that part of the church of Jesus Christ known as United Methodism.

MATTERS ULTIMATE (OR A BRIEF CREDO)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his unfinished work on Ethics, speaks of the ultimate and the penultimate. Here is my version of the ultimate: I am committed to and believe in the Triune God (i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as revealed in the God-man Jesus Christ who is the Second Person of the divine Trinity. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, became incarnate as part of humanity to rescue human beings(both male and female alike) from sin, death, evil and corruption by his atoning life, death, teachings and Resurrection.

Christ definitively and ontologically defeated sin, evil, death and corruption in principle and began the process of bringing in the Kingdom of the Triune God which will ultimately be consummated in the eschaton(i.e. the Second Coming of Christ himself). The process of reconciliation within sinful humanity itself, between sinful humanity and our Triune God, and within the entire cosmos will involve the Triune God's Holiness(and of course wrath and judgement) as well as the Triune God's love and redemption. We do not merely have a loving, indulgent parent but a God in whose image we as human beings were created(i.e. according to the Eastern Orthodox church is our potential for fellowship with the Triune God) and can move(with the Triune God's prevenient Grace) in both this earthly life and in the next towards the Triune God's likeness(our ultimate destiny for fellowship with the Triune God). Human are called in this life to work for the Kingdom of God(rather than to create the Kingdon of God which is currently and will be ultimately achieved by the actions of all three Trinitarian persons acting in unity).

I have come to believe that there are four sources of evil in the world:

  1. personal sin which is our choice to do evil(whether of a minor or major nature) since our Triune God has respect for us and has given us free will;
  2. natural evil(e.g. floods) which is caused by the open process in nature(analogous to free will);
  3. systemic evil which perpetuates and enhances individual sins on a larger scale(e.g. evil that historically perpetuated the sin of racism as both slavery and later segregation);
  4. an ontological force which good Christian people in both Holy Scripture and Tradition have recognize (and called) the Devil.

The fall of humanity was real and was a turning away from the Triune God. Human beings need the Triune God's grace to begin the process of justification and sanctification which is analagous to the Eastern Orthodox concept of Theosis. Both male and female alike are created in God's image and the deep meaning of Scripture plus Tradition is mutual submission of males and females to each other as evidenced by the example of Christ himself.

Each of us receives our knowledge of the Triune God from Scripture which reveals our Trinitarian, Incarnational faith. Holy Scripture contains (according to article V of the Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church)"all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any... as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." Thus, I have a very high view of Scripture as inspired by the Holy Spirit and also of Tradition which is also inspired by the Holy Spirit and represents the consensual historic wisdom of the one, holy, apostolic church as contained in the ancient creeds (especially the ecumenically agreed upon Nicene-Constaninople Creed), the writings of the Patristic period, and the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical councils (all of which I accept as consistent with Scripture and would reject any parts of which are not consistent with Scripture). Both Scripture plus Tradition are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I have a high view of the sacraments of the United Methodist church as means of Grace which are baptism and the Lord's Supper. These two Sacraments of the church according to Article 16 of the Articles of Religion are "ordained of Christ." They "are not only badges or tokens of Christian...profession, but rather they are signs of grace and God's good will toward us, by which he doth work invisibly in us and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him." Additionally, I accept as a reality and as a doctrine of the United Methodist church Article 12 of the Confession of Faith which states in part " We believe all... stand under the righteous judgement of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation."

MATTERS PENULTIMATE(BUT HAVING AN ULTIMATE EFFECT):

I realize that I am a fortunate man and one who is a sinner and who daily, hourly and minute-by-minute needs the grace of the Triune God. I have been blessed by the love of a good, Christian evangelical woman who has aided my own faith journey as we have both attempted to be faithful servants of our Triune God whom we profess, confess, love and adore. We joined the Confessing movement after we became concerned about the lack of doctrinal integrity in the United Methodist church as evidenced by the fact that our denomination for a generation has practiced a secularly oriented pluralism as we have maintained the thin veneer of Christian piety and belief while emptying the doctrines and Scripture of Christian content. My spouse and I believe in the ordination of devout, orthodox Christian women clergy who are called to service in the church. Christian women such as Phoebe Perkins and Theresa of Avila have for centuries provided leadership and inspiration in the church which has often gone unrecognized and sometimes unappreciated. We believe that the United Methodist church is at a critical juncture(as is all the Christian church today) since the church universal(as well as are own denomination in particular) has spent the last thirty years deconstructing itself. We both hope and pray that this process can be reversed and will work with other orthodox members of the United Methodist church to accomplish this goal if possible.

The meeting in Tulsa must be characterized by Christian civility (which does not imply compromise) and must continue the process of calling the United Methodist church back to its historic roots in consensual Christianity (as developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit). I have had the privilege of working with fine United Methodists in the Confessing movement here in Wisconsin such as Tom Lambrecht and with honorable faithful men and women on the national level such as Attorney Mary Daffin, Rev. Joy Moore, Rev. Greg Stover, Dr. William Abraham, Dr. Les Longden, and Dr. Maxie Dunnam. These men and women plus other loyal Christians in the Confessing movement deserve all of our thanks and gratitude. Blessings to each of you attending the meeting in Tulsa (and to your families) as well as to those who are unable to attend the meeting, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In Christ,

John Gardner (both a sinner and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ)


John C. Gardner, Ph.D., CPA is a United Methodist layman in Wisconsin and a member of the Confessing movement.

e-mail address:irenaeus@centuryinter.net

"We hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all"
- Vincent of Lirens Commontorium

"All heretics are like this. They imagine that they have something higher than the truth..."
-  Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, V,20,2


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