|Living Up to Our Name
A Proactive Strategy for an Evangelical Future in the UMC
By James A. Gibson
Methodism stands at a crossroads." I believe I first heard that statement several
weeks prior to the 1992 General Conference. Since that time, hardly any assessment of the
future of our denomination has not included this or some similar statement. The issues
which have brought us to this "crossroads" have pretty much been the same even
before 1992: the authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the importance of
doctrine, and homosexual practice (modulating between simple acceptance, ordination and
It occurs to me, as the first General Conference of a new millennium approaches, that
eight years is a long time to be "standing at a crossroads." This is especially
true for those of us who call ourselves "evangelicals." Our name identifies us
as persons who believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God and that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God, who was crucified for our sins, was resurrected in triumph over
death, and will return again to judge the living and the dead. But our name ought to imply
something more than just a belief in the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. To be
an evangelical means not only to believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only means of
gaining eternal life, but also to be proactive in sharing this Good News with every man,
woman and child.
Are we, as evangelicals, living out everything our name implies? Or, are we still
"standing at a crossroads" as the new millennium dawns?
Over the past three decades, we evangelicals have invested a great deal of time into
perfecting the art of defending the faith. We have developed quite an impressive roster of
apologists, including Thomas Oden, William Abraham, Maxie Dunnam, Mark Horst, Les Longden
and the late Bishop William R. Canon. There can be no doubt that such able defenders are
needed in order to articulate the evangelical tradition within United Methodism. But
stating what we believe is only part of the picture. We have become quite accomplished in
this area. But is it possible that evangelical apologetics has become an end in itself?
Have we sacrificed mission for maintenance; the redemption of lost souls for the respect
of liberal elites?
Matthew 28:16-20 is one of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told
them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to
them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore
go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And
surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
It is dangerous to become too familiar with such a passage, as many evangelicals have.
We know it by heart, but how much of our heart do we put into obeying it? For many United
Methodist evangelicals, and I must count myself as chief among them, the ongoing conflict
within our denomination has provided a convenient excuse for ignoring the Great
I would suggest there are two steps which evangelical United Methodists must take to
reinvigorate our passion for both revival within our own walls and the lost souls in need
- There must be a practical, not a formal,
separation from those within our denomination who adhere to beliefs and practices which
have historically been judged by the Church to be apostate.
There must be a cultivation of stronger ties with evangelicals
across denominational lines in a unified effort to fulfill the Great Commission.
There must be a practical, not a formal, separation from those
within our denomination who adhere to beliefs and practices which have historically been
judged by the Church to be apostate.
A "practical separation" from the apostates within our denomination should
begin with the withdrawal from any further participation in the "Dialogues on
Theological Diversity" and other similar intellectual endeavors.
Some will argue that the intent of the ongoing "dialogues" with members of
the theological left is to offer them an opportunity to hear the Gospel. I doubt that even
the evangelical participants would be so naive. The very nature of dialogue involves both
sides hearing each other out in an attempt to come to a common understanding. Thus far,
the only common understanding to come out of these academic exercises is that evangelicals
and liberals have a different understanding of divine revelation. So deep is this
difference that it is appropriate to conclude that the two groups constitute not two
different interpretations of the Christian faith, but two different religions--one which
is Christian; one which is not. But were two "dialogues" really necessary to
make this fact clear?
Continued participation by evangelicals in these nonsensical "dialogues" is
not good stewardship of our time and talents. Participation in them only reflects a desire
among our leadership to be "respected" and "understood" by the
theological left. We need not be concerned with what reprobates think about us. Rather, we
need to be concerned--very concerned--with what God thinks of us "evangelicals."
We claim to believe in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into all the world,
yet we neglect such proclamation, leaving the lost to die in their sins while we expend
all of our energies trying to come to an "understanding" with persons who have
heard the Gospel and rejected it.
Another poor investment of our time is the futile attempt to charge under the Discipline
the publicity hungry rebel pastors who are obsessed with "homosexual unions." We
have tried to use "the system" to hold such persons accountable and we have
found "the system" is corrupt and ineffective. It only works to the advantage of
the rebel pastors, giving them the free publicity which is their aim from the start. If
such persons really believed there was something "sacred" about "gay
marriages," they wouldnt make such a public spectacle of them. If we stopped
playing this little game with them, they would quickly be seen for what they are--cheap
hustlers using religion as a means of drawing attention to themselves. The public would
quickly lose interest and these buffoons would fade away into the eternal darkness
reserved for their kind.
It is time that we, like Paul, said to the stubborn apostates among us, "Your
blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the
Gentiles." (Acts 18:6).
There must be a cultivation of stronger
ties with evangelicals across denominational lines in a unified effort to fulfill the
Our cultivation of stronger ties with other evangelicals should have a twofold purpose.
First, we should celebrate with them all that we have in common, namely, salvation in
Jesus Christ and an eternal Gospel to share with the people of every race and nation. The
recent document, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration,"
signed by evangelical leaders of various traditions, including Maxie Dunnam and Thomas
Oden, is an excellent start. We should also engage in cordial conversation with
organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Alliance of Confessing
Evangelicals, and Mission America.
Second, in joining with them, through such endeavors as the ongoing "Celebrate
Jesus 2000" evangelistic effort, our purpose will be singular and unified: to fulfill
the Great Commission, living up to what the name "evangelical" implies. We will
thus insure both that the Methodism of the future will have a distinctive evangelical
presence and that the evangelicalism of the future will have a distinctive Methodist
As we faithfully carry out our Saviors command to "Go into all the world and
make disciples," the big tent of United Methodism will expand ever more widely. New
believers with their testimonies of life-changing experiences with the Risen Christ,
healing of diseases, freedom from bondage to sin, and deliverance from oppressive demonic
forces will begin to renew, revive and redefine the denomination. The heat will be too
much for the apostates. They will either be consumed and converted by it or they will flee
from its presence. Either way, the apostasy and wickedness they have sought to inflict
upon the church will cease to be a problem--and it will all be Gods doing, not ours.
Eight years is a long time to be "standing at a crossroads." It is time for
evangelicals to take up the cross and get moving on the road that leads to revival.
James A. Gibson firstname.lastname@example.org
Marshallville United Methodist Church