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Is the Confessing Movement
counter productive?

Dear Friends,

Last week I asked a series of questions about the Confessing Movement:

  • Is the Confessing Movement counter productive?
  • Is there some way we could engage in theological debate more effectively?
  • Is there really a need for alarm about the state of the church at all, or is the answer to that alarm found somewhere else besides in theological renewal?

Over the next few weeks I want to share some of those responses. Today I want to share two responses from moderate to evangelical pastors. I consider both of these pastors to be models of what it will take to renew our church. They are innovative, willing to take risks and they have an excitement about sharing the Gospel.

The first letter is from Bud Reeves, a pastor in Bryant Arkansas. I have been getting Bud's newsletter since he has been in Bryant. He has doubled his worship and Sunday school attendance built new facilities and all around has done a remarkable job of moving a church through stages of growth.

Dear John,

I don't have any problem with the theological statements that the Confessing Movement has issued. They are solid, Wesleyan, orthodox, and more likely to connect with the contemporary people I come in contact with than most of the 20th-century theologies I know of. (My people think the Jesus Seminar is a crock.)

However, though theology is important, it is primarily a clergy issue. The renewal of the church, I believe, needs to happen in two ways: organizational reform and the updating of worship. People are the priority; these are God's children we have the responsibility and the opportunity to introduce to the salvation in Christ. Most of them don't know enough theology to care about theology, but they do want to know God.

As long as we are bogged down in maintaining the institution of the church (local or denominational), we won't have the energy left to do the things that touch people where they live: evangelism, mission, and support. As long as we continue to worship like a culture from a century ago, the only people we will attract are the antiquarians. Baby boomers, according to George Barna, have tried the church and left it again, and Generation X, the most spiritual generation to come along in decades, is finding religious outlet in alternative and syncretistic forms of spirituality.

I think the renewal of the church will take a movement of the Holy Spirit, synergized by our diligent efforts in theology, organizational reform, and worship for the 21st century. I am not in despair that this will not happen. I am hopeful. It is an exciting (and sometimes exhausting) time to be in ministry!

Bud Reeves

The next pastor is Charles Wiggins. His church was midsized church of the year last year in the North Arkansas Conference.

John, I am one of those who can easily endorse the boldface print in the confessing movement even though I believe that it is on shaky theological grounds as regards the Wesleyan concept of the trinity. However, theological arguments aside, it is the small type of the confessing movement that I believe keeps most moderates wary if not hostile. The little litany towards the end that includes homosexuality (nowhere addressed by Wesley or in the Twenty-five Articles of Religion) and includes the phrase to the effect that the church has a long-standing position on abortion which is simply not true. "Long standing" according to whom, and where is that located in the Twenty-five Articles of Religion or any Wesleyan documents? However I personally feel about the issue, I cannot endorse this kind of statement. In addition, what bothers me most is not the confession itself because I believe we each must have a confession of faith or we have no faith at all. What does concern me is how this confession (as written--including the fine print) is to be used. If I agree with all but that one statement about the "church's historic stance on abortion" does that separate me from you and the rest of the church? I firmly believe that it is not the basic statement, but the fine print and the concern for how this is to be used is the real issue regarding its divisiveness. If I cannot sign on the dotted line to all that others (I had no input) have decided is necessary, am I to surrender my orders? Is this Wesleyan? It bothers me every year when the clergy all respond that they have been blameless the preceding year when I know that it is just not true. It bothers me even more when adultery among the clergy is not condemned nor those involved censured (in fact, many are promoted). Why don't we begin by holding each other's feet to the fire on the issues on which there is no argument or vagueness in the Discipline. We are bound to celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage--no gray areas here. Promise Keepers makes this very clear and is one of the reasons I am such a strong supporter of that movement. I may have wandered from your question, but I've got soap-box issues, too, and this is one of them. Hope my response was helpful.

Charles Wiggins

I want to thank everyone who wrote me. I will include the responses of three more moderates next week.

John Miles

John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

John Miles also publishes a weekly E-mail newsletter on issues facing the United Methodist Church. If you would like to recieve that E-mail write

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