The Oregon-Idaho Confessing Movement Association
Cherry Park United Methodist Church
by Dr. Leicester Longden
Chair Confessing Movement - Theological Commission
Eternal God, Who always keeps covenant with us, Cleanse, now, our hearts from all
loveless, distorted and unsuitable thoughts. Enlighten our intellects, set fire to our
affections that worthily, attentively, and faithfully we may take Your Name upon our lips.
Thru Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever
and ever. AMEN.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: "There are not 100 people in the U.S. who hate
the Roman Catholic Church; there are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe
to be the Catholic Church." I think something similar might be said of the Confessing
- Confessional Statement
- Confessing way
- Atlanta Consultation on the Future of the Church
- Bishop. Wm. Cannon,.T. C. Oden,.Maxie Dunnam, and approximately 100 laity & clergy
- Document: "Invitation
to the Church"
- "Invitation" to search together
- "confessing Christ" movement
- need for doctrinal reinvigoration
- 1500 signed the "Invitation" and we received many letters
- "What Is the
Confessing Movement Within the UMC?"
- "Confessing Conference" called with 900 people attending
- Drafting Committee prepared a "Confessing Statement"
which included 25 Working Groups
- "Confessing Statement" was Unanimously accepted
- Now it has been signed by 18,000+ & about 1000 Administrative Boards.
- Follow-up documents: "Four
Tracts" sent to General Conference Delegates to state implications of
- "Confessing Conference" in Cincinnati
- Worship & Covenant. Service together
- 10 Work Groups/ Grass Roots Reports (Confessing Movement Associations.)
- Proposal: Exec. Director
- Non-profit status
- Boards. of Directors
- Offering: $39,000 raised in cash & pledges
Let me give you a brief summary & explanation:
You may want to make some brief marginal notes on your copy as I outline it for you.
The statement begins with a Preamble.
The first paragraph gives a brief history of the document.
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
The next 2 paragraphs define the crisis of the church:
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 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
The 3rd paragraph states the goal and intention of this confession.
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.
Then follows the Confession itself, divided into three sections/articles.
Each section deals with a different title for Jesus Christ, Son, Savior,
You will notice that each section follows a similar format:
Scripture, in bold print...
a paragraph beginning "We confess...."
a paragraph beginning "We repudiate..."
Finally, the document closes with "The Confessional Charge": This basically
restates our confession, vows to live by it, and reaches out to the whole church seeking
ecumenical partnerships in this confession. .........
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.
CRITIQUE OF CONFESSING MOVEMENT:
I want to set before you the most critical of those objections now.
The first question addressed to us is the age-old NOT question: "By what authority
do you speak?" Who are you?... Of course the objection is not always put in biblical
phraseology. More often the complaint has been: "who does this self-selected group
think they are acting outside the normal channels of the General Conference?"
"Is this just one more caucus seeking to exert pressure upon the church?" These
are common questions in a denomination plagued with caucus-politics, a church where all
our covenantal structures have become clogged with caucus-concerns. So we need not be
The simple answer to the question is this: We have no authority of our own. The real
question is not "who are you?" but rather "who do you say Jesus is?"
We exist to keep that question alive in the Church. [We think that question is
important, and that it matters how you answer it. For us, it is a real question; for some
in our church, it is not a serious question because any and all answers to it are
accepted, so that no real choice of discipleship is made.]
The most personal objection to our movement charges that we are just plain
"mean." The objection comes in numerous forms, but all of them paint a picture
of people who bear remarkable resemblance to the less savory members of the Spanish
The most frequent form of the criticism is that we are "intolerant" --thus a
danger to our "tolerant" society.
A corollary of this states that we are "divisive" and therefore a danger to
the unity and order of our denomination!
The Dean of one of our seminaries recently argued that "many of [the] people [who]
believe that confessions are good things...define Christian identity...negatively, in
terms of those who are excluded." [QR, p.120]
This leading theological educator seemed to have next to no awareness or interest in
the positive claims and convictions of confessions, and could see no positive role for one
The most direct attack of this kind was made by the document entitled "A Critical
Challenge to the Confessing Movement" and signed by seminary presidents, prominent
pastors and theologians. That document catalogs all the adjectives of
"mean-ness" and then culminates in the charge that the Confessing Movement is
idolatrous and exclusive. It should not surprise us that the charge of intolerance ends up
in the accusation of idolatry.
The Gods we worship will define the character and virtue of our faith.
According to our critics, we are intolerant because we do not worship tolerance. We are
exclusive because we do not worship inclusivism. Now, it is certainly appropriate for our
critics to point out the dangers of using creeds or belief statements in authoritarian
ways, but something more is at stake here.
They say we are idolaters because we have "reduced" inclusivism and tolerance
to "mere principles." Apparently, for our critics, these things are higher than
"mere principles." If you read our Confessional Statement carefully, you will
discover that we describe inclusivism and tolerance as good principles that can be
"misused." Do you see what is at stake here? There is a contest between Gods.
The Confessing Movement says, Jesus Christ alone is Lord, and all principles must be
tested against him.
Our critics seem to think that all voices and claims must be affirmed because
Inclusivism is "lord!" Our critics say, "you are guilty of the exclusivism
of Christocentrism." We reply, "guilty as charged! We proudly proclaim Jesus
Christ as the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. We worship him. We praise
Him. We adore him." [Mark Horst] Therefore, let us not take offense when our critics
accuse us of intolerance. Instead, let us gently but firmly plead with them to examine
themselves to see whether they have elevated or deified Inclusivism, so that Jesus Christ
has become for them a servant of this concept rather than Lord over all principalities and
A third objection raised against the Confessing Movement asserts that we have a
"narrow view of Jesus." This criticism tends to take two forms: one having to do
with diversity in the Scripture and the other having to do with diversity among the world
In the first case, our critics often talk down to us as if we have not studied our
Bibles with all the tools of modern historical-critical perspective. The "Critical
Challenge" document I referred to earlier gives a long list of NOT titles for Jesus,
other than Son, Savior, and Lord, and proceeds to instruct us in our lack of attention to
"the diversity of Christological interpretations in the NOT" and our failure to
say anything "about Biblical interpretation." Our response should go something
like this. The church is in crisis precisely because we have substituted arguments about
Scripture for the Word of God. The church is in crisis because we have allowed issues of
biblical interpretation to come between us and the Word of God.
Our critics are adept at listing all the available interpretations, but they seem
unable to confess how the many "words" of Scripture deliver to us the living
Word of God. [Mark Horst]
In the second case, of diversity among religions, our critics take us to task for our
use of the title "Savior of the world." There are many savior figures, they say,
and every religion has its own way of salvation. We are told we may call Jesus
"Savior" as long as we are ready to admit the efficacy of savior figures
worshiped by other religions. "But religious pluralism is not a new proposal.
Religious pluralism was rampant in the world into which Christianity was born. If the
early Christians had been willing to include Christ in the pantheon of deities worshiped
by the pagans, the martyrs would never have gone to their deaths, but the pagan world
would never have been converted." [A. Dulles]
It was for this reason that we quoted the Apostle Paul in our Confessional Statement.
In I Cors 8:4-6 Paul says "the pagans have many gods and many lords, but Christians
acknowledge only one God, the Father of all, and one Lord, Jesus Christ."
Let me offer one more objection from outside our movement before I turn to the issue of
internal criticism. Objection #4 says that the Confessing Movement is totally wrong in its
reading of the United Methodist tradition. We are not a "confessional" church,
it says. Our Doctrinal Standards are seen merely as historical landmarks but hardly
relevant for guiding our faith in a contemporary setting.
The whole idea of being "confessional" is a mistake, say these critics,
because a confessing church, in their minds, is synonymous with rigidity and being closed
to "new truth" and "new revelation."
It is unfortunate that our critics understand "confession" only in static
terms. Furthermore, they seem not to have the ecumenical awareness that many of our
brothers and sisters in historic "confessional" communions have long known the
difference between a static confessional-ism which turns doctrine into law and a dynamic
and living confession which explores faith in contemporary terms.
A "confession" is more than a "profession" of belief in certain
statements. It is a dynamic action by which the church proclaims its trust in God's
self-revelation and protests against misrepresentations of this message. [Arand, 243] Our
critics seem to think there is no constructive middle ground between a rigid
confessionalism and a free-wheeling pluralism.
Either you must be a confessionalist and snuff out freedom and prevent all theological
exploration, or you are a non-confessionalist constantly in search of a faith not yet
revealed. Our critics fail to see that creeds and confessional statements and doctrinal
standards are maps for taking the journey of faith. Yes, some people get too rigidly
focused on the maps and never take the journey.
That is why John Wesley criticized "mere orthodoxy...." [he was critical of
people who studied the maps but never the took the trip] But he would agree with the long
experience of the church that if you take the journey without the maps, you quickly get
lost, and for that reason, the church must always ask: what are the essential signposts
and compass bearings of our faith? ....
Objection #5: An Internal Objection
Finally, let me put before you some disagreements that have arisen within the Movement.
Some who identify with the Confessing Movement are looking for a dramatic action which
will capture the attention of the whole denomination, a massive public rebuke to Bishops
and leaders who see themselves as prophets and bearers of a new revelation.
Others argue that we need a patient, long-term, intentional effort to become again the
teaching church, to foster doctrinal renewal in ways which will be persuasive to the
church as a whole and effective in practice.
Some argue that the time for dialogue with the powers that be is long past and that now
we need decisive political action in the church.
Still others say, No, the time for clear argument has only just arrived because the
Confession of Jesus Christ has challenged the style of empty dialogue where all voices and
claims are equally valid and no decisions about Christian truth are allowed. As these
disagreements are voiced among us let me say a word of encouragement to you.
Disagreements--even within the Confessing Movement can be a very good thing! Some
opponents of the Movement seem to think that we all walk in lockstep in mindless
uniformity. But we are a rich variety of evangelicals, and centrists, and moderates, and
To the extent that we can model constructive disagreement while living our unity in the
confession of Christ as Son, Savior and Lord, we will perform a much needed service for
our church. Since Christ is Lord, we have the freedom to argue publicly, giving the
Scriptural and doctrinal grounds for our arguments. We don't have to argue as if the Lord
has taken a leave of absence and all that is left to us is the application of political
No, our Lord is present, and our arguments either honor or dishonor him. So whether we
argue with our critics or between ourselves, let us in all things honor the Lord Jesus
As the Apostle Paul put it (2 Cors. 4): "Since thru God's mercy we have this
ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret, underhanded ways; we do
not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth
the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every one's conscience in the sight of
THE CONFESSING WAY:
I want to lay before you now, very briefly, three ways of looking at doctrine in our
church. I hope they may set the alternatives clearly before us that we must choose in
order to shape the future of our church.
- Accommodation: "taxi-cab" view of doctrine
- Retrenchment : "micro-wave" view of doctrine
- Radical "wardrobe" view
- Confessing approach to doctrine
This way of thinking about the Christian faith has most often been represented by its
eagerness to respond to the culture in which the church finds itself. This way often looks
for whatever seems to be "transforming" or "humanizing" or
"liberating" and adds its bit of Christian "salt" or "light"
to these trends or movements. This "accommodating" approach has been called the
"taxi-cab" view of doctrine because it tends to use the classic faith of the
Church as we would a taxi: You use the doctrine, until you arrive at a modern destination,
and then the classic faith is dismissed.
The ultimate loyalty appears to be the present generation and culture; and the taxi-cab
view of doctrine tends to see contemp ideas and judgments to be superior to the
longstanding discernment and decisions of the generations of Christians before... What we
must ask the spirit of accommodation is this: is your involvement in these trends all that
is necessary? Is the role of Christian faith and confession in the world just to endorse
what seems the latest thing.... to assume that it is "the will of God" as long
as you can add the adjectives "liberating", "inclusive" or
"fulfilling" to it? The culture is already in a bad way, so what can Christians
offer it in its decadence and need? Of course Christians should be engaged in movements
and causes which try to enable human freedom and fulfillment, but "why is there so
little probing, so little theological vigilance, so little originality in the Christian
endorsement of movements and trends..." The future health of The UMC will require a
more forthright critique of our brothers and sisters whose involvement in various
contemporary trends seems to stem mostly from sociological and ideological motivations. We
must ask them why the causes they press upon us are mandatory for Christians.
"An ethic or program is not Christian just because it has reference to 'justice'
or 'liberation' or 'love'. If it is to have any sustaining power at all, [a Christian
ethic] must be one that can be recognized by Christians as belonging in an essential way
to the core of their belief." [p.28] [DJ Hall]
This way of looking at our Church's future tends to see the past as always right and
the present as something to be selectively escaped. Dr. Abraham calls this the
"micro-wave" solution, because it simplistically believes that our church can be
reformed by simply reaching into the freezer of the past, pulling out the good old-time
religion and serving it up after instant reheating in the nearest oven. [Amnesia, p.40,
This way of looking at the Christian faith is clearly seen in fundamentalist options in
other religions as well as Christianity. It prefers to ignore the profound changes in
human thought and culture brought on the modern world as it has developed since the period
of the Enlightenment. It wants to be pre-modern, forgetting that, according to the classic
hymn, our calling is to serve the "present age."
While the Confessing Movement may share the deep doctrinal convictions of many people
who adopt the "retrenchment" mode, we must remind them that our attempt to
retrieve the doctrinal heritage of our church is for the purpose of moving ahead...not
It is often the case that conservatives in our church are made angry by the
accomodationists who quote to them, J. Wesley's phrase...."we think and let
think." And, yes , the liberal mindset tends to use that to avoid making decisions
that divide truth from untruth.... But we must also remember that Wesley's phrase assumes
that we will "think".... Real thinking is not optional, it is required; there is
a need for a creative intellectual Christian response, to the problems of our times. Mere
retrenchment, repetition, and micro-waving will not do.
3. Radical Revisioning: "wardrobe" view
Like the Taxi-cab view, it will take the doctrine to a current destination, but it goes
one step further. This view of Christian faith wants to radically revise the faith itself.
It sees much of the classical heritage as simply religion in the service of political or
patriarchal power. It believes that much of our faith must be repudiated. It wants to
create a new canon of scriptures, and claim new revelations.
You see, this view, which is at loose in our society, and in our church, will wear the
wardrobe of faith when it wants, but it has little problem with throwing out some of that
and sewing new clothes, with new patterns and designs, and instead of "putting on
Christ as a garment" as Scripture puts it, it claims the right to reweave the cloth
of faith. You can see why the Confessional Statement put in its "repudiations"
when you explore the ideas of this approach.
The way of confessing Christ, wishes to avoid the turning of our heritage into a
taxi-cab, or a frozen-food, or a replaceable wardrobe.
I want to say a few words about this strange word"confessing." The Oxford
English Dictionary has no fewer than ten definitions. Many people, even Christians
themselves, are bewildered by the use of this word "confess"because it is used
to describe the admission of our sins and also to declare our deepest belief and
allegiance, namely, to "confess" Christ....our faith.
What is common to both, i.e., confessing what is wrong with me and confessing what I
believe to be true?
Both refer to the articulation of the truth:
"To confess something is to own, avow, declare, reveal, or disclose what in the
depths of the soul one considers truly to be the case." [p.8] The act of confession
discloses something, that apart from the act of confession is, in some sense, hidden.
For example: "Until the criminal confesses his or her crime, 'the whole truth'
[court-language] is withheld. Until the sinner confesses the truth of the sin is
incomplete, for the recognition of sin's reality on the part of the sinner is an
indispensable dimension of the reality itself." You see, for both the sinner and the
criminal, even tho they were sinful and lawbreaking before the confession, at the moment
they confessed, they "owned" the truth for themselves.
The same is true for the confession of our faith, the confession of who Christ is: To
"confess" him, is not just to read the Apostles' Creed.... It is to say,
"in this situation, He is my Lord, and my Savior and my God."
What is at stake for the United Methodist Church and the Confessing Movement has a lot
to do with this word "confessing": What is at stake is not, your opinion, or my
opinion about certain theologies or ethical stands. What is at stake is the Church's claim
and confession across the centuries the Christ is Son, Savior, and Lord. In our culture,
many would claim that Christ is Lord for me, if I feel that way, but not necessarily for
you.... Our confession is that Christ is Lord, whether we confess him or not, and we are
willing to risk our lives, and our reputations that this is so, that it is the deep truth
of the world, as well as our own hearts. That is why the Confessional Statement put in,
some statements of "rejection" and "repudiation" to show that the
Church's confession of our Lord is not compatible with any or all opinions.
The way of confessing Christ is the way we have taken in the Confessing
And for that reason we assert that the Church receives her faith as a gift from God; it
is not an ideology we imagine or invent. The Confessing Movement asserts that the Church
has an identity grounded in Jesus Christ, not created or projected out of our own desires
and experiences. The Confessing Movement asserts that the Church has doctrine that binds
the faithful, not to unchanging verbal formulations, but to God's self-revelation in human
history, that has been witnessed to by Scripture, summarized in confessional statements
and standards, and praised in liturgical language that remains faithful to the apostolic
witness. ["What Is the Confessing Movement?"]
Conclusion: The Future of Confessing Movement
We hope it will fade away in a few years because we hope the church as a whole will
take up its task. Let me close with a quotation from John Wesley: [quotation 1st brought
to our attention by B. Abraham] We're not sure it is, in fact, the words of JOHN WESLEY,
but they are found beneath a portrait of Wesley in the Nicholson Square Methodist Church
in Edinburgh and were published in Wesleyan Methodist Magazine in 1825: "The
Methodists must take heed to their doctrine, their experience, their practice, and their
discipline. If they attend to their doctrines only, they make the people antinomians; if
to the experimental [experiential] part of religion only, they will make them enthusiasts;
if to the practical part only, they will make them Pharisees; and if they do not attend to
their discipline, they will be like persons who bestow much pains in cultivating their
garden, and put no fence round it, to save it from the wild boar of the forest."
Dr. Les Longden (Leicester R. Longden) is
- Elder in W. Michigan Annual Conference
- Graduate of Union Theological Seminary (New York) , B.D.
- Graduate of Drew Graduate School, Ph.D. (historical theology)
- John Wesley Fellow
- Sr. Pastor of Trinity UMC in Lansing, MI
- Serves on Board of Directors of The Confessing Movement
- Chair of the Theological Commission of The Confessing Movement