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KEYNOTE ADDRESS
The Oregon-Idaho Confessing Movement Association

Cherry Park United Methodist Church
10/11/97

by Dr. Leicester Longden
Chair Confessing Movement - Theological Commission


Prayer:

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.


Opening Remarks:

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 Movement.


Outline:

  • Chronology
  • Confessional Statement
  • Criticisms
  • Confessing way

Chronology

April 1994

  • Atlanta Consultation on the Future of the Church
  • Bishop. Wm. Cannon,.T. C. Oden,.Maxie Dunnam, and approximately 100 laity & clergy attended
  • 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?"

April 1995

  • "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 Confessional Statement

1996

  • "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

CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT:

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 Church.

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 in Scripture.

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, Lord

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.

Objection #1:

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 defensive.

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.]

Objection #2:

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 Inquisition.

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 now.

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 powers.

Objection #3:

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 religions.

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."

Objection #4:

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 traditionalists

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 pressure.

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 Christ.

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 God."


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.

Preview:

  1. Accommodation: "taxi-cab" view of doctrine
  2. Retrenchment : "micro-wave" view of doctrine
  3. Radical "wardrobe" view
  4. Confessing approach to doctrine

1. Accommodation:

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]

2. Retrenchment:

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, mss]

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 back.

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.

4. Confession:

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 Movement.

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."


Biographical Information

    Dr. Les Longden (Leicester R. Longden) is a:

  • 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

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