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Establishing a Firm Foundation Within United Methodism

by Rev. Kent L. Svendsen

John Wesley insisted that it was vital for us to have unity as concerns the essentials of salvation.   But in that same context we are also to respect and honor each other's differences and not fight over non-essential beliefs. While a seminarian at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in the early 1990s, I remember a "question and answer" time that was held.  I posed this question to the assembled instructors: "If we are to have unity in the essentials of salvation, then just what are those essentials?'   After an awkward pause the next question was addressed and mine went unanswered. It is my belief that if we are to bring to a halt the continued "drifting apart that threatens to tear us apart" we must discuss and answer that question. It is also my belief that many of today's issues which tend to bring division among us are mere symptoms of a much deeper divide which causes mistrust and encourages destructive conflict rather than growth and ministry expansion. So let's look closely at the question: "What are the essentials of salvation?"

Edward G. Dobson is a respected pastor and author who has a doctorate in education.   He is the consulting editor with Leadership Journal and Senior Editor for Christianity Today. The following quote attributed to him is taken from the book Totally Sufficient.

"Several years ago, I developed a three-part paradigm to help our church sort out the essentials from the non-essentials of the faith.  The first area encompassed absolute truth - the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  These are the essential doctrines of the New Testament: the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement on the cross, His bodily resurrection, and the gospel of salvation by faith based on God's grace. Those are the essentials, the basics, the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Yet there are religious people who deny the deity of Christ or His atonement on the cross.   They deny His bodily resurrection and still claim to be a Christian.  But to deny those essential doctrines is to deny the essence and the absolutes of the Christian faith."   Ed Hindson & Howard Eyrich (general editors) Totally Sufficient (Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Now I realize that a second important question one might ask is whether the vast majority of United Methodists would agree with his assessment?  I can also understand that we might hesitate to even begin such a discussion. After all, it might only muddy the waters even further in our attempt to find unity within our diversity.  But I think it vital that we do so and here's why I say that. At our North Central Jurisdictional Conference this year I was pleased at first glance to see a statement on belief within one of the worship services.  At  last we would have a way to build unity among us through a common statement of faith.  But to my dismay it turned out to be an opera singer singing the song "I believe".  At the time, I was just disturb that we had trivialized (and in a sense dismissed) such a vitally important part of who we are as United Methodists.  But recently it caused me great pain to realize that I could not affirm that faith statement!  Because you see, I don't believe that "for every drop of rain that falls; a flower grows".  I can believe in the virgin birth, all of the miracles of the Bible and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that statement of common faith I must emphatically deny. After all, if that statement of belief held any "absolute truth", with all the rain we have received lately, there should be so may flowers that we couldn't even see the roads!  Am I being absurd? Of course I am. But if that kind of tripe is the only way we can declare a common statement of faith, then we are in a sad state of affairs. For it is by a common belief and practice that we can find unity and the strength which is needed in order for our diversity to be a thing to celebrate instead of a point of contention. But sadly, like a quarreling couple, we often tend to run and hide from the very things which could bring us peace in the family and build the marriage even stronger.

Rev. Kent L. Svendsen
Ordained Elder
Northern Illinois Conference

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