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Radical Theology: A  Consuming Fire

After a six or seven hour car ride, from my home, you would arrive at Centralia, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Centralia has a very interesting history, once your typical small town USA village with homes, schools, churches, a 4th of July parade and such, it has become almost a ghost town. The citizens of Centralia haven't left because they wanted to, they left because they were forced too. You see, about thirty years ago a coal mine deep within the earth caught fire. All attempts to extinguish the fire failed, and it continues to burn right to this very day.

Homes and roads have fallen into large sink holes, where the coal has burned underneath the ground surface, causing gapping holes. You can stand in places and actually see the ground burning, with smoke and noxious lethal fumes escaping into the air. Its like a scene from out of a science fiction movie, but friends its not fiction its real. Today Centralia is all but gone, except for a few families still hanging on, waiting for the day they will be forced to evacuate.

The United Methodist Church has been experiencing the same type of destruction, like the burning coal below the surface of the Centralia streets, radical lawless theology has been consuming Orthodox Christian beliefs and threatening to do the same with our United Methodist Discipline.

Evangelicals have tried to slow the continual erosion, but to often relented when faced with criticism and accusations of being ignorant, intolerable, unjust, hateful and bigoted. Evangelicals voiced their concerns, in good faith, while stepping back from the controversy. The radical used these moments as an opportunity to press forward with their agenda.

"Enter through the Narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matt: 7:13-14

The wide gate and broad way of radical theology leads to destruction. In its wake, much violence has been done to the church. Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

Radical theology subject s Scriptures to a process called "deconstruction", which it believes, lays bare what is considered to be the authors "true intent" of the text. You must understand that deconstruction is a process of reading into the text what the "deconstructor" wants to see. The deconstructor starts out to "prove" something, then manipulates the text to support what they have already decided is true. The deconstructor will often times take Scripture out of context and ignore what ever does not support his or her views.  The Jesus Seminar, of which Marcus Borg is the most noted, is a group of New Testament theologians who in 1985 launched an effort to decide which words credited to Jesus in the gospels were actually spoken by him. "The scholars were unable to find a single saying in the Gospel of John that they could trace with certainty."

"A few years ago, the group questioned Christ's celibacy and one participant concluded that Jesus was a 'party animal', somewhat shiftless, and disrespectful of the fifth commandment: Honor your father and mother." This group included nine United Methodist clergy.

...and the fire continues to burn.

"Bishop Judith Craig stated that the liberal wing of the United Methodist Church believes that God is continuing to reveal new truth in addition to the Bible. The liberal believes that the Holy Spirit's activity is such that we continue to receive new revelation of God."

The United Methodist Discipline, Article 5, says, "The Holy Scriptures containeth things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought required or containeth to Salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical book of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church."

The Apostle Paul writes in II Tim..: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."

...and the fire continues to burn.

In 1989, Susan Cady and Hal Tussing, both ordained United Methodist pastors in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, wrote a book with Marion Ronan (Catholic) called "Wisdom's Feast." It provides background information on the goddess, Sophia, and includes sermons, Bible Studies, prayers and worship litanies concerning Sophia. The book caused quite a fire storm in the Eastern PA. Conference. It became the basis for an ecclesiastical grievance against the authors, which were dismissed out of hand.

A new edition of this book has now been published under the same title, selling for $14.95. The authors of the book assert consistently that Sophia is divine being co-equal with Yahweh: "There is a hint here that Sophia is not derivation or secondary to Yahweh, but rather existed in her own right before creation." They also denigrate the role of Jesus referring to Jesus as "the prophet and child of Sophia" and as a "Sophia envoy"

...and the fire continues to burn.

By November 1993, an ecumenical conference called "Re-Imagining A Global Theology Conference by Women" was held with United Methodist participating. Throughout the Conference, Sophia was worshipped as a deity.

"Now Sophia, dream the vision, share the wisdom dwelling deep with in."

There was a milk and honey service worshiping Sophia instead of the traditional communion service. This Conference was attended by three United Methodist Bishops. Seven program leaders, for the workshops, were United Methodist.

Laity and clergy, together, began voicing their concerns and outrage over the veneration of a pagan goddess, and the milk and honey ritual. A statement supporting "Re-Imagining" which was titled: "A Time of Hope - A Time of Threat," was released and signed by six United Methodist Bishops, along with many United Methodist Board and Agency members, undermining the ministry of local United Methodist pastors.

The "Re-Imagining Community" was formed shortly after this statement of support was released. They have since held three additional National Conferences where the milk and honey ritual in honor of Sophia was celebrated. The "Re-Imaging Community" now has its own Web Page on the Inter net, and its Coordinating Council includes three United Methodist Clergy Women and a United Methodist Women's Jurisdictional President.

...and the fire continues to burn.

Wellspring, a journal for United Methodist Clergy Women, carried an article written by Nancy J. Web and Rebecca Ruth Richards, both of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. In this article, they describe the right of Croning. A Crone, is a women who turns 50 years old, and receives a special celebration to mark the event.

It was not just any New Years Eve, otherwise known as Old Year's Night. Seven women gathered at the beach house to celebrate the 50 years of life with which two among them had been gifted. Within the first twelve days of the year to come, both would celebrate their 50th. birthdays.

In women's tradition, the fiftieth birthday is especially revered as being the year in which a woman becomes a "crone." "Fifty years of wisdom have been gathered through all of the riches of joy and sadness, gain and loss, planting and reaping, springtime and harvest. These two clergywomen represented such wisdom to the circle of seven" "Croning" is a term found in Wicca Ritual. Wicca is a modern version of an ancient pagan sacred tradition that predated Christianity.

...and the fire continues to burn.

Rosemary Radford Ruther, is a tenured professor at Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a United Methodist Seminary. On May 4, 1995, Professor Radford presided at the weekly Garret Chapel service and used a litany from Therese Winter's Women Wisdom, which included prayers addressed to various goddesses:

Caller: Who are you, O Holy One?
Voice: I am Cycbele, the Great Mother Goddess of ancient Anatolia.
People: Fill us, Cycbele, Great Mother Goddess, with your long-lived nurturing Spirit.

Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary President, Neal F. Fisher later admitted use of the litany was inappropriate.

In Exodus God warns us,: "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other god's ; do not let them be heard on your lips."

...and the fire continues to burn.

October 19-22 of this year, during meetings of the General Board of Global Ministries in Stamford, CT.. Wesley Ariarajah, a Methodist minister from Sri Lanka, called for shifts in mission philosophy. Ariarajah, professor of ecumenical theology at Drew University School of Theology, a United Methodist Seminary, said "God is already in mission today." and asked the General Board of Global Ministries to acknowledge the validity of other faith responses.

Mr. Ariarajah is probably a very intelligent and nice man, but he needs to go back into the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim world to discover a dialogue with these "faith responses" are one way streets.

Our Christian brothers and sisters, all over the world are subjected to harassment, beatings, arrests, famine, rape, torture and death from other "faith responses" and hostile governments. Meanwhile the General Board of Global Ministries, and our Bishops are conspicuously quiet. Where is their sense of justice for these suffering Christians?

Mr. Ariarajah's point of view denigrates the work of Christ, and His Great Commission given to us to go into all the World.

John: 14:16, "Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Acts 4:12, reads "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

...and the fire continues to burn.

My friends, I could go on telling you how radical theology has undermined the ministry of the Council of Bishops, Church Boards and Agency's, United Methodist Seminaries, Annual Conferences and local churches. These radical theologians , still of great worth, have done much violence against the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Holy Church. Because of them many laity and pastors have been thrown into a state of confusion or discouragement. They sit in disbelief wondering how this can be?

The ground in Centralia, Pennsylvania burns, consuming the earth, sending up smoke and lethal, noxious fumes. The coal fire can not be slowed or stopped, it has been left to burn, slowly pushing people from their homes, disrupting lives.

Will the insidious broad road, radical theology, consume the United Methodist Church? Will it continue to move throughout our Church burning and consuming Orthodox Christian beliefs? Will Jesus continue to be denigrated?

The Scriptures and the mystery of the faith declare the Glory of God. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Christ will come again, in his Glory to judge the world. Let us be about our Father's business.

Methodism is a connectional system of churches, in covenant under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Each church, from the largest to the smallest, has a place, in the face of adversity and testing we can not disconnect ourselves from that covenant.

Holy Scripture and the United Methodist Discipline is the foundation of this covenant system. We have pledged to be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and its Discipline, upholding it by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service.

As disciples of Christ we are called to show unconditional love and sacrificial love to all persons. Therefore we are committed to expressing our teachings with an attitude of humility, respecting and honoring all persons, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with our beliefs. We stand opposed to hatred in all its forms, including violence, character assassination, and dehumanization. We deplore the actions of those who might state their agreement with us and use our views as encouragement to engage in ungodly actions against those who disagree or act contrary to our convictions.

The fire of radical theology continues to burn; the foundation of the United Methodist Church has been cracked by the scorching heat. Even a fire, in the presence of the Almighty God, grows cold. Ezra 1:5 reports "...everyone whose heart God had moved--prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem." Let us pray God will, in this present time, move the hearts of people to repair the foundations of Methodism. May the witness of the United Methodist Church, forever be faithful to the high calling of Christ, for whom so many have labored.

God is good, in Deut.7:9 we are inspired by this promise, "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God: he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands."


Writers Note:

This paper was first presented at the "Fall Festival of Faith" gathering on Nov. 14, 1998 held in South Glens Falls, NY. It has been edited for references directed toward the "Fellowship Inspiring Scriptural Holiness" Fellowship in the Troy Annual Conference, NY. This fellowship is composed of clergy and laity with common Evangelical thought within the Troy Annual Conference.

Respectfully Submitted,
Russell K. Fitch
132 South Third Ave.
Mechanicville, NY  1211

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