Friday, September 05, 2008

From Riley Case of the Confessing Movement with the United Methodist Church:

The last Happenings article discussed "The State of the Church" report, an in-depth study authorized by the Connectional Table (www.umc.org/stateofthechurch), and commented on the fact that while the report identifies a number of trouble spots in the denomination, the church's core beliefs and values are not of concern. This was because the respondents to the study found little to disagree with in regard to the "core beliefs" and "core values" that the study identified to be basic for United Methodism. While numbers of persons have prescribed solutions to our church's present malaise on the basis of the report, very few have addressed the church's present doctrinal disarray.

No wonder our core beliefs and values were so quickly passed over. As identified and presented to survey respondents there was nothing to disagree with. The core beliefs and values were so bland as to be meaningless. Therein, according to the previous article, is the problem.

In response to the article Neil Alexander, president and publisher of the Publishing House, corrects the impression that the "core beliefs" were somehow the evaluation or judgment of the Connectional Table or the report's authors.

"The State of the Church writing team (was) reporting on survey responses to questions about the degree of consensus in the UMC about core beliefs. In the first phase of the survey project one-on-one interviews were conducted where a cross-section of UMC leaders were asked to list core beliefs (the researchers did not generate these descriptions by providing multiple choices, but instead recorded verbatim the responses of those interviewed and then summarized the prevailing views). In the follow-up phases a wide cross-section of UMs were asked if they agreed with the views of the leaders who had been interviewed. It was this combination of inputs and responses that were cited in the Report."

But alas! This clarification makes the report (and our situation as a denomination) even more distressing. It is not some design team or research company, but our church's leaders who define for us core beliefs without reference to the cross, or redemption, or repentance, or the Discipline, or the new birth, or the doctrinal standards, or John Wesley. If our "leaders" believe so little, can we blame the rest of us for standing for so little? Are we really hoping to win disciples to Jesus Christ and transform the world with nothing more than a feel-good message that our communion is open to all, that we are dependent on God, that we are reaching out to insure involvement of all persons? Is this all we have to offer a lost and dying world?

If the State of the Church Report can be of value to us, it is at this point, we are deficient theologically and need to reclaim our theological heritage as United Methodists.

When the Western Christian Advocate (which would soon become one of the highest circulation papers in the nation) was launched on May 2, 1834, Vol. 1, No. 1 set out the purpose of the paper with these words:

"Hence (we) will plead for all the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the atonement by Jesus Christ for the sins of the world, the universal depravity of man, the necessity of evangelical repentance, or, justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, sanctification, or holiness of heart and life, and the just grounds of man's higher responsibility to his God."

One of the features of the new paper was "Revival Intelligence", which reported on souls saved, churches formed, communities changed. By 1850 Methodism in its various branches would claim one-third of all the church members in the United States. When the church believed in the fullness of the gospel and offered a message distinct from the world, it grew. But, it can be argued, when the church began to compromise the message and redefine the gospel it began to decline. In 1906 Methodism could claim 6.3% of the United States population. By 2004 that percentage had decreased to 3%.

Even then, the argument is presently being made that we are too rigid in our membership standards. The new gospel of "inclusiveness" preaches acceptance without behavioral or doctrinal expectations. A constitutional amendment that will be voted on in the 2009 annual conferences (Article IV of the Constitution) would legally bind the church to accept into membership anyone regardless of what they believe or regardless of what values they hold as long as they take the vows, however they personally choose to interpret them.

Some bishops evidently are moving toward the "anything goes" stance of the church on their own regardless of the Discipline or actions of the General Conference. The service of consecration for new bishops in the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference pointedly omitted the following words from the charge to new bishops:

Will you guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church, against all that is contrary to God's Word?

But of course. Why promise to defend something when there is nothing much left to defend?

There is still a need for The Confessing Movement.

Dr. Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference. He is a graduate of Taylor University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, with a graduate degree from Northwestern University and an honorary degree from Taylor University. Dr. Case’s appointment before retiring was St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Kokomo. Before that he was the district superintendent of the Marion District of the North Indiana Conference. He represented the conference five different times at the General Conference and seven times at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. At the general church level he served as a consultant on the Hymnal Revision Committee (1984-1988) and was a member of the Curriculum Resources Committee of the Board of Discipleship.

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