Confessing Movement Leader Accuses Liberal Bishop Of "Tired Innuendoes" And "Faulty Research"
GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE THE
I tried hard to find something helpful in the book, United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call. All of us who are committed to renewing the Church know that we are constantly in need of renewal ourselves. More than that, the quality of our work could always improve. Instead of help, however, I found a broadside attack on all renewal groups, including the same tired innuendoes and a raft of conclusions based on faulty research.
Members of the staff parish relations committee, meeting in my office at First Church Houston, personally financed the Houston Declaration and encouraged my involvement in the renewal of the United Methodist Church. Those business persons believed that any organization that had lost almost 3 million members just might have a problem.
Bishop Dale White and the other authors declare that the leaders of the Houston Declaration were Good News leaders. (p. 29) The truth is that not one of us was a member of Good News.
The grassroots support of the Houston Declaration was astounding. The United Methodist Church was encouraged by the clear, unambiguous restatement of some of our core beliefs. In 1992, a similar declaration, the Memphis Declaration, was issued that also included a statement about the sanctity of the family. "The Confessing Movement," says the Bishop and his colleagues, "emerged out of this history with Good News President Heidinger at the helm." (p. 30)
None of the founders of The Confessing Movement were members or had ever been members of Good News. Jim Heidinger was not in the leadership circle. I became involved when Bishop William R. Cannon, my former teacher and Bishop, called to ask me to help.
Errors of the magnitude cited above are sufficient enough to discredit the book, United Methodism @ Risk. All of us would agree that accurate research is a necessary ingredient for any book, let alone one that launches a broad attack on renewal movements that are supported by millions of loyal United Methodists.
Since Jesus tells us that we should testify about that which we know and have seen, I will let the competent leaders of other renewal groups that are attacked in this book make their own defense. Suffice it to say that if the "research" on those movements is comparable to that behind the Houston Declaration and The Confessing Movement, the entire manuscript is riddled with errors.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole book is the presentation of the misconceptions and innuendoes about the nature of Christ-centered churches that have a high view of the Scriptures. "The virtual silence of conservative renewal groups on issues of racial justice suggests their leaders do not envision the potential richness of a multi-ethnic community, or at the very least, it is not a high priority." (p. 84)
Again, let me respond to the sweeping broad-based statement above with what I know.
The staff of the church from which I recently retired included male and female associates that were Vietnamese American, African American, Hispanic American, Chinese American, Indian American, and several Anglos. Our lay leader was African American. The largest vote-getter for the Judicial Council in the 2000 General Conference was an African American woman who had chaired the Board at First United Methodist Church Houston. We had more than 1,500 African American members, more than 1,000 Hispanic members, and about the same number of Asian Americans.
Does the constituency of the church briefly described above sound like we ". . . do not envision the potential richness of a multi-ethnic community . . ."?
I believe it would be an eye-opening experience for the Bishop and his colleagues to visit some Christ-centered churches and to see how women and ethnic persons are "treated". Let me suggest that they begin with those churches served by the original leaders of The Confessing Movement.
Incidentally, I do not know of a single United Methodist altar that is closed to homosexual persons. It is an affront to every follower of Christ to imply that we do not love all persons. Christians must love homosexuals like Jesus does. We would never, however, agree that sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage are normative. We would not, therefore, ordain those who engage in sexual intimacies outside Jesus’ clearly defined description of Christian marriage.
Politically speaking, one would have to admire the timing of the publication United Methodism @ Risk in late April, just before the election of General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates.
Let me suggest to those who wrote United Methodism @ Risk that the word "progressive" always needs a qualifier. "Progressive" can be desirable or disastrous. As a cancer survivor, the last verdict I want to hear is "progressive." Sodom and Gomorrah were "progressive." Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was "progressive," rising to sit in the gate at Sodom and Gomorrah. Poor Abraham was left with his faith and the altar he built to his God. But today we refer to the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," not "Lot, Moab and Ben-Ammi."
We believe our calling is to go on to maturity in Christ. To this end, Paul and the other apostles devoted themselves.
I knew that I had been left behind when a "progressive" General Conference delegate responded to the reading of Jesus’ definition of marriage at the 2000 Conference by saying, "We’ve gone beyond Jesus."
We acknowledge our need to become more mature in Christ but we do not desire to go "beyond Jesus" nor do we want our church to go there.
The Bishop and his colleagues have revealed much about their own theology in their attack on renewal groups. One of the clearest revelations is when under their "Call to Action" they urge United Methodists to "join with others who are committed to monitoring what the conservative renewal movement is doing. One such group is the Methodist Federation for Social Action . . ." (p. 139)
In conclusion, I believe the note of shrillness detected in the pages of United Methodism @ Risk can be traced to the seismic shift occurring in our denomination. More and more of our people are resonating with the call to biblical renewal. For all of us who are committed to Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the World, and the Lord of History, the word is not "progressive." The word is faithful.
Out of love and concern for the United Methodist Church, 48 pastors from 18 states, from Massachusetts to California, from Illinois to Florida, representing large churches and small, came together in Houston, Texas, December 14-15, 1987. We came as pastors who baptize and marry, confirm and bury and live among our people. We came to reaffirm and promote the central certainties of our faith. In the face of actions by some Boards and agencies and some caucus groups that tend to undermine these certainties, and in the fulfillment of our ordination vows, we feel compelled to speak to three crucial truths which are essential to the life, witness and scriptural integrity of the church: (1) the primacy of Scripture; (2) the nature and name of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; (3) the high and holy character of ordained ministry.
I. The Primacy of Scriptures
We United Methodist pastors affirm the Wesleyan principle of the primacy of Scripture and recognize that we share a common heritage with Christians of every age and nation. We have witnessed the confusion and conflict resulting from the ambiguity of the present doctrinal statement as contained in Paragraph 69 of the 1984 Discipline.
We therefore endorse the following declaration regarding the primacy of Scripture, as included in the newly proposed doctrinal statement:
United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for authentic Christian truth and witness. The Bible bears authoritative testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the pilgrimage of Israel, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit’s constant activity in human history, especially in the mission of early Christianity. As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us.
The Bible is sacred canon for Christian people, formally acknowledged as such by historic ecumenical councils of the church. Our doctrinal standards identify as canonical thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is "necessary and sufficient unto salvation" (Articles of Religion) and "the true rule and guide for faith and practice" (Confession of Faith).
We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community. We interpret the individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole. We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Wesley’s method of interpretation applied this rule: "The obscure text is to be interpreted by those which speak more plainly," and the more difficult passages understood in terms of the "analogy of faith," that is, "the whole scope and tenor of Scripture," the core witness of Scripture as a whole…. The Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.
II. The Trinity
We confess the historic Christian faith in the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In Jesus Christ, the divine Son, God has been definitively revealed to humankind, and the world graciously reconciled to God. At the exaltation of Jesus, the one whom he consistently called Father sent forth the Holy Spirit to declare the things of Christ, so that the good news of our redemption might be proclaimed to all people. At least since the gospel of St. Matthew, the church has consistently baptized "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" those who accept the message (Matthew 28:19-20).
We deplore the effort in baptism, ordination, and the total liturgy of the Church to re-symbolize the Faith by abandoning the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit or adopting the inadequate substitutes. To do so is to deny the revelation attested in the Scriptures, transmitted by faithful men and women in the Christian tradition, and offered to the world for its salvation.
Formulas such as "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer" or "Creator, Christ, Spirit" are inadequate substitutes. As to the first: God’s richly personal being cannot be defined merely in functional terms. As to the second: Christ and the Spirit are not mere creatures.
We affirm equality and inclusive language in all human relationships.
III. The Ordained Ministry
The Church, on the authority of the Scriptures, has never viewed homosexuality as a part of God’s diverse, good creation, but has always considered homosexual practices as a sin and a manifestation of the brokenness of God’s fallen creation. Every scriptural reference to the practice of homosexuality is negative (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Following the Old Testament prohibitions, the apostle Paul sees homosexual practices as the sign and consequence of a turning away from the Creator in order to worship the creature. Homosexual practices become an extreme expression of the turning in upon itself which is the essence of humankind’s sin.
We repudiate all irrational fear of and contempt for homosexual persons. We affirm a ministry of Christian compassion, care and redirection for those who have engaged in homosexual practices as they seek help in overcoming temptation and changing their style of life. Persons may or may not be able to change their sexual orientation; persons can change their lifestyle. That possibility is the very essence of the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 6).
It is not acceptable in the context of the Christian faith that persons engaging in homosexual practices should be ordained to the ministry or continue in representative positions within the Church.
We covenant together to proclaim these central truths of the Christian Faith and to invest our lives and ministry in the continuing renewal of our beloved Church. We invite all, laity and clergy of the United Methodist Church, to join with us as persons who have been called to follow Christ, to join with us as persons who have been called to follow Christ and give our lives to advancing the gospel and the historic Christian Faith. The need is urgent—the time is now!
We stand as servants and disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Eighty United Methodist clergy and laity gathered in Memphis, Tennessee on January 25, 1992 to issue a declaration of faith—complete with standards and recommendations—to support at the upcoming General Conference. The following declaration is the common mind of those who met in Memphis:
In his preface to the Standard Sermons, John Wesley wrote, "I design plain truth for plain people." Those of us gathered here today in Memphis, lay and clergy alike, seek to emulate Wesley and speak "plain words of truth" to affirm and live out the mandate of Jesus Christ to be his disciples and to call all persons of every race and nation to name and follow him as Savior and Lord.
In the tradition of The Houston Declaration, we come together to challenge United Methodists to live more faithfully as the body of Jesus Christ, under his lordship. This involves confessing, proclaiming and living the Apostolic faith.
In light of the authority of Scripture, we affirm that:
1. God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the only way of divine salvation.
2. Holy living is the way for Christians to live out the mandate of discipleship given by Jesus Christ.
3. The local congregation is the center for mission and ministry to the world.
God’s Revelation In Jesus Christ
Among the people called Christian—in many nations and among many peoples—including United Methodist, there has been a falling away from commitment to the basic truths and doctrines of the Christian faith.
If we are to be obedient to the teaching of Scripture and to our Wesleyan heritage, we must lift up Jesus Christ as God’s gift of salvation offered to all humanity. There are doctrinal issues on which Christians may disagree. We dare not, however, deny our Lord in the name of a shallow pluralism or in a vain attempt to elevate tolerance above primary faith commitment to Jesus Christ. We must not surrender the uniqueness and centrality of Jesus Christ and our Christian heritage for the sake of an easy dialogue with those who are not yet Christian, or a false ecumenism with those who do not profess the fullness of the Christian faith.
Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh who lived on earth, suffered and died on the cross, was raised from the dead, lives as eternal Savior and Redeemer, present with us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and He will return again. He is God’s only way of salvation. We are called to live out and share this faith personally and collectively as our primary purpose and commitment.
We affirm the call of Jesus Christ, the teaching of holy Scripture, and the faithful witness of John Wesley, that as Christians we are called to holy living. We cannot be self-righteous, because our own personal lives fall far short of his standard of holy living, but the standard must be upheld.
The power of Jesus Christ is at work in the person of the Holy Spirit and can transform every life and overcome every sin. He calls his Church to transform the current culture, not conform to it.
We urge all United Methodists, including ourselves, to turn away from a consumer mentality, greed, and moral disintegration. We are called to be servants and witnesses to our neighbors in word and deed, leading the world to repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
The Church must reach out in a ministry of love, compassion, and healing to all persons—married, single, children, one-parent homes, and broken families. We affirm marriage as the God-ordained pattern of relationship between men and women. God created us male and female, and the natural order of creation and procreation is the union of male and female as husband and wife. The Christian Church has always held this to be in accordance with God’s will. We challenge the Church to be unequivocal in support of the Christian family, the sanctity of human life, and Christian sexual morality: fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.
Scripture plainly identifies adultery, fornication and homosexual practice as sins of the flesh (signs and consequences of the fallen condition of humankind that needs redemption). Let us cease to debate homosexual practice as if the witness of the Scripture and the tradition of the Church were not clear from the beginning. A militant minority must not be allowed to control the direction of the Church of Jesus Christ.
It is time for us to move on to the central purpose of the Church: to serve the world in Jesus Christ’s name and win the world for Him.
The local church is the primary place where we encounter the risen Lord. It must again become, in doctrine and practice, the center of the mission and ministry of the Church. The purpose of the boards, agencies and seminaries must be focused on the equipping of the people of God to be in ministry where they worship and work.
Fiscal responsibility calls for the curtailment, reordering, and reduction of the bureaucracy of the Church so that more of our tithes and offerings will go directly into mission and ministry and not increasingly into general church staff and support for boards, agencies and study commissions.
We are concerned about ministerial leadership. We must be especially careful that a seminary education be consistent with our Wesleyan heritage and not dominated by a secular mind-set. Some of our seminaries are committed to both the teaching and modeling of our Wesleyan heritage, recognizing that seminaries are places where men and women are trained for Christian ministry. We celebrate their faithfulness to the Church and we pledge our loyalty and support to them.
Call To Action
We urge the 1992 General Conference to take these actions and pass necessary legislation to:
1. Reaffirm the use of Biblical language and images in our common life together; mandate the use of the name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit whenever we speak of the Trinity; and reject the replacement of Biblical language and images in the proposed Book of Worship, and in other church materials, with alternative language and images which alter the Apostolic faith.
2. Abolish the General Council on Ministries as an unnecessary and costly layer of bureaucracy. It is in direct conflict with the Constitution of the Church, which assigns to the Council of Bishops "the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interest of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations, and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference." (Para. 50, Art. III, The Constitution).
3. Reduce the number, size, staff and costs of General Church boards and agencies.
4. Restore the Church’s mission and evangelistic thrust. Establish a General Board of Evangelism, including the transfer of the section on church extension from the national division of the Board of Global Ministries, so that reaching the world for Christ will again be central to the purpose and mission of the Church.
5. Approve the recommendation of the Study Commission and mandate the move of the General Board of Global Ministries out of New York, to enhance the mission and ministry of the Church.
6. Reaffirm Christian sexual morality and the current provisions of the United Methodist Discipline (Par. 71f, 402.2, 906.12). Homosexual persons are people of sacred worth to whom we are called to minister. Since the practice of homosexuality is, however, incompatible with Christian teaching, we call for the rejection of the report and recommendations of the Committee to Study Homosexuality, and oppose further official study. The Biblical witness and the unbroken tradition of the Church provide the foundation of our understanding.
7. Affirm that baptism is a means of God’s grace, but that a personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is essential for salvation and for full membership in the Church.
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