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Northern Illinois Conference Events Troubling To Methodists

Dear Friends,

Two interesting news articles came to me this week from the United Methodist News Service. Both of these articles dealt with the Northern Illinois Conference. In the first article, a committee of investigation of the Northern Illinois Conference Board of Church and Society asked that a camp in their area no longer affiliate itself with the United Methodist Church. The second article was about the Bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference. Bishop Joseph Sprague asked the Southern Baptist Convention not to do street evangelism at their annual convention this summer in Chicago. These articles are perfect illustrations of the corrosive effects of pluralism on our church.

What sin did the camp commit to be recommended for removal from the United Methodist Church? The camp had the audacity to suggest that a homosexual couple should not sleep together at the camp. For this reason the committee suggested that they have lost their right to be a United Methodist Camp! Our Discipline clearly states that homosexual practice is not to be condoned and is incompatible with Christian teaching. Based on our teachings, the camp should be removed if it did allow the couple to sleep together.

More troubling by far, is Bishop Sprague's suggestions to the Southern Baptist Church. First of all, it is obvious by now that I can be critical of my own denomination. I get sort of testy, however, when some Southern Baptist starts telling me what is wrong with the United Methodist Church. It is inappropriate for Bishop Sprague to criticize another churches evangelism policy. Don't we have enough troubles within our own body? We really are in no shape to tell other branches of the Lord's church how they ought to behave.

Secondly, Bishop Sprague suggests that evangelistic efforts, especially those directed at Muslims and Jews, would damage the community. Here is a portion of the article,

"Sprague pointed out that there is a history of religion-related violence in the community. "Traditional proselytizing would both fray the thread of mutual understanding and support and create yet another potential for violence," he said.

That possible violence would not come from the Southern Baptists themselves, but from "deranged individuals" who would seize on the idea that people who don't believe a certain way are second or third class citizens.

A case in point, he noted was that of Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a former member of the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group based in East Peoria, Ill. Smith embarked on a shooting spree in Indiana and Illinois last July."

Here you have an odd notion that truth claims lead to violence. Last week I commented on the liberal argument suggesting that disagreeing with homosexual practice is equivalent to violence against homosexual persons. This same argument is apparent here, if you tell a Muslim person they need Jesus next thing you know someone will go out and kill a Muslim. For the record, the World Church of the Creator hates Christianity as much as any other religion. Further, in Paduca, Littleton, and Fort Worth the violence was directed against Christians. Should the Southern Baptists suggest that Sprague is part of the great conspiracy that is creating a dangerous environment for Baptists everywhere? Ludicrous! Every truth claim, including the one that suggests there are no truths, is open to misunderstanding. To suggest, however, we should not make them reduces truth to opinion and rejects the Great Commission.

Finally, in an article from the Chicago Tribune, Bishop Sprague is quoted as saying, "I'm always fearful when we in the Christian community move beyond the rightful claim that Jesus is decisive for us" to the "presupposition that non-Christians are outside God's plan of salvation,"... "That smacks of a kind of non-Jesus-like arrogance."

Suggesting that Jesus is decisive only for those who follow his path is a profoundly limiting vision of Jesus. This is not at all what Scripture or the church has historically claimed about Jesus. Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission had the best response to Sprague, "I grieve, as I am sure John Wesley does from beyond the grave, that a Methodist minister would make such statements in response to fellow believers' attempts to heed the Great Commission commandment of Jesus our Savior, who it should be remembered did say, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,"

The Northern Illinois vision of the church is a dead-end. If we follow this path of pluralism and cultural accommodation we will cease to be a part of the apostolic church and we will wither away.

Your Brother,

John Miles II, Heber Springs.

John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

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