Clergyman Files Complaint Against Bishop Sprague
"SHOULD A BISHOP BE SUPPORTED WHO ATTACKS THE FOUNDATIONS OF OUR FAITH?"
When an Elder of the Church is selected to be a Bishop in the United Methodist Church that Elder is asked to perform some very high and holy duties. Among the most sacred of these duties include the transmittal of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Paragraph 414.3 states that a bishop is "To guard, transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit, to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically." Responsibility Five continues "To teach and uphold the theological traditions of the United Methodist Church."
These are serious and sacred responsibilities. These responsibilities should not be assumed lightly or unadvisedly.
However, what should be the responsibility of the United Methodist Christian when a bishop who has taken these vows regularly attacks our traditions? Should such a bishop be supported?
Our Discipline is also clear about this. When any leader "local pastor, associate member, probationary member, or full member" violates the sacred trust placed upon them the recourse of the people is to issue a formal complaint. "Whenever a person in any of the above categories...is accused of violating this trust, the membership of his or her ministerial office shall be subject to review." This procedure is outlined in paragraph 358 of the 1996 Discipline and paragraphs 2623-29. Specifically paragraph 2624 lists the Chargeable offenses that may be made against a Bishop. Among these offenses is included dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the Church."
Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of the Chicago area, Northern Illinois Conference, has often spoken of his discomfort with our doctrines. He has said that he must struggle with the differences between his "conscience and the vows he took as a bishop."
Article II of our protected "Articles of Religion" say of Jesus Christ that He is "The Word, or Son of God, who was made very man." He is "the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father" who "took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures,...were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof there is one Christ, very God and very Man,..."
Mr. Sprague, who has often encouraged his pastors and people to follow the renegade Episcopal Bishop Spong and his fellow Jesus Seminar Marcus Borg, does not believe in this Article. He teaches that Jesus was "a social prophet, and founder of a movement," who, "did not believe himself to be the messiah or the Son of God." "Jesus was a 'religious seeker who focused on God and not himself as a messiah. It was the church that made Jesus a messiah." (Kane County Chronicle, December 20, 1996).
Mr. Sprague espouses a Christology from below which comes from Jesus' "radical trust relationship through which the very heart of God, the essence of deity, was made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth." This notion of Jesus being rewarded for his relationship with God was condemned as a heresy 1700 years ago.
By denying the eternal divinity of Jesus Christ Mr. Sprague denies our principle doctrinal statement. The Church cannot survive as the Church of Jesus Christ if His divinity is denied by those who are responsible to guard and transmit our faith.
No one who understands our doctrines at all can tolerate such teachings, especially coming from someone who is duty bound to protect our doctrines.
Several attempts have been made to encourage our bishop to repent and to teach the True faith once delivered to the Saints. Nothing, but rude remarks from our bishop, has been forthcoming. Complaints have been filed against Mr. Sprague and have been sent to Bishop Bashore. The details of the complaints cannot be disclosed by Judicial Council decision #751.
We await word of the disposition of these complaints.
In the meantime I call upon everyone to pray for Mr. Sprague that he repent of his wayward teachings and return to the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Let us pray for the pastors who labor under his teachings. Let us pray for the Church which is suffering because of those who want their own way despite what Christ and the Apostles have so graciously given us.
Rev. Carson Daniel Lauffer, Pastor, Prophetstown United Methodist Church
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