50 UM Leaders Say "set aside" Charged Bishop's False Teachings
Several months ago I mentioned an article by Bishop Joseph Sprague in which he questioned some of the basic presuppositions of the Christian faith. In a possibly precedent setting case, someone brought charges against Sprague for these statements. I think this is a crucial case and clearly delineates the fissures in our denomination. Here is the Newscope article.
The bishop has been accused of preaching false doctrine (see Newscope Jan. 8). Here are public statements by Bishop Sprague on which Lauffer bases his charges:
I personally think Bishop Sprague did violate his oath to uphold the doctrine of the United Methodist Church with these statements. However it is the four points his supporters make that interest me here.
They state in point one that the Bishop is an advocate for the poor. Great, the charges against him are not for being a bad person. You can be a wonderful person and reject basic Christian doctrine. Mahatma Ghandi was a case in point.
They state in point two that he refuses to set his course by the idealogies of the day. It is precisely because he has set his course by idealogies of the day that he has been charged. If he set his course upon the teachings and the doctrines of the church he would not have rejected the basic Christology of the Methodist and the catholic church.
In point three they suggest that he approaches the Bible with honesty, scholarship, and reverence. I believe he does precisely the opposite. It is not honest to suggest that Jesus did not think himself to be the messiah or the Son of God. Even the most simple reading of the gospels indicate that that is the one claim that permeates all four books. You have to go to great lengths to deconstruct that meaning out of scripture. For that reason he is not a very good scholar. Jesus may not have been the Son of God. That is a matter of faith, but the great body of Christian scholarship for 2000 years, including today, at the very least, suggest that he understood himself to be the messiah. Finally, this demythologizing of scripture in not done out of reverence but intellectual pride.
Perhaps most importantly point four suggest that there is a wide latitude of belief in the United Methodist Church. That may be true but it is not a correct reading of our Discipline. Every Elder was questioned rigorously concerning their understanding of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church. The real question that this case raises is, do our doctrines set out in our Articles of Religion, General Rules, Wesley's Notes and Standard Sermons have any meaning at all anymore? This case will go a part of the way in answering this question.
John Miles, pastor
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