The UMC Dialogue: The Real Issues
If you haven’t heard, there have been several statements made over the last two weeks by leaders in the United Methodist Church stating that there is already an unofficial separation within the church and that it is time to move forward in separate directions. If you are unaware of the current situation in the UMC, here is a very brief overview.
Our church, as many others today, seems to be divided into primarily two camps:
The first group holds to a more orthodox theology and understanding of God, a high view of Scripture, emphasis on scriptural holiness, and support of traditional family values, specifically in upholding that homosexual behavior is a sin. They typically consider themselves “evangelical”, whatever that word has come to mean today (reminiscent of Inigo Montoya).
The second group tends to accept more broad views of God and Christ as acceptable, a low view of Scripture (and sometimes Christology), emphasis on social liberation, and support progressive social philosophies, especially in regards to postmodern relativism and homosexuality as merely a natural inclination of personal intimacy. They typically consider themselves “progressive.”
(Side note: Of course there are many who don’t fit neatly into either of these camps. For example, some profess an orthodox theology and christology yet assert a progressive view on homosexuality; others emphasize scriptural holiness but believe the best way to promote holiness is through social progress.)
Leaders of the second group have been ignoring the general church’s policies on homosexual marriage. Bishops are not enforcing, and some even blessing, the intentional violations of our beliefs and policies as declared in the Book of Discipline. These are beliefs and issues debated and voted upon by the general council of the church body. The Council of Bishops in the United States have done nothing in regard to their fellow bishops, both active and retired, who are leading a rebellious charge against the Majority of the world’s United Methodist Church in its stance on homosexuality and marriage.
All this to say, for me, and I think for many on the side of orthodoxy in the UMC, the issue is not so much about gay marriage. Sure, I believe homosexual behavior is sinful, but no more sinful than my pride and selfishness, or another man’s lust or greed. Yes it is different in that progressives claim that it is not sin, and thereby it is natural and acceptable behavior, and I think that is wrong.
But the homosexuality issue isn’t the root of the problem; it’s just a symptom. The issue is the entire spirit of the “progressive” church: rejecting biblical authority, or at best categorically picking and choosing what is “relevant” or “true” in the bible, accepting moral and spiritual relativism with the idea that truth and salvation can be found through a variety of means, and focusing purely on the improvement of the human condition through social means (in essence, humanism), thereby ignoring the gospel of Christ as anything but a means for human improvement.
Those are the issues that concern me. As a Christian, I believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, and that, while written by imperfect human hands and containing possible transcriptional and historical errors, it is perfect in its message, completeness, and divine authority. The majority of Scripture was not intended to be a historical record, so the writers did not concern themselves with communicating the accuracy of historical details; thus, historical inaccuracies do not detract from the inspiration or perfection of Scripture and the truth of its message.
As a Christian, I believe in the absolute truth of a single God, who has three faces in the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and that salvation is only found in the reconciling love of God through Jesus Christ. Nothing else can reconcile our sinful human brokenness with the perfect holiness and righteousness of Almighty God.
As a Christian, I believe that our first purpose in life is to be in relationship with God, bring Him glory, and enjoy Him forever. Yes, being active stewards of God’s love by bringing freedom and justice to the world is a big part of our faith and the Christian life; however, seeking improvement of the broken human condition while ignoring sin is merely humanism, not Christianity. Further, liberation from evil, even social evil, cannot be fully realized through human progress, economics, or politics, nor is liberation from social evil a means for divine salvation. No, only the liberating power of God through the love of Christ can overcome social and spiritual evil, bring life to the dead, and bring freedom for the oppressed.
The can of worms has been opened. I don’t know if a church schism is imminent or not, nor if it is necessary. But I do think that if the church cannot agree on basic fundamental points of the Christian faith that have been believed and professed for 1500 years – the authority of Scripture, Christ as the only means of grace and salvation, and the gospel as a message of love, truth, and witness through evangelization and redemption for humanity more than as a means for social progress and liberation (again, not that these things are bad, but that they do not deserve the highest place in the communication of the gospel) – then I don’t see how any progress can be made toward reconciliation.
In my opinion, homosexuality is a minor issue in this dialogue, and merely a symptom of the bigger problems: lack of biblical authority, acceptance of postmodern relativism, reduction of the gospel to social progression, and lack of accountability and authority among the Council of Bishops and the global United Methodist body as expressed in countless general conferences.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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