By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
In a lot of ways, we as a group simply are rolling toward February. Our long-term mission is unclear until we see the results of the called United Methodist Church General Conference in St. Louis.
Over the next few weeks, I do want to offer a few reflections on what I observed as a delegate to the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Legislative Assembly, particularly now that I have had time to think. I’ll begin by addressing the issue of divisiveness, an accusation regularly aimed at the WCA.
I know in my heart that I dislike the idea of a split from the United Methodist Church, and I saw no evidence at our assembly of a hot desire to divide. The assembly was held Nov. 2 in Marietta, Ga., and attended by WCA delegates from all over the world.
Yes, we passed documents calling for development of a possible new denomination, and yes, we supported the idea of gracious exit plans for churches unhappy with decisions that may be reached in February.
I’m a language guy, however, and I took note of the highly conditional words in the proposed documents and from the mouths of the delegates as we debated. There even were efforts from the floor and from the dais to ensure the language was as conditional as possible.
In short, if there is to be division, it will happen because the called General Conference fails to affirm the way the vast majority of Christians have interpreted Scripture since the Holy Spirit first settled on the church.
This approach to Scripture, where we treat God’s word as divinely inspired, authoritative and intentionally troubling to the secular world, has been a key uniting feature of denominational Methodism, established at the Christmas Conference of 1784.
Rather than inspiring division, the WCA’s advocacy gives hope to Methodists with a high view of Scripture. These are people who have felt otherwise ready to leave the UMC for a few years now because they understand church unity is rooted in scripturally sound doctrine.
Yes, churches are bound to the UMC by trust clauses, but orthodox individuals, with their spiritual and financial gifts, are not. For these Methodists, the WCA so far has served as glue rather than a wedge.
Next: A reflection on the roots of orthodox anger.
“The preservation of a denominational association when it is powerless to discipline heretics cannot be justified on the grounds of the preservation of ‘Christian unity.’ It is error which breaks the unity of churches, and to remain in a denominational alignment which condones error is to support schism.” (The Forgotten Spurgeon, Murray, 164-165. Thanks to Dennis Wallace for pointing out the quote.)
The Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association’s board of directors has announced some leadership changes.
The Rev. Chuck Griffin, previously the board’s vice-chair, now serves as the board’s chair. Delisa Hammons, a lay member of the board of directors, assumes the role of vice-chair. Both Griffin and Hammons were unanimously affirmed for their new roles by the board.
The Rev. Rowland Buck, elected chair at the Holston WCA’s inaugural meeting Aug. 25, asked to be relieved of the chair’s duties, citing developments requiring short-term wellness leave from his pastoral role. Buck remains a member of the Holston WCA board.
With board approval, Griffin also assumed the role of clergy delegate to the WCA’s first Global Legislative Assembly, held Nov. 2 in Marietta, Ga. Jeff Weiss was Holston’s lay delegate.
“We’re excited to see the WCA taking shape as a scripturally sound, orthodox Methodist movement,” Griffin said. “As we look toward the United Methodist Church’s called General Conference in 2019, we have much planning to do as we anticipate the possible outcomes. We want the WCA members living in the Holston Conference to have as much voice as possible.”
As one of your delegates to the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s first Global Legislative Assembly, I want to offer you an update on today’s event.
I’ll begin by saying there was worship, of course. As many of you have experienced while attending other WCA events, the Spirit moves in powerful ways when we gather. We heard God’s word preached in faithful, innovative ways, and our Creator, Savior and Comforter God was glorified as we sang.
The delegates established some critical statements and positions during the day. I note that while the WCA Council brought drafts, this was no rubber-stamp operation. Most of the resolutions were modified in some way by the gathered assembly after much thoughtful debate.
Here are some brief summaries of what passed, with some links to more information.
Fundamental Features & Principles of a New Methodist Denomination. This is the item that probably will generate the most talk. Opponents of the WCA like to describe the organization as “divisive”; I would point to the highly conditional language in the document, which makes clear a new denomination would form only if the 2019 General Conference creates circumstances where orthodox clergy and churches feel they no longer can function within the UMC. In 13 points, the document describes a church deeply rooted in Scriptural tradition and loving mission to the world.
Resolution Empowering Preparation for Next Steps. This empowers a working group led by WCA Council Chair Jeff Greenway to “envision a revitalized Methodist movement with or, if necessary, outside the UM church.” Its work is to be completed by Feb. 20, with the possibility of convening a conference to launch a new Methodist movement within 60 days of the 2019 special UMC General Conference.
Resolution Declaring Position of the WCA on Matters to be Considered by the Special General Conference of The UMC. This document supports the Traditional Plan “as amended by the petitions submitted by Dr. Maxie Dunnam and brought into conformity with Judicial Council Decision 1366.” It also calls for a “gracious exit” decision, which would provide a clear path for congregations and institutions to leave the United Methodist denomination with property and assets after the General Conference 2019, should they see fit to do so.
Statement of Doctrinal Standards. Its opening line: “The Bible as Holy Scripture is the primary authority for faith, morals, and service, against which all others must be measured.” From there, it lays out The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Definition of Chalcedon as historic developments that helped define our faith. It also discusses specific Wesleyan influences on our doctrine and lists “liturgical norms” that “give voice to the living faith of Wesleyan people.”
We also elected people to the WCA Council class of 2021. I’ll list them in alphabetical order: Bill Arnold, an Asbury Theological Seminary professor; Joe DiPaolo, a pastor in Eastern Pennsylvania; Jeff Jernigan, a layperson from North Georgia; Jerry Kulah, an elder in the Liberia Annual Conference; Tom Lambrecht, a pastor from Wisconsin; Jessica LaGrone, a pastor from Texas; Carolyn Moore, a pastor from North Georgia; Chris Ritter, a pastor from Illinois; and Stephen Sparks, a pastor from Mississippi.