Wish List

By Chuck Griffin

Change is scary for a lot of people. Change creates incredible opportunities, however.

I’m trying to keep that second principle in mind as the United Methodist Church moves toward General Conference 2019. It seems there are four basic possible outcomes:

  1. Dissolution. (As unlikely as it seems, that possibility is always present.)
  2. The denomination affirms liberal/progressive doctrine, putting in place a plan along the lines of “One Church” or “Connectional Conference.”
  3. The denomination puts in place the “Traditionalist” plan, affirming its Wesleyan roots and beginning the difficult task of enforcing orthodox doctrine.
  4. The denomination stays mired in the schismatic state it is in now. I suspect another attempt to kick the can down the road, even if only as far as 2020, likely will trigger its own form of change in a wave of church departures.

(If you want to read more about the Traditionalist, One Church or Connectional plans, details can be found here.)

I see good coming from change regardless of the form it might take after the 2019 General Conference has ended.

Somehow, some way, a group of us will rally around the idea of scriptural authority, living according to the Bible’s definition of who God is (the infinite giver of grace) and seeking what God wants for us (holiness, made possible through that grace).

It is my great hope that when change comes, we will do more than just embrace traditional doctrines. I pray we also will consider whether the institutional structures and habits to which we’ve become accustomed support the basic mission of the church.

Some possible changes I hope will be considered:

Local, Local, Local

The denomination we currently find ourselves in is much too top-heavy and interested in micromanaging the local churches. Unless we end up with Outcome 3, I wonder if something more along the lines of an affiliation of orthodox churches might develop.

The “top,” however we define it, would focus on maintaining clear doctrinal standards for affiliates, ordaining clergy according to those standards, and organizing assistance in areas where the local churches could not meet the missional needs of the community.

And while the top would want to gather data, that effort should be limited to very basic information—mission-oriented numbers like current membership and professions of faith immediately come to mind.

Those Mobile Ministers

Would it be helpful for effective pastors to remain in their communities for a decade or longer? Our best church studies show the answer is yes.

The above “affiliate” model might bring about the end of itinerancy, anyway, as it easily could lead to a system where vetted pastors are interviewed and hired under contract rather than “placed” by a bishop.

For pastors comfortable with guaranteed appointments, this might be terrifying. They need to consider this, however: They would simply be entering the world where most of their flock exists every day, a world where you have to focus on your task, build relationships and perform at a certain level to succeed.

As one Holston bishop once put it, “If you want a bigger church, grow one.”

Covenant Membership

Being a Methodist used to mean you were methodically committed to a life-changing movement. In particular, Methodists related to their fellow Christians through covenantal small groups. Even after having to become a formal denomination, the Methodist movement for many years emphasized the need to develop spiritually through those encounters.

The UMC currently asks new members to support the local church with their “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.” This is a good starting point. But to have a vote regarding the life and direction of a local congregation, perhaps a member should be willing to enter a covenant to fulfill these vows in measurable ways.

Will you covenant to pray daily for the community? Will you show up for a small group and for worship regularly—say, 85 percent of the time? Will you learn what your spiritual gifts are and employ them accordingly? Will you tithe on your gross income? Can you name the last person you helped bring to a belief in Christ, and can you name the person you’re trying to help now?

If some baptized Christians aren’t ready for such specific commitments, it doesn’t mean they’re not saved. I’m just suggesting that the leaders who make critical decisions about the life of a local church should be able to joyfully enter such a membership covenant. Perhaps we need a new level of membership, calling these people “covenant members.”

Unlike a lot of notions we float in our orthodox Methodist circles, these three ideas are certainly debatable. I’m simply hoping that once change is upon us, we will take time to debate them, and other ideas like them.


Chuck Griffin is an ordained elder serving in the Hiwassee District.

What Faithfulness Looks Like Now

Encouraging Words

Well, there’s a war brewing within the United Methodist Church. It doesn’t look like we’re going to “move forward” without coming apart. The denomination has been trying to hold together for over forty years now. The issues are not just the issue we’re talking about, (which is the church’s teaching on homosexuality), but it is about how we view scripture, ecclesiology, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are central tenets of the Christian faith.

Modernists would have us “move forward” from the past, embrace new ways of thinking, become unshackled by what they have deconstructed and demythologized. They ask us to accept new norms that completely break the mold of scriptural teaching, explaining that scripture can’t compete in today’s world. A new ethos has arisen, and to speak against it, to stand up for scripture, is to be guilty of “hate speech.”

I don’t think I…

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Really?

 

By Chuck Griffin

From a United Methodist News story on the Uniting Methodists’ strategy meeting in Charlotte, N.C.:

Dave Nuckols, Minnesota Conference lay leader, Connectional Table treasurer and a Commission on the Way Forward member, told the group that strong U.S. support for the One Church Plan won’t be enough.

“Clearly we need to have support from all regions of the church, and I think it’s clear there will be support from Africa and the Philippines,” he said in an interview.

The idea that there will be support of the so-called One Church Plan from Africa and the Philippines is an unusually bold assertion, one made without any evidence. I would be impressed if Nuckols could provide such evidence.
By the way, don’t confuse “Uniting Methodists” with “United Methodists.” I would argue the former violates the copyright and trademark of the latter, although I seriously doubt if the latter would try to enforce its rights.

Why I Joined

WCAbookmarkfront

By Rowland S. Buck

I have been a United Methodist my whole life. My great-great-great grandfather was a Methodist preacher. My father was a Methodist preacher. I have been born and raised in the Methodist Church.

So, the schism we experience now, the divide that has been building for several decades, is heart-wrenching to me. In mid-2016, after the last General Conference, I started hearing about the Wesleyan Covenant Association from United Methodist pastors I had grown to admire and respect, people like Maxie Dunnam, Jeff Greenway and others.

I have heard more than one person level the charge that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a divisive group that should be avoided. Most of us want to avoid a confrontation and will remain silent so as to not drive wedges or choose sides. I was leery of the same thing.

I do not want to tear the church a part. I do not want to be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution. At times I have bitten my tongue and tried to keep the peace. I have also allowed myself to be drawn into unproductive arguments to my frustration, and even embarrassment. So why would I join and support the Wesleyan Covenant Association?

After the 2016 General Conference, I, like many others, came to the obvious conclusion that we were in schism.  We have ordained clergy who either did not believe their ordination vows when they took them or have since changed their minds about them without any accountability. We have consecrated bishops that had no intention of upholding our Discipline, even defying it.

We have allowed clergy, bishops, local churches, annual conferences, and even an entire jurisdiction to promote doctrines contrary to our Discipline with no consequences. We are divided. The name “United Methodist” has become an oxymoron.

The Church that nurtured me in the faith from baptism to ordination into the daily work of ministry is in trouble. I have been focusing on the trouble. I was guilty of negativity and complaining. I was focused more on what’s wrong than what’s right, letting those attitudes become my default.

That is not what I want! I want to call the church back to her first love. I want to promote faithfulness to the doctrines of the church that explain to us the transforming grace of God. I also want a better vision of the future.

If the next 40 years of the United Methodist Church are to be like the last 40, then count me out. I want something different. I want to hear somebody talk about becoming an authentically Wesleyan, orthodox, Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, Kingdom-seeking, disciple-making movement, one God can use to transform the world.

That’s what I heard in October of 2016 at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s first gathering in Chicago. I heard hope. I heard the articulation of a vision for a vibrant future, not just for a troubled denomination, but for a troubled world.

In the words of William J. Abraham, it is the vision of “a Methodism that will be missionary oriented, open to the full working of the Holy Spirit, unapologetically orthodox, sacramentally robust, and committed to justice and the care of the needy.” (From the forward to A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future, p. ix.)

I know there are those who disagree with that vision – or at least the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s articulation of it. That’s fine. I’m not going to be in a bad mood about it. I don’t want to argue or debate it.

I have realized I want something different. I want something that feels like a heart strangely warmed. I want something that has the power to give the world hope.

I want to know my sins are forgiven and to offer that transformation to others. I want to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.   And I want a church that supports those ideas. In Chicago in October of 2016, for the first time in a long time, I gathered with over 1,000 Methodists that wanted the same thing.

That’s why I joined the Wesleyan Covenant Association. If we describe something you want too, I invite you to join us.

www.wesleyancovenant.org/membership

Don’t Forget Africa

By Buford “Boo” Hankins

Coming away from the 2018 Holston Annual Conference, I was hoping to have had an opportunity for the conference as a whole to give its reaction to the Council of Bishops’ proposal to the special General Conference in February 2019.  We did have a long presentation from Alice Williams, a member of the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF), who praised the so-called “One Church Plan” as the best option for the future of the United Methodist Church.

She said their discernment process was like an 18-month-long pregnancy.  Well, if that is what it was, my feeling is their work was stillborn by the time it passed through the Council of Bishops. I do not think the One Church Plan has a chance of succeeding.

I wish we had at annual conference a chance to support or oppose the One Church Plan. The closest we came to this was to vote on the two resolutions from members of Church Street UMC supporting the plan and the removal of certain language in the Discipline.

The fact that both of these resolutions were never considered in their original form gives a hint to the sense of the conference. I have a feeling that if my friend Tom Lambrecht, also a member of the COWF, had been invited to give us his assessment of the committee’s findings, the response would have been different. He spoke at the Iowa Wesleyan Covenant Association during their Annual Conference.  Alice Williams’ identity as part of the LGBT community certainly colored her presentation.

I appreciate that Alice Williams mentioned she had talked with some Africans who were concerned that the church’s position about homosexuality could put their members at risk.  Her flippant response bothered me, however.

I have served as a missionary and district superintendent in both West Africa and East Africa (although never with a $100,000 salary). I can tell you that it is not an insignificant thing for a church to embrace deviant sexual practices.

In an April 4, 2014, BBC interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Justin Welby, said that a Church of England decision to accept gay marriage would be “absolutely catastrophic for Christians in troubled countries.” Anglicans in countries such as South Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan are in danger as a result of liberal positions taken by the leaders of churches in the West, he said.

Archbishop Welby said that he had visited a mass grave containing 369 bodies in South Sudan, where some people believed “if we leave a Christian community here we will be made to become homosexual, and so we will kill all the Christians.” There are still 74 countries where homosexuality is illegal, 33 in Africa. To dismiss the legitimate safety concerns of African leaders while also ignoring sound Biblical reasoning is callous and condescending.

We need to hear from our African brothers and sisters.  I have heard from many Africans that they are thankful that western missionaries brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their lands.  It is that liberating Gospel that helped put an end to tribal slavery, the damage of polygamy, death of children abandoned because of birth defects, and many more problems.

Do we not believe in the Gospel message that “the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin”? Quite frankly, our African friends are embarrassed that we are even talking about this subject.  The United Methodist Church is growing in Africa because Africans have accepted the teachings of the Bible, and that includes the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. If we abandon that biblical principle, I believe the Africans will abandon the UMC—and I will stand with them.

Our Council of Bishops—I have called them the Council of Cowards because they are afraid to tell us how they voted after receiving the COWF recommendations—have failed the church.  They tried to limit the General Conference to considering only the One Church Plan, but the Judicial Council rescued us by allowing other plans to be considered.

We have bishops, district superintendents and pastors who are what someone called “functional Universalists.” Their beliefs do not match our Wesleyan adherence to Scripture and nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition.

There are plenty of other denominations whose theology and practices exactly match theirs.  It is their defiance of the Discipline and their ordination vows that has brought us to this crisis. I am tired of being accused of being disloyal or “unchristian” because I honor the sacred vows I made at ordination.

Our bishops have a poor track record of even holding their own accountable. When we have bishops, pastors and whole annual conferences in open defiance of our covenant and Discipline, we can no longer pretend we are united. Our unity has been shattered by disobedience.

I am thankful we will have an opportunity to speak to the delegates to the 2019 General Conference in the coming days, but I wonder why this had to be added at the end of the conference rather than being a natural part of our delegates’ preparation for General Conference. Was there a deliberate attempt to limit input and response to the bishop’s proposal?

I look forward to the opportunity to express my opinion at these listening sessions, and I hope others will also speak up.


Buford “Boo” Hankins is a retired elder in the Holston Conference and a former missionary to Africa.