4 Things United Methodists can learn from the Episcopal Church

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Asbury Theological Seminary had the recent honor of hosting Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).  He preached in historic Estes Chapel from the book of Esther and reminded us all that Haaman’s gallows are being built for all those who stand for righteousness, but we have been called to persevere and to be faithful for “such a time as this.”

For decades we all have witnessed the slow and demoralizing decline of the Episcopal church as it has followed that well trodden path from vibrant faithfulness which joyfully embraced historic Christianity to a place of increasing hostility towards historic doctrines such as the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scriptures, the atoning power of the death of Christ and the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Those committed to orthodox faith watched in dismay as they increasingly heard statements from bishops and pastors and read decisions which were made by denominational bodies which revealed that many of their own leaders were no longer adhering to historic faith.   The tipping point came in 2003 when Gene Robinson from Fayette County, Kentucky became the first openly declared homosexual to be ordained bishop.  (He became the bishop of New Hampshire).  This became the presenting issue for decades of frustration with a church which had lost its way.

Tens of thousands of Episcopalians rose up and exercised what is known as Anglican realignment.  This is a process where a church recognizes that its bishop is no longer faithful to the gospel so the episcopal “seat” is recognized as being effectively empty.  The church then has to come under the authority of a new bishop.   What occurred was truly remarkable.  Thousands of Episcopalians gathered up the courage to leave their churches.  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  However, the African church saved the Episcopalian church in the USA.  Bishops from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, among others, began to extend episcopal oversight to new “mission” churches in the United States.  By 2009 this movement had grown enough so the Anglicans in North America could stand on their own.  In June of 2009 most of these mission churches were brought together under a single umbrella known as the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

When Robert Duncan was ordained as the archbishop of the newly formed ACNA he electrified the assembly by boldly challenging the church to plant 1,000 new churches in five years.  The ACNA is doing just that, and will easily surpass the goal which, at the time, seemed impossible.  All across America Episcopalians (who for generations had given millions of dollars to build some of the most beautiful worship spaces in America) have been forced to walk out and leave it all behind.  Entire congregations had to start all over again in schools, storefronts, homes, or renting space from other churches.  Within a single generation the ACNA will easily surpass the Episcopalian church in numbers.

Archbishop Duncan has effectively led this new movement by challenging his flock to be faithful to the gospel and to remember that the church is not about buildings, but about people and about reaching those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.  “Courage begets courage” is one of the most important words of advice from the Archbishop to his flock.  What he means by this is that if the people of God take a courageous stand, then it spreads and others are encouraged to take a stand.  The result is a new Reformation.  Because of their courage, Anglicanism in North America has been saved and is being transferred from one wineskin (Episcopalianism) to another wineskin (ACNA).  More importantly, they have also sparked a new reformation within the church as a whole and provided a pathway for others to follow.  What can United Methodists learn from the last ten years of turmoil within the Episcopalian church?

- First, those of us who are committed to historic Christianity must have the courage to speak out and unflinchingly take our stand with Jesus Christ and the gospel.  We simply cannot be silent when pastors, District Superintendents, Bishops or other denominational leaders make statements which are in variance with our own historic witness as a church.  We must do it in love, but we must do it.

- Second, we should not hold out hope that at some point those holding these so-called “enlightened” liberal views will pick up their stakes and leave the church and go start their own church and build their own seminaries, and so forth.   That is not going to happen.  History teaches us that Christians committed to historic faith build churches and Christian institutions.  Those who forsake the core teachings of the faith, generally speaking, do not build churches or Christian institutions.  Instead, they attach themselves to vibrant movements and then take over the structures which were built by the faithfulness and sacrifice of others.

- Third, we must earnestly pray that our denomination will re-discover its own past and be awakened to a new period of faithfulness, evangelism, church planting and societal witness.  The United Methodist church has millions of members who have kept the faith, so we should pray for our church and work earnestly for its renewal.

- Fourth, those of us committed to historic Christianity must deepen our ties to the global church.  While we hope and pray it does not happen, the day may come when we, too, might be forced to leave our beloved denomination and find episcopal oversight in Africa.  Many of our faithful brothers and sisters in New England and the Pacific Northwest may need to act sooner rather than later.

A university President recently commented to Archbishop Duncan that because of the determined faithfulness of the ACNA, his grandchildren will someday hear and believe the gospel.  This testimony is true.  We must recognize that we are fighting for the faith of our grandchildren.  May we have the kind of courage which befits the people of God.

 

Comments

  • I stand with you in what you say. I completely agree.

  • [...] Theological Seminary President Timothy Tennent offers the United Methodist Church four lessons that can be learned from the Anglican Church of North America. Rate this:Share [...]

  • Thank you brother for your courage-indeed courage begets courage. I write as an African Church leader. The Church in Africa a well know is only a part of the body of Christ. What affects one or any part of the body affects the whole body.
    Africa potentially maybe a safe heaven for the Church at this time in the history of the Church. the devil knows that and whatever is happening to the Church in the Northern hemisphere has its fall out in Africa. I do this note at the meeting of the Governing Council of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, meeting in Dakar Senegal. We are talking at the survival of the Church.
    There is a sense in which Church leaders of all kinds of beliefs in the North have their protegees in my part of the world. I was my self raised in the UMC and I have seen bishops come and go… historic Christinity is wonder threat. The Church in Africa is the future of the Church in our time. The faithful Chruch everywhere on the global needs to stand with Africa even now to ensure this. Thank you for prayers for the Church in Africa as we would need this to reachout to the rest of the world.

  • Very timely and courages blog!
    While the whole denomination is obsessed with “five practices” of “vibrant faithfulness” I pray that true Methodists will recognize the urgency of the moment and leave their buildings to preserve the core of faith. If it has to happen under the bishops from Africa or even Russia, I’m all for it. I started as a missionary from Russia here and was quite shocked by the condition of American Methodism. In 17 years it got only worse. The truth should be told, of course with love.
    Thank you!

  • Thank you for clearly stating the lessons learned from our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal communion. I believe the most dangerous idea floating out of this year’s General Conference was the notion that perhaps the American UMC would be better off separating from the rest of the world so we could pursue interests more particular to our culture. For me, that will be the tipping point. When the American UMC is no longer in line with what God is doing globally, we are no longer in line with God’s purposes for the Kingdom. Jesus came to save the world, not our culture.

  • As The United Methodist Church struggled to deal with the issue of homosexuality during General Conference, I honestly contemplated the possibility of leaving the denomination. Unfortunately as a clergywoman, I could not identify another denomination that would accept my ordination AND the historical tradition of the church regarding homosexuality. Fortunately, we voted to maintain our current faithful stance.

    I would just like to ask whether the new Anglican Church that is being formed will accept the ordination of women?

  • Jarell says:

    This article is pretty biased, and to be honest I was offended that it was assumed that persons who believe in full-inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church means a lack of adherence to “historical Christianity”. Christianity is about bringing Jesus and the good news of God’s saving grace to as many people as possible. Excluding people from the Church hinders the very cause of of the Church from being carried out. This is not love. I respect that you view and interpret Scripture differently than I do, but I refuse to resort to name calling and classifying you are anyone else as “the other”; we are still one body in Christ, whether we recognize it or not.

  • As an Episcopalian, I find this article highly offensive. It’s also completely one-sided and incorrect. Methodist numbers are down too. Shall I write an article talking about how fabulous it is that all those brave people left your denomination?

  • Paul Brown says:

    Dear Dr. Tennent,

    I would contend that the churches affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America have not only left their buildings, they have left behind their true Anglican identity as well. The authority of the historic episcopacy has long been one of the key markers of Anglican identity. Individuals and congregations simply are not free to “pick their bishop” in the Anglican tradition. In spite of the actions of certain African bishops, the Episcopal Church remains the only official Anglican body in the United States recognized by the Anglican Communion. ACNA churches may retain certain Anglican markers, but they have become in effect (as one Catholic friend put it) “prayer book Congregationalists.” They have also contributed to the furthering of divisions within the Body of Christ.

    As a United Methodist pastor, I am troubled that you seem to advocate a similar move within our denomination that can only lead to schism and the compromise of our witness to the Gospel. While the Gospel certainly has to do with right beliefs, it is also directly related to our willingness to be reconciled to one another within the family of faith, even those we might disagree with. I am equally troubled by the threat to United Methodist unity coming from Bishop Talbert and others from the progressive wing of the denomination.

    The lesson we should learn from the Episcopalians and the so-called Anglicans is to avoid mirroring their bitter divisions and following their march into schism. We must learn to embody the good news of Jesus’ redeeming love not only by the way we believe, but most importantly, by the way we love one another. Only when we learn to be reconciled to one another will the world believe our message of the One who has reconciled all things to himself.

  • [...] Timothy Tennent, Timothy Tennent, 4 Things United Methodists can learn from the Episcopal Church [...]

  • Thank you, Dr. Tennant, for giving honor to my shepherd, Archbishop Bob Duncan. We will be eternally grateful to our precious brothers and sisters in Africa who reached out to us and showed us how to give up “fields, and houses, and mothers and fathers, and brothers,” for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.