Remembering Our Ordination Vows

Every Bishop and Elder in the United Methodist church has promised before God to uphold the Book of Discipline and to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” Integrity demands, does it not, that those who can no longer in good conscience uphold the Discipline or defend the church against heterodox doctrines should gracefully step aside? If, on the other hand, they are confident that their new views are scripturally defensible then they are duty-bound to present their exegesis to the church for careful evaluation, holy conferencing, and a vote.This has, of course, not happened in relation to our struggles over human sexuality as we approach the General Conference in St. Louis in February. Hundreds of pastors and laity across the country have pleaded for the biblical basis for the one church plan, but none has been provided.

The authority of God’s Word as the normative rule of faith and practice in the life and witness of the church is the real unstated question which is before the General Conference in February. I do not know what has troubled me more: the fact that no biblical or theological case has been made for the so-called One Church Plan, or that none has even been officially asked for. It shows just how deep our malady is. The steady breezes of pragmatism blow across the church in almost every public statement, but any reference to the authority of Scripture is strangely absent. The newly launched website by the Council of Bishops to promote the One Church Plan (onechurchplan.org) provides no scriptural support for the plan and even the FAQ section addresses thirteen questions, none of which are “what is the biblical basis for this position?”

Our episcopal leaders regularly cite that they also promised in their consecration as Bishops to “uphold the unity of the church.” Yet, there is a persistent dust storm kicked up over the meaning of the word “unity” while the clear and compelling definition of unity found in our Discipline is quietly ignored. (See, par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Our unity is not found in our ecclesiastical structures, but in the Gospel which is given to us in God’s Word. We must not allow ourselves to lose our shock over this. The fact that the majority of bishops have embraced the One Church Plan and even launched a website and videos to promote it shows just how formidable our pathway back to orthodoxy truly is. However, having traveled across this country and spoken with dozens of United Methodist pastors, it is quite clear that many of the rank and file pastors and lay people understand exactly what this is all about.

I have to hand it to influential United Methodist Pastor pastor and well-known author Adam Hamilton who understood from the start what was really at stake for the church. He knew that progressive views regarding human sexuality could not more forward without an equally progressive view of Scriptural authority. He laid out the case for this as early as 2014 in his book, Making Sense of the Bible. One of the many stunning conclusions offered to the church by Adam Hamilton is the assertion that the inspiration of the Scriptures is no different from all the ways we claim to be inspired today, such as in writing a sermon, or a poem. Hamilton argues that St. Paul’s inspiration in writing letters to the Corinthians is “not qualitatively different from the way God inspires or influences today” (p. 143). The only difference Hamilton allows between the “inspiration” of the biblical writers and the “inspiration” we experience today is that they were historically closer to the actual events (p. 138). Yet, Hamilton’s own assessment of how we are to interpret scripture often overrules the assessment of those closest to the events (See, for example, p. 213).

We will hear quite a bit about the need to preserve the unity of the church. However, the best and most faithful way we can preserve the true unity of the church is to stand boldly against this so-called “One Church Plan.” Our unity within our global communion (or with Christians around the world and back through time) will only be broken if we fail to protect the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” I have been around long enough to remember when our leaders were all enamored with Bultmannian theology which was going to “rescue” the church and get us “up with the times.” We were all encouraged to endorse the idea that Jesus Christ didn’t actually rise bodily; rather, he “rose” in the preaching of the Apostles. How did that turn out? I remember in the early 1990’s when the Re-Imagining Conference invoked the worship of a female deity, Sophia. I remember when they gave “communion” with milk and honey rather than bread and wine, and Dr. Delores Williams stated, “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement” and, “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses, and blood dripping, and weird stuff like that.” How did that turn out? Brothers and sisters, this is a long and protracted struggle and we should not forget what we are struggling over.

I returned recently from Brazil and witnessed first-hand the growth of the Methodist church in the sixth district of Brazil due to a courageous and godly bishop (Bishop Joao Carlos Lopes) who for over twenty years has led those under his episcopal care with a strong commitment to evangelism, church planting, and most importantly, the authority of the Word of God. We need to find ways to encourage and strengthen all Episcopal leaders who, even as a minority voice, are committed to Scriptural Christianity and Apostolic faith. That is the only true “way forward.” In contrast, the One Church Plan promotes theological pluralism, ethical relativism, and in the process, abandons our historic Methodist ecclesiology. Even though the One Church Plan allows me to remain personally orthodox, it requires me to say that the United Methodist Church now has two official, and contradictory, orthodoxies. The One Church Plan would force me to accept the moral equivalency between biblical marriage and a seemingly endless array of new arrangements, the full extent of which we do not yet even know. But, in my ordination vows I promised to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word” and that is what I intend to keep on doing because, as Martin Luther said in 1521 at the Diet of Worms in the face of the waywardness of the church in his own day which has lost its own catholicity and apostolicity, “my conscience is held captive to the Word of God.”