Remembering Our Ordination Vows

Friday, January 4th, 2019

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.”

Comments

  • Terry says:

    Well said! For too long the church has been using wood, hay and stubble. Let us build so we will heart: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve noticed that this whole thing is an exact parallel to what has happened to Domino’s Pizza…..they are desperately playing with all kinds of useless fluff to improve their waning market share when their problem is that they are not producing a quality product. Their latest delusional ad campaign doesn’t even address their core product. The United Methodist Church is doing the same thing in the face of long term falling membership.

    It is really sad that we have ordained lesbians in our area and have several local elders who congratulated a person who went from evangelism to entering into a gay marriage. Yes, really.

    It comes as no shock, then, that several non-denominational churches in our area are growing by leaps and bounds, simply because they are preaching the word the way the word needs to be preached.

    The broader picture is that this sickens the entire nation. One only need look at what is going on in Washington, DC to see how moral influences have waned away leaving depravity in government behind in its wake.

    Does the leadership not see this? Are they blind to the fact that the lack of moral authority once present in the church is in part responsible for this?

    The word of God makes it clear that unless a church mends its ways, he will remove his blessing (lamp stand) and cause it to wither and die (fig tree). My question is, has this already happened?

    I must admit that having a heart attack wasn’t as painful as this ongoing nonsense is.

  • In my research I ran across an article which I will reference that claims that only 4% of our population and 9% of evangelicals have a God-centered worldview. This, in my opinion, is where we are failing. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/christian-worldview/whats-a-christian-worldview/whats-a-worldview-anyway

  • My prayers continue for our Methodist Church to live only by following God’s Holy Word, as presented in the Holy Scriptures. I fear too many Bishops and Ministers have moved way too far from the Holy Scriptural Teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! May His will be done as the church meets in Feb. !

  • Sam says:

    But President Tennent, of course several people have offered biblical and theological cases for the One Church Plan and other movements in the church with which you disagree. You even mention one of them by name in this article. Are they not theological or biblical because you don’t reach the same conclusion as them?

    • Mike says:

      Sam, if the one you say Dr. Tennent mentioned is Adam Hamilton, you cannot say Hamilton is making a “biblical” argument. He rejects much of Scripture. The most you are able to say for Hamilton is that he is making an “extra biblical” argument. One of Tennent’s points is that no one is making a scriptural argument for the One Church Plan. Hamilton certainly doesn’t.

  • Kevin Barron says:

    Thank you, Dr. Tennent! Excellent summary of the situation we face.

  • All other issues aside, the issue of integrity with respect to the vows of ordination has been my first (but hardly the only) objection to the arguments of so-called ‘progressives’ in this matter.

  • Lowell Black says:

    Thanks Dr. Tennent for speaking the truth in this matter. While we always seek to be ecumenical, it is based on common theological beliefs. Also, if our ordination vows are to be cheapened to ignore the primacy of scripture and to play loose and fast with the Discipline, why have them at all? I think for a long time the ordination vows have not been followed by some and even with grace and forgiveness, there also needs to be some level of accountability for those who renounce their vows by word and actions. And that same level of accountability needs to be exercised by the University Senate in approving seminaries who outright teach that Discipline is to be “worked around” to accomplish worldly recognition.

  • Steve Atha says:

    “Did God really say….” is the oldest trick in the book

    I hope they will see their error and stop playing fast and loose with God’s Word

  • A. Thanasius says:

    To put this blog in context, simply replace “human sexuality” with “interracial marriage”. In doing so, not only will this posting continue to make coherent sense, but it will be the exact message taught by segregationist Jim Crow supporters not even 50 years ago. History and the Christian faith will look on these words just as we look on theirs. You compare this issue to the liberal theologies of Bultmann and Williams, but those are interdoctrinal. Our current crisis is interpersonal. How will we treat human beings, with love or prejudice? Historically, poor doctrine falls to the wayside but bigotry never triumphs. I hope you will recognize on to which side of this divide you fall.

  • Cathy Byrd says:

    Hear, hear! The parties are lining up on the opposing sides of this long-standing battle that will hopefully be over and done after the SGC in February. I am so ready for this to be over. I stand with Dr. Tennent in this. But as Marcel said in one of Jerry Clower’s comedy routines about Marcel and a wildcat tangling with one another up in a tree (as I recall)….”Just shoot up here amongst us…one of us has got to have some relief.” One way or the other, either the traditional plan prevails and I remain a Methodist or one of the other plans prevail and I don’t. It no longer matters. Just get it over with already!

  • I do not understand how this was ever allowed to come to a vote. Do the bishops not read the bible. God’s Word speaks plainly about this very subject. And why let those misguided souls tell the local churches what we can and cannot do. They don’t fund our churches,they only occupy their lofty positions because of the money the local churches send to them. They need us more than we need them period.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    The One Church Plan is an astonishing deceit, yet its supporters revel in anticipated conquest of the church by blasphemous “moonshine” and episcopal treachery.

  • Amen, Amen, Amen Dr. Tennant!

    The authority of God Almighty and God’s Word is what is being questioned.

  • Mary Moore says:

    Well said. My husband and I left the Methodist church years ago, painful but needed. We found a church that teaches only grace, only faith and only scripture. We pray that the UMC finds its way home.