Final Thoughts Before the 2019 United Methodist Church General Conference in St. Louis

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

For those who follow my blog, you will be aware of the upcoming 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, called to respond to the report of the Commission on a Way Forward regarding human sexuality. I recently published six reasons why we should reject the so-called One Church Plan. I have also affirmed in earlier blogs the importance of the church standing with the global church and the church throughout time in affirming historic orthodox views regarding the definition of marriage and a Christian view of the body. However, now that this historic meeting is upon us, perhaps a few final thoughts are in order.

First, remember our love for the church. It is easy to be discouraged and disheartened by all of the dysfunction and brokenness in the church. It is demoralizing to even be asked to “vote” on the issue which is before us, since biblical authority is (or should be) the sine qua non of the church. But I cannot forget that the United Methodist Church was the means of grace for me to receive Christ, to receive a call into the ministry, and the place where I have had wonderful opportunities for preaching and pastoral ministry. To quote that beautiful hymn about the church by Robert Stamps, the United Methodist Church was “my waking place, of early call and signs of grace.” It is precisely because we love the church so much that those who are delegates must gather up their courage, go to General Conference, and protect the church from making more steps towards its own demise. There is no inevitability to “mainline decline.” The decline of all the mainline churches is linked to their neglect of biblical authority and theological stability. We can break that link in St. Louis.

Second, we must not be angry, or fall into despair. There is a real possibility that certain decisions (or the lack of decision because the presiding bishops cannot control demonstrations) would force hundreds of thousands of Methodists to find a new church home. Hundreds of thousands more will accept life in a protracted period of ecclesial exile within the denomination until a better day arises. This would be an extremely sad and disconcerting turn of events since most of us have never known any other denominational family, and the United Methodist Church, with all of its flaws, has historically stood on the side of historic orthodoxy. We have stayed and pastored, we have preached and prayed, we have tried to remember our ordination vows, even as we have watched millions leave the church. We are not prone to separation. We have prayed earnestly that we would not be torn asunder.

But, regardless of the outcome, we must not succumb to anger or despair. We must always remember that the deeper foundation of Jesus Christ will never fail us. We must remember that the faithful church of Jesus Christ is indestructible. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). We should have no fear of the demise of the Church. Absolutely none. Of course, particular denominations may rise and fall. Some remain faithful, and some disappear and are lost. But, the true Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ, will last into eternity. Our prayer is that the United Methodist Church will remain faithfully connected to the glorious church of Jesus Christ.

Third, the One Church Plan is not, as advertised, the plan where everyone can have what they want. By this point, most of us have heard the well-rehearsed refrain: “The One Church Plan will not force anyone to change. If you want to stay as you are, you can.” However, in my view, that is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of this legislation. The One Church Plan does, in fact, require two massive changes for every single United Methodist in the country, and every person in every Central Conference around the world united to United Methodism.

First, this refrain obscures the fact that the One Church Plan is but one more step (in their view) in a long hard struggle for the liberation of the church from all sexual mores. It is being sold as the plan that will produce peace in the church, when it will actually be the most divisive act imaginable. The fighting will continue. We will still have fighting at every General Conference, but now it will spread to every conference, and every local church in the country. We used to know that these struggles would be limited to once every four years, and in some distant city in some distant state. Now, the fights will continue, year in and year out, right in our own churches and conferences until the progressives get the “church” they have envisioned.

Second, it requires all of us (regardless of what position we hold) to accept the moral equivalency of the opposing position. For me, this is the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” It is one thing to argue about whether homosexuality is a “sin” or a “sacrament.” It is one thing to argue about whether same sex marriage is “biblical” or “unbiblical.” It is entirely another to actually embrace the view that it is both, depending on the majority vote of a local church or an annual conference. It is this postmodern view of truth which is so objectionable to our entire theological tradition, both as Christians and as Wesleyans. Truth has always been determined by good exegesis of Scripture, and an attentive listening to the theological tradition in which we stand. The One Church Plan forces us to embrace the notion that truth is socially constructed by the various factions and groups within society. Truth as truth has been deconstructed and all we have are endless personal preferences. The very fact that so many bishops, pastors, and delegates have embraced such a postmodern view of truth shows how far we have strayed. It is the formal embrace of this new view of truth which is actually the most destructive threat the United Methodist Church church faces in St. Louis.

Finally, I remain hopeful. I have the privilege of traveling all across the country and, indeed, the world, meeting and talking with those in our Methodist family. In the last three months I have been on every inhabited continent on earth. This spring I am preaching in United Methodist Church congregations and gatherings in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. In the midst of the pain, I also hear strains of hope.

We are hopeful that those who gather in St. Louis will discover a fresh wind of the grace of God and a solid reaffirmation of historic faith. This could be the turning point for a new phase of evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. I still believe that all of the losses we have incurred over the last fifty years can be completely reversed. We need a national strategy for evangelism and church planting. We need a solid re-affirmation of our biblical and theological heritage. We need well equipped laity and clergy for the work which is before us. This vision of renewal and revitalization is still within our grasp. It will require a turn from the waywardness of our recent history. But, it is still possible that the turn could happen in St. Louis, and after the final gavel has sounded, we could break out and sing, “And Can it Be?” May it be so.

Comments

  • Chris Akers says:

    This is why I am honored to be an Asbury Alumni! Thanks you Dt. Tennent for your compassionate & bold leadership. “Reclaiming the brand in Florida”

  • James Mace says:

    “You who love the LORD, hate evil! He protects the lives of his faithful followers; he delivers them from the power of the wicked.” (Ps 97:10 NET). Remember good old St. Nicholas, who slapped Arius on the floor of the Nicene Council.

  • Thank You for these powerful, yet graceful and loving words kindly spoken. I pray that our UMC is listening. I have been fasting and praying for this upcoming General Conference. Repentance & turning from all sin, sexual sins included is our only way forward with God’s blessing. ATS class of 1988.

  • Thank you. We have been/are praying accordingly.

  • Bob Nichols says:

    You hit the nail on the head about ‘truth’ in our society. We cannot change truth by making laws or rules. Truth is fixed by God. If I jump off of a cliff I know I will fall to the ground. No law or rule can change that truth.

  • Brent White says:

    Poignant, wise, and hopeful. Thank you, Dr. Tennent, for your leadership during this season of testing. One way or another, I look forward to being part of the stronger and more faithful Wesleyan movement that emerges on the other side.

  • Alan Johnson says:

    It has been a long time since YHC. I really don’t know the answer. I waffle and straddle the issue. But as we sat in my church during an informational session, this thought came to my head; if God calls a homosexual to the ministry, apparently, we that may oppose the current issue, could be wrong. God uses all for his purpose. Given this, maybe we should ere on acceptance. As an aside, I always am concerned with people say they are for the truth. I don’t know that homosexuality is an issue of truth, anymore so that other sins that we overlook and forgive bishops, pastors, and other persons everyday.

  • Kevin Cook says:

    Your Anglican brothers are praying earnestly for the UMC this week.

  • You wrote, “Second, it requires all of us (regardless of what position we hold) to accept the moral equivalency of the opposing position.” No, it requires those who refuse to accept the opposing position to demonstrate a measure of humility that is consistent with Paul’s observation in I Corinthians 13 that all human knowledge and even prophecy are partial, and that the fullness of truth will be known only “when the complete comes.” Therefore, it is only through our loving one another that we can fulfill the law, not through deeming ourselves perfect in knowledge and attempting to separate ourselves from those we see as unresponsive to our superior grasp of God’s purposes – or them from us. This entire debacle is simply a gross example of a failure to love as Jesus loved us and called us to love one another.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    Let’s not be taken in by the Great Obfuscation now at work in the United Methodist Church. The Apostle Paul tells us that divisions serve to reveal who really speak the truth: “Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine” (1 Cor. 11:19).

  • If we all are made in the image of God, God possesses some of all that is within each of us. If homosexuality is viewed as a sin, it needs the church. If homosexuality is viewed as a mental illness, it needs the church. I prefer to view homosexuality as part of the image of God. I ask, “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” EXACTLY! I had no choice in this matter. I was born this way. Does that sound familiar? When we cease to be the judges in this life and instead “Love one another” we have found the real truth. We are only interpreters of a Love we cannot fathom or understand. We should all be allowed to receive it in full at His table and in the church.

    • So in essence those who are for homosexuality are saying there is no sin and there is no understanding of the Word which IS the breath and voice of God. When I say homosexuality, I am not equating that word with a person. Just as abortion is an act and a sin. Once one realizes the sin and the holiness and weight of God’s authority over our human selves, one avoids the sin. As Christians, there is an ultimate authority over our lives. There are not a multitude of choices. You are either FOR God or AGAINST His authority. This is said in love. True freedom in Christ is leaving behind what does not line up with His Will, His Weight, His Beauty. We love our neighbor but we love God more. In my humble opinion, there is no greater place than to give up my opinion, agenda, talent, life, than to live for Christ and in Him. Once at ARM Conference, we prayed through the night for the 50 persons over the UMC. That next morning there was an earthquake in D. C. near their offices. Shake them up, Lord, to know your ultimate authority which carries no compromise. The way is narrow.

  • Thank you Dr Tennant. You make me proud to be both an Asbury MDiv alum and a current doctoral student. As usual, you are filled with wisdom, grace, faith, hope, and love. I am grateful that it is not a wish washy love that is hollow and impotent, but a love which is rich and real.

  • Thank you, Dr. Tennant. I’m praying and fasting that those whom we love and are misguided will have their eyes opened to God’s call to them, not man’s call. For the way I see it, those who don’t “know the truth” are hurting themselves and my heart grieves for them. My sin is no less than another’s but I pray continually that the Holy Spirit will show me daily where I fail and thankfully rescue me. As the old saying goes, “walk a mile in my shoes…” When you accuse one, you are accusing yourself. Dr. Tennant, wish I had your wisdom. God bless and God restore the UMC to His glory. Praying and fasting for the outcome to glorify the Father.

  • Annada Jones says:

    I have been a Methodist for 77+ years. No one is going to”run me off.” I can still be a Methodist no matter what the leadership commands. I will continue to go to the church building that I grew up in. I will try to love all, no matter what their orientation, and I will really try to bite my tongue in”sharing my opinion.” I am a Methodist because they leave me alone and accept me for what I am. Methodists have allowed me worship within the confines of my lifelong church in a manner that I find suitable to God and me, and that will continue.

    • Gary Bebop says:

      You are right, Amanda, no one is going to “run you off” at 77 years. No, it’s the younger, aspiring orthodox Wesleyans (the ones who should be moving up into leadership positions) that the Progressive sect will either subvert or run off. The doctrinal novelty now being imposed upon the church will not tolerate resistance.

  • Kim Batteau says:

    Dear Dr. Tennent,

    I have now read the news, here in Dehradun, India (where I had the delight of meeting you and your wife a couple of weeks ago), that, to my astonishment, the Biblical voices won over the postmodern and liberal ones at the General Conference. Praise the Lord for that! I pray that the Lord would help the evangelicals in the world-wide United Methodist church to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, to Scripture, and to the Catholic-Orthodox-Reformation-Evangelical confessional tradition of the world-wide Church, for the sake of a world which desperately needs the salvation and the holiness which only our Lord Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can give! As an orthodox, Reformed, retired pastor (of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (Liberated)) and teacher, I wish you all God’s blessing! To Him be the glory!

    sincerely in Christ,
    Kim Batteaua

    • Thank you, Timothy, for your commitment to contend for the faith once deliever in a beautiful, loving appeal. I miss you my friend. Let’s see if we can arrange a time for you to come to KC to spend time with us and share at St. Aidan’s! Cheers, Michael Flowers