Reflections on the Proposed Protocol for Separation (Part V)

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

May, 2020 will almost surely go down in history as a remarkable development in the history of the United Methodist Church. This will be the time when legislation will be presented to the General Conference adopting a separation agreement between those United Methodists adhering to historic orthodoxy and those who are seeking to move the church towards a wide array of novel doctrines. This tension has been with us for many decades, but it has finally reached a point where no other resolution or solution is tenable. It is doubly sad, not only because it means the fracturing of our beloved denomination, but especially because in the end, it will be the traditionalists who will exit the church and begin one or more new denominations in the wake of the break-up. Divorce is almost always a messy affair, ecclesial ones no less so. Although it will take four years for all the options present in the Protocol to be fully implemented, the trajectory will be set. As Julius Caesar said when he led his army across the Rubicon, “alea iacta est”—the die is cast.

I have been reluctant to endorse the Protocol because I felt it was necessary that we first hear from our African brothers and sisters who have so faithfully stood by us all of these years. The African delegations have met in Johannesburg and have released their statement. (See their statement here). They are prepared to endorse the Protocol, even though they believe certain aspects of the Protocol disadvantage their life and witness across the African continent. They are perplexed that annual conferences in the United States can exit the denomination with a 57% vote, while they must have a 2/3 majority to exit. This seems unfair to them—because it is unfair. The African delegations do not understand why they must relinquish the name United Methodist, because they are the only sector of the United Methodist Church which can, by any stretch of the imagination, still be called “united.” Nevertheless, despite these and a few other objections, the African delegations are prepared to endorse the Protocol. Therefore, I am now endorsing the Protocol as the best way ahead.

In my last article I outlined the three options we have. None are good ones. But, the Protocol is the best choice of the three bad options before us as traditionalists. It is a sobering thought to realize that in just a few months I will no longer be a United Methodist. I know I speak for hundreds of thousands of Methodists who are in the same boat. It is the only ecclesial family I have ever known. I learned about and met Christ in a United Methodist Church. I was baptized in the United Methodist Church. I am an ordained United Methodist elder. I have pastored many wonderful United Methodist churches over the years. In a few months the passage of the Protocol will put many of us in a kind of ecclesial wilderness. We will be officially in exile. We are of course all weighing our options. But the shape of that future remains unknown as the alternatives are still being formed and fashioned. Future articles will spend more time explaining the various options which are emerging.

I am praying that several annual conferences around the country will be able to leave as a whole, as outlined by the Protocol. There will be thousands of churches who will be sadly forced to hold a potentially contentious vote so they can remain faithful to historic faith and biblical orthodoxy. The seminaries who sowed into future pastors that the virgin birth was an impossibility, has now come to full fruition. The future pastors who were taught that Jesus Christ did not bodily rise from the dead, but that he only symbolically “rose” in the preaching of the disciples has finally put us on this road to separation. The instruction of our pastors which taught them that they must deconstruct the Bible and not accept it as the actual Word of God has all finally brought us to this point. The notion that we can take a behavior which is repeatedly found on Paul’s sin lists in the New Testament and declare it to be not a sin, but a sacrament, has led us to this moment in our troubled history. In short, this has been a long time coming. Seeds sown for generations have finally relentlessly worked their way from Seminaries, to pastors, and now to congregations. This has been the story of all the so-called “mainline” denominations. The United Methodist Church will be the last to fall. It too will now join that doleful train.

But lament is the mother of hope. Joyfully, whenever this has happened in history, God always raises us better readers of his gospel. All across this country there are hundreds of new, vibrant Christian movements springing up. According to a recent Pew study, 57% of all Protestants in the United States now belong to newer denominations who affirm historic orthodoxy. The breakup of the United Methodist Church will only accelerate this trend. For every person who has “voted with their feet” and left the United Methodist Church, there has been someone who has been brought to faith in another, more vibrant expression. Even those churches who vote to embrace this progressive Christianity by, for example, a 60%-40% vote, should factor in that they will likely lose 20% of their membership. So the movement into more orthodox churches will be fed by both churches who leave, as well as by those at the local level who lost a vote in their particular church and, therefore, choose to leave. Jesus Christ promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). He does it over and over again all across the world and all through time. Churches who remember the gospel flourish. But, sadly, the mainline has now finally, and fully, become the sideline of American Christianity. Alea iacta est.

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
Read Part IV here.

Comments

  • Steve A says:

    The true church is being revealed it appears. Thanks for staying on top of this situation 🙂

  • Brother Timothy, thank you for your faithfulness and your honest and rational evaluation of what lies before us. We cannot be sure what will happen, but we know that God reigns and we pray for His will to be done in each of us.

  • I am encouraged by your words here. I didn’t answer the call to serve with these days in my mind, but God knew, and, He has been and continues being faithful.

    I continue praying for God’s direction.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    A ringing indictment here of the former mainlines. Going forward, one exile will need to encourage another.

  • Dave says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections. As a member of a UM congregation unfamiliar with church politics, I’m having a hard time understanding why those who hold to the traditional view will be the ones to exit. Especially in light of last year’s conference where the traditional view of marriage and sexuality were upheld. Can someone please explain?

  • Lynn Moore says:

    I’m with Dave above. I just don’t understand why the Progressives can come in and take our UMC away from us. Why can’t they form their own Progressive branch of the UMC. This is totally unfair. God help us!

  • Gary Bebop says:

    The confusion has been exacerbated by traditional Methodist “explainers” who keep saying “this deal is unfair but it’s the best we’ve got.” I understand the interpretive approach, but this makes it seem we are being sold a lemon. I wish the explainers would cease talking about the Protocol in this way. The Protocol is a negotiated arrangement between parties in disagreement. It’s a “good deal” in light of the difficulty of getting any rapprochement between these parties.

  • C. Hogan says:

    Are there Methodist Seminary teaching that the virgin birth didn’t happen?

  • Dr. Tennent, I have read all your reflections on the separation protocol. One word stands out above all the rest and is repeated by you very often. It is the word “Orthodox.” Methodist history shows a clear connection between John Wesley and the Eastern Orthodox bishop from the Greek jurisdiction during Wesley’s struggle for apostolic succession of Methodist bishops. What if the purest form of Christian Orthodoxy does not require the creation of any new “denomination”? What if the most, purely Orthodox church of the 12 apostles and all the martyrs is still in existence on the earth today that existed prior to the Great Schism of 1054? What if that church is “The Orthodox Church”? The Eastern Orthodox teachings on “Theosis” resulting in “deification” mirror the Wesleyan teachings on Sanctification resulting and leading to “Entire” Sanctification. The Byzantine form of liturgy and perhaps its icons are strange to most Protestants, but what if Luther and the Reformation were wrong? What if the Roman Catholics were actually the “first” Protestants by excommunicating themselves from the Eastern Orthodox. Ever since we have kept trying to “return” to true Orthodoxy when the Eastern/Byzantine Church has maintained it all along. People are arguing on your blog about the adoption of the Nicene Creed by the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never stopped using the Nicene Creed. It is the most “Catholic” of the creeds because they consider the Orthodox Church to be the one and only mother church and continuing church of all the martyrs and the apostles that never left its doctrinal roots and teachings. Why do we keep creating different expressions/denominations trying to “RETURN” to Orthodoxy when there is a Church going back to the 12 apostles who never left at all? It would appear the only reason would be to maintain control of careers, seminaries, monies, positions. Because if all the truly “ORTHODOX” Methodists who read and sing Psalms daily like you and your wife do and the Eastern Orthodox do in their morning and evening family prayers, then many of our clergy would no longer be able to be clergy. Seminaries would close. There would be much, much to sacrifice if en mass we all returned to the mother Church of “Orthodoxy.” Why is no one discussing this? Has no one considered this? It is almost like what we have all been trying to achieve, a purely “Orthodox” expression of Christ’s teachings does already exist but our Protestant “ethos” keeps most from laying down their positions, power, money, and influence to join the continuing, Mother Church of Eastern Orthodoxy. For most it would require a sacrifice they are not willing to give. Yet the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to grow in America. In Raleigh, N.C. in the O.C.A. or Orthodox Church in America, there is a priest, who found Orthodoxy at Asbury Seminary and left to become an Orthodox Priest. Why is no one considering this? I would love to hear an academic response. John Wesley obviously had some connection to Eastern Orthodoxy and used it to ensure apostolic succession though under the cover of darkness to hide it from British laws. Thoughts?