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.