20140716-003310-1990304.jpg

July 16, 2014

Why I’m Against United Methodist Schism

Some evangelical United Methodist friends have suggested our denomination possibly enact a formal division between conservatives and liberals. They understandably want a relatively amicable conclusion to the over 40 year denominational battle over sexuality. This battle has recently accelerated with a campaign of open defiance by liberal activists against our church’s teaching on marriage.

I’m against urging a formal schism for several reasons. First, it’s politically implausible. Changes to United Methodism’s constitution require a two thirds vote at General Conference followed by ratification by two thirds of voters at local annual conferences globally. A formal schism inevitably would require implementation by a subsequent and possibly specially called General Conference. So formal schism must have a level of consensus very distant from today’s reality. Short of cataclysmic upheaval between now and then, the 2016 General Conference almost certainly would overwhelmingly reject schism.

Second, a formal schism, even if implemented, would ignite an exponentially wider conflict as each of over 30,000 congregations in the U.S. would directly or indirectly have to choose its new denomination. Few congregations are purely liberal or conservative. Most congregations are right of center with left of center clergy. Most lay people are unaware of the current divisions and will be very surprised when forced to engage. Possibly hundreds of thousands would leave rather than endure the debate or abide the result. Likely hundreds of congregations, perhaps more, will default to litigation. What’s worse than years of debating sex? Years of litigation, costing millions of dollars, which nobody will win, except for lawyers.

Third, there is no person alive today who’s belonged to United Methodism when it was committed to theological orthodoxy. Our denomination’s seminaries went liberal 100 years ago or more, with the agencies and most bishops shortly following. For decades church elites rejected Christ’s virgin birth, bodily resurrection, unique deity and lordship, and the need for personal salvation. Evangelicals and other committed orthodox were functionally a minority in the denomination for most of a century. They could remain because the official theology remained orthodox on paper, even if liberals applied their own interpretations. Now, with the growing African church, which is 40 percent of church membership and climbing, evangelicals are the emerging majority. Why urge division now after having survived so long in the desert?

Fourth, an intact United Methodism, however troubled, restrains many from falling even further away from orthodoxy, which is itself an act of grace. A schism likely will lump many professed moderates into the new liberal communion, where full throttle heterodoxy will rule. And even many conservatives will be stuck in their home congregations defaulting into the new liberal body. Many who land by choice or default in the new liberal body will never then be exposed to an orthodox Wesleyan message.

Fifth, United Methodism doesn’t have two clear wings, conservative and liberal, but a multiplicity of factions and perspectives. Many, perhaps most, have no firm appreciation of Wesleyan doctrine and polity. Denominational loyalties in America are imploding, and United Methodists certainly are no exception. Many United Methodists are functionally congregationalist. In a formal schism, likely many will search for ways to avoid both the new conservative and liberal denominations, in favor of self-rule. Once the structure is shattered, the pieces will not easily coalesce into clean new divisions.

Finally, there is the example of John Wesley, whose Church of England, to which he was ever devoted, was, like United Methodism, officially orthodox while functionally latitudinarian. Wesley saw Methodism as a force for renewal, not a source of schism. Every manifestation of institutional Christianity is deeply flawed, and every generation must contend for the faith inside the church in different ways. Yet God works His will through flawed instruments. Christ warned that the wheat and the tares are intermixed until His return, and He warned against a premature, disruptive attempt to segregate them.

United Methodism very likely will not officially embrace schism. But there is one sure way to provoke de facto schism. If General Conference were to in any way support so-called “compromise” to dilute, abrogate or localize the church’s teaching on marriage, many evangelicals would quit the denomination and create a new structure. Many and likely most Africans, among other internationals, would eventually follow. The remaining highly diminished United Methodism would then be a mostly U.S. liberal denomination whose decline would accelerate, similar to each of the other churches that formally abandoned orthodox teaching on marriage over recent years. The latest sad example is the spiraling Presbyterian Church (USA), which won’t exist in 20 years at its current rate of decline.

I don’t expect United Methodism to abandon its officially orthodox standards. And I don’t expect a major schism. Instead, I hope and think the emerging global orthodox majority within United Methodism will work to globalize our church’s structures and more fully recover our Wesleyan heritage in doctrine and polity. The path forward will be VERY rocky. We all wish it were easier and shorter. But God will be faithful if the orthodox are patient and persevere.

For over 25 years, since a very young man, I have worked for renewal within United Methodism. My dream has always been a collectively restored Methodism that proclaims scriptural holiness. No earthly church ever fully lives up to this ideal. But a revived, dynamic, soul-saving Wesleyan witness for our whole denomination remains my fervent dream and hope.


 
  • Trish Martin

    Most United Methodists today do not know anything about the church’s social policies, including the official stance on abortion (which is shameful). You summed up the whole problem: “Third, there is no person alive today who’s belonged to United Methodism when it was committed to theological orthodoxy. Our denomination’s seminaries went liberal 100 years ago or more, with the agencies and most bishops shortly following. For decades church elites rejected Christ’s virgin birth, bodily resurrection, unique deity and lordship, and the need for personal salvation.”

    • Mark Byron

      I can vouch for that; my parents are United Methodist and I had to show my mom the denominational statement on abortion for her to believe it.

    • http://InHisMarvelousGrace.Wordpress.com Aaron Rowe

      I have friends over at Asbury who have been Methodists all there life — even a couple who are planning on being ordained through the UMC — and they had no idea about the UMC’s position on Abortion. When I found out about that, my little tail hopped skipped and jumped over to the SBC.

  • Robert Fulton

    Good article Mark. I am an evangelical and I do not want schism. For all the reasons above. I wasn’t sure which way to go in all this and a couple of months ago I though perhaps one of the “way forwards” was a good idea. However I’ve changed my mind. I think we simply need to be patient and reinforce our current doctrine and social standards and work to train our academic evangelicals to take their place in our denominational colleges and seminaries and thus turn the denomination around from within.

  • Pastor Stephen Burkhart

    Thoughtful presentation. The polity is designed to be “officially” schism- resistant. The protocols for “discipline” within the Discipline are complicated and convoluted to the point of being dysfunctional. Combine these with run-amuck Episcopal leadership that is abdicating responsibility for upholding the Discipline under the pretense of “Unity at any cost”, and the Church will crumble under the weight of functional impotence. Functional schism is already underway. Every time a clergy chooses to break covenant, or a Bishop chooses to refuse to uphold covenant, a vote for functional schism has been registered. Many are waiting until 2016. It will take a Holy Spirit intervention to ” save what remains” but “with God all things are possible”.

    • CDGingrich

      I doubt maintaining the UMC is a goal of the Holy Spirit, pastor.

      • Pastor Stephen Burkhart

        I agree. I am convinced the Lord is not interested in saving any church, or the entire United Methodist Church. But the Lord is committed to saving the world. And if each church and each denomination pursues their part of that Holy Spirit mission, survival is not a concern.

  • Jim

    Strongly concur, Mark. This proposed schism will destroy the United Methodist Church. It will produce a civil war even bigger than that suffered by the Southern Baptists in the 1980s. Guaranteed.

  • The other Wesley

    Mark, I concur with most of what you’ve written here. However, I would add one caveat. You noted that schism is probable if the attempted compromise succeeds. I believe it will also be probable if the present Book of Discipline remains unenforceable. If clergy and bishops can not be held acceptable for flagrant disobedience to the order and Discipline of the Church, this denomination is toast, regardless of how distasteful schism might be.

  • Eagle_Rock_Tom

    Mark, for once I agree with you. You could even add that even if there were an amicable separation into two denominations, neither side would have enough economic support to maintain itself as we now do.

    Tom Griffith

    • Prentice Durwood Worley

      Just take a look at the five year old North American Anglican Church that slit away form the Episcopal Church. It is growing by leaps and bounds.

  • Walhei

    Get it over with. I will not give one dime to support Council on Church and Society and there Liberal/Communist, anti God agenda.
    God is polarizing the World into two groups, those who stand with God, uncompromising, and those who do not! He is separating the Wheat from the chaff and Goats from His Sheep.
    Many Denomination have already moved to God’s side. We should separate and be a good example to those who want to recommit themselves to God.

    • chrichas

      But you cannot deny, as Mark brings out, Christ’s teaching to allow the tares to remain alongside the good wheat, and allow God, at the time he deems proper, to have the final say.

      • Walhei

        Yes, I agree. But I think that polarization, or separation, is beginning now! There is a final cleansing, where God will say to many “I never knew you!” All will stand before God to receive reward or punishment. It looks like the separation is beginning now, for what ever reason. God is separating those who fearlessly stand up for God, for those who seek to Obey God.
        All through the Old Testament Israel was severely punished, over and over! Not for being unloving or unkind, but for not obeying God.
        We cannot use the Love God teaches us to condone sin, to encourage sin.
        I read, Sodom and Gomorrah was not destroyed for homosexuality, but because the people condoned homosexuality.

  • http://nottheperfectpastor.com Lynn Malone

    Thank you, Mark, for your thoughtful and reasoned editorial. I stand with you at this point.

  • Byrom

    I agree with you, Mark. One thing (among others!) that I regret is not staying with the UMC and fighting for renewal.

  • http://InHisMarvelousGrace.Wordpress.com Aaron Rowe

    Schism has already happened. When those in the communion are not being held to the standards they vowed to uphold and they are receiving support from leadership, that’s schism. It’s unavoidable… I have a great love for the UMC, though I’m not a part of it. Al Mohler, speaking of Rev. Maxie Dunham’s words regarding Schism writes:

    “When you have liberals in the denomination in outright rebellion against the discipline of the church, and the doctrine of the church clearly stated in its confessional materials, you don’t have the possibility of a schism, you don’t have the potential of schism, you have, as Maxie Dunnam rightly says, a schism. It has already happened. Now it’s a matter of whether or not the denomination is going to declare it to be so.”

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/06/13/the-briefing-06-13-14/

  • CDGingrich

    The alternative, I believe, is the one my wife and I took. We found a nice Wesleyan church.

  • Scott Spencer

    Does anyone else find it ironic that Tooley states the laity in churches don’t know what’s going on and how this will be such a problem… When he and the IRD have spent decades “educating” us about what is going on? How many fund-raising letters have received which also included a plea for us to share this information with others and to even end names and addresses of good UM church folk so the IRD could educate them? Did the IRD not just have to deal with the fact that they bought the mailing list of the former UM Reporter??? But now Tooley says we shouldn’t split as folks in the pews do not know what is really going on and this will create hardship? WOW.

    • Scott Spencer

      end=send

    • John S.

      I’ve never received a fundraising letter from the IRD. My awareness stems from reading not only IRD but official UMC documents. OTOH, most people in the pew are clueless. They go to church, volunteer, complain about or praise the pastor, and have no concept of what the denomination does (GBCS? irrelevant, if it really does exist) nor do they care for the most part unless it impacts their church. Mark is right, the default for most would be a form of independent congregationalism if they knew how to arrange such a thing. Many would love a Presbyterian model where the denomination trains the elders but the local church picks, keeps or fires according to their preference. Especially if they could control the apportionments as well.

  • Prentice Durwood Worley

    Mark, I want to thank you for the prayerful and tactful way you presented your views in this article. In fact, it may have changed my opinion about this matter. When I recently discovered how successful the division from the established Episcopal Church and formation of the North American Anglican Church has been, my thinking has been that the United Methodist Church should follow suit and do the same for the preservation and advancement of Methodism in the US and the world. However you present a could case to not divide; yet with all the “rocky road and struggles ahead” there isn’t much chance of advancement of Methodism in America. Thank God for our African sisters and brothers that believe God’s Word and are contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. – PD Worley, retired elder.

  • Prentice Durwood Worley

    Mark, I want to thank you for the prayerful and tactful way you presented your views in this article. In fact, it may have changed my opinion about this matter. When I recently discovered how successful the division from the established Episcopal Church and formation of the North American Anglican Church has been, my thinking has been that the United Methodist Church should follow suit and do the same for the preservation and advancement of Methodism in the US and the world. However you present a good case to not divide; yet with all the “rocky road and struggles ahead” there isn’t much chance of advancement of Methodism in America unless there is a separation. Thank God for our African sisters and brothers that believe God’s Word and are contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. – Submitted by PD Worley, retired elder Memphis Conference.

  • Mark McRoberts

    As a gay man who have suffered the pain of continuing to serve my UMC church even though I joined before it was the UMC but what I was baptized and confirmed into was the MEC. The pain I suffer from continueing in a church that my family helped build. My grandson is the 7th generation of participation in this church. IT IS NOT BIBLICAL TO SAY THAT LOVE THE SINNER AND HATE THE SIN AMOUNG OTHER FALSE TEACHINGS REGARDLESS THAT THEY ARE OROTHODOX OR NOT. SAYING TO ME THAT I CAN ONLY BE A PART OF THE CHURCH AS A SECOND CLASS MEMBER AND NOT ALL OF THE COVENTS ARE AVAILABLE. Since 1976 was the first time I was challenged by former UMC members who left because they could not be ordained. Yes, I have felt the call and I that strange warming in my heart. Just like my Maternal Great Grandfather who was an MEC pastor in MO & AR. But I was told in the 1980 by a pastor I was not eligible to be either a pastor nor was I allowed to be a lay minister. I’m not out to my home church but I think that most people know. But no matter what if in 2016 the church does not get rid of the hateful parts of the discipline then I will wage disruptive effort to make all kinds of members feel the uncomfortableness I have felt all of my adult life. AT THE PRESENT TIME THE UMC IS EVIL AND IS DOING HARM!!!!!!

    • http://InHisMarvelousGrace.Wordpress.com Aaron Rowe

      Mark, as a celibate gay Christian, I’m dismayed by your threats. Look at your life and tell me that there is nothing within you that knows the homoeroticism that you’re advocating is wrong. Tell me what you’re doing glorifies God or honors the Christ who died for you taking on the wrath of God for your sin. Tell me that there isn’t something inside of you that wants more from your partner(s) than he can supply. Tell me that when you roll over at night there isn’t an emptiness in your soul knowing that there’s something better. I promise you, God has better for you! God wants you to love and be loved by other men who will stir you up to good works, to being satisifed in God’s joy and His plan.

      There are two books I recommend for you if anything I’ve said has struck a chord.

      Washed and Waiting by Dr. Wesley Hill

      A Bigger World Yet: Faith, Brotherhood, and Same-Sex Needs by Tim Timmerman.

      If this has not struck a chord, then I admonish you by the word of God.

      “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” [Rom 16:17-20 ESV]

      “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. … They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. … I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. … If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” [1Jo 2:15-16, 19, 26, 29 ESV]

      “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [1Co 6:9-11 ESV]

      • chrichas

        Thank you for sharing about yourself, Aaron. I am a heterosexual follower of Jesus and have dreaded that day I must face a same gender-oriented person and represent the Jesus I know from scripture. You’ve helped to make that day, if or when it comes, a little easier for me.

        • http://InHisMarvelousGrace.Wordpress.com Aaron Rowe

          Holy affection, brotherly love, fatherly kindness, this is the way to reach out to men who experience SSA. If there’s ever anything I can do to answer questions or refer you to resources, let me know.
          Blessings,
          Aaron.

    • rabbigramp

      Your quarrel is not with the UMC, but with the Bible and with GOD. When you joined the MEC it did not allow practicing and openly homosexual people to be ordained. The church has not changed its stance; it just encoded it because of homosexual proponents trying to change it.

  • Citizen_Jerry

    While there may not be a major schism, results might be the same. Members who take their faith seriously will continue to walk away from a church that no longer takes seriously the faith once given.

  • Citizen_Jerry

    While there may not be a major schism, results might be the same. Members who take their faith seriously will continue to walk away from a church that no longer takes seriously the faith once given.

  • Zreet Vabulah

    Your comment “Every manifestation of institutional Christianity is deeply flawed, and every generation must contend for the faith inside the church in different ways. Yet God works His will through flawed instruments. Christ warned that the wheat and the tares are intermixed until His return, and He warned against a premature, disruptive attempt to segregate them.” really sums it up. After 5+ of digging into schism in general pretty heavily, that is the best answer I have found. We really are all just beggars at the table.

  • ray worsham

    Okay, Mark so how am I to best deal with a visiting pastor who said from the pulpit yesterday that “her god” would not have said that gnashing of teeth business in Mathew (13:50) and that 13:49 says at the judgment the angels of the Lord will invite the unrighteous into heaven and the only way they will not get in is by refusing to go.
    The main point of her sermon on the five kingdoms described in these parables is that we be nice to each other and that will create the kingdom here in our life and time.

  • Dale Shunk

    Thanks Mark for your clear presentation on the reasons why we should not seek formal schism. I agree with what you say having served as a delegate or alternate delegate to four General Conferences. I have been very encouraged by the global church bringing new life to our compromised US based church. God is doing something great around the world and I hope we can remain faithful to see our church renewed from within.

  • Kell Brigan

    “I don’t expect United Methodism to abandon its officially orthodox standards. And I don’t expect a major schism.” How would you prevent ongoing, disruptive violations of those standards, and the endless trials, and the endless expense without schism? Gay activism is overwhelmingly conducted using passive aggression and temper tantrums — expensive, exhausting, attention-draining, energy-draining, insulting, destructive temper tantrums…