Chad Holtz: The Progressive United Methodism’s Devolution of Love

on March 26, 2015

Rev. Chad Holtz is a United Methodist pastor in the Holston (eastern Tennesee) Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Here Chad responds to a sermon by the formerly defrocked United Methodist pastor, Frank Schaefer, in which the latter declared himself to be “A Christian Agnostic,” allowed that “it’s OK to believe in Jesus,” but asserted that “we’re all God’s beloved children” regardless of faith and further claimed: “Jesus taught us, and not only Jesus, but the Buddha taught us, Judaism is teaching us, Muslim theology teaches us that the way to God (or in the case of Buddhism: enlightenment) is by love, by practising love—by loving God and by loving our neighbor. That’s the way: Loving God and loving our neighbor is what true religion is about. Period.”

This post originally appeared on Chad’s blog, UMC Holiness.  Republished with permission. 


One of my favorite movies of all time is The Princess Bride.  Among many memorable scenes in that movie is the one which states what everyone else is thinking after multiple inappropriate uses of the word “inconceivable”: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya, the character who calls his partner on the carpet, would, I think, say the same thing to many of our fellow clergy in the United Methodist Church with regards to the word “love.”

My friend James-Michael Smith pointed me to a sermon by formerly defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer which, in my opinion, is an even greater offense than the offense for which he was originally defrocked.   In his message he talks about how we shouldn’t judge anyone at all, how everyone is a child of God no matter what they believe, and that our only responsibility is to love everyone.  One must wonder if there would ever have been a Christian martyr if everyone would have just been as tolerant and as nice as Schaefer and progressives like him claim we ought to be.  We are all OK, after all, preaches Mr. Schaefer, and therefore we should all just love each other.

Mr. Schaefer, you keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.

At least not in the way Scripture uses the word “love,” nor our Wesleyan heritage has understood the word “love.”   Love is not sentimentality (read: A Return to Gospel Love over Sentiment).  There is purpose and content to love, and that content is filled out for us remarkably well in the life of Jesus.

One of the ways in which Jesus loved people was by telling them the truth.   He came in “grace and truth,” (John 1:7), and we must be careful that we do not emphasize one side of that equation at the expense of the other (falling into “cheap grace” on one side and legalistic rigidity on the other).   One of the ways I see how Jesus loved people is in the story we read in Mark 10 of the rich man who came seeking eternal life.  Before Jesus demanded everything of him  – go and sell all your possessions – the gospel writer makes it clear that Jesus looked at the man and “loved him.”   Jesus did not say “you are OK as you are and everything will be alright.”  Love is costly and demanding.  It’s anything but the cheap sentimentality Mr. Schaefer and progressives like him are peddling in our churches.

I’ll never forget the time my parents showed me the greatest love.    When I was deep in addiction to self and to sex I was in desperate need of $300 in order to keep my utilities on in my apartment (I had been kicked out of the house due to multiple affairs).  I was sure my parents, who had the money, would help me in my time of need to prevent me from going homeless.   They took a day to talk it over amongst themselves and to pray.  I was shocked when the next day they denied my simple request.  For months I was enraged with them, blaming them for my subsequent homelessness and pitiful plight.  And yet, it was that desperation which ultimately led to my rebirth and reconciliation with my family.  I later learned that they had prayed hard about what to do and heard the Lord restrict them from helping me, their son.  It was the hardest love they ever had to show me but it proved to be the greatest and most healing love I have ever known.

This devolution of love is a natural consequence of the progressive belief that all are children of God no matter what they believe or how they live (as Scheafer states unequivocally in his sermon).   It’s a beautiful sentiment – if only it were biblical!   None other than Jesus himself makes it clear that not everyone is a child of God.  The better part of John 8 is reserved for Jesus’ harsh judgment upon the people who could rightly claim to be God’s children because of their father Abraham and their adherence to Moses’ Law.   These are not children of God, Jesus says, but children of the devil.   Only those who believe in Jesus are given the right to be called sons and daughters of God (see John 3).   To say that all are children of God by virtue of birth nullifies Jesus’ insistence that a person must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God.  New birth is the cornerstone and promise of the New Testament as well as a foundational doctrine for Wesley and Methodists ever since.  John Wesley has this to say about the new birth:

It is that great change which God works in the soul when he brings it into life; when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. It is the change wrought in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is “created anew in Christ Jesus;” when it is “renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness;” when the love of the world is changed into the love of God; pride into humility; passion into meekness; hatred, envy, malice, into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all mankind. In a word, it is that change whereby the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the “mind which was in Christ Jesus.” This is the nature of the new birth: “So is every one that is born of the Spirit.”


Paul says in Rom. 8:14 that only those who are led by the Spirit are children of God.  And Jesus said that those who obey his commands will remain in his love (John 15:10).  Those are some sobering qualifications!  It ought to cause everyone of us to pause and examine whether or not we are in the faith (as Scripture tells us to do).   And yet, progressives love to talk about love, and love to tell those who will listen that all is well.   Lord, in your mercy, keep them from hearing!

Every time I get up to preach I have an expectation that someone will be saved today.   I expect and believe that people’s lives will be forever changed, both here and in eternity, because the Holy Spirit is at work and is going to do some heart surgery.  New birth will, and must, happen.   The day I stop believing that is going to happen is the day I’ll defrock myself.   It’s my opinion that the problem facing our denomination at large today is not a fight over sexual ethics alone but a devolution of what it means to love God and our neighbor.  We have watered down both to such an extent that we do not offer meaningful life to sinners, nor a meaningful vocation to our pastors.

Whatever future lies ahead for the United Methodist Church I pray that it is one that embraces love in all its gospel fullness.  I pray it is one that speaks and lives both grace and truth.  The sort of rigorous love the gospel calls it’s disciples to embrace is one that is worth dying for, and requires one to lay their life down in order to comprehend.  No real disciples will ever be made when our greatest vision for the church is to be a place of tolerance where people of many faiths can sing songs together, enjoy a potluck and do some good deeds.   John Wesley charged his preachers with the task of saving souls.   This requires a love that looks a person in the eye and tells them the truth about their condition and the remedy found alone in the blood of Jesus the Christ.

  1. Comment by John S. on March 26, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Nicely put. To expand on the matyr example, why die for your faith when those who are executing you will be treated the same as you when they die? When Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Wesley will all be holding hands around the heavenly campfire singing Kumbya of what consequence are individual actions in this world?

  2. Comment by Lyndell Hetrick Holtz on March 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Excellent article Chad!! I think the most amazing thought to explore was spoken by Jesus in John 17:26 when He prayed to the Father that “the love with which You loved Me may be in them and I in them!” For a moment– think of the love the Father had for the Son! It was a love that called Jesus to die. A love from the Father that called His Son to a cross and Jesus prays that that kind of love would be in us!!! And the love that the Father had for those disciples that was in them as Jesus prayed it would be was certainly not a call to their Best Life Now but almost every one of them the way of the cross. Nothing warm and fuzzy nor sentimental about that!!!!

  3. Comment by Greg on March 26, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    These people do not believe in the Ten Commandments. They do not believe in the teachings of St Paul, or even Christ for that matter. Heck, they don’t even believe in Christ. They believe in the NYT, NPR, the DNC, and themselves – period.

  4. Comment by Robert McCullough on March 28, 2015 at 7:07 am

    “these people?” do you hear yourself?

  5. Comment by Greg on March 29, 2015 at 6:41 am

    I’m sorry. I should have said “those people.” It was foolish and insensitive of me. Thanks for the fraternal correction.

  6. Comment by Jason P Taggart on March 30, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Good response.

  7. Comment by Kyle on March 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    When did “these people” get added to the long long LONG List of Offensive Words? This is the typical dodge of progressives, instead of actually responding to the content from the other side, you seize on a word and phrase and act like your feelings are hurt. If you want to debate like an adult, respond to what Greg said, he’s absolutely right. The Bible means nothing to these churches.

  8. Comment by Guest on March 28, 2015 at 7:04 am

    This is sad. Putting down someone else in order lift up one’s own opinions. Sad indeed.

  9. Comment by Robert McCullough on March 28, 2015 at 7:05 am

    This is sad. Putting down someone else in order to lift up your own opinions. Sad indeed.

  10. Comment by John S. on March 30, 2015 at 7:20 am

    True, but Rev Schaefer is a past master of the art.

  11. Comment by Jason P Taggart on March 30, 2015 at 11:30 am

    That sums up the religious left. They call us “bigots” and “haters” just as often as atheists do.

  12. Comment by Byrom on March 28, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    When I call myself a Christian, it means something special. It means that I have surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and commit to follow His lead and teachings with the strength, wisdom, and courage that God supplies me. Through Jesus Christ, and Him alone, I am now a child of God. John 1:12-13 tells us – assuming we believe in Scripture: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” I cannot be a child of God through Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, or any other religion. Not only that, I can come to God and have eternal life only through Jesus Christ. We are to love God first and foremost, then love one another as fellow believers, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That love is possible only through the grace of God, and compels me to share the Good News of Jesus with an unbelieving neighbor. If I believe any other way, I am not a follower of Jesus Christ and should remove myself from a real Christian church. Face it, God’s love for us is tough love, and I have found that out from personal experience. I would not have it any other way. Vaya con Dios!

  13. Comment by MarcoPolo on March 30, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    So, being Jewish is a no-no?

  14. Comment by David N. on March 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Chad: I appreciate you point above regarding love, which is defined not by tolerance but by respect for God’s teaching (I John 4). However, more to the point, Mr. Schaefer’s statement above is one of the more judgmental that I have seen. We forget that being judgmental cuts both ways and we are forbidden from making
    judgments about personhood either way, only about actions. We seem to think that making fundamentally positive judgments about personhood is permitted, that only fundamentally negative judgments are ruled out, but that simply is not true for authentic believers.

  15. Comment by MarcoPolo on March 30, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Everybody knows there is a ‘cover charge’ to enter (the Christian) Heaven.
    Rev. Schaefer is simply stating what would be Universal (agape) Love.
    Whether you’re a Buddhist or a Christian, GOD is universal, and not an exclusive entity of the Christian faith.

  16. Comment by 0pus35 on March 30, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    We’re supposed to take your word on what God is like, and toss out the Bible?

    Nope, not gonna happen.

  17. Comment by MarcoPolo on March 30, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    No! You can believe anything you want to believe. I’m not out to “preach” as that’s not my intention.

    It’s just my opinion that God is universal to all religions.
    It seems that irritates some religious folks, as they seek to require a submission of penance or a confession of sins to be a member in good standing.

    To a Buddhist, he or she only needs to realize that Nirvana is more like self-actualization. No begging for forgiveness, no intermediary connections to God like Jesus. Just being!

    If the Bible serves your needs, then that’s fantastic!
    I can be happy for you…and I am!

  18. Comment by Jason P Taggart on March 30, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Sadly, too many churchgoers (including evangelicals) are biblically illiterate. As the article points out, not all human beings are children of God, we have to be “adopted” into God’s family. “We’re all God’s children” is a statement of our culture’s shapeless, insubstantial religion, but not a Christian belief. “Unconditional love” is also not a Christian teaching. Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commandments,” and that is one big “if” there. If that isn’t “conditional,” what is?

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