aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Upping the ante

The Statement of Grace and Hope offered for signature by some Asbury Theological Seminary alumni (a mere smattering of the whole) in support of the One Church plan (a.k.a. "the Local Option") is the usual kind of slippery prose offered by those who are claiming a controversial position (at least, for Asbury grads) but who don't wish to seem to be doing so. I don't see it having much effect in our denominational brouhaha, one way or another. However, there is one line in the statement which grabbed my attention. It says,
As ministers of the Gospel, our desire is to participate in this supernatural move of grace, co-creating with the Holy Spirit spaces and places in the UMC where the fullness of the Way of Salvation can be realized in the lives of whomever God sends to us.
Now, at first glance, that looks like the usual weaselly boilerplate that theologians use when they want to make radical stances look bland and unifying. But consider the context. Those of us who favor biblical standards of morality (which includes the vast majority of ATS grads, I'm sure) distance ourselves from the progressives who are willing to say that the Bible is out of date, or even positively oppressive. We say that our hearts are held captive to the word of God, and that we cannot give in to those who would change our moral values, because we are not at liberty to do so. The holiness code of the Old Testament was not abolished when the ceremonial law was lifted from the new Gentile converts in the early days of the Church. The definition of good and evil has not changed, because God has not changed. God's plan for sex and marriage has not changed. And some of us have said things like, "When, exactly, was this new dispensation of grace announced? What signs from heaven accompanied it? What form did apostolic authority take to promulgate it? Yes, all foods were declared clean -- by Jesus himself -- and announced so by Peter. We have the record of that. Yes, the Gentiles were freed from the burdens of maintaining the ceremonial law at the Council of Jerusalem. We have the record of that. But when did God announce that he had changed his mind about sexual behavior?"

Well, here's the announcement, right here. What else does "this supernatural move of grace" mean? This document says that the Holy Spirit is creating -- that God is acting, right now -- to make "spaces and places in the UMC where the fullness of the Way of Salvation can be realized . . ." This is an apostolic claim by those who are signing it. This is their testimony that they have received a new revelation from God.

The sign of sectarian and cultish movements of all sorts is the claiming of extra-biblical, especially post-biblical revelation. These ATS grads have just announced they have received such a revelation. (Or, at least, that they believe such a new revelation has been given.) This is why we on the orthodox/traditional side keep saying that the controversies in The UMC aren't, ultimately, over morals, but over the authority of Scripture and the nature of revelation. Either Jesus is the final word from God, or he isn't. Take your pick.

And yes, I know -- better than most -- that the cramped, rule-mongering form evangelicalism has often assumed is not "the Gospel" and the evangelical subculture is not the Kingdom of God. The grace of God is much wider than that, and far more loving. But either the revelation we have received is final, or it isn't. Yes, new truth is articulated now and again, but new truth must always be built upon existing truth; to sweep away existing truth and replace it with something else is not an accommodation, but a claim equal to that of anything witnessed to and enacted in the New Testament. The signers of this document have claimed a new order of things, and they have cited the Spirit of God is its author. This makes them either apostles or heretics, not merely those offering a different take on matters of psychology or ethics.

Those are the stakes being played for in the run-up to General Conference '19.

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