January 9th, 2020

how long

Where our division comes from

I was reading an article that said that the essential problem with our denomination's disunity came from the attempt to merge the Methodist Church with the EUB Church in 1968. I think that is too simplistic. Our disunity was already manifested in both denominations before the merger.

Chuck Keysor's seminal article on Methodism's Silent Majority -- the piece that eventually spawned Good News -- predates the merger. Already within the Methodist Church, you had a situation where progressive elites (we called them liberals back then) were mostly in charge while the traditionalists (we mostly called them evangelicals) were treated as backwards pew perchers. Modernism had long taken over most clergy education.

Meanwhile, in the EUB Church, there was probably even a greater proportion of evangelicals, but the top leadership was committed to being a mainline church. And it was caught up in the ecumenical fervor of the day, exemplified by the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), a ten-denomination consortium trying to figure out how to finesse their differences and become one big org to better witness to unity in Christ. After the merger that created The UMC, there were only nine denominations in COCU. And that was as far as it ever got. It fretted and wrassled for another twenty years before finally expiring in frustration.

Merging our two churches ran up against our Restrictive Rules, however. We couldn't write a new statement of faith without seeking 75% approval from ALL the clergy and lay members of Annual Conferences worldwide. The solution was to declare that the Methodist Articles of Religion and the EUB Confession of Faith were basically equivalent, and therefore equally valid and accepted as doctrinal standards. The obvious tensions between the two brought up other tensions which eventually led to the notorious 1972 official endorsement of pluralism. And with that, our essential problem of different theological commitments could only grow. It picked up the sexuality issue as it rolled along, and here we are.

The answer to this is that we who are responsible for guarding and teaching the faith need to be unified in our commitments and understanding. There is room for personal emphasis, even for private misgivings on certain things. But the central tradition must be affirmed. And that central tradition cannot be reduced to a checklist of shibboleths. Mere correct formulation (i.e., repeating the right slogans) is not "the faith once delivered to the saints." What is required is a community of faith that is in constant communication on the essentials of the faith, where all of us are constantly discovering and re-affirming those essentials. It takes solid clergy education, and it takes solid peer review in the credentialing process. We have to reach a point where we are willing to say, "We love you, but we won't ordain you (at least, not yet)."

Charles Williams said that the problem with evangelizing the world is that you have to start over every thirty years or so. Teaching the faith is a constant process, and not just to the laity.