February 17, 2011

And So It Begins: The Next Round in the United Methodist Battle for the Bible

The 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church is still over a year away, but the controversy that we all knew would precede it has already begun. No surprise that the big point of contention is the Church's current stand on homosexuality.

On January 31, thirty-three retired United Methodist bishops released a statement calling for 2012 General Conference to remove the paragraph from The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church that states that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" (para. 304.3).

Other bishops, both active and retired, have spoken publicly in favor of the call while others have opposed it. Not surprisingly, many have not taken a side on the issue. Some are concerned about the divisive nature of the decision on the part of these retired bishops. Criticism of these retired bishops has shown up from pastors and others. Just this morning, the Renewal and Reform Coalition has called the Council of Bishops to defend the doctrine of United Methodist Church and to hold each other accountable for the defense of our doctrine. There will undoubtedly be other statements from both sides of the controversy as we move ever closer to General Conference.

But what is at stake in this controversy? What is the real issue underlying this debate? In reality, this battle is not so much about sexuality as it is about the authority of the Bible. Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with a faithful Christian lifestyle. To this point, the United Methodist Church has remained faithful to the teaching of scripture and to the historic teaching of the universal Christian Church. There are, however, those within our denomination, including these retired bishops, who would cast off the authority of scripture in favor of the authority of their own personal agenda and experiential preference. More than a debate about human sexuality, this is a question over whether the United Methodist Church will remain under the authority of our God mediated through the scriptures or fall to the idolatry of worshipping a god made in the image of our own sinful inclinations. There will be attempts to distract us from the real issue. It will thus be key that we keep the clear teaching of scripture at the forefront. The United Methodist Church is engaged in nothing less than our own battle for the Bible. My prayer is that, at the end of the day, we will be found faithful.

10 comments:

Bob Brooke said...

Well said, pastor. As our good friend, Robert Gagnon, has made clear: It's not about us. It's about God. We have lost our way because we have converted the theocentric posture of Scripture into an anthropocentric one. There may still be hope for the prevalence of the truth in our denomination if we choose to couch eveything in terms of God's righteousness instead of our own filthy rags.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for reading the post and thanks for your comment. I too hold out hope for renewal in the UMC, but it will certainly only come with a theocentric focus on scripture.

Matt

Brian Small said...

There seems to be no end to this debate. The UMC has lost members continuously for 30 years and we are rehashing this old debate.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks, Brian. And the ones leaving are usually those unhappy with things like the call from these thirty-three bishops. One would think we would put two and two together.

Matt

alice said...

I am dismayed over these bishops actions. Where were they when they were leading our conferences? It reminds me of a pastor who had two retired pastors in his charge, who had also been pastors of this same church, who continually criticized his ministry. They were responsible for undermining his ministry and causing him to leave. How many people, I wonder, will leave our church because of these retired bishops? Their job as retired bishops ought to be to cheer us on rather than leading us down a path that will ultimately lead do schism.

preacherdb said...

Dan Bowman

Haven't we reached the point where these kind of statements by an authoritative group need to be addressed and disciplined? Doesn't the Council of Bishops and the General Conference have to address this?

Chuck Thomas said...

Good article. Could not agree with you more, with regard to the necessity of maintaining faithfulness to scripture on the matter human sexuality.

That said, the UMC already finds itself on the slippery slope of compromising the clear and plain teaching of the Word of God. Case in point is the UMC current policy with respect to the the role of women in the pastorate. If one embraces the clear teaching of the Bible, it is hard to see where there is permission given to ordain and install women into positions with the ulitmate teaching authority within the church, as is the case with women senior pastors.

The kind of parsing of the Word of God that could lead one to assume that a woman should fill the role of senior pastor of a church is the same hermeneutical species that gives way to condoning the sinfulness of unnatural human sexual relationships.

PastorSteve said...

Well said...the low view of truth and scripture that the progressive and liberal folks have undermines the foundation stone for anything that we might have in common so in fact their calls for unity as an ultimate value has little meaning because just like a cult they have changed the definitions and moved into serious error. Thier error is not the minor error or disagreement that Wesley said should and could be overlooked between brothers and sisters in Christ. Their error is the error of Balaam and is a show stopper. Dialogue can and should stop as in I Corinthians chapter 5 when Bishops, elders and other spiritual leaders disreghard the Word of God or water it down.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Dan,

Unfortunately, there is really no accountability for retired bishops. I suppose General Conference could establish some stronger accountability, if is so desired. Thanks for your comment.

pastor said...

Pastor,
I applaud your comments on the issue underlying the homosexuality debate. I am thoroughly convinced that this issue needs to be settled once and for all. I am concerned as a pastor that more people will join the exodus because of the constant 4 year battle. It truly is a battle over scriptural authority, and I appreciate your candor on this issue.

Should the homosexual view prevail, I believe the demise of the United Methodist Church will be sealed.