Joining a New Denomination….2.0

A few months ago, I wrote a Monday Memo entitled “If I was thinking about joining a new denomination” (February 7, 2021). It focused on questions a pastor and local church might ask before leaving the United Methodist Church for a new traditionalist branch of the Methodist family tree. Now that we know more about that planned denomination, I have another set of questions…a 2.0 version.

  1. What does it mean to be the “Global Methodist Church”?

That’s the chosen name for the new church. Even though we use the term global in the current United Methodist Church, it would be more honest to say we are multi-national, since the UMC General Conference only includes the USA, the Philippines, parts of Europe and about seven countries of Africa. What about the British, Cuban, Brazilian and Costa Rican Methodists, let alone the Free Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene and AME denominations? The truly global Methodist movement is represented by the World Methodist Council which includes over 100 Methodist bodies. Claiming the name “Global” for a denomination which will only be a spin-off of the current UMC seems a bit presumptuous.

2. What is the underlying motivation for this new church?

At a recent Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of my Alma mater Asbury Seminary, said, “You can’t found a new denomination on anger, resentment and triumphalism.” But hasn’t that been part of this movement for the past 40 years? They are sincerely trying to focus on evangelism and mission as their driving force, but the origins are still rooted in anger directed at the UMC and their attacks on the Bishops go on unabated. The theme of triumphalism runs through Dr. Tennent’s statements lifting up the GMC as the last great hope for Methodism in the world. A movement can outgrow its origins, but you can’t deny them.

3. Isn’t it still about homosexuality?

I acknowledge that behind the questions about same sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy there are substantial questions about how we understand the Biblical mandates. But the same argument was made against racial integration and the ordination of women. And in fact, St. Paul was much more outspoken in support of slavery and women keeping quiet in church than anything related to homosexuality. Understanding the Bible is always a matter of interpretation and in Methodism we affirm the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”: Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, reason and experience. That process has led us to reinterpret the scriptural mandates about slavery and women’s ordination, and the same should apply today.

3. What about the Order of Deacon?

The proposal for ordination in the new denomination would return to the traditional pattern of all clergy being ordained Deacon, then some going on to become Elders. 25 years ago I was deeply involved in the debates which lead to the creation of a separate Order of Deacons and in all honesty, for a time I argued for maintaining that historic tradition. But having been part of the implementation of our current orders, I would greatly regret a return to a pattern which would effectively end the Order of Deacon as a distinct order of ministry.

4. Is it time for another church schism?

I realize church schisms have happened before. Methodists split over slavery in the 1800’s, the Church of England was born out of a fight over King Henry’s wives and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox branches of the church separated in 1054 over one fine point of theological hair splitting. But in this time of incredible division when the church needs to be a voice for unity, to split over one social issue seems tragic. Though it is clear we are headed for schism, I still regret it. Inevitable as it may be, it represents our inability to, in the words of John Wesley, “think and let think” and undermines our witness in a divided world.

My vision for the church is still reflected in E. Stanley Jones’ motto for his Ashram: “Here we enter a fellowship. Sometimes we will agree to differ. Always we will commit to love and unite to serve.”

16 thoughts on “Joining a New Denomination….2.0

  1. George Morris

    Jack, I appreciate your thoughts. You give voice to mine!! I do not have the sense that the denomination is giving full effort to saving itself.
    George Morris

    Reply
  2. Laura Edenfield

    Today the South Georgia Conference begins it’s annual meeting and the word is the entire conference will vote to join the Global Methodist Church. Delegates with strong opinions will make this call although most congregations have no understanding of what it is all about. They will be told it is to get out from under the “oppressive appropriations and be able to control their money.” Will be watching the conference on line, without a voice.

    Reply
  3. Don Saliers

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections ( as usual), Jack. I share your deep regret but now realize that a number of UMCs have uncritically given in to our current American political/cultural ethos—blame and complaint. I wonder if, 50 years from now, we will see a resurgence of pan-Methodist energies.

    Reply
  4. Chuck Sonquist

    I wish we could all be of the same persuasion as E. Stanley Jones. It much more adequately follows the Wesleyan Quadrilateral than the schismatic approach that we are contending with now. He, and Wesley, were way ahead of their time. Again, thanks for your blog.

    Reply
  5. Edna Romano

    I am so saddened this night that we the children of a loving God cannot agree to disagree and move forward as one body dedicated to loving as Christ loved!

    Reply
  6. revricksitton

    Hi Jack,

    I am also a fellow Asbury alumni and took a course during seminary on the writings and theology of E. Stanley Jones. I have a collection of his books. I am disappointed, to say the least, that the reference to E. Stanley Jones implies lack of love for one another because the conservatives want to preserve the faith and biblical teachings passed down throughout history. I don’t what is more shocking, to call the split in 1054 “hair splitting” or to mischaracterize Wesley’s “think and let think” maxim. Wesley would not abide “thinking” outside Scriptural truths that would lead to unholiness. The debate isn’t only about biblical sexual boundaries but goes to the very heart of scriptural authority. The quadrilateral has been twisted way beyond what Dr. Outler intended and he admitted so later in life. The church that will not stand for both personal and social holiness is no longer worthy of Wesley’s name and the UMC today has bowed to the gods of culture who dictate acceptance of all sexual activity involving adults. This is not bibilical. It’s not historial. It’s not traditional. It’s not experiential and it’s not scriptural. Why then should light have anything to do with darkness. Jude is not the most popular book in the New Testament because no one likes to read a warning and clear denunciation of aberration. Yet, we should heed Jude as well as the whole of Scripture as Wesley taught. The echo chamber responses you received simply show it’s time to split.
    Rick Sitton
    Asbury Class of ’87

    Reply
    1. pm360life

      Thank you, Rick. You said what I was thinking – but with more grace and eloquence.

      (P.S. We must’ve been at Asbury at the same time, but then I was in the Free Methodist Church; joined the UMC in ’92.)

      Mike McInnis
      Asbury Class of ’89

      Reply
  7. popsichel

    “Understanding the Bible is always a matter of interpretation and in Methodism we affirm the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”: Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, reason and experience. That process has led us to reinterpret the scriptural mandates about slavery and women’s ordination, and the same should apply today.”

    This quote could not be more untrue. The ordination of women began in the Holiness, evangelical Wesleyan streams long before the Quadrilateral was even heard of. In fact, it really had nothing at all to do with anything that the current movement toward LGBTQ affirmation is doing, It would be nice if you actually did the hard work of backing up your statements instead of simply regurgitating talking points. I would have expected better from an Asbury grad.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: UM Fallout: A Compendium – People Need Jesus

  9. Mark A. Rains

    Jack: With all due respect, your quote from Wesley is lacking. The direct quote begins with an infinitival clause: “To those things which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we live and let think.” All of us have sinned [or sin at times] and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm. 6:23). However, in God’s great mercy and grace all can be forgiven and, therefore, all are welcome to come and Worship together, but that’s not the issue here. The morass in which the UMC finds itself today has to do with bishops and clergy who have violated their sacramental vows. Chargeable offences are clearly outlined in the first part of ¶ 2702 in The Book of Discipline. Consequently, some individuals are not only violating their vows with impunity, but they’re being disobedient to the Word of God: Paul asserts, “Stand firm and hold to the teachings [or traditions] we passed on to you whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Th. 2:15). Remember, that Paul had previously taught in his first letter about the need for sexual purity (1 Th. 4:3-8). For, “it is God’s will that [we] should be holy; that we should avoid sexual immorality; that each of [us] should learn to control [our] own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the [Gentiles, the majority of those in Thessalonica], who do not know God” (1 Th. 4:3-5) . . . Robert L. Thomas concludes, “such reprehensible behavior is a consequence of their refusal to respond to God’s revelation of Himself (Rom. 1:18-32).” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, F. E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed., vol. 11, I Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 271. Does the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, therefore, who then, marry similar couples who are also living in the dominion of sin as a way of life (Rom. 6:11-13), “strike at the root of Christianity?”

    Respectfully submitted,

    Rev. Mark A. Rains, PhD, BCPC
    Professor of Pastoral Theology Haggard School of Ministry (Fully Accredited)
    Superannuated Elder: The Evangelical Methodist Church

    Reply

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