Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"the very liberal United Methodist Church"?

Yesterday I discovered that I had been quoted at the Apprising Ministries webpage. They referenced a post I had written about Rob Bell. I was glad to have my voice included in the conversation. What struck me though was the way I was introduced. Here's what it said,
Let's consider this bit of testimony from pastor Jason Woolever, who along with Emergent theologian Leonard Sweet, happens to be with the very liberal United Methodist Church.
With all due respect to Apprising Ministries, this is a great example of a couple of things:
1) How The United Methodist Church is misperceived by those on the outside
2) How Christians are too quick to label other Christians as "lesser" without getting all the facts

First, let's consider how anyone would consider The United Methodist Church very liberal. The only legitimate reason they could possibly have from my point of view is the bad press that we have received over the debates concerning homosexuality. What outsiders fail to realize is that the pro-homosexuality Methodists are in the minority. This is why we continually reaffirm our historic stance that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Sure there are dissenters. But they are not the majority. And they have not effectively changed policy.

The only other reasons I could see why we are considered very liberal would be our acceptance of:
1) Infant baptism
2) Women in ministry
3) Inclusive language Bible translations
4) Non-autonomous local churches

As far as infant baptism goes, if folks don't support this practice, they should take it up with people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, J.I.Packer, R.C.Sproul, John Ortberg, none of whom could be considered very liberal.

If folks don't support women in ministry, they could take it up with Bill Hybels, Jack Hayford (member of the Foursquare Pentecostal denomination, founded by Aimie Semple McPherson), or any number of Pentecostals or evangelicals.

If folks call anyone who uses inclusive language Bible translations liberal, they could take that up with Ted Haggard, Erwin McManus, John Stott, Stuart Briscoe, or any number of other evangelicals listed at the TNIV website as endorsers.

If folks think autonomous local churches are a sign of orthodoxy, they should consider that democracy is an American ideal, not a biblical one by any means. What's autonomous about Paul's instructions to Titus (1:5), "I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." What part of "you should appoint elders as I directed you" sounds autonomous? It's 100% top down.

The second thing that this introduction of me emphasized was how Christians are too quick to label other Christians as "lesser" without getting all the facts. As a solid orthodox evangelical, I am so confused when all mainline churches get lumped into the apostate church category. How are sweeping generalizations biblical? What part of our Confession of Faith is in any way liberal?

My plea is for all of us to quit adding anything to the gospel which causes us to judge or separate from one another. Sure, if someone denies the tenets of faith as spelled out in Apostle's Creed, he's a heretic. But it doesn't mean that everyone who grew up in the same block as him is a heretic!

Click here for a sneak preview of The Rapture. Thanks to John the Methodist for the link.

31 comments:

Mark Winter said...

Great post, Jason. Earlier this year I had a ministry booking in a non-Methodist setting. A few of the preachers grilled me about the UM Church, clearly tainted by all the negative press we've been receiving lately. I am going to print this blog and keep it handy for "the next time."

Jason Woolever said...

Our press is often around our controversy. For some reason, the good news doesn't sell papers!

Mike the very liberal!!!! hahaha said...

Gee Jason. If you're a liberal, there ain't NO hope for me!!!!

CSDL said...

I don't mean to be confrontational, but why are you so concerned with painting the UMC as conservative? Personally, I'm more bothered by the fact that they chose to label the UMC church at all, not really what label they chose. I’d be offended if they called it the very conservative UMC too (ok, so I’d probably more offended by that then the liberal label, but that’s beside the point), Anyway, its unfortunate that you choose to "reverse" the label and say "no, the UMC is in fact more conservative." In doing this, you are doing the same thing that the article did that made you mad in the first place. You probably would be better served to express the fact that the UMC is a very diverse community, a place where people of all theological and political leanings and worship and further the Kingdom of God together.

Jason Woolever said...

cdsl,
There's no possible way one could call the UMC very conservative. According to our doctrinal standards, we are very historically orthodox, and very evangelical. You must remember that our doctrinal standards include the sermons of John Wesley, which make free mention of the substitionary atonement of Christ and the reality of eternal condemnation for the unrepentant.
I could say that there are a number of pastors who professed to be in agreement with our doctrines at their ordination and to teach them, but who took the vow loosely, or blatantly lying. But, there is no way unless people are lying in their ordination vows that an unorthodox nonevangelical could become a United Methodist Pastor.

Jason Woolever said...

sorry, i meant csdl

Jason Woolever said...

by the way, mike, if you were the most liberal methodist we had, we would be in great shape!

Nick Draper said...

I really appreciate this post, as it comes at a good time within my ministry as a Christian.

A couple questions, because I haven't been studying Scripture and church history seriously for all that long.

What exactly does "historically orthodox" mean? There are a lot of groups claiming authority over Christians, and their doctrines don't all agree on all points. Even the Reformers disagreed on major points of doctrine. And all of them strongly disagreed with the historical orthodoxy of the Catholic Church.

And what does "evangelical" mean? Especially in today's world (since the advent of "liberal evangelicals"), evangelical doesn't seem to have much connection at all with euangelion.

I'm not trying to attack any position - I just want your opinion on what an orthodox, evangelical position is and why it is so important to affirm.

Thanks Jason!

Jason Woolever said...

Hey Nick,
I would say historic orthodoxy would be the faith as outlined in the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.

Ted Haggard, the President of the National Evangelical Association defines evangelical as someone who believes in these three things:
1) Jesus is the Son of God
2) The Bible is the Word of God
3) You must be born again

My definition, while not formally worked out, wouldn't be exactly the same. I would refer to a passage such as I Corinthians 15:1-6, where Paul describes his gospel,
"Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures."

Wesley placed a big importance on the concept of "Repent and believe in the Good News." To me, evangelicals are those who agree with this basic euangelion, and understand it needs to be offered to others that they might be born again through faith in Christ.

Sorry that's not more fleshed out.

Anonymous said...

Jason,

Great post. I know you and your ministry stand for Christ.

When the non-Christian media says, "lets you interview a United Methodist", do they seek out someone like Thomas Oden or do they seek someone like Bishop Spraque?

In much of the literature I have read, the United Methodist Church and some of its agencies indentify it with the liberal Protestant movement with its core doctrines of inclusion for all and the Social Gospel. Critics of the UMC point out that the Judicial Council chooses not to enforce doctrinal standards, they will leave that to the general conference.

I do believe that John Wesley's " pratical theology" is at the core of Christian Orthodoxy. That combined with his high view of Scripture and response to the Great Commission. "Nothing to do but save souls" makes John Wesley endeared to Methodists and non-Methodists. Baptists acknowledge Welsey as one of the greatest evangelists ever. Unfortunately, the UMC seems to have a new definition of evangelism (which I am struggling with). Some in the UMC felt so strongly, they felt the need for a separate mission society.

The UMC is quite the proponent of Christian unity within other denominations. But could we survive as a single church the battle that rages within the church of our Espiscopalian brothers?

I've stepped off my soap box.

John Flores
Friso, Texas

Mike Rayson said...

core doctrines of inclusion for all and the Social Gospel....

Since when should these things be the domain of liberal protestantism John?? Firstly, inclusion for all is a hallmark of our faith. We ARE included in the dance - the perichoresis - of God. If we were not included, then its to say God does not exist.

Now I seperate the ideas of salvation and inclusion... We are saved by grace into the relationship shared between the Father and the Son. We can be included in the presence of God without being saved into relationship with God. Its the latter we should be preaching with fervour!! If I had more time, I'd grab a white board and explain what I mean! (I have taught this concept in churches and seminaries all over the world).

And the social gospel - if we are not about the 'social gospel' then we are not about the whole gospel. We are mandated, required, urged (add your own adjective here) to care for the widow and the orphans. And caring for them does not mean hitting them over the head with a big black bible.

We MUST be about the social business of God's justice. Social Justice is one of the most important things a church does. It is not enough to preach the word in our churches - as L.Sweet would say - Jesus said Go into all the world, not come into all the church.

Yes - we need to preach a historical orthodox faith - but if that faith does not inspire us to issue of justice and equality, then its a dead gospel.

Just my inflammatory 2c worth!! :-D

Anonymous said...

Mike,

You wrote:
core doctrines of inclusion for all and the Social Gospel....

Please show these doctrines in the defined doctrinal standards as earlier defined by Jason and John Wesley.


You wrote:
We can be included in the presence of God without being saved into relationship with God.
(I'm sorry. I do not understand what you mean. You may send me a private email if it is lengthy.)

The Book of James and the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus meet the criteria you are setting for the Social Gospel. I agree wholeheartly. My issue is preaching the Social Gospel at the expense or without preaching the Gospel of repentance, the forgiveness of sins, Christian conversion as a new creation, and the salvation of the souls of mankind.

Justice and equality? Those are ideas of men. True justice will come with the Second Coming of our Lord.

I am not a good example of turning the other cheek, giving up my coat and wallet if a thief should want them, and if the Lord wills I hope that I would have the faith to be persecuted and even die for for our Lord. But this is what the Lord commands.

I agree that a "faith without works is dead". I'm not so sure that a faith without justice and equality is dead. Somehow the servanthood for the glory of Jesus is muddled in my opinion.

Just my opinions. Thank you for yours.

John Flores
Frisco, Texas
johnlflores@verizon.net

Ken Silva said...

Hello Jason,

Well, at least all this spawned some lively "conversation" about these issues. This we're told is a good thing, right.

The Lord be with you my brother, and if I don't see you before; I'll see you when we get There. :-)

Jason Woolever said...

for sure ken

Anonymous said...

Rev. Woolever:

Your dismissive tone in that only an outsider would consider the UMC as liberal is not only laughable, but quite myopic. As a United Methodist, I find it quite easy to see why others as well as members to see the UMC as very liberal.
Just because our Social Principles state that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" does not mean that pro homosexuality Methodists are in the minority. More and more US UMC churches have been behind efforts to further water down, if not change this whereas other UMC countries (in Africa and Asia) have strongly resisted such changes. As long as you have Bishop's such as Ann Sherer giving approval to local churches action to circumvent the guidelines of UMC law the UMC will well deserve the very liberal tag.

The UMC and it's membership with the National Council of Churches and it's relationship with MoveOn.org just might give outsiders and insiders alike an impression of a very liberal church.

I believe it was the late Congressman Thomas "Tip" O'Neill that stated "all politics is local". Members of UMC will gladly tell you of their liberal leanings. Feel free to read some of the samplings from fellow Methodist Bloggers. Granted, not a scientific sample but it should give you a clue that insiders also hold the view that the UMC is a liberal denomination.
Heck why should we worry about sin or repentence? We want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable. Open mindedness, tolerance, and diversity appear to be the new trinity among United Methodist. I still favor Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. United Methodist as evangelicals? From my experience, UMCers would prefer planning a potluck dinner instead of a Bible study and sharing the Word. Again, all politics is local!

Respectfully,
Dark Gable

Jason Woolever said...

Dark Gable,
My understanding is that we are an orthodox evangelical denomination that has been infiltrated by Satan, through good-intentioned, nevertheless dishonest and unfaithful liberal. I don't doubt the intentions of my liberal colleagues, I just doubt the appropriateness of their presence and propoganda in a movement that was blatantly, unapologetically evangelical. And the liberals know that it was! And they know that our founder would not approve of liberalism, yet they dishonestly vow to teach the United Methodist doctrine found in Wesley's sermons and our Confession of Faith, and bring judgment on themselves.

Are we a very liberal denomination? Not by design. Are there many a liberal heretic "prospering" their agenda? Sure.

Anonymous said...

Why is the UMC considered a liberal denomination? You've missed all the key points except the one that gets the publicity, homosexual issues. And some of the points you made have nothing to do with liberalism. There is a good post at: Progressive Christianity And the United Methodist Church. The issues include:

- The defining issue is that of the unchangeability of scripture. From Genesis 1:1 through Revelation scripture has been unchanging. Many in the UMC believe that scripture changes based on our current culture. That is the definition of liberalism.

- The support for the murder of people for convenience sake (abortion).

- Ordaining women as pastors.

- Inclusiveness to the point of violating scripture. The referenced blog post talks about a UMC pastor who invited ALL to come to the communion table, a clear and direct violation of scripture.

What I find interesting is that the articles I'm referring you to don't mention the issue you brought up as the big issue, homosexuality.

Anonymous said...

Your argument apparently was supposed to be a rebuttal to those who would describe the Methodist church as liberal. However, it seemed to support the stance perfectly. It describes the liberal policies of the church but takes exception to being referred to as 'liberal'. A rose by any other name is still a rose. The Good Book specifically teaches against some of the practices of the Methodist church. The vote that maintained the current policy of the church in regard to homosexuality, the one you used as an example of conservatism, passed by 501-417. A whopping 45% of CHURCH DELEGATES voted to compromise the word of the Almighty! That's a shame!
On a personal note, my experience with Methodists, some friends, to a degree, is that they are completely oblivious to repentence and truly believe that once they are saved, they can live any way they wish, including excessive drinking and drunkeness, lying and cheating on their spouses, shacking up, and swinger parties. The congregation, including the "pastor", attend parties at local bars that include not only drunkeness, but lap dances! Not just 2 or 3 members, but closer to 1/2 the congregation, that I've seen. Alcoholic elders. Hungover Sunday school teachers. None of this helps their witness in the least. Not that they really do much witnessing. I've lived near this particular church for near 20 years and have never had my door knocked on. And of all the people I know that attend the Methodist church, this one or any other, only one person regularly mentions Jesus Christ. Mostly when drunk.
No, I don't mean to pick on this church, or any Methodist church. I have friends there. But of all the religions, of all the churches, of all the congregations, of all the God-fearing people I've ever known, this is far & above the most liberal. L-I-B-E-R-A-L.
(Please delete this after it has been read. I don't really want to be any part of the reason that someone doesn't seek salvation.)

Anonymous said...

Here's why I consider the UMC "liberal". Because in my home town theres a Methodist minister teaching pre-schoolers that being gay is not a sin. That is not an isolated incident. That's the trend in the UMC.
Also, the UMC is an affiliate of the Religious Council of Reproductive Rights, a vile and despicable abortion advocacy group. The Methodists have been pro-choice since 1973.
I have been a lifelong Methodist. I am now shopping for a non-denominational church. All members of my family except my mom have quit the Methodist church.

Anonymous said...

UMC is liberal because it believes in man-made global warming, loves abortion, and actually likes the socialistic agenda of Obama. Many members actually believe that Jesus would have been a socialist, because he wanted to feed the poor, which is of course a fallacy about socialism.

Anonymous said...

Gee Whiz - just come home to the Church Jesus founded, the Catholic Church. Peter is the "Rock" and first Pope; please stop all the silly man made 'protesting' that began 500 years or so ago...

After all, every one is Catholic in Heaven.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the methodist church. I attended Aldersgate near mount vernon virginia while growing up.

The older I became I realized more and more that liberal and socialist ideology has become more and more prevalent in the UMC. I left the church soon after leaving college. I now have a degree (BS) in Geology and a minor in Geography from JMU.

Today on Fox news, there was a UMC bishop protesting against John McCains support of the Arizona Anti-illegal Immigration law (which mirrors the un-enforced US federal laws). Just more evidence of the communist/socialist indoctrination and infiltration of the UMC.

I am now a presbyterian and will never go back to a church that is so politically on one side of the fence.

Anonymous said...

I live in Birmingham and am 58years old.......it took me awhile to see the wolf in sheeps clothing, but I recoiled instantly
at church one day when it hit me like a brick.......It was a very liberal methodist church and I left immediately.....I understand there are a group of methodist ministers who are working to take it back.....probably won,t happen..my money goes elsewhere now

Anonymous said...

I live in Birmingham and am 58years old.......it took me awhile to see the wolf in sheeps clothing, but I recoiled instantly
at church one day when it hit me like a brick.......It was a very liberal methodist church and I left immediately.....I understand there are a group of methodist ministers who are working to take it back.....probably won,t happen..my money goes elsewhere now

Christopher Hampton said...

Great post but I disagree with you. Thats what makes the UMC a great church, we can all have our differences. I am very liberal in both religion and politics. I don't see the Methodist Church as being liberal enough but its a place I can worship God with people who would otherwise be arguing with me over what my views are. THe important part is we are all Christians.

And for all those who say "I left the church because it was too liberal a church", wow. You are holding up the sterotypes just as much as everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Jason,
The church should be compared to the Bible, God's Holy word, not to the men you have listed.

Anonymous said...

I have served the UMC, as a minister in anoter church A/G
for 8 years. I am apalled that there is no accountability for ministry wih sevral spouses, drink,smoke, curse or anything else and still remain a clergy in good standing. Why do we not speak the same message. Itis my feeling John Wesley would dsmiss most clergy today in UMC

BibleSays said...

All I will say is that: 1st) I definitely believe the Theology of John Wesley over the heresy of John Calvin.

However,

"But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression," (1 Tim. 2:12-14)

4. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1st Timothy 3:4-5,7)

2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1st Timothy 3:2)

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, (1 Titus 1:5-7)


If you need more Scripture forbidding women from being Pastors; I would be happy to provide it.

Raul DeLaRosa said...

You should consider a true methodist/wesleyan church like the free methodist,nazarene, or the wesleyan church who can still be considered wesleyan and truly wesleyan arminian.in theology...the umc has lost its right to be called methodist anymore

Dan923 said...

I've attended UMC several times
but I've never heard the gospel
preached. If the gospel is not preached it is nor christian.

Steve Finnell said...

WHAT DID THE FIRST CHRISTIANS BELIEVE?

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST HAD ITS BEGINNING ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST 33 A.D.. WHAT BELIEFS AND ACTIONS DID THE THREE THOUSAND CONVERTS TO CHRIST HAVE IN COMMON? DID GOD APPROVE OF EVOLVING BELIEFS, DIFFERENT REQUIREMENTS FOR SALVATION? IF THAT WERE TRUE, THEN WOULD IT NOT BE FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES?

Acts 2:41 So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls. Acts 2:47....And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

All three thousand believed the apostle Peter's message and were baptized in water. Then they were added to the Lord's church by the Lord Himself. The Lord did not add the unsaved to His church. They had to believe and be baptized in water prior to being added to the body of Christ.

1. Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know---

All three thousand believed Jesus was a miracle worker.

2. Acts 2:31-32 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

All three thousand believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3. Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ---this Jesus whom you crucified."

All three thousand believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ.

4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

All three thousand repented in order to have sins forgiven. (repentance meant that they made the commitment to turn from their unbelief and sinful lifestyle and turn toward God).

All three thousand were baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

All three thousand received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit after they believed, repented, and were baptized in water.

5. Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

All three thousand were saved after they believed Peter's message: They believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized in water. (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:35-38) THEN THEY WERE ADDED TO THE LORD'S CHURCH! (Acts 2:47)

WHAT THINGS DID PETER NOT PREACH AND WHAT THINGS DID THE THREE THOUSAND NOT BELIEVE.

1.Peter did not preach that men were saved by grace alone.

2.Peter did not preach that men were saved by faith only

3.Peter did not preach that God had selected a few to be saved and that all others would go to hell.

4. Peter did not preach that water baptism was not essential to salvation.

5. Peter did not preach that Jesus was just one of many Saviors.

6. Peter did not preach that once you were saved, that you could continue in a sinful lifestyle and still be saved.

7. Peter did not preach that God did not have the power to give us an inerrant translation of the Scriptures.

8. Peter did not preach that God would provide hundreds or thousands of different Christian denominations, and that they would teach different ways of being saved.

9. Peter did NOT preach that you had to speak in tongues as evidence that you were saved.

AS BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, MEN SHOULD USE THE BIBLE AS THEIR GUIDE FOR SALVATION. Looking to man-made creed books, Bible commentaries, denominational statements of faith, and church catechisms, is looking in all the wrong places for the absolute truth!

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com