(This could be two essays. While I am comfortable with the first part being reproduced as a stand alone document, I would not want the remainder distributed without the first.)
I speak only for myself. I desire to share where I am moving and what I hope to experience. This part I am pleased to share. I am also required to share what it is that I am leaving and why it is necessary. That part I would rather omit, but separation from a church is profound. If I moved to a new Church solely because it was more attractive than the current one, then I might rightly be accused of being an unfaithful lover who abandons their spouse for someone more seductive. Therefore, when I have finished sharing some of the reasons why I am moving to the Global Methodist Church and what I hope to find there, then I will share why separation from the UMC is not a matter of desire but of necessity—not an act of unfaithfulness but of faithfulness.
Where I Am Going
I am moving to the Global Methodist Church–a Church that is connected globally. She is guided not by American academics that will tell us what Jesus would have said if he had a proper seminary education and lived in a post enlightenment first world nation, but by faithful clergy and laity from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Christians from every place have equal voice in the Church’s governance. In the councils of the church there truly is no east nor west, “For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south…” and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We learn equally from each other what God is doing throughout his kingdom and aid each other equally in advancing his kingdom.
I am moving with others into this Church that knows the God they worship—the Church that proclaims to a broken, hurting, maddening world that there is a God, there is one way to know him, and that way is Jesus Christ. I am joining with the Church that worships and serves the triune God who is most completely revealed to us through Jesus Christ our Lord; true God from true God; who for us and our salvation was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; who for our sake was crucified, dead, and buried; he rose again and ascended into heaven and is seated at the right of the Father; he will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
I am moving to the Church that is learning how to love again. The Church that believes–in accordance with Scriptures–that we can become perfect in love even in this life. Jesus Christ has revealed what this love is through sacred Scripture, it is confirmed through the Holy Spirit as the greatest spiritual gift, and this love is demonstrated in the lives of countless saints. We cannot know that love apart from Christ, for God alone is love. We cannot use our natural desires or ordinary reason to define what love is and then use that corrupted definition of love to judge the saints, the Scripture, and God himself. We must receive Christ’s revelation of love to judge how we express his love through our life.
I am moving to the Church of that primitive religion espoused so well in John Wesley’s expositions of Scripture. The church that is both evangelical and sacramental—the Church that is both orderly and intentional in her worship and charismatic in her praise and service.
This Church proclaims the liberty available to all in a new life in Christ. Not only can we be born again, but we must be born again. Lives are changed. All persons stand in need of the means of Grace which the Church alone supplies.
This Church proclaims that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Christ has appointed the table as the place he most regularly desires to meet us and speak to us. He has chosen this time and place to offer us forgiveness of sin and all other benefits of his life, passion, death, and resurrection.
This Church regularly proclaims the ancient creeds in an orderly worship so that the faithful do not easily fall into error through mere forgetfulness, and the novice is instructed in the source of our hope and faith. This Church is intentional in her prayers so as not to neglect the concerns of those who might not be immediately in our thoughts.
This Church is open to unanticipated movements of the Spirit. She does not shun the charisms that God sends among us but employs them in service to his kingdom. Only a Church that is open to charisms can offer ministries of deliverance from those demons that can be cast out by prayer alone.
This is the Church whose bishops are charged first and last to guard the faith. Let others be employed in the temporal affairs, bishops are evangelists and teachers. These bishops are counselors for the pastors and parishes in their charge. In the U.S. the bishops will likely execute their office while continuing to serve in a local parish and not necessarily from the state capitol. (When the Book of Doctrine and Discipline is complete, they may not be called bishops. Some are of the opinion that the term bishop has been so defiled through its use in the UMC that it ought never again be employed amongst Methodists. Whatever the term, the office of overseer/bishop is essential to the church.)
I am moving to the Church that has no need to extract money from the parish through coercion to support ministries that no Christian would contribute to voluntarily. I am moving to a Church that offers unambiguous Christian missions that advance the missions and ministries of the local parishes.
This is the Church in her completeness: Christ—true God from true God—at the center. Perfect Christian charity is our present hope. Life everlasting in his never-ending kingdom is our future assurance. This is the primitive Church; evangelical and sacramental and orderly and charismatic. Guarding the faith. Advancing the kingdom through authentic Christian ministry.
This is the Church that can correct me when I am in error. I need this, because sometimes I am wrong. We will all have opportunities to practice the virtue of humility on this journey, because we will all need some correction. We are all victims of decades of spiritual abuse and theological neglect. We come from a people where integrity is often mistaken for madness. Pluralism, politics, and paltering have filled the air about us. What we know of the ancient faith we have acquired without the aid of United Methodist seminaries, conference leadership, or general church boards. We cannot claim that we know the way to get across this wilderness, but we do know where to start and how to proceed. If we remain faithful then more will be revealed to us morning by morning. We walk by faith not by sight and trust that God will send a shekinah cloud if necessary. It may take a generation to get to where we need to be.
Why I Must Not Leave for a More Attractive Suitor
If I were to move from one church to another every time someone did something stupid or said something hurtful, then there would be no point in unpacking my bags. Churches have problems. It has always been that way. If you want a church in the true first century model then expect controversy, errors, and disputations. All the Pastoral Epistles begin with, “I love you, and I can’t believe you are acting this way!” On one occasion Paul goes so far as to say, “I thank God I baptized none of you,” and “when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” Yet, Paul does not abandon the Church at Corinth. He knows they are not lacking in any spiritual gift to get them through. God is still doing great work through them. “…you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Churches have problems. Leave one church and you will find them waiting for you in another. I am sure I will encounter disputations in my new home. There are personality conflicts, disputations over priorities in allocating mission funds, and even the occasional errors in teaching. None of these are reasons to abandon a church. If the person of Jesus Christ remains the center…if there is agreement on the answer to, “Who do you say that I am,” …as long as our hope is in the life, passion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ…then the church is not lacking any spiritual gift to lead us to perfection and maintain us in holiness. He will “…sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Disputations and controversies are not good causes to abandon the church, whether they are personal in nature or are of weightier doctrinal matters. Through our perseverance and steadfastness Christ will use these trials to complete us in Christian charity, confirm us in love, and keep us in holiness. “…Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Why I Must Leave Out of Faithfulness
(While this unpleasant section may be of interest to a wide audience, I address it to The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist—the only Church I have ever served. I speak to the conference leadership: to the person occupying the office of Bishop, the Superintendents, the members of the Board of Ordained Ministry, and every clergy member of the delegation to General Conference. It is your leadership that brought us here, it is you who sustain the current schism, and it is you who act to perpetuate it.)
There are two occasions where one must separate from a church. Not that it is a desirable action, but a necessary one. If any one of these two conditions prevail in a church, then one ought to flee that place immediately as if being pursued by the very demons who brought it about.
- The church cannot answer with one accord Jesus’ question, who do you say that I am, and has no desire to do so.
- The church has fallen into perpetual schism.
I. If a church does not know Jesus, then it cannot know the way of salvation and holiness. Further, it does not have access to the spiritual gifts needed to correct its errors and guide it through controversies and disputations. It has cut itself off from the source of that true love that would use these trials to perfect us in love. You know that a church has lost even the desire to know Jesus when it encourages a “Big Tent’ theology.
The appeal to Big Tent can be summarized as follows: Everyone should feel welcome here because we don’t care what anyone teaches about Jesus, the Bible, or salvation. The goal is to become nice people doing good things. If you are doing well at becoming nicer, then you have no need for the cross or a conversion experience. If you are doing good things, then you are justified before God. However, if you feel more assured by believing in Christ’s divinity and trusting in the cross, then please hold to those things. The church does not object. Everyone is welcome.
We all want to be nicer people and do good things, but Christians cannot for the sake of unity reduce Jesus to the lowest common denominator of “a nice person who did good things.” Our need for the sacrificial, substitutionary, atoning work of Christ on the cross cannot be satisfied by doing good things. The name for that heresy is salvation by works. The United Methodist Church in South Carolina cannot answer with one accord, who do you say that I am, and has no desire to do so. The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church cannot answer with one accord, what must I do to be saved, and has no desire to do so. When the church is not of one mind and judgement it is called schism. A church cannot remain long in schism because a house divided against itself cannot stand. When a church elects to remain in perpetual schism on the person of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the way of salvation, then it is difficult to explain how it can be anything but a hindrance to Christian discipleship. I must separate out of necessity.
II. Schism, “is not a separation from any Church, (whether general or particular, whether the Catholic, or any national Church) but a separation in a Church.” (John Wesley, On Schism).
Nothing can be clearer; separation is not schism; separation is a cure for schism.
Schism is a disunity in the church. When the church is not of one mind on the things that are important to God, then that is schism. There are only two cures for schism: one way is to come to agreement, the other is to part company. The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church has no means to accomplish the first and has no will to allow the second. The Conference leadership has committed to a third way which condemns the church to perpetual schism. Much like a state that has become weary of trying to control prostitution and therefore decides to legalize it and collect the tax revenue, so the United Methodist Church has grown weary of trying to reach agreement and has decided to codify the schism and take its share out of the collection plates.
Perpetual, codified schism means endless conflict and antagonism. The first great casualty is Christian charity. First, the love we have for each other grows cold, we perceive each other as enemies, we become suspicious of each other’s every act, each party spends much effort trying to stop the other party from doing something.
The leadership has mistaken schism for diversity. Diverse missions diverge from a common starting point and complement each other in carrying Christ’s love to the world. Missions that originate from different starting points will proceed in opposition to each other. A church that is grounded in the person and work of Christ may conduct diverse missions in justice carried out by different parties in the church. One party may be called to work for the healing of victims; another might be called to prisons for the redemption of perpetrators; some will have ministries among law enforcement; still others might be sent to legislators and judges. All these ministries will complement each other. They are not in conflict because they diverge from a common starting point in Christ.
However, if one party is sent to share Christ’s gospel of salvation and holiness to the nations while another party of the church is advocating that people who already have a religion have no need of Christ, then these two parties are working in direct opposition to each other. The church is in schism. In the same way, if local churches are ministering to help mothers welcome and care for their children and to heal the hurt to women and men caused by abortion and reduce its prevalence, yet the denomination and conference are working diligently to advocate for unrestricted access to abortion and promote laws that inhibit providing information and services to these women and men; then these ministries are not diverse expressions of the Christian faith. They are oppositional ministries. They are not divergent ministries. They did not originate from a common point. The Church is in schism.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” We must either come to agreement or separate. (Can two walk together, except they be agreed?) The church has become weary of trying to reach agreement and has abandoned all hope of correcting its errors. It is difficult to explain how such a church can be anything but a hindrance to Christian discipleship. I must separate out of necessity.
The Great Lie
The conference leadership seems to find it to their advantage to mischaracterize the reform and renewal movements in the UMC as being obsessed with sex. All of this talk about separation is just about disagreements on human sexuality. Yet, this entire essay on where I am going and why I am leaving does not reference the subject. I speak in the public forum and have published scores of thousands of words that anyone can find with a Google search. Nowhere do I discuss human sexuality except to say that it is not a subject for which one should separate from the church.
No one in the UMC knows my understanding of a Biblical view of human sexuality because we have never had that discussion. We cannot have that discussion because we do not share a common ground from which to begin. We do not all worship the same God. We do not share the same sacred texts. We do not accept the same sources as authoritative for faith and practice. We cannot have a fruitful discussion on ancillary matters such as human sexuality when we cannot agree on a common vocabulary.
When I do have that discussion, it will be in a Church such as I described in the first part of this essay. Both conservatives and progressives will likely hear some surprises, but I will submit those thoughts to the church and accept her correction where I am in error. I will teach and live according to the council of the church and claim it as my own. I will not refuse the correction of the church. I will not declare my personal opinions superior to the wisdom of the global church and all the saints before us…because sometimes I can be wrong.
I find this to be true among most of those who are partnering on this journey. The reform and renewal movements have been at work in this church for over fifty years…before homophobia was a word, before civil unions were factor. Their focus has always been on the Church’s turning away from the saving grace of Jesus Christ into a theological pluralism and its ever-accelerating drift into perpetual schism. We anticipated that we would end up with a church which is of no help to holiness and has no knowledge of the way of salvation. The Conference leadership knows this. They have led us here. Yet they insist it is only about sex. They know that is not true every time they repeat it. They lie. Sex gets attention, and it is they who are obsessed with it, constantly holding it up as a shiny bauble to distract people from the truth.
Stay focused on your local ministry, they say. Don’t pay attention to what Global Ministries is doing. Stay focused on local ministries, and don’t pay attention to what your seminaries are teaching. Stay focused on local ministry, and don’t bother with what Church and Society is up to. Stay busy with local ministries and you won’t notice the decline in the quality of preachers we send you. Stay busy and you won’t notice that for over a year your clergy allowed people to die alone without pastoral care because that was not essential. Stay focused on local ministry, and don’t pay attention to people who are upset only over issues of sex.
When your membership dwindles, when the church seems more like work than the rewarding experience you once knew, and when there is a sense of impending death in your congregation, call on the Conference leadership and they will send you people who have led us in more than fifty consecutive years of membership decline to explain to you how it is all your fault.