By Many Hands
Nothing is standing still. The Council of Adventist Pastors continues to observe developments in other communities of faith. One such is the Methodist church. The United Methodist Church (UMC) is experiencing a historic meltdown right now. As you read these words a significant number of North American Methodist Conferences are in one way or another refusing to support the agreed discipline of that denomination with reference to homosexuality.
The Methodist Church states its position on human sexuality thus:
“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (Book of Discipline, p. 126). This statement and three similar, have been subject to relentless attack within the UMC by their homosexual lobby. Yet at each General Conference session the Church has continued to uphold this biblical statement.
Methodism began in the mid-1700s and shares a variety of similarities with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ordination of women pastors has been the policy since 1956. Today—predictably—the issue in the Methodist Church is over homosexuality.
On March 10, 2014, the New York Annual Conference, Methodist Church dismissed the case of a retired Methodist minister who officiated at a “wedding” between his son and and another male (see http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/new-york-conference-court-dismisses-ogletree-case, accessed 2014-03-11). In response, UMC pastor Rob Renfroe offered the following editorial comments on the website of Good News ministry:
The truth is we may not be able to live together as one church. The truth is if our bishops do not act swiftly and decisively to uphold our process of holy conferencing and enforce our Book of Discipline, The United Methodist Church will be lost. God’s church will continue and the Gospel will go forth, but we will have squandered the beauty and the power of Wesleyan Christianity as embodied by the UM Church.
Knowing that they will not be able to change our official UM positions regarding human sexuality and marriage at the next General Conference, progressives have begun a campaign of disobedience and are now publicly performing services of holy union for homosexual couples. How our bishops respond will determine if this defiance is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end (http://goodnewsmag.org/2014/02/editorial-methodisms-late-hour/#sthash.QyXRhbsO.dpuf).
According to Renfroe,
Since 1972, the UM Church has waited in vain for our bishops—our shepherds who are charged with defending and promoting our doctrines—to create statements, resources and teaching materials that explain and promote our balanced position that all persons possess sacred worth but not all sexual practices are compatible with Christian teaching. Perhaps if the Council had fulfilled its responsibility at some point in the past forty years, we would not be in the confused and divided place we now find ourselves (Ibid.).
There are lessons here for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Methodists did not hold their appointed leadership accountable. They trusted without verifying. Today that church is in the throes of an amazing conflict. Adventists have opportunity to learn from Methodist mistakes. Here, our General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson in his 2010 inaugural message offers a good plan:
Seventh-day Adventist Church members, hold your leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable to the highest standards of belief based on a literal understanding of Scripture.
If we unite on the authority of the Bible and the Historical-grammatical method of interpretation highlighted in the 1986 Annual Council Methods of Bible Study Document, we can find unity. Those Methodists who compose the homosexual lobby within that denomination are running far afield of the Historical-grammatical method. For example, William M. Kent, a member of the United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality, stated
. . . the scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better understood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice (William M. Kent, op. cit. by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Homosexuality in Theological Perspective,” part two, http://www.christianpost.com/news/homosexuality-in-theological-perspective-part-two-6458/, accessed 2014-03-12).
In Kent’s view the plain reading of Scripture is rendered non-authoritative while the group-think of current culture is determinative. “Best” is determined based not on what the Bible says but on what “we” think. This is the road to oblivion and dissolution. In a similar but more subtle manner, the pro-women’s ordination lobby in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is engaged in creative ways of discarding texts which stand in the way of their preferred approach. As one such Adventist recently wrote on another website, “Can someone explain why the opinions of Paul of Tarsus, an individual living roughly 2000 years ago in a totally different culture and social system, should be considered as authoritative concerning what a small Protestant Christian faith community functioning in the 21st Century should do or not do with regard to whether women should be ordained? Please enlighten me.”
The Methodist Church is crashing on the homosexuality issue. As a random sample, of 20 stories on the United Methodist News Service website on March 25, 2014 the headlines or summaries mentioned gays, homosexuality, same-sex, wedding (referring to homosexual unions), 10 times.
While it is amazing to see what is transpiring in Methodism’s late hour, what some are engaged in in Adventism is equally alarming. Let us hold our leaders, pastors, local churches, educators, institutions, and administrative organizations accountable. Let us reaffirm our commitment to sound biblical interpretation which will very largely prevent the problems other groups are facing and aid us in keeping focused on our mission of sharing Jesus’ third Angel’s Message with the world.