Many persons have reached out to Wesley Biblical Seminary asking for assistance in the current confusion they are feeling about the conflict in the United Methodist Church. As a seminary, we have had the privilege of educating numerous United Methodist Church clergy in our graduate and post-graduate programs. Also, many of our administrators, professors, and staff have had deep ties to the denomination across the years, even though we are a non-denominational, free-standing seminary. Thus, we have a deep concern for the faithful Christians who have had their spiritual home in the United Methodist Church and want to provide the wisest reflections and counsel to those who are approaching us.
First, let it be clear that we do not cheer for the demise of United Methodism, even though the diminishment of the denomination as an institution seems unavoidable. However, we do not think that those who claim that the planned disaffiliation of many local churches and pastors constitutes a schism in the Body of Christ. The separation of confessing Christians is a grievous event because Christ’s disciples should live in a covenant with one another to which all seek to live in fidelity and obedience (John 13:35). However, at issue is the question of what it means to be a “confessing Christian” and live in covenant together. This is where the current conflict rests.
The obvious clash in the denomination is rooted in disagreements about human sexuality and the Christian posture towards same-sex marriages. For some, this seems to be a simple matter of human dispute about how to interpret Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Others insist it is a matter of Christian moral dogma and moral values. We believe that those who fall into the second category are correct. Human sexuality is, without a doubt, a matter of strict Christian dogma. This is clear for a multitude of reasons, but the most foundational is the Scripture’s claim that God created human beings in the Image of God and created them male and female (only) for each other (Gen. 1:27; 2:21-25; Mk. 10:6-9). Further, the clear biblical teaching is that monogamous marriage is God’s intended plan for His human children and that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman for life (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Any other expression of sexuality, including extra-marital adultery or unmarried promiscuity, is contrary to the purposes and will of God (Mk. 7:20-23; 1 Cor. 6:18; 1 Thess. 4:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:8-11; Heb. 13:4)
In addition, this posture towards human sexuality has been the constant and unwavering testimony of the Christian Church from among its various traditions. This has been so because of the Christian Tradition’s commitment to the final authority of the Bible in all matters relating to the content of faith and the practice of true Christian discipleship. Therefore, at Wesley Biblical Seminary, we acknowledge that the issues raised by the current conflicts over human sexuality are ultimately a matter of Biblical authority and of the proper way to surrender our lives to the obvious and clear meaning of the text as well as the historic Christian application of the Biblical teaching about human sexuality.
As such, we believe that the real divide in the United Methodist Church is over biblical authority and the message of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. The question of biblical authority is at the root cause of the obvious symptom. Therefore, it seems to us that the best way for Christian disciples within the United Methodist Church who are committed to Biblical authority and historic Christian moral teaching to continue their journey of faith and ministry to the world is to disaffiliate from the denomination. Even if there is a promise to be a “big tent” that can encompass all, the tensions that now exist will not go away because, ultimately, there will be no objective standard of Truth to which the denomination can refer, and by which it can stand. “Let’s agree to live and let live” is not an adequate value system for any Christian denomination seeking to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as God incarnate, unhesitatingly affirmed the moral law found in the Torah in his declaration that he had not come to do away with the (Old Testament) Law and Prophets (Matt. 5:17).
In response to accusations that those desiring to disaffiliate are guilty of schism and are breaking their vows to the denomination, we respectfully disagree. First, persons who became members of the United Methodist Church were first asked about their belief in the teachings of the Old and New Testaments and their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. Only afteraffirming these things were they asked if they would be loyal to the denomination. Furthermore, if the concerns are about “breaking covenant,” then those who have been actively engaged in performing marriages currently forbidden by the standing Discipline, as well as ignoring clergy standards for ordination, have already broken covenant.
Because covenant has been broken, historical Christian moral teachings diluted, and biblical authority made irrelevant, it is hard to understand what those who want to disaffiliate are being asked to remain faithful to. So, for our friends who stand for historic Christian morality in matters of sexuality, who affirm the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, and who want to live in true covenant together as disciples of Jesus Christ, we can only provide our encouragement to be strong and courageous and take the stand for “the faith once delivered to all the saints” (Jude 3). And once disaffiliation is done, then be about making disciples of Jesus and being God’s holy people.
President & Faculty
Wesley Biblical Seminary