“The following article is written by Rev. Mike Grant, senior minister of the Shreve UMC. The topic he addresses is of paramount importance to every member and minister in the East Ohio Conference. His reasoned and reflective insights are key guideposts for each of us. Mike is the caliber of minister that will serve as an able delegate representing the Traditional/Evangelical foundation of the United Methodist Church. I commend to all ministers to support Mike Grant as one of our delegates to the 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.” Rev. Dr. Chet Harris
Contending for the Faith
by Mike Grant
Over the last year a number of Orthodox pastors and leaders have turned to the book of Jude as a parallel of what is occurring among us now. It is a short book with only one chapter. Using just 28 verses it has a lot to say to the church today. After the introduction, Jude writes these words in verse 3: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (NIV).” Then Jude immediately shares 2 issues in verse 4: 1] Grace is used as a license for immorality; and 2] there is a denial that Jesus Christ is our only Sovereign and Lord. If you would add: scriptural authority - and an unwillingness to hold true to covenants made before God and men, we would have covered many of the challenges we face in the United Methodist Church today.
We are a church with orthodox, moderate, and liberal Christians. These different understandings of faith and practice are not new for the Methodist Church. They have been present since the mid 1800’s (see The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism by James V. Heidinger II). Our division over our understanding of homosexuality is indicative of the greater theological divide between theologically orthodox and theologically liberal Christians. I want to look at these two groups.
The Orthodox wing of the church believes in the primacy of scripture. For many of us, scriptural authority is so important that we would be hard-pressed to be a part of a church that veers from its truth. We believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, died for our sins on a Roman cross, and that He bodily rose from the dead. We believe that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life and that the only way to the Father is through Him (John 14:6). We take seriously the covenants we made at ordination and consecration. It goes against our nature to break our vows to make a political or social statement. We earnestly desire to live into the Wesleyan balance of vital piety and social holiness.
Conservatives tend to be afraid to say it out loud or in print. We know, however, that theological liberals (progressives) live out their faith differently than we do. Progressives do not all believe the same, but here are some places they often veer from the Orthodox understanding of faith. Progressives may or may not believe in the Virgin birth, miracles, or the atonement. Some Progressives see Jesus as one way among many ways to God. Jesus’ physical resurrection may or may not be important to their understanding of faith. Progressives may or may believe in the primacy of scripture. Progressives often interpret scriptures through the lens of social and political changes. Progressives see themselves as the advocates for those changes. Progressives are deeply committed to their causes. Often they seek positions of conference and general church leadership to further those causes. Progressives have made it clear that the Traditional Plan and those who advocate for it stand in the way of equality and social justice.
It is no wonder that General Conference 2019 was so painful. These two diametrically opposed understandings of Christianity clashed in St. Louis in front of the whole world. The liberal [Progressive] One Church Plan before the General Conference had been rejected in various forms in the last several General Conferences. These recycled ideas were unlikely to bring a new and universally accepted solution. Even if the vote had gone the other way, the more honest proponents of the One Church Plan admitted that this was not a destination, but a stop on the road to full inclusion.
Because of last minute changes, I was the Clergy 1st reserve delegate. Reserve delegates and observers sat in the stands of a huge indoor football stadium. The voting delegates were seated on the field (floor). Observers were asked to show decorum and not applaud or disrupt the proceedings. Disruptions happened again and again with no consequences to the offenders. I watched the threats, name calling, and angry speeches by liberal delegates - often to thunderous applause by the observing crowds. I watched a protest whose participants included delegates on the floor responsively yelling to protesters in the stands. Parliamentary procedure was manipulated - [even bent] to the breaking point. Some people left angry and hurt because they did not achieve the change they desired. I went to St Louis expecting to be vilified for holding a traditional view of marriage and leadership. Therefore, I was disappointed, but not surprised when speakers and leaders repeatedly said that I do not love, because I do not share their views. I don’t know anyone who was a part of the 2019 General Conference who left unscathed by the process of Holy Conferencing. I was deeply honored to be a part of the East Ohio delegation. I was truly glad, however, when this General Conference was over.
I have a few things that I hope you will consider in the aftermath of this specially called General Conference. First, we are still the same church today we were last year – and as well as for the last 47 years. We stand on the Orthodox understanding of marriage between one man and one woman. We continue to see the sacred worth of all people - while maintaining a biblical standard about homosexual practice and leadership. We have added some accountability around these issues. In addition, we have added a gracious exit clause. The legislation will be reviewed by the Judicial Council [April 23-26]. It is likely many positive things will take effect in January of 2020. (If you want a full description of what was done, there are great write-ups by Good News and the WCA.) Whether the Bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministry, and Jurisdictions will abide by these changes remains to seen. (Some have already said they will not.)
Second, please don’t buy into the narrative that you are unloving because you believe in the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and leadership. The truth is just the opposite. Be the person and the church who loves people right where they are. Then through your words and example, point them to holiness and a full life in Christ. Third, to share an idea from Billy Abraham, seek to be a non-anxious presence. Be gracious to those who disagree. Show compassion to those who are hurting because of the decisions made at General Conference. We have a lot for which to be thankful! It is always best to show grace by choosing to take the high road.
Fourth, we will be voting for delegates to the 2020 General Conference this June. There will likely be a campaign to elect delegates who will reverse the decisions made in St. Louis. Please encourage your pastors and lay delegates to Annual Conference to vote for Orthodox candidates. We have a list of those persons whom we are endorsing in this newsletter. Please pass this list on to like minded friends. Lastly, invite the Holy Spirit to be at work among us. Please pray for the United Methodist Church. May we never forget that every generation must contend for the faith that has been entrusted to it (James 1:3). May we never grow weary of contending for the faith or of doing good.
Blessings in Christ. Mike Grant EOEF Secretary