Discerning the Way Forward Pt. 1

In June, I asked you to enter into a time of discernment of affiliation. Unfortunately, many of our members had no idea why and possibly still do not understand the issues facing the UMC denomination. This is the very reason we have entered a discernment process. The goal is for you to discern what affiliation best fits the present and the future of John Wesley. In order for this to happen, you will need to open your heart and mind in prayer, understand the doctrines and alternative doctrines being shared, affirm what you believe and what you believe John Wesley should consider, and then choose a future path for our church.  Here is a direct link to our Discerning the Way Forward page.  

 As your Senior Pastor, I am struggling with this process in our church. The attention and energy needed around the UMC politics outweighs my time on other important things.  This is an important process and time, I do not deny that.  This time does require my time and energy, but I do dream of a time when it is behind us.  Here’s the thing, I understand what I believe and have been ordained to a specific doctrine and I have been trained in communicating a gospel of salvation and transformation. Some of my UMC colleagues in the denomination and even some bishops believe different things from the doctrines we have been ordained to.  Many of them have always believed differently, and it hasn’t really caused me any problems.  Well, now it is on my doorstep because the members of the UMC are battling over this stuff.  It is on the doorstep of JWUMC and has been in the front yard for years.  Many UMC pastors and leaders teach alternative views of the traditional Christian doctrine I believe, and all Wesleyan Methodists have believed for almost 250 years. Things have changed and are changing.

In a recent article from the Gospel Coalition, Mark Tooley explains it this way, “The situation in the old United Methodist Church in America will only worsen as liberals insist on a gospel of affirmation. Traditionalists want a gospel of salvation and transformation. These two perspectives ultimately cannot coexist in the same denomination. There can be Christian unity across doctrinal and ethical nonessentials, but the divisions between traditionalists and progressives in mainline Protestantism are unbridgeable.” I like the two phrases Tooley uses, “gospel of affirmation” and “gospel of salvation and transformation”.  I do believe these get to the heart of the matter.  In the Christian world there are doctrines that support both of these gospel focuses, but the more traditional viewpoints of doctrine seem to fit the “gospel of salvation and transformation.”  I do not know if they can’t be combined in a healthy way, but currently the focus for the gospel of affirmation is causing disturbance and alternative views to spring forth.  I do see the Christ-like effort to be affirming to all people, but it comes with some alternative views of doctrine and Biblical interpretation. Things have changed and are changing.  
I have been fully aware of these changes in viewpoints or emphasis over the 25 years of my ministry in the UMC. I am a fan of what some call "deconstructing one's faith" and "reconstructing one's faith." I believe a new perspective on things is always critical, but you cannot reconstruct the Christian faith without basic tenants of the faith. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is non-negotiable. The divinity of Jesus Christ is non-negotiable. The authority of scripture is non-negotiable. Without these things as basic tenants, we fail to have a real Christian doctrine. If Jesus Christ isn't who He said He was and His disciples said He was, we believe in a lie. So when other pastors and even bishops teach alternative views of doctrine, I get perturbed. I never thought these alternative views would become the norm. Unfortunately, more and more, alternative ideas to the essential doctrines are becoming the norm in the life of the UMC. These alternatives are very troubling for many. I now worry they could change our local church and the future of the UMC. Do I know if this will happen or not? I do not, but we need to consider the ramifications of altering our viewpoint of doctrine.  

Officially, nothing has been proposed to alter the UMC doctrine or a stance on Christian marriage or sexuality. However, official stances have not stopped many pastors and bishops from teaching alternatives on a local, conference, and global level. Many pastors and bishops have openly disobeyed the doctrine and discipline. There has been a breakdown of and accountability to doctrines and even in relation to our social stances.

We are now at a place where a decision is being made on a local level. It looks like John Wesley and I will be affected in the near future. We recently had a town hall meeting which included a straw poll about staying or leaving the UMC or still discerning your choice.  We had over 50% of the people present say they are ready to disaffiliate from the UMC.  A large portion of the remaining people voted they are still discerning and then the remainder voted they would like to stay in the denomination.  Things have changed and are changing.

John Wesley UMC has never disobeyed the doctrine or the social stances set before the denomination. Over the years, some pastors might have proposed alternative views to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, but they have never taken root in our church. I believe this is a good thing. I like that and want to keep it that way for this great church. Many believe the only way not to discriminate against a particular people group is by embracing alternative views. I do not think this is true. Doctrinal changes will fail all people (progressive or traditional) if Jesus fails to be who Jesus claimed to be. I hope everyone realizes that any future stance will be decided upon at the local level; our church has been a fellowship of believers with traditional doctrines for 50 years. I would not presume we would ultimately change any stance or doctrine just because the denomination changes those things. We are the ideal church in many ways because we already accept all different types of people and other viewpoints. We have even allowed those with alternative views of traditional doctrine to live faithfully as part of our fellowship. Therefore, I would boldly proclaim that John Wesley will not change our Wesleyan Methodist doctrines simply because people think it is a good idea.

So let's get back to me for a minute. That comment sounds so selfish! It is, but I'm the one with the computer and access to the webpage. LOL! I hope you hear my sarcasm in those comments.  

As your pastor, I want you to discern what you believe. I want you to know what alternative views are being taught in the life of UM Christians. I do not want to tell you what to do, but in the end, I will recommend the best course of action in consultation with our Core Leadership Team. As I pray, listen, and seek, I am discerning what the best course of action is for John Wesley.  

I can assure you my recommendation will be in the best interest of John Wesley, not just a small group of people or even a global denomination. Part of my discernment process is listening to as many people as possible who are discerning in our church. I am talking to other UMC pastors and those outside the UMC. I think it is important to discuss my beliefs and learn from others. Please do not ignore the chance you have to shape the future of your church. Things have changed and are changing.

If you don't understand what is happening, please use the UMC Matters page on our website. Take the time to look the video sessions being produced over the next month There is a lot of information, but it is essential to review it and be informed. I would encourage you and a small group of people to watch the videos and discuss what you have learned. If you need a pastor to be present, please reach out to one of us.

Thank you for letting me lead this wonderful church. I do believe there is a decision on the horizon for JWUMC. That decision will be an essential part of our church remaining united as a fellowship of believers connecting people to Jesus. The right decision might not fit what you want to happen, but it will be the right pathway for John Wesley to stay strong and unified for another 50 years. I pray our church will make the right decision in the right way at the right time. Things have changed and are changing.

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