Tuesday, February 1, 2011

33 Retired United Methodist Bishops Urge Denomination to Remove It's Ban on Homosexual Clergy

The United Methodist News Service has just reported that 33 retired UM bishops have issued "A Statement of Counsel to the Church."  This statement urges the denomination to remove from its Book of Discipline the statement that says:

"…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." ¶304.3

Such a change would have to take place at the General Conference level.  The next General Conference will take place in 2012.  This issue has come up at every General Conference for decades, now, but it is important to note that at each Conference the United Methodist Church has remained firm in their stand for continuity with Scripture and the teaching of the Church catholic for over 2000 years.  The current position of the United Methodist Church, while not being on the same page with certain other mainline American denominations (e.g., The Episcopal Church and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), is on the same page with the vast majority of Christian churches throughout the world.  (In other words, it is denominations such as TEC and the ELCA that are out of step with the rest of the Church.)

While this issue is raised at every General Conference, this may be the first time that such a "Statement of Counsel" has been issued by such a large number of retired bishops.  (That is, I do not know if this has happened before, but I am not aware that it has.)

The United Methodist Church, along with all Christian churches, is called to show forth the love of God in Christ for all people.  Part of showing forth that love is proclaiming the great good news that we can be forgiven and transformed by God's grace.

The full statement can be read, here.


Todd Stepp said...

The full news article, along with comments, can be found here:


Todd Stepp said...

The following is a "Statement from Council of Bishops president, which comes following the retired bishops "counsel":

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Jesus Christ:
The Council of Bishops remains committed to leading the church in our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Such transformation includes increasing the capacity of church and culture to engage in thoughtful, prayerful dialogue about sensitive and challenging issues, and to make decisions that grow out of that thought, prayer, and reflection. We call this Holy Conferencing. We are committed to embody this in our own life as a council and lead the church in doing the same. We are further committed to living within the covenant defined by our Book of Discipline and fully understand that it is the General Conference that reexamines that covenant every four years and has the responsibility to define our covenant for the next four years. We ask everyone to join us in prayer and fasting on behalf of the whole church and as we move toward our General Conference in Tampa in 2012.
Grace and Peace!
Larry M. Goodpaster
President, The Council of Bishops

Come on. Because the denomination is committed to "holy conferencing" it does not follow that they must continue to rehash this same issue world without end.

Where is the bishop who will stand up for the position of the Scripture and the Church catholic (not to mention the UMC)?

If it is at the General Conference that decisions are made, where is the bishop that will call the delegates to continue to stand firm with the Scripture and the historic Church?

Thomas said...

Is there any indication of what the Council of Bishops will decide at their next meeting? Is it trending toward approval of homosexual ordination, or does there seem to be solid support for the traditional view at the moment? In other words, do you think this is a sign of things to come or are these retired bishops way out in left field? Also would not such a decision cause severe damage to the unity of the Methodist Church and possibly schism?

Todd Stepp said...

In a number of ways it simply doesn't matter what the bishops say. It is the General Conference, alone, that can speak for the UMC.

There are a number of folks who want to go the way of the 33. However, the G.C. has always defeated such proposals. Last time, the vot was approx. 2/3rds to 1/3rd.

Another issue that is related is whether the G.C. will retain the delegates from Africa. There was an attempt to make them seperate "central" confrences. This would allow the U.S. church to decide on this type of issue for the U.S. without the input of the Africans.

That was also defeated this last time around. If the Africans stay, then the orthodox will likely win the day. If the U.S. becomes its own central conference, then the liberal folks will have a better chance of eventually changing things.

You notice that in the Anglican Communion, it is the African Anglicans that have basically distanced themselves from the U.S. Episcopal Church. It is a kind of schism within the Anglican Communion.

The Methodists are organized differently. If the postion changes, there will be a split in the denomination.


Whitey Lawful's Blogspot: The spirit of the law is greater then the letter. said...

The infiltraition of such countercultrure inclusion has lead to the demise of Protestantism into some post-protestant frankenstein. The monster wants to live with grace and guidance; but cannot. So -- it calls itsself interdenominational death... headed to Rome. Where at the alter of the black eucharist the ecumenism eats continually until only the Papist puke such flesh.

Todd Stepp said...

I must confess, I do not understand the comment, above, by "Whitey Lawful."

1. Many would say that the comments of the retired bishops is reflective of the current culture, not "countercultural" as your statement seems to say.

2. Such "inclusion" has only infiltrated a very few of the mainline denominations, so it could hardly be seen as the demise of Protestantism.

3. I do not understand who it is that you believe is calling themselves 'interdenominational death." - I am uncertain how this fits the UMC, unless, perhaps you are trying to refer to its ecumenical relationships with other denominations. In any case, I'm not sure what that has to do with the topic at hand.

4. If you are referring to the UMC as those who are "headed to Rome" (and it is not at all clear who you are referring to), such an identification certainly does not fit the subject of this current post. The statement of the retired UM bishops heads further away from Rome in that Rome (despite all of the scandals with RC priests) teaches that practicing homosexuals are not eligible to serve as clergy.

5. I have no idea what you are trying to say in your last sentence.

Cynthia said...

I am appalled at those who call teachers of the word are so ignorant of it! The bible is perfectly clear on God’s view of the sin of homosexuality, yet we have so called leaders who would have us believe if we choose to follow God’s word and the official discipline of the United Methodist Church we are being intolerant. How absurd!

I refer you to scripture:
Romans 1:24-27 Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature : and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due

Revelation 2: 18- 20 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this to against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols

I do not see how given these example of scripture( and these are not the only ones) that anyone can say the homosexuality is not a sin. Sin is something that we all struggle with, and I would be the first to welcome any and all homosexuals who are repentant, but if one is going to continue committing the same sin and encourage others to do the same I can hardly feel that they are repentant.

I believe by condoning such behavior we are condoning sin and sin when is is full blown leads to death. I believe that the United Methodist Church's official statement is true and honoring to God. Homosexuality is not , it is sin, as much are some would like it to not be it is. I too have people I care about who are caught in this particular sin and I pray for them all the time, and yes I do accept and love them. If I did not love them I wouldn’t be concerned for their souls.

I do not believe that ordaining persons who have vowed to continue in a sinful lifestyle is right, even if it makes them to not feel so good about themselves. Any other person who vows to continue in a sinful lifestyle would not be ordained,why should it be different for avowed homosexuals There is a reason we feel bad as Christians when we are habitually repeating the same sin. It is the Holy Spirit calling us back to God. The rules and guidelines that Jesus set for us is not a “cafeteria” plan in which we can pick and choose which laws we want to obey

Allowing homosexual’s who choose to continue in their sin and to encourage others by their example to do the same should not be allowed to serve in leadership positions. Luke 17:1-3 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck then for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves, if your brother sins rebuke him, and if her repents , forgive him.”

I would ask these 33 bishops: If you are putting yourselves before God, and declaring what God has clearly told us in His word is sin, to not be sin, which sin is next? And who is it who gets to decide which sins are to be declared unsinful? Is it you as a collective group, or do you individually hold that power?

James Gibson said...

Most of the people I know who have "headed to Rome" (or, in my case, Kigali) lately are those who are fed up with having to endure this same old dog and pony show every four years. I've been out of this fight for quite a while now, but I see nothing much has changed.

Todd Stepp said...

I understand, James.

Thomas said...

To whomever may be "heading for Rome": God bless you, and we're glad to have you. The doors are always open. As a Catholic myself I would certainly highly recommend it. :) But that’s hardly the issue at hand here, at least not directly. Nor is that why I originally commented.

The main reason I have concerns about this issue is that any further division within Christianity (such as a possible schism among Methodists) does harm to an already splintered Christendom. It would certainly make any future unity more difficult.

It’s interesting that a few posts ago the subject was *unification* among Wesleyan churches, but now we have a possible point of *division* within Methodism. It seems that things are always in flux, always shifting, even at (or perhaps especially at) the highest levels of the churches’ hierarchies. Just when one group seems closer together, someone else drives a wedge between others. (Interesting too that both this and the previous post zeroed in on ordination as a major issue.)

I wonder, is there some way to prevent the General Conference from tampering with certain doctrines or beliefs. Is there any way to make sure that some things are written in stone, that they are untouchable or “infallible” for future Conferences? I know the word “infallible” has certain Catholic connotations, but it would seem a useful thing when traditional Christian teachings (such as the one at hand) get threatened by the highest authority of a church.

I assume that even if the next General Conference issued a solemn statement which declared the traditional view as True for all time and that the issue is now closed, a future Conference would not be bound by that statement. Is that correct? Is there no way to declare something as an unchangeable truth of Christian faith?

Todd Stepp said...

I do not have my Book of Discipline, and I am not as familiar with how it work; however, I believe that the constitution including the doctrinal standards, viz., the Articles of Religion (from the former Methodist Church and the former EUB Church, which merged to form the United Methodist Church), Wesley's Noted on the NT, and the standard sermons are almost unchangable. That is, I think that it is possible for them to change, but it takes more than a simple General Conference to do so.

I believe that is correct.

Here is the rub, it is said of the UMC that the Articles of Religion cannot be changed, but you don't really have to believe them. You are supposed to vow not to teach anything contrary to them. However, it does seem that there are plenty who do teach contrary to them. They use the statement in the Discipline that speaks of encouraging exploritory theologies, so long as it is done (loosely) in connection with the "Wesleyan Quadrelateral," viz., Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience.

Much of what I said, above, is just my recollection without having the Discipline in front of me. It may not be quite accurate, and it may not use the wording of the Discipline. But the idea is that the Articles of Religion is (nearly) unchangable.


Anonymous said...

I sure wish the issue were as simple as "the Bible is perfectly clear." The plain reality is that it is not.

Or maybe we could argue that it really doesn't matter what the scripture "really says," because unless we are literalists we understand that what the scripture says must be interpreted by people with lenses that have been shaped and formed within a tradition. Truth be told it is really the a given church's interpretation of scripture that is authoritative. Consider the US Constitution. It says a bunch of words, but those words really mean nothing (or more precisely they can mean just about anything anyone wants them to mean) without the Supreme Court's authority to interpret the Consititution.

A couple examples from my own Church of the Nazarene. A plain reading of Paul tells us that women ought not be in ministry. Thankfully, we have interpreted Paul's words differently and allowed women to holy orders alongside their male colleagues.

How about divorce and remarriage. Scripture has a clear position that both are adultery -- SIN! (see RCL lection for Epiphany 6A -- next Sunday). Yet the church has interpreted the plain scriptural teaching in such a way that Christians are now free to divorce and remarry and we even ordain those who are.

The point is this. Resorting to "the bible is perfectly clear" is absolutely not helpful at all because we understand that culture tints the lenses through which we interpret scripture.

My prediction (whether I like it or not) is that the UMC will soon be ordaining practicing monogamous homosexuals -- and the CotN will follow suit in my lifetime (aprox another 50 years).

Just my opinion for what its worth...

Todd Stepp said...

I don't want to have to change my options, but I would request that those who choose to comment please no use the "Anonymous" option.,

Anyway, I would suggest that your understanding of exegesis could be slightly mistaken. The montra that words only mean what we want them to mean is a far cry from a recognition that we have preconceived notions, etc. when we come to interpret.

If that is the case, then we simply cannot communicate. (Oh, wait, you could interpret my last sentence to mean that we can communicate clearly. Oh, wait, it could mean that I like bannana splits.)

There are certain genres and thus, statements in Scripture that are meant to be taken literaly. The idea that being a "literalist" is some bad, fundamentalist thing, again misunderstands fundamentalism and the faithful reading of Scripture. When Scripture says that Jesus was crucified, that is meant to be taken literally, even by the person who recognizes that various passages of Scripture are poetic, etc. You may disagree about exactly how crucifixions took place, but our understanding of what is being said is close enough to have a good idea of what we are talking about.

Despite claims that we can't call this or that "sin," because it really doesn't mean anything until we decide it does, is nonsense. Scripture is clear from front to back in that the only sexual relationships that are ever identified as blessed or pleasing to God in Scripture are heterosexual. Further, any expression of homosexuality in Scripture is always condemned in strong terms.

Your arguments do the very thing the Spong does when he recites the Nicene Creed every Sunday and turns around and says it pretty much means the opposite of what it quite obviously does mean

As for the CotN ordaining women, I would suggest you investigate a bit more as to why we ordain women. If you do, you will discover that it has a good deal to do with what Scripture does say. We ordain women because, 1. Gifts and graces; and 2. because we believe it is biblical. We recognize some difficult verses. However, the reason for our interpreting them the way we do is because we find a number of clear statements from Scripture (including Paul) that do support women preaching and leading, which indicate that whatever Paul was saying, he must not be contradicting himself.

Nazarenes do not follow the Episcopalian who says that we know better than Scripture. We don't follow the Episcopalian who said, "We (i.e., the Church) wrote the book, and we can rewrite it."
(Cont. . . .)

Todd Stepp said...

(Cont. . . )

As Stan Ingersol (Nazarene Archivest) is fond of saying when talking about our ordaining women, we believe it is a mark of apostolicity (because of what we read in Scripture). (I recall his passion talking about that when we were in Brighton, England for the 2001 World Methodist Conference, and we were talking about the Vatican's representative who spoke to the conference.)

Further, I would suggest that your argument makes Scripture utterly irrelevant for anything. We may see through our own lenses, but it is not nearly as difficult as you argue to discover an approximation of original intent in the vast majority of Scripture.

However, when we (you or I) become convinced that it isn't about what Scripture says, but really only what any particular body decides that it means (or that you or I decide what it means), or when I read it apart from the faithful reading of the Church throughout history, or apart from the reasoning of the Church or the Church's experience, then I have become my own authority.

Your arguments betray a view that Scripture is only valuable as a means of supporting whatever i want it to say.

Even your argument about divorce takes one passage in isolation from other passages on divorce (Read Paul along side the Gospels).

On the other hand, if any particular church determines they will do what they want despite Scripture, it is not that Scripture cannot be understood, it is that the church has moved away from Scripture.

I disagree with your prediction, as well. The UMC may indeed begin ordaining active homosexuals. If they do, it will split the denomination. But if it does, I doubt it will be soon. They have rejected it for decades (the last G.C. it was a 2/3rds to 1/3rd vote). Still that could happen, even in 2012.

But, let me tell you, as one who has grown up in the CotN, and pastored in it for 16 1/2 years, and who has been quite active and at General Assemblies (on the one hand), and quite aware of happenings in the UMC and now (as a Nazarene) pastoring in the UMC, Nazarenes are no place near the UMC on this issue (despite what a few people may say in the CotN).

If the UMC makes this move, and if the CotN EVER makes that move, I would be shocked, even in 50 years. Don't forget, still those who have made this move are just a very, very tiny minority in world wide Christianity, and when they have made the move, it has spawned new denominations in reaction.

Just my 2 cents.

Again, I would request that those who comment not use the anonymous option.


Whitey Lawful's Blogspot: The spirit of the law is greater then the letter. said...

Mr. Stepp -- i of course meant the counterculture extenting to todays popular culture. Wich is no place for a church.

Thomas said...


I agree with your statement above, that some things in Scripture are meant to be taken literally while others are figurative. As always, context is important – literary context to be sure, but also the historical context of the writing, and its context within the Church’s Tradition. Misreading Scripture can produce bizarre distortions of Christian faith and morality.

With that in mind, I guess what I’m saying by asking the question above is that the Church ought to have a mechanism by which controversies such as this can be settled in a binding way. It would seem imperative that when two factions argue over the meaning of a doctrine or the application of Scripture to something as serious as ordination, the Church ought to be able to settle the matter definitively without having to rehash the issue every four years. This would seem necessary given the history of Christianity going back centuries.

One of the earliest heresies, Arianism, as you know, made Jesus out to be a mere creature (not truly God) by relying on Scriptural passages such as John 14:28, where Jesus says that the Father is “greater than I” and other verses that imply a subservient role for Jesus and for the Jewish Messiah in general. The arguments in favor of Arianism were convincing enough (relying on Biblical data and also appealing to Jewish monotheism) that many bishops adopted this belief. (In fact, from what I understand, MOST Christians believed this heresy at one time – so I’m not sure what that would imply for a ‘majority’ understanding in today’s Christian churches – as much as I may agree with a ‘majority’ conclusion I cannot pin my hopes on it, and certainly not my faith.) However as you also know, the Council of Nicea eventually condemned the Arian heresy in terms that are unchanging and binding on all Christians…and one might even say “infallible.”

Now this did not end the controversy entirely, the heresy did linger, but it certainly brought the full force of the Church to bear on the problem in a definitive way, and the result is a Creed that we still use over 1500 years later. Now to be fair, Nicea was the first of such Councils (unless you also count the meeting of the Apostles in Jerusalem to discuss Paul evangelizing Gentiles), and so it was unclear at the time precisely what kind of precedent the Church was setting or how these Councils would shape the doctrinal life of the Church. But in hindsight it has proven to be an invaluable tool for the Church in setting the record straight on doctrinal disputes. A Council’s decisions are binding and cannot be repealed or revoked (though they can be added to or refined). But once it is written it is a settled matter.

I know that many Christian denominations accept the Nicean Creed (as it was later finalized at the Council of Constantinople) as a definitive and binding statement of Christian faith. So Councils do give us “infallible” (if I may use that word again) decrees that can settle doctrinal matters when controversies arise. Councils are vital for this purpose.

So why not issue a binding resolution on the matter of ordination or marriage/sexuality? Why did the Church do such things in the 300’s and 400’s (and still we honor those decrees even to this day) but such a power is not possible now? I’m not tying to pick a fight or rehash the Reformation, but I have always wondered how the Church can go from authoritative and binding on all Christians (even against the majority of Arian Christians) to loosing its punch and issuing documents that can be revoked at the next session. I’m just curious why the historical Church addressed controversies in a different way than the modern Church?


Todd Stepp said...


You have raised a good question. In a lot of ways, those of us who have looked at the UMC from the outside (though on the inside of the larger Wesleyan tradition) have asked the same kind of question.

Nazarenes have simply not experienced the same kind of repeated argument General Assembly after G.A. (despite the fact that we are set up in a very similar fashion as the UMC).

I would say a couple of things:

First, the section of the Book of Discipline that focuses on doctrinal standards is (much more) protected in a fashion similar to what you have said. For the UMC, things must be shown to be consistent with the Articles of Religion.

For Nazarenes, too, while the Articles of Faith can be reworded, it takes more than a G.A. to do it. It must also be ratified by the various districts throughout the denomination.

Nevertheless, this issue of homosexuality and ordination, while in the UMC Book of Discipine, is not a part of the "unchangeble" doctrinal section of the Discipline.

Second, United Methodists value "Holy Conferencing" as a means of grace; God's Spirit speaking through God's people as they speak to each other. United Methodists believe that God is at work in the midsts of their Conference. Theologically, it ought not be thought of as merely elections or majority rules.

Third, (though I would argue that several denominations would not admit that the ecumenical councils are binding upone them, nevertheless) what you have in the councils is a "catholic" (i.e., universal) council with bishops from throughout all of the Christian world. That would be viewed differently thank a General Conference of one denomination. It might be more like a gathering of "Churches of Christ Uniting" (of the World Council of Churches). Even then, it is not a "universal" body. Further, the individualism of the U.S. applies also to denominations (e.g., we will do what we want to do, and you have no right to tell us what to do).


Thomas said...

Good enough.
I suppose I might ask one more question though, if you don’t mind...

When the Arians were rebuked by the Council of Nicea, there were many bishops who afterward refused to accept the Council’s decision. There was division within the Church. Bishops went into schism. It was not at all neat and tidy. Likewise with other Councils; not everyone always agreed with a Council’s decision and some were left out of the process all together because of previous schism, and the cycle continued until the next Council. But this did not stop future Ecumenical Councils from convening. Nicea was followed by Constantinople (minus any schismatics or heretics), then Ephesus (again, minus schismatics), Chalcedon, and so on... Not everyone was happy with these Councils and not everyone felt that they were validly “ecumenical” or that their side got a fair shake.

Those who were left out of an Ecumenical Council might understandably say, “It was not truly ‘ecumenical’ because my church was not represented.” But looking back through the centuries, heretics were left out of those early Councils for good reason. You and I would agree that an Arian (once Arianism was decided to be heretical) should not be included to vote when a Council discusses Nestorianism. Or if a person denies the divinity of the Second Person of the Trinity he should not get a vote when the Third Person is debated. Ecumenical Councils include all those who have not placed themselves outside of the Church through heresy or schism.

So my question would be: Is there a great deal of resentment among Reformed Churches (specifically churches that accept the early Councils such as Nicea and Constantinople) when they see that the Catholic Church has continued Ecumenical Councils after the Protestant split? I suppose it would feel like a slap in the face to me. Is this a subject that gets much discussion on your side of the aisle? It seems that it would be a huge obstacle toward unification when we consider that Councils ceased for Protestants and yet continued among Catholics. So I guess I am wondering if among Protestants there is a hope that ecumenism will eventually lead to unification of the Christian churches and a return to the format of the Ecumenical Councils of old and what that might entail?


Todd Stepp said...


I can't speak to all that you have asked, nor can I speak for the various groups you have mentioned.

I will give you an answer (not "the" answer, but "an" answer) to your question about feeling resentment about the Roman Catholic Church calling councils after the Protestant Reformation. The answer I will suggest comes from the writings of many traditional Anglicans, on the one hand, and the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, on the other.

First, in the history section of the Nazarene Manual, we say:

One Holy Faith. The Church of the Nazarene, from its beginnings,
has confessed itself to be a branch of the “one, holy,
universal, and apostolic” church and has sought to be faithful
to it. It confesses as its own the history of the people of
God recorded in the Old and New Testaments, and that
same history as it has extended from the days of the apostles
to our own. As its own people, it embraces the people of
God through the ages, those redeemed through Jesus Christ
in whatever expression of the one church they may be found.
It receives the ecumenical creeds of the first five Christian
centuries as expressions of its own faith. While the Church
of the Nazarene has responded to its special calling to proclaim
the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification, it
has taken care to retain and nurture identification with the
historic church in its preaching of the Word, its administration
of the sacraments, its concern to raise up and maintain
a ministry that is truly apostolic in faith and practice, and
its inculcating of disciplines for Christlike living and service
to others.

Next the Anglicans often use the statement as follows:

One Canon (of Scripture) reduced to unity by God Himself, two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, (over) five centuries

I think that what that reveals is that it is not simply a matter of councils post-Protestantism, but rather council post-the Great Division of East & West. Thus, the councils called by Rome are not ecumenical (or, to say it another way, full "catholic") as were those prior to the RC/Eastern Orthodox split.

I don't know that anyone feels it a "slap in the face." They simply see it as similar to a "denominational" council.

On the other hand, as the Nazarene statement indicates, there is a claiming of all people of God through the ages as their own people, even if seperated by denominational structures or particular doctrinal expressions.

I do not know about any real hopes of any future ecumenical councils such as those of the early centuries.


Eric + said...


Wasn't the great schism between east & west in 1054. That leaves ~500 years and several ecumenical councils between the first five centuries and the Schism. I have asked before, and never found a compelling answer, as to why we (Nazarenes, Methodists, Anglicans) accept the first five centuries but not Constantinople 2 (553), Constantinople 3 (680), Nicea 2 (787). If both East and West recognize 7 ecumenical councils why don't we? Any ideas?

Thomas said...

I was going to ask exactly the same thing. What about those other Councils which the Orthodox accept...
Also do you use the "filioque" in the Creed?

Eric + said...

Thomas, we follow the church in the west confessing that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Thomas said...

I thought so…I had assumed that most Reformed Churches who accept the Creed do use that phrase.

Then that seems to confuse the issue even more from my perspective: The Orthodox understandably have a serious problem with the “filioque” – yet Protestants accept it as a valid expression of the faith. On the other hand, the Orthodox do accept the Ecumenical Councils between the Fifth Century and the Great Schism – but Protestants (at least the ones cited here) reject those Councils. It seems to be an inconsistent position.

When the pope made his visit to England recently I read a story about this guy who stood on the street waiting for the motorcade to pass. He was just some average guy holding a sign he had hand-written on an old pizza box. And the sign read: “Drop the filioque!” I thought it was hilarious (as did the author of the article). It showed a real seriousness about the faith, yet in a clever and humorous way. The author said that if the pope caught a glimpse of the sign he was sure that the Holy Father would have chuckled and perhaps be interested in what the man had to say. But the point of the article was that this issue has some serious implications about authority in the Church, and those implications must be faced at some point if the East and West are to reconcile.

I later read an article about the ecumenical dialogue between the East and West (which has shown more promise under Benedict). In this article it mentioned that the Pope had recited the Creed along with some Orthodox Patriarchs and had left out the filioque in deference to their sensitivities. Apparently this has been the norm when the two Churches celebrate together. And it makes sense because the ancient Councils did not include the filioque.

So it’s interesting to me that some churches could accept the filioque (when it is obvious a point of tension between the East and West) and yet reject several Ecumenical Councils that are undisputed by the Orthodox. It just seems inconsistent.

Todd Stepp said...

Thomas & Eric,

A couple of things:

First, we simply do not state what councils we (Nazarenes) accept, or that we accept any or all. We talk about the creeds of the first five centuries.

Second, some of the Anglo-Catholics do specify the seven, other Anglicans do not.

Third, it was common in Wesley's day and the Anglicans before him to talk of the "primitive church." Wesley (as I've shown in my dissertation) meant, as did the other Anglicans, the first three Christian centuries (primarily), which, at times could be extended into the fourh (as in the writings of Chrysostom, Basil, Ephrem, Syrus, and Macarius) and even the fifth. The latter, when talking about the trinitarian expressions as found in the creeds.

However, he and they saw a marked distinction within the church taking place beginning with the reign of Constantine in the early fourth century. He saw much greater unity and demonstration of purity prior to Constantine.

Wesley frequently recommended "the Ante-Nicen Fathers" or "the writings of the first three centuries." He says, "The esteeming the writings of the first three centuries, not equally with, but next to, the Scriptures, never carried any man yet into dangerous errors, nor probably ever will. But it has brought many out of dangerous errors, and particularly out of the errors of Popery."

My guess is, based on that last line, though I'm not in my study today to try to check it out, that he (and they) trace the development of Romes understanding of the positon of the Pope to the latter centuries.

On the "filioque" clause: while we in the Western Church of the Nazarene do stand with the Western Church, I believe I recall Dr. Paul Bassett saying that, at his written request, the Board of General Superintendents granted permission for the Nazarene churches in the East to use the version of the Eastern Church. He argued, that while he agreed with the West, the East had valid arguments (in that the change took place at a council that was not truly ecumencal or catholic). - Interesting.


Thomas said...

Indeed, very interesting.
I suppose that I am so tainted by “Popery” that I see things differently. ;)

Making an appeal to the primitive Church (prior to the reign of Constantine) as a way of stressing “unity” and “purity of belief” hasn’t seemed to work out so well. I mean, there are many churches that claim to be inline with the primitive church and yet they all disagree on so many doctrines. Many of these churches are offshoots of each other that came into existence when disagreements were unable to be reconciled. Yet they all appeal to the primitive Church to make their case. And now it seems that every four years or so some of these churches are able to vote down yet another ancient belief without the ability to protect the “purity of belief” and “unity” they so cherish.

It seems a fine dance to do between accepting the Councils that followed Constantine’s reign and yet at the same time appealing to the pre-Nicene (pre-Constantinian) Church as a model for belief. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too: “We do accept as authoritative the Councils up to the Fifth or Sixth Century, but the true faith was best exemplified prior to those Councils.” That would mean that the surest norm for faith comes before the faith was defined by the Councils.

Could it be that Wesley had his own hang-ups about the Bishop of Rome? The Eastern Churches at least accept a “primacy” of Rome (however that may be defined). I’m sure Wesley would have rejected even such a watered down role for the pope. Perhaps that is why these mental gymnastics must be done to avoid too much emphasis on Church authority and the Ecumenical Councils in question. And it would explain his love of the pre-Nicene Church before the pope played such an active role in shaping doctrine. Also Wesley’s view of the episcopate could be explained in this way. Could Wesley have been wrong about any of this? Or has Wesley ever been called “wrong” or “in error” by any Wesleyans?

Thomas said...

I thought of another way to put this:

It seems to me that we cannot say that the primitive church is the ‘ideal’ because it was from the primitive church that we received the seeds of the Arian controversy that made the Nicene Council necessary. The Nicene Council triumphed over an error that was begotten in the primitive church. Likewise, as we move forward in time, new heresies and new doctrinal controversies arose that made other Councils necessary. We cannot freeze time and say, “Here we have the ideal Church,” because in each era we have new reasons to better define the faith.

To say, as Wesley does, that reading the pre-Nicene Fathers will not lead a person into error is to ignore the fact that error did in fact occur even with these great writings in place. It was not through neglecting the ancient writings that the Councils were called and the papacy grew, it was a natural outgrowth of the Church simply doing what she does to refute new fallacies.

Todd Stepp said...


I'm just in my study and getting ready to head to the hospital, so this is going to be brief and not very thorough! (Plus, I'm not an "expert" or historical theologian!)

First, of course you're so tainted by Popery! Therefore, we don't have to read anything you have posted, for surely you must be completely wrong! (Just joking!) ;0)

(Really) First, Wesley, too, surely had his hang ups with the bishop of Rome. However, he was not alone. In other words, they were not personal hang ups. They were issues fosterd in his Anglican heritage, supported by his/their readings of the early Church Fathers (especially Ante-Nicene Fathers), and (most importantly) his/their reading of Scripture.

Wesley was well versed in Roman doctrine as presented popularly and in the Roman catechism, which he addresses at points, line by line.

Nevertheless, despite all of the sharp criticisms that he could give concerning "Popery," he famiously wrote his very ecumenical "Letter to a Roman Catholic," which has been a foundaional document in the dialogue between Methodists and R.C.s.

Second, as to Wesleyan's disagreeing with Wesley. Of course! That is one reason for this blog, because most Wesleyan demonimations (really all of them) have rejected many of Wesley's views concerning worship and (to various degrees) the sacraments.

In Wesleyan theological circles there is sometimes a distinction made between what Wesley believed and what Wesleyans believe. Further, as I point out in my dissertation concerning worship, if recent studies have discovered that Wesley, using the best studies of his day, was wrong about his understanding of something in the primitive church, following the better discoveries would be as or more "Wesleyan" than following Wesley. That is due to the Wesleyan principle of looking to the primitive church (for example).

Additionally, there is what is popularly called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, & Experience, which are used in the development of doctrinal positions.

Two things about that are important to note in light of your quesitons. First, many will claim to be "Wesleyan" by virtue of (their claim of) using the WQ, even when they disagree completely with Wesley's own positions. - You find this a lot among "ultra-liberal" UMs.

Second, the Q was never really about all of those four being equal. Wesley claimed to be homo unius Libri (a man of one book, i.e., the Bible). (Of course, this obviously didn't mean he didn't read other books!) - The three legs of the WQ was intended to norm the interpretation of the Scirpture.

This leads to why the position is not quite the "having your cake, etc." - (Without going into the meaning of "Scriptural" for Wesley, which I do in my dissertation, let me simply note that) Karen Westerfield Tucker points out (as I write in my dissertation), "Wesley's belief that no creedal or conciliar decisions of the Church have any authority unless they conform to the witness of Scripture . . . By implication, if those creedal statemtns did conform to the witness of Scripture, they ccould be considered as having authority becaue they were 'scriptural' statements."

So, while councils, etc. have authority, it is only as they conform to Scripture.

Well, I'm sure that doesn't answer all the questions, but I need to head out for the time being!



Thomas said...


It is fascinating how similar the authentic Wesleyan approach and the Catholic approach really are. These points of contact are what interest me most in this kind of dialog...

I am sure you know that Catholics rely on the three-fold Scripture/Tradition/Magisterium. Of course, the major difference would be that Tradition in our understanding is *equal to* Scripture (or more accurately, Scripture is the written form of Tradition as Paul implies in 2Thes 2:15).

Then the third component, the Magisterium (or the Church’s teaching authority), is subservient to Tradition in its two forms (written and oral) and would act as the catalyst for correct interpretation.

So the role of Ecumenical Councils, papal authority and the authority of the Church in general are to teach correct doctrine as it is found in Scripture and Tradition. I suppose your “Reason and Experience” would fit somewhat loosely into the category we call Magisterium. And your understanding of “Spirit lead” Holy Conferencing might mirror that to some degree, but without the mark of infallibility.

Being a die-hard Papist, a mindless drone at the service of the Bishop of Rome :) , I take comfort in the gift of infallibility. It seems logical that the infallible Scriptures need an infallible interpreter, or else error is always a risk. It seems that God would know this in His infinite Wisdom and He would give us a means by which error could be discovered and authoritatively refuted. For this reason it seems fitting that the pope cannot ‘err’ in official matters of faith and morals (a gift that he shares with the whole Body of Bishops when teaching in communion with Rome). Thus the Church is protected from apostasy and the faith is preserved.

It has never crossed my mind that the Church would one day distort the ancient faith. Because of infallibility, I’ve never wondered if in the next four years some Catholic assembly or “Holy Conference” will demolish some tenet of ancient Christianity or alter the Deposit of Faith.

Of course, the Protestant reply to all of this would be that “infallibility” and the authority of the Roman Bishop, indeed the authority of the Catholic Church itself, is a distortion of the true faith. It might be argued that I have placed hope in a false doctrine and that Catholics are just as prone to error as any Protestant denomination. – And that is where we would sharply disagree.

Anyway, I will pray that the United Methodist Church maintains sound teaching in this area of homosexual ordination... And you can pray that my Popery has not completely contaminated my faith and that I might one day make a full recovery. ;)

Though I must confess that I have not sought any professional help for this malady.


Jason Woolever said...

I didn't read all of the previous comments on this post, but I truly see this effort by the 33 Bishops (including the Scripture-denying "Bishop" Sprague) as a step back to the Dark Ages, an attempt to raise the authority of the "Church" over and above the authority of Scripture... God have mercy on the UMC... lest we fall over the edge into irreversal apostasy and complete abandonment of Scriptural Christianity.