Saturday, April 28, 2012

World Methodist Council Statement on Sexuality

As the United Methodist Church continues in General Conference and begins, yet again, its internal debates concerning issues of sexuality, I would point out that, in September of 2004, the Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council issued a statement on sexuality.  That statement continues to appear on the new WMC website in the Resources section.

The WMC statement is not long, nor is it an in depth theological study.  I would also point out that the churches of the World Methodist Council are understood to be completely autonomous denominations.  (The WMC is much different than the Anglican Communion, for example, and certainly far different from the Orthodox Churches or the Roman Catholic Church.)  No statement made by the WMC is binding on any of its member denominations.

However, having said that, the WMC statement may serve to remind the UMC that they are a part of the larger Wesleyan/Methodist family, and it is good to take into consideration the thoughts of their fellow Methodists from around the world.

The statement can be read, here.

I would suggest that this statement, along with statements by other Wesleyan/Methodist denominations, should be studied along side of, and to an even greater extent than the decisions of TEC, ELCA, PCUSA and UCC, to which a good number of UMs tend to point.

The position of my own denomination (and sister WMC member), the Church of the Nazarene, can be found, here.  It seems to be quite similar to the current position of the UMC. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Website

It has taken quite some time, but the World Methodist Council has finally finished their updates on their new website!

I have not yet had the opportunity to thoroughly check out the site, but I hope to, soon.  I encourage readers of Wesleyan/Anglican to check it out, as well.

As I understand it, this is the first year that the WMC has not produced a copy of their World Methodist Council Handbook of Information.  Instead, all of the contents of the Handbook is supposed to be on-line through the WMC website.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Methodist General Conference(s!)

Before I begin my post, I have to say I was surprised when logging into my blog.  It seems that they have changed a lot of stuff.  I'm sure it is all great, but I am not so good with tech changes.  I say all of that to say, I hope this post turns out okay!  -  Here we go!

This is a big General Conference year for Methodism.  Four of the seven U.S. based World Methodist Council denominations are having General Conferences this year.  Within Methodism, the General Conference (or, in the case of the Church of the Nazarene, General Assembly) is the supreme doctrine-formulating, lawmaking, and elective authority for each denomination.  The Book of Discipline (Nazarenes refer to it as the Manual) is revised according to G.C./A. action every four years.  -  This is where official actions, statements, doctrines and positions are determined for each denomination, so this is a very big deal for each denomination. 

The United Methodist Church will be the first of the Methodist denominations to assemble for General Conference this year.  They kick of their G.C. this Tuesday in Tampa, Florida.  It will last through May 4. 

Among the major issues coming before the UMC G.C. are these:  Major restructuring proposals for the denomination including denominational agencies and the Council of Bishops (with a proposal for a new kind of President of the Council of Bishops); The possible loss of guaranteed appointments for elders; and, as always(!), issues about sexuality.  (There is also the Pan-Methodist "Full Communion" vote, as found in the blog post, below.)  More of the major issues to be addressed can be found, here.  -  Those interested in the UMC G.C. can find our more information on their General Conference website, here.

The Wesleyan Church will be the next denomination to hold their General Conference.  It will take place in Lexington, Kentucky, June 2-6.  The theme will be Loving Christ, Embracing Our World. Word is, this General Conference may be considering changing from a three general superintendent (bishop) model (for the U.S. church) to a one g.s. model. 

A preliminary daily schedule can be viewed, here, and further information about their G.C. can be found, here.

On June 27, the African Methodist Episcopal Church will start their G.C.  It will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, and it will conclude on the Fourth of July.  The theme of the AME G.C. is Exalting Christ to Impact the World.  A draft of the agenda can be found, here, and more information about the General Conference can be seen at this site.

Finally, from July 18 through 24, the AME Zion Church will be in General Conference.  They will be meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Their G.C. website can be found, here.

The Free Methodist Church held their G.C. last year.  2013 will see the General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene.  And the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church will hold their G.C. in 2014.

I expect the respective websites will provide more information as each G.C. approaches.  I also hope to post about interesting developments at the General Conferences as they meet throughout the Spring & Summer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

++Eugenio Duarte Speaks Concerning What Nazarenes Believe About the Bible

It is not a surprise for those Nazarenes who have been paying attention that there has been much uproar in some quarters about what Nazarenes believe about the Bible, or what some think that Nazarenes should believe.  

It must be admitted that there have always been those among us who have held a more fundamentalist view of Scripture.  However, it must also be asserted that the Church of the Nazarene has never held such a position.  The Nazarene Articles of Faith have always presented a solidly Wesleyan understanding of Scripture; an understanding that has been passed on to us through our Methodist and Anglican heritage.

The earliest Nazarene statement on Scripture, as found in the "Agreed Statement of Belief" in the 1908 Manual, affirms that we believe "In the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, as found in the Old and New Testaments, and that they contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living."  This statement is expanded in the Article of Faith which says:

"By the Holy Scriptures we understand the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, given by Divine inspiration, revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation; so that whatever is not contained therein, and cannot be proved thereby, is not to be enjoined as an article of faith."  (The last line, by the way, itself rules out a fundamentalist position!)

During the fundamentalist controversies during either the General Assembly of 1932, or the previous one (I'm missing the Manual between 1923 and 1932!), the Article of Faith on Scripture was re-written using "inerrancy language."  However, it was used, thanks to Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley, in a very Wesleyan way.  The Article from that time until today has stated:

"We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation, so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith."

Though inerrancy language has been incorporated, there is essentially no substantial difference between the original Nazarene Article and the one originating between 1923 and 1932.  Nor is there much substantial difference between the Nazarene Article and the original Methodist/Anglican Article which states:

"The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.   . . . "

Nevertheless, there are those among Nazarenes who have insisted on "calling us back" to a position that we have never had.  The controversy most recently has heated up due to an article appearing in the most recent edition of Holiness Today, the denominations official magazine.  The article was written by the Rev'd. Kevin Ulmet, pastor of Nashville First Church. It is entitled "I Am a Concerned Nazarene."  Of course, adding fuel to the flame is the play on words that Rev'd. Ulmet is making, because those who's position is on the more fundamentalist side have identified themselves as "Concerned Nazarenes."  -  In any case, the article can be read, here.

++Dr. Eugenio Duarte
As has been pointed out, it is significant that this article has appeared in Holiness Today.  However, I think it is very significant that, at this time, Dr. Duarte, a general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, has used The Way of Holiness (a one minute radio program of the Board of General Superintendents) to express in a very positive manner that we Nazarenes ". . .believe…that the Old and New Testament Scriptures, given by plenary inspiration, contain all truth necessary to faith and Christian living."

I am thankful for our episcopal leaders being faithful in their responsibility to teach the historic, Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith as held by the Church of the Nazarene.  Thank you, Dr. Duarte!

I would say, however, that the so called "Concerned Nazarenes" have raised one point of legitimate concern.  It does seem that there are some who have misunderstood our denominational position on Scripture so as to imply that we believe there is error in the Bible and that we can, therefore, stand over the Bible so as to cut and paste as we choose.  -  That is a misunderstanding of our position.  It is as unfaithful to the classical Wesleyan understanding of Scripture as are those of a fundamentalist persuasion.

Rather, our position has much more to do with the way Wesleyans approach Scripture and what we understand the purpose of Scripture to be.  -  We would not say that Psalm 93:1, "The Lord . . . has established the world; it shall never be moved," or Psalm 19:6, which describes the sun by saying, "Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them," for example, are "in error," even though they are not scientifically correct.  (Such was the issue at the dawn of Copernican Astronomy!).  Rather, the point and the purpose of these passages is missed when one insists on reading such poetical expressions from a modern, scientific point of view.  Wesleyans (including Nazarenes!), in as much as we are faithful Wesleyans, approach Scripture soteriologically (broadly understood).

Dr. Duarte's original text is as follows (the link to the article, along with information on the broadcast is, here):

Even those who do not profess the Christian faith are interested in the conversation about how the Holy Scriptures came to us. They participate in one of the most common discussions related to the Christian faith—the inspiration of the Scriptures.
It is common to refer to the writers as authors in the sense that they participated in the work of making the plan understandable to all, including themselves. This, therefore, implies that each individual writer expressed himself in the way he received the Word, using a language and style that could be understood by the recipients.
Although in some significant ways the writers lived far apart from each other, they agreed perfectly on the central message of graceful and loving salvation. That is in itself a clear substantiation of the fact that the authorship of the Bible belongs to God.
We believe that God gives us the Scriptures for the purpose of communicating the truth about Himself (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit), about humans, and about the salvation that only God can give and only humans can receive and benefit from.
We believe that the Word of God not only gives us the meaning of faith, how it works, and what it achieves, but it also clearly stipulates faith and Christian living as the purpose for which the Word was given to us. It is so because God, knowing our greatest need, made the only provision that meets that need. He wants us to know why He made the provision. He wants us to receive it and, in consequence, to grow in our knowledge of Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, grow in that relationship, and thereby fulfill the mission for which He created us and redeemed us.                 

Pan-Methodist Full Communion

The United Methodist News Service has reported that this year's General Conference of the United Methodist Church will vote to enter into "Full Communion" with the other Methodist churches who have linked themselves in the "Pan-Methodist Commission".  The United Methodist Church will be the last of these denominations to vote on this measure.  It is fully expected to pass.

All but two of the denominations in the group, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, are member denominations of the World Methodist Council.  The UAMEC joined the Pan-Methodist Commission in 2004, and the AUMPC joined in 2007.  The other denominations were involved in the Commission since its birth in 1985.  In addition to the United Methodist Church, the other partners are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The other three American based World Methodist Council member denominations (viz., the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church and The Wesleyan Church) are not a part of the Pan-Methodist Commission and are not connected to this Full Communion vote.  (The Free Methodist Church did participate with the other Pan-Methodist churches in 1984 for the "Methodist Bicentennial."  They produced, among other things, a resource book for celebrating the bicentennial.  However, beyond that, it is unclear as to what connection the Free Methodists may have had with the Pan-Methodist churches in the past.  It is clear that they are not currently a part of this group.)

One thing that is interesting about this vote, aside from the two non-World Methodist Council participants, is that "Full Communion" language is really foreign to native Methodist language.  That is, prior to the involvement with the ecumenical movement, and especially the Full Communion agreements with the Lutherans (ELCA) and the pursuit of an agreement with the Episcopal Church, Methodists really didn't talk about it.  Even the news article reports that this agreement is really a codification of what already takes place.  Consider the following:

Methodists have had no problem communing those who come to the Table from whatever denomination, nor would they have a problem participating in the sacrament as offered by other denominations.  This is especially true (but not exclusively so) of other Wesleyan/Methodist denominations.  -  It seemed quite clear, for example, when attending the World Methodist Conference and other World Methodist events where the Eucharist was shared, that we were all acting in such a way that would be consistent with what is ecumenically termed "Full Communion."

Methodists do not, generally, re-ordain clergy who transfer in.  This is assuming that there are similar understandings of orders.  -  That is to say, if one is ordained for a certain region of a certain denomination, and it is the case that other regions of the same denomination may require re-ordination (e.g., in most Baptist traditions), then re-ordination may take place.  This is because the orders were never intended to be universal orders.  In the Methodist tradition we are ordained under the authority of a General Superintendent/Bishop, representing the whole Church, and we are ordained as elders (presbyters) in "the Church of God" according to our particular denomination.  -  The real question for transfers of clergy from other Methodist/Wesleyan denominations is not so much the validity of orders, but the standards of preparation prior to allowing them to minister within the particular denomination.

I will use myself as an example.  I am an elder in the Church of the Nazarene.  I am currently serving as the pastor of a United Methodist church.  I am considered by the conference, according to the Book of Discipline, as "other Methodist."  If I were to transfer my orders, the Discipline provides that I could do so and be received as an elder in full connection within a United Methodist Conference after only taking the course on the polity (i.e., the Book of Discipline) of the UMC.  (Now this may vary, somewhat from conference to conference, but this does reflect the provisions of the Discipline.  It is also the case that it could be a vastly different situation for other "Methodists" whose educational background differs.)  -  The validity of my orders would not be in question, and the possible ease with which I could transfer (depending on the conference!) seems every bit as easy (perhaps more so) as ELCA clergy who are in Full Communion with the UMC.

Consider also, though it does not relate to these particular denominations, talk of "Full Communion" has never come up among the Wesleyan-Holiness denominations that were members of the Christian Holiness Partnership or those that are a part of the newly forming Global Wesleyan Alliance (though, in the latter, there is new talk about how clergy might be accepted from one denomination to another).  Such language was not used among World Methodist Council members, either.  -  It really is a "foreign language" that Methodists are now learning to speak.

However, once the UMC, for example, entered into "Full Communion" with the ELCA and has explored such with TEC, it was pointed out (perhaps with a bit of embarrassment?) that technically they were not in Full Communion with the AME, AMEZ or CME (or the other two Pan-Methodist denominations . . . or any of the other non-UM World Methodist Council churches).  Thus, the need to reach a "Full Communion" agreement with those who have always been the closest of family.

In any case, the Pan-Methodist churches are rightly gearing up for a celebration at the UM General Conference on May 1!  -  The full UMNS article can be read, here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday.  The term Maundy comes from the Latin, mandatum novarum, which means, "a new commandment."  It is a reference to John 13:34-35, where Jesus says to His disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (NRSV)  -  This, of course, takes place on the Thursday prior to Jesus' crucifixion.  It is in the larger context of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

This is also the time when our Lord instituted the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper.  This sacrament is known by a number of names emphasizing various aspects of the sacrament. 

It is referred to as Holy Communion.  The Greek word, here, is koinonia.  It is a word that speaks of fellowship, communion, participation and sharing.  In connection with the sacrament we find it in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, where St. Paul says, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing (NRSV) / participation (NIV) / communion (KJV) in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."  -  And so, in the sacrament, more than just remembering what Christ has done (though we certainly do that), we really and truly commune with the blood and body of Christ.  -  Verse 17 indicates we also have fellowship around the Table with our sisters and brothers in Christ.  As the invitation in the Nazarene ritual indicates, ". . . we are one, at one table with the Lord."

The sacrament is also often referred to as the Eucharist.  This term will be familiar to most who read this blog, but for many in evangelical circles, this is often an unfamiliar term.  It is, therefore, treated with suspicion by some and outright condemnation by still others!  Nevertheless, such suspicions (and certainly condemnations!) can be put aside when we realize that this term, unlike the others, is actually found in all four New Testament accounts of the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20; and 1 Cor. 11:23-26).  You see, the Greek word eucharistein simply means "to be thankful."  The sacrament, and the major prayer for it in the liturgy is understood as "the Great Thanksgiving."  -  Jesus took, gave thanks, (broke the bread), and gave the sacramental elements to the disciples.

The New Testament also refers to the sacrament by simply speaking of "the breaking of the bread."  For example, in Acts 2:42 we hear those famous words, "(The disciples) devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."  -  Unfortunately, many have misunderstood this to mean nothing more than the disciples committing themselves to having pot luck meals together, when, instead, what is being referred to is the holy sacrament.

This raises the point that the New Testament Church was committed to the sacrament of Holy Communion.  "Day by day," Luke tells us (in Acts 2:46), ". . . they spent much time together in the temple . . ." (Service of the Word), and ". . . they broke bread from house to house . . ." (Service of the Table).  St. Paul chastises the Church at Corinth when he says, "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20).  In other words, when they come together it was supposed to be to eat the Lord's Supper.  -  Such seems to be the apostle's understanding of Jesus' instructions.  Such is the pattern of the New Testament Church.  It is the pattern of the Early Church.  It is the pattern of the Church throughout the ages.  And, for us Wesleyans, it was our spiritual forefather's instruction that we should celebrate the sacrament every Lord's Day.

Why?  -  Is it because of some legalistic command?  Do we have to do it like that?  Won't it lose it's specialness?  -  No, no, no!  That's missing the point altogether!  -  Instead, we gather at the Table of the Lord, when we gather together in the name of the Lord, because He has explicitly promised to meet us at the Table!  It is at the Table that we have the explicit promise of communing/sharing/participating in the body and blood of our Lord!  God's grace is poured out to us through this holy gift!  -  Thanks be to God!

"Listen" to the wonderful words of this Wesley Eucharistic Hymn:

1. Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.

2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.

3. But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.

4. This is the richest legacy
Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.

5. Here all Thy blessings we receive,
Here all Thy gifts are given,
To those that would in Thee believe,
Pardon, and grace, and heaven.

6. Thus may we still in Thee be blest,
Till all from earth remove,
And share with Thee the marriage feast,
And drink the wine above.

Thanks be to our God!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sidebar Changes

Over the past few days I have made a number of changes to the sidebar of the Wesleyan/Anglican blog.  I have reorganized a number of links, added several new headings and links, and deleted a few links.

The changes that I have made include adding sections for most of the groups within which the Church of the Nazarene is a member denomination, along with links to the other denominations which hold membership in those groups.  I have added a section on Wesleyan/Anglican Beliefs and a listing of various Books of Common Prayer.  (By the way, if anyone knows of a link to an online copy of Wesley's The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, please let me know.  The version I have linked to is a British version, which does make some changes from the North American version.)  Additionally, I have added new links under already existing headings.

I will likely be adding some blog links in the days to come, as well.

I encourage readers to take a look.  You may find some interesting links!