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Changing Methods

I was talking with a Methodist friend about the well-known division in the United Methodist Church. His report was not uncommon. Half of the Methodist congregations in his county have decided to leave the denomination. Of course, they are facing financial repercussions. The buildings that they meet in belong legally to the United Methodist Church denomination, not to the local congregations. If they continue to assemble in those buildings, they must pay the denomination a reasonable market price. Most of these departing Methodist churches are facing other decisions and responsibilities they have never encountered—finding a minister, organizing the congregation, and agreeing on a doctrinal standard.

The doctrinal guide of this denomination is the Book of Discipline. The 1980 edition said, “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (section 71f). But times have changed and so has Methodist thinking on this subject. The Discipline is over 700 pages long. It is very rare to find one verse of Scripture in it. Like all other creeds, this manual is a human work, and since men made the laws in it, men will feel free to change them.

The United Methodist Church is a denomination. That means it has a body of people at the top who govern the individual Methodist churches under their authority. Local Methodist congregations answer to higher Methodist officials outside those churches. Although the particulars vary, this is the organizational structure of other denominations as well. Methodist bishops vote to make decisions in their denomination. Why should we be surprised that they are in turmoil?

There have been rifts in this denomination for years, but no disagreement has run as deep as the issue of homosexuality. Millions have left this denomination and the exodus is not over.

The United Methodist Church is having this problem because they were not following the Bible to begin with:

  • There is no need or authority for a manual or creed like the Book of Discipline. Everything we need for doctrine is in the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16-17). Unlike church manuals, the Bible does not change. That was why Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees couldn’t agree. They followed their traditions and Jesus quoted the Bible whenever they clashed. In one confrontation Jesus told them, “You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9). Here we are 2,000 years later and things haven’t changed.

  • The Bible teaches that God delegated authority to a body of qualified men called elders (pastors or bishops) to oversee a congregation. Paul and Silas “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Those elders have the oversight of the congregation where they serve as elders. They have authority over that church and not over any other congregation (Acts 20:17, 28; I Pet. 5:1-4). Men have authority over others in the church only because God gave them that authority. He delegated this authority to these men within a congregation. There is no higher level of church organization and government in the New Testament. God never gave authority for any outside man or group of men to be over a church or a collection of churches. This is why denominationalism is wrong to its core even without all the human traditions on other doctrinal matters. It is amazing that these denominations were founded because their Protestant ancestors were sick of the power the Pope and his bishops were wielding over them, but their own denominations are built on the same unscriptural big government concept. Now they are paying for it—literally!

  • There is no excuse for homosexuality. Paul said that even nature teaches people this is wrong: “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due” (Rom. 1:26-27). But Methodist leaders have dug in their heels and are willing to lose millions of members and millions of dollars to defend it.

Methodists are not the only ones who are having trouble with division and poor church attendance, and it is tragic that it has taken something so obviously sinful as this to wake them up. Be that as it may, a door is open to evangelize. Our religious friends are crying out “That’s against the Bible!” For the first time in our lives they are preaching this to us! Finally we have common ground and a common standard. Let us build on this foundation and encourage them to do all things the Lord has commanded (Matt. 28:20).

Kerry

West End church of Christ bulletin article for October 1, 2023


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