Archive for August, 2009

Despite an announced hiatus from posting new material during August, we’re making an exception to post this just-released commentary by Dr. Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Seminary. (Links in this article have been added by MethodistThinker.com.)

In 1859, John Henry Newman wrote an article entitled, “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.” It was printed in a Roman Catholic periodical, The Rambler, of which Newman was the editor. The article caused such a controversy and the bishops of the church were so upset that they asked Newman to resign, which he did.

Maxie Dunnam (UMNS photo)

Maxie Dunnam (UMNS photo)

Newman not only affirmed the critical role of laity in the church, he insisted that the consensus of the faithful may preserve important doctrines even when the bishops fail.

This elevated view of the laity did not become important in the wider Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council, where it became a “big” issue and Newman’s article played a significant role in the discussion.

Newman made the case that there is lodged in the Church — the Body of Christ which is comprised primarily of laity — a depository of profound practical theological wisdom.

If the Roman Catholics can positively entertain that notion, how much more should we be able to do so as Protestants who champion the priesthood of all believers and the ministry of the whole people of God?

It’s an expansive issue that needs the attention of our United Methodist Church. I hope the issue will become a concern of our theological seminaries, the Study of Ministry Commission, the Committee on Faith and Order (PDF) — established by our last General Conference — and certainly the Connectional Table.

I believe our recent dealing with the Constitutional amendments is related in part to this issue. Our church is wise in requiring that our constitution can be changed upon the ratification by two thirds vote of annual conferences. Enough of the votes on these amendments have been reported by the annual conferences to make it possible to reasonably know the results. The sense of the faithful has been registered — not in terms of laity alone, but faithful lay and clergy across the connection.

Let me quickly register the fact that the doctrine of the church is not to be established by popular vote. That’s the reason our General Conference, though it is the final authority for the church’s life and ministry, cannot change our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith. However, how our doctrines are lived out in the concrete realities of life and ministry are determined in large part by the sense of the faithful.

In light of this issue of the “sense of the faithful,” I have been reflecting on the dynamics of our recent involvement with the Constitutional Amendments. I believe that most members of the General Conference would agree that we gave far too little time to these amendments when they were debated in plenary. It was a travesty, really.

How could the General Conference approve (even barely so) what the church has now overwhelmingly refused to ratify? Could it be that we simply did not take enough time for study, prayer, and holy conferencing to discern the sense of the faithful? Could it be that ideological interest groups and small geographic areas of the church dominate the organizations and structures of influence? Or, could it be that the way the issues were brought to General Conference was prejudiced?

I’m thinking particularly of the amendments related to worldwide nature of the church.

These amendments came out of a non-representative task force (PDF) and were brought to the General Conference endorsed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the Connectional Table. Somewhere there is a disconnect — either in communication or in leadership.

amendments-clipThere was little “public” support of these amendments by bishops other than those who were on the task force. It was clear early on that the bishops were not “of one mind” on this matter, yet that was never “publicly” registered.

I imagine the Council of Bishops might have a discussion as to why the church in its vote on this set of amendments did not follow their lead. Indeed, if it was their “lead” what does the vote say about the church’s response to their leadership?

As I understand it, the vote of the Connectional Table was 75% in favor of the worldwide nature amendments. Early reports indicate that the vote of the church may be just the opposite — 60 to 75% in opposition. Where is the disconnect here? How representative of the church is this body, and to whom do they pay most attention?

The same questions are applicable to how the 2009-2012 Worldwide Nature of the Church Study Committee will function. This committee is composed primarily of persons who championed the amendments the church refused to ratify. Also, the vote not to ratify is a “universal” vote, reflecting the “whole” church, not a region of it. While it is very important that the task force address the issues important in how we express ourselves as a “world church,” it is hoped they will not hold tenaciously to what the church has said “no” to.

Another amendment of particular interest is the amendment that would change paragraph IV in the constitution. This amendment was “pitched” as an effort to open the doors of the church to everyone. The church is already open to everyone, but there are requirements for membership.

amendment1It was clear from the beginning, though some proponents tried to disguise it, that this was another effort on the part of a passionate minority to undermine the church’s position on the practice of homosexuality.

Back in July, The Episcopal Church in the U.S. voted decisively to allow the appointment to all orders of ministry persons in active same-sex relationships, and to prepare liturgies of blessing for same sex unions.

In the wake of this deliberate schismatic action in relation to the worldwide Anglican family, the voting on the amendment that would have opened the door for the same schism within United Methodism, indicates that we will not go that way. At the last report, the amendment had not received 50% of the vote, when 66.7% is needed.

How long will bishops, pastors, seminaries, and general boards continue to force an issue which diverts focus, resources and energy from mission and ministry? Does the sense of the faithful not matter? Sure, there is the craving on the part of human kind for a variety of sexual expression. We have all sorts of deep-rooted, passionate desires and inclinations; the question is what do we do with them.

The Jewish and Muslim faiths, along with Christianity, have always insisted that marriage between a man and a woman is the proper context of sexual intercourse. This is not a matter of a “private response to Scripture,” as some would claim; it is not the witness of a few verses in St. Paul, but the uniform teaching of the Bible, Jesus himself, and the entire Christian tradition.

A few in our family try to make the ordination of practicing homosexuals a justice issue. N.T. Wright, world-known New Testament scholar, Anglican Bishop of Durham in England, rightly says the appeal to justice begs the question of justice altogether.

“Justice never means ‘treating everybody the same way,” he writes, “but ‘treating people appropriately,’ which involves making distinctions between different people and different situations. Justice has never meant ‘the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire.'”

Isn’t there a measure of arrogance in a small part of the body continuing to passionately push their convictions which they know threaten the vitality and unity of the church?

I believe the vote on the amendments is a positive vote for the church, reflecting the “sense of the faithful.” If we are going to fulfill our mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” then we must respect the integrity of the faithful in order to engage them in our kingdom ministry.

Related posts
After feedback from Bishop Palmer, UMNS revises amendments story
Good News projects defeat of controversial amendments
Bill Bouknight: Methodists are saying ‘No’ to their leaders
North Georgia overwhelmingly disapproves restructuring amendments
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
African UM leader on amendments: ‘We should have been consulted’
A ‘procedural’ argument against Amendment I

Related articles and information
Full text of all 32 amendments, showing how each would alter the current language of the United Methodist Book of Discipline—material stricken through would be deleted; material in bold/blue would be added (PDF)
Worldwide decision: United Methodists to vote on amending constitution | Bill Fentum, UM Reporter (April 10, 2009)
Which way to a Worldwide Church? (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 31, 2009)
A rationale to oppose proposed constitutional changes | Tim McClendon, Columbia District Superintendent, South Carolina Conference
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
Conferences to consider church structure | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 10, 2009)
Amendment I (without the baggage) (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 18, 2009)

Read Full Post »

Leading up to the fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast, which will begin after Labor Day, MethodistThinker.com is highlighting programs from our Spring 2009 season.

This week, a sermon by the late Methodist missionary, Dr. E. Stanley Jones.

E. Stanley Jones

E. Stanley Jones

Born in 1884, Eli Stanley Jones responded to the call to missionary service in his early 20s. He spent much of his adult life in India, although as an “evangelist at large” for the Board of Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, he preached and taught in many nations.

Dr. Jones influenced millions of people through his bestselling books, including The Christ of the Indian Road (1925) and Abundant Living (1942).

E. Stanley Jones also was the founder of the international Christian Ashram movement, a retreat ministry focused on creating an environment in which people could get away from their normal routines and seek the Lord.

The sermon on this podcast was preached at a U.S. Ashram in August 1960. The sermon title is, “The Gift of the Holy Spirit: The Birthright of All Christians.” (This sermon is included in the 2008 book, Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion.)

To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below (26 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (11.8 MB).

The fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast is now in production and will feature lectures and sermons from (among others) the late Sir Alan Walker, first director of World Methodist Evangelism; the late Bishop William R. Cannon, one of the founders of the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church; and the late Harry Denman, founder of the Foundation for Evangelism.

Related information
Biography of E. Stanley Jones from the Asbury College Archives
United Christian Ashrams
Living Upon the Way: Selected Sermons of E. Stanley Jones on Self-Surrender and Conversion (ordering information for book and CDs) | Lucknow Publishing House (2008)
Selected Messages from E. Stanley Jones — DVD | Vision Video
India Methodists celebrate 150 years of ministry | James S. Murthy, Good News magazine (Jan./Feb. 2007)
A listing of E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism funded by the Foundation for Evangelism

Read Full Post »

While production continues on the upcoming fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast, we’re highlighting several podcasts from our spring season.

This week, a sermon by the late Dr. Bill Hinson, long-time pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Houston, Texas.

Dr. William H. Hinson

Dr. William H. Hinson

During his 18-year tenure at First UMC-Houston, more than 3,000 people joined that congregation on profession of faith.

In 1985, Dr. Hinson was honored with Denman Evangelism Award. In 2000, the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists recognized him with the Philip Award for Outstanding Leadership in Evangelism.

A native of South Georgia, Bill Hinson attended Boston University, where he earned a Master’s degree in Sacred Theology, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he graduated with the Doctor in Sacred Theology degree.

The sermon on this podcast, “The Making of a Minister,” was preached in June 2004 at a North Georgia Conference Service of Ordination and Commissioning. Five months later, Bill Hinson suffered a massive stroke. He died on Dec. 26, 2004.

At the time of his death, Dr. Hinson was serving as president of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below (23 min.) — or download an mp3 (10MB).

The fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast will begin after Labor Day.

Related information
Bill Hinson, Confessing Movement leader, dies at 68 | United Methodist News Service/Good News magazine (March/April 2005)
A resolution honoring the life and ministry of Dr. William H. Hinson | Georgia State Senate (March 29, 2005)
Lord, He Went: Remembering William H. Hinson, by Stanley R. Copeland | Abingdon Press (2006)
A charge to keep (an excerpt from Lord, He Went) | Stanley R. Copeland, Good News magazine (Sept./Oct. 2007)
Conversation with Bill Hinson on the Issues Etc. radio program — May 10, 2004 | Topic: Retrospective on the 2004 General Conference

Read Full Post »

The Reverend Mr. John Wesley (actor Alan MacNaughtan)

The Reverend Mr. John Wesley(actor Alan MacNaughtan)

Over the next several weeks, while production continues on the upcoming fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast, we’re highlighting several podcasts from our spring season, beginning with our debut program below.

We could think of no better person to feature on our premiere program than the founder of the Methodist movement: Anglican clergyman John Wesley.

To listen, use the audio player below (12 min.) — or download an mp3 (5.5 MB).

The fall season of The MethodistThinker Podcast will begin after Labor Day.

Related posts
First anniversary: Looking back, looking ahead
Coming soon: The MethodistThinker Podcast

Related information and resources
Biography of actor Alan MacNaughtan
34 U.S. libraries that have the BBC-TV film, John Wesley: Preacher
Text of John Wesley’s sermon, “The Almost Christian”
Text of John Wesley’s sermon, “The New Birth”

Read Full Post »

MethodistThinker.com is celebrating its first anniversary this week!*

Here is a list of our five most-viewed posts over the past 12 months:

  1. Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
  2. In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
  3. Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
  4. John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
  5. Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’

Our most-viewed video clip during the past year was an address by Connie Campbell and Renee Sappington, two homosexual women who spoke about their relationship as part of a worship service at this year’s session of the Mississippi Annual Conference (that video is part of the #2 post above).

The most-listened-to audio file over the past 12 months was a May podcast featuring a 1960 sermon by the late Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones.

    (*The MethodistThinker archive of posts dates back to June 2008, but the handful of June/July posts were written during development and testing of the site. We “went live” in August of last year.)

A new season of MethodistThinker podcasts is set to launch after Labor Day, with material from:

    • Methodist evangelist Harry Denman;
    • Dr. James Heidinger (recently retired as president of Good News);
    • Bishop James King (South Georgia);
    • Sir Alan Walker (first director of World Methodist Evangelism);
    • the late Bishop William R. Cannon;
    • Rob Renfroe (new president of Good News); and
    • Bishop Lindsey Davis (Kentucky Conference).

Also in September, Lord willing, we will unveil a new section of the site called the “Audio Vault,” featuring material that hasn’t been readily available in many years.

For example, the Audio Vault will include Denman Lectures (from past United Methodist Congresses on Evangelism) by such notable speakers as the late Bishop Roy Nichols, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas, Dr. George Morris, Bishop Emerson Colaw, and Dr. Joe Hale.

Eventually, the Audio Vault will include audio from UM General Conferences going back to at least 1980.

Over the next four weeks, MethodistThinker.com will be on a hiatus of sorts, while behind-the-scenes work is taking place related to both the fall season of podcasts and the new Audio Vault.

Instead of posting new material during August, we’ll be re-featuring several podcasts from earlier this year. The ThinkerTwitter feed (see right column) will remain active, with new material “tweeted” several times a day.

Thank you for visiting MethodistThinker.com. If you have comments and/or suggestions, post your feedback below — or, if you prefer, send an e-mail to [email protected].

Read Full Post »