Archive for January, 2012

With a goal of fostering “flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ,” the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of more than 500 theologically conservative congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has unveiled a new “denominational entity”: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO). The official unveiling occurred at a Jan. 18-20 Covenanting Conference in Orlando, Fla.

The new entity will work with like-minded congregations that decide to remain part of the PC(USA) or choose to cut ties with the older denomination.

“The Fellowship offers three different options for affiliation so congregations can pursue what best honors their ministry context,” according to a news release (PDF) from the Fellowship of Presbyterians.

“The options are: affiliate with the Fellowship as a ministry association (involves no change in status with the PC(USA)); pursue a union membership with the PC(USA) and ECO; and join ECO as full members (requiring dismissal from the PC(USA)),” the release said.

In an address introducing ECO, the Rev. John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, said the new denomination was created to help local churches become more effective in making disciples.

You all know what has been going on in mainline denominations, including our own — shrinking memberships and fading churches and aging clergy and lessening evangelism and a preoccupation with survival and internal strife and external irrelevance.

And it is not just theological drift….

[But w]hat if God were to raise up a movement? What if [the] torch for a thoughtful, reflective, urgent, egalitarian, globally active, culturally engaged, Jesus-centered, evangelical faith [were to be] wed with courageous, innovative, bold, risk-taking, bold entrepreneurial ministry leadership? And the torch of this faith were to burn more brightly in this generation than in the last one?

John Ortberg

We’re not talking about a safe, easy, reassuring step from one denomination to another as a way of expressing denominational displeasure….

Purity by separation has been tried before. If the new entity that we talking about is only that, it will just deteriorate a little more slowly….

[But i]magine God were to launch a movement of Spirit-led, Jesus-centered churches where pastors and leaders took seriously the biblical injunction to become teachers of the nations, so that our world and culture could hear in Him that there is such a thing as moral and spiritual knowledge that can guide human lives….

Imagine that the claims of Jesus were to receive a fresh hearing our day because they were being expressed in thoughtful, winsome, non-churchy, literate ways by Jesus followers who had wrestled and studied and prayed, and sought to follow Jesus with all of their hearts….

Imagine a movement where church meetings and denominational meetings never waste anybody’s time…. Imagine a movement that when leaders gather together, it is to learn and to receive vision and to mentor…and to be accountable and to encourage one another….

Imagine that when leaders get together they talk about things like: How do you reach people who don’t know Jesus so they can get to know Jesus? How can you worship better? How can you help the under-resourced people more effectively? How do you make disciples? How do you do justice?….

Can God not do that? Has the Holy Spirit lost His power?

As we…have talked and prayed about a new denominational entity, the idea, the prayer was that it be not just a denominational alternative — [but] that there might be a structure that could be a vehicle and a servant of a movement….

The job of a denomination is the serve the local church, not the other way around…. And the idea is…real simple: to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Because the church really has one job — to make disciples, followers, of Jesus.

Streaming video of Mr. Ortberg’s full address is below. A downloadable mp3 audio file is here (18 MB).

Related posts
United Methodists are well-liked, but to what end?
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
New evangelical Presbyterian body unveiled | Michael Gryboski, Christian Post (Jan. 21, 2012)
Conservative Presbyterians launch new denomination | Daniel Burke, Religion News Service (Jan. 20, 2012)
A bold church unafraid: Fellowship casts vision | Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook (Jan. 19, 2012)
Introducing ECO: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians | Carmen Fowler LaBerge, The Layman (Jan. 19, 2012)
Fellowship of Presbyterians unveils name for ‘new Reformed body’ | Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service (Jan. 19, 2012)

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Jan. 22 marked the 39th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Sign outside a UM Church in North Georgia

Since then, abortion doctors have performed more than 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, more than 3,000 abortions occur in America every day.

In 2005, on the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decisions, United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the Florida Conference addressed the topic of how faithfulness to the gospel and to the Wesleyan tradition demands a pro-life position on abortion.

Speaking to the annual gathering of Lifewatch, the UM pro-life caucus, he called on United Methodists to stand against “the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace.”

Below are excerpts from Bishop Whitaker’s address, followed by audio of his remarks.

When John Wesley gave the General Rules to the people called Methodists the first thing he told them was, “Do no harm.” In order to show evidence that we are a people who are being saved by God, we should do no harm.

The rule to do no harm directs those of us who are Christians to practice non-violence. A Christian is someone who is horrified by violence, refrains from violence in her or his life, and seeks to restrain violence in the world insofar as possible….

When Jesus was born, all of the angels in heaven praised God and promised peace on earth.

When he grew up he inaugurated his ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan River, and the Spirit of God confirmed that he was the Son of God by descending upon him not as an eagle but as a dove, the bird of peace.

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

Bishop Timothy Whitaker

He taught the people, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

As one would expect in a world of violence the Prince of Peace suffered a violent death…. By his violent death he overcame violence. Then God vindicated him by raising him from the dead; and when he appeared to his disciples he announced, “Peace be with you.”

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon his disciples, and the church was born. The church is a community from all of the nations called to be a peaceable people who follow Jesus until he comes again at the end of history and establishes that kingdom where “death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NRSV).

We who are the church are called to be a peaceable people. In our practices and in our public witness we are called to make peace in the world. We acknowledge that the ultimate kingdom of peace has not yet been established by God.

We ourselves cannot build the kingdom, but we can build for the kingdom. We can live and witness in ways that can lead to a more tangible peace here and now that points to the coming kingdom of God….

Pope John Paul II made a powerful Christian witness to God’s peaceable purposes in his 1995 encyclical called The Gospel of Life. He warned the world about creating “a culture of death” that is rebellion against “the Gospel of life.”

He showed us that a culture of death is one that endorses abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment.* He asserted that the commandment, “You shall not kill,” is integral to the revelation of God….

In the United Methodist Church we ought to apply our theological reflection, our pastoral guidance and our public witness against the violence of abortion in the name of the God of peace…

I think that our silence and passivity about abortion comes from the difficulty of being a Christian in America.

The logo of Lifewatch,
the pro-life UM caucus

I used to think that being a Christian in America is easy. I thought it would be hard to be a Christian in a country dominated by other religions, or in a Communist country where atheism was avowed by the state, but I thought it was easy to be a Christian here.

Now I realize that practicing the Christian life in America has its own difficulties. The seductions of American life may seem more subtle, but they are real and dangerous.

In America both the culture and the state view persons as autonomous individuals who have private rights to live as they choose.

But we who are Christians have a different anthropology: we view persons as members of a community who are made in the image of the Triune God and who have both rights and responsibilities.

Therefore, we cannot endorse a woman’s right to abort an unborn child as a morally neutral decision because we understand that the child also has a right to live and the community has a responsibility to care for this child if the mother is unable to rear it….

Can there be any doubt that there is silence and passivity about abortion in our Church?

How often is a sermon about abortion or an educational forum on abortion offered in our congregations? How many congregations are involved in supporting crisis pregnancy centers in their communities or offering tangible support to women with unwanted pregnancies? What kind of pastoral counsel is being offered behind the closed doors of the pastor’s office?….

(UMNS photo)

We who are United Methodist Christians should continue to seek to embody in our teaching, pastoral guidance, congregational care and public witness the preservation of human life, and a protest against the killing of human life, in the name of the God of peace….

It is often said that there is no clear prescription against abortion in the Bible. That is because such a horror is unthinkable and unspeakable to the people of Israel and to the people called the church….

From the very beginning Christians everywhere have felt this revulsion against the killing of human life. As Christians moved into the wider world where abortion was not unthinkable or unspeakable they had to apply the divine commandment against murder to the horrible practice of abortion….

In our time and place, in our own Christian communion, we who are United Methodists also have a responsibility to live according to our first rule, which is to do no harm. Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!

Use the audio player below to listen to a portion of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address, Do No Harm!, delivered in the Simpson Chapel at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. (8.5 minutes).

The full text of Bishop Whitaker’s 2005 address is included in the March 2005 Lifewatch newsletter (PDF).

The speaker at this year’s Lifewatch service is the Rev. Jim Heidinger, former president of the UM renewal ministry Good News. The service will be held today (Monday) at the United Methodist Building (PDF) on Capitol Hill.

Use of the facility is not donated by the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) a group that supports legalized abortion. Rather, Lifewatch rents space in the UM Building for its annual service and board meeting.

In a recent press release, RCRC accused pro-life “zealots” of waging a “war on women.”

In conjunction with MoveOn.org, RCRC is currently sponsoring a “Virtual March for Women’s Lives” as part of a promotion called “Trust Women Week.”

Other groups co-sponsoring the “Virtual March” include the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, Fund Abortion Now, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

In addition the annual Lifewatch service, the March for Life to the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to take place Monday, preceded by a rally on the National Mall. The rally and march draw tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year.

The March of Life events (i.e., pre-rally activity, the rally, and the march itself) will air live on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite channel, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. Live online audio and video will be available here.

The March for Life rally will also air live on C-SPAN 2 (live online video here starting at Noon ET).

EWTN will re-broadcast the March for Life events tonight (Monday) at 11 o’clock ET and again on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 2 p.m. ET.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

*Editor’s note: In The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), Pope John Paul wrote that punishment of a murderer “ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

This blog post is adapted from a post first published in 2009.

Related posts
The Manhattan Declaration: In defense of human life
United Methodists praying, speaking, and marching for life
Why aren’t UM leaders supporting the Manhattan Declaration?
Party platforms and the UMC
UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’
UM Board of Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

Related articles
How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)
NOTE: The Rev. Mr. Stallsworth is president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter.
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
The pro-life pulpit | Lynne M. Thompson, At The Center (Winter 2005)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Diversity of life: Opposition to abortion spans ideologies and ethnic groups | Gene Edward Veith, WORLD—via National Pro-Life Religious Council (Nov. 6, 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)

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The following commentary is by Joe M. Whittemore, a member of the United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table.

Joe M. Whittemore

Mr. Whittemore, a delegate to the 2012 UM General Conference, has chaired Committee on Episcopacy for the Southeastern Jurisdiction and has served as the Lay Leader of North Georgia Annual Conference.

This opinion piece was originally published in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter.

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

The United Methodist Church has never been willing to give the Council of Bishops authority to run the church. The job of the Council is to support the Book of Discipline and to carry out the polity and mandates established by the General Conference.

And yet the Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team legislation scheduled to be brought before the 2012 General Conference in April amounts to turning the general church over to the bishops.

This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Our episcopal leaders should be devoted almost exclusively to their respective annual conferences.

A bad idea resurfaces

Several years ago, the Council of Bishops (COB) proposed that one bishop not be assigned to an episcopal area, but rather be set aside to handle the affairs of the Council, including the evaluation and accountability of individual bishops. The idea did not gain traction before or during the 2008 General Conference.

Now, a similar idea has come forward. Affirmation #2 of the Aug. 2, 2011, Interim Operations Team report (PDF) called for the adoption of performance standards for bishops. Jurisdictional committees on episcopacy would implement annual assessments.

To support this request, the report then called for a bishop without residential assignment to guide the UMC, support and assist residential bishops, and chair the body that could hire and fire a new 15-member board of directors for the church that would control the vast majority of all net assets other than pension funds.

This idea runs counter to the UMC’s long-standing unwillingness to “turn things over to the bishops.”

Our UM culture is well acknowledged in the operational assessment project done by Apex (PDF), which states that “the church has the opportunity to strengthen its existing leadership structures without altering power or authority (emphasis added)…. This strengthening could be achieved through renewal of purpose, goals and role clarity, better accountability, courageous leadership and better capabilities to support leadership.”

Note that the Apex research called for strengthening “without altering power or authority.” However, the final Interim Operations Team recommendations place power in the hands of a 15-member group (the board of the Center for Connectional Missions and Ministry) subject to considerable influence by the set-side bishop and the Council of Bishops generally.

Further, the Interim Operations Team has called for the Council of Bishops to institute and maintain an effective executive management operating function that strategically and practically aligns the resources of the general church.

In other words, let the COB take over and operate the church, agencies, budgets, everything!

A better approach

A lay executive of the Council of Bishops to facilitate the accountability of individual bishops may be to the benefit of the denomination. An experienced, strong executive who is not clergy may bring a fresh and reasonable approach.

Envision the changes we could quickly experience if that lay executive had the authority to recommend to the College of Bishops and the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy the removal (or placing on leave) of the ineffective or non-responsive episcopal leader as currently provided in paragraphs 16.5, 408.3 (PDF) and 410.1 (PDF) of the Book of Discipline.

But to adopt the recommendations of the Interim Operations Team would interpret the Apex research to indicate that the Council of Bishops should have huge political, financial, and organizational power and authority. Such an approach would significantly alter our polity.

Many believe the Council of Bishops already does not function well. Why put more authority there?

With few exceptions our U.S. annual conferences are dying. Perhaps if our bishops were fully focused on their annual conferences, the likelihood of turnaround would be increased. Diluting each bishop’s time with additional operational responsibilities for the entire church is folly.

Yes, we desperately require restructure and reorganization of our general church to focus on the development of vital congregations and leadership. The starting place is in devoting all our bishops to the ministry and mission of their own annual conferences, and evaluating in transparent ways the fruits of their ministries.

Let’s “set aside” all our United Methodist bishops for their most important ministry, namely, leading their annual conferences and developing vital congregations.

Related posts
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
Connectional Table Proposes Legislation to Implement the Call to Action Recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Bishops seek change in presidency | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)

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In December 1964, Southern Christian Leadership Conference president Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a gathering of the Methodist Student Movement in Lincoln, Neb.

Speaking about the “Christian responsibility” to affirm that racial segregation “is morally wrong and sinful,” King described nonviolence as “the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity.”

The SCLC president also declared that the “God that we worship is not some Aristotelian ‘unmoved mover’ [but] an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of his children.”

Excerpts from King’s address are below, followed by a portion of the audio.

It is always a rich and rewarding experience for me to take a brief break from the day-to-day demands of our struggle for freedom and human dignity and discuss the issues involved in that struggle with college and university students and concerned people of goodwill….

Martin Luther King Jr. ini 1964

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964

And by and through the grace of God and continued work we will be able, I’m sure, to solve this great problem which is the chief moral dilemma of our nation….

[W]e have a Christian responsibility — in this racial crisis, in this revolution — to reaffirm the essential immorality of racial segregation….

[W]e, as Christians, must come to see not only the unconstitutionality of segregation, but we must reaffirm over and over again that racial segregation is sinful and immoral, whether it’s in the public schools, whether it’s in housing, whether it is in the Christian church, or any other area of life. Segregation is morally wrong and sinful….

Christian responsibility means that it is necessary to engage in creative and massive action programs to get rid of segregation and discrimination in our nation, and racial injustice wherever it exists in the world…..

[C]ertainly some strides have been made that make us all very happy — you’ve done things in the Methodist church that are most significant in this area, and we’re all inspired by it.

I just talked with my good friend Bishop [James] Thomas, who has just been appointed to serve in an area where a Negro Bishop has never served, and most of the congregations that fall under his jurisdiction happen to be white congregations. This happens to be a marvelous step forward, and it is always great to see the Church moving on to remove the shackles of segregation from its own body….

[I]t is my hope that we will move on to get rid of segregation in all of its dimensions within the Church. That not only means the Church itself, but church institutions such as hospitals, such as colleges and universities….

♦ ♦ ♦

I would like to say just a few words about the philosophy and the method of nonviolence, since it has been so basic in our struggle across these years….

I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity…. This way of nonviolence has a way of disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses. It weakens his morale and at the same time it works on his conscience and he does not know how to handle it….

[I]f he puts you in jail, you go in that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for; and if a man has not discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live. And this is what the nonviolent movement does.

So, there is power in this way because it has a way of disarming the opponent. But not only this: It gives individuals engaged in a struggle a way of seeking to secure moral ends through moral means….

mlk_smileAnother thing about this philosophy is that it insists that it is possible to struggle against an unjust and evil system and yet maintain an attitude of active goodwill for the perpetrators of that unjust system.

In points, this is the most misunderstood aspect of nonviolence when one seeks to live it as a creed and not merely use it as a strategy. It says that you somehow place the love ethic at the center of your struggle.

People begin to say what do you mean? How can you love those who are oppressing you? How can you love those who are using violence to destroy ever move you make?…

Fortunately, the Greek language comes to our aid in trying to determine the meaning of love at this point…. [It speaks of agape love.] Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.

Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And so when one rises to love on this level, he loves every man, not because he likes him, not because his ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him, and he rises to the level of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does….

And I believe that it is this kind of love that can take us through this period of transition and we can come to that brighter day….

The thing that must always console us is that as we struggle, we do not struggle alone. And there is something in our Christian faith to remind us of this: The God that we worship is not some Aristotelian “unmoved mover” who merely contemplates upon Himself. He’s not merely a self-knowing God, but He’s an other-loving God working through history for the salvation of His children.

And there is an event at the center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. There is something in our faith which reminds us that evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy the palace and Christ the cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name.

There is something in this universe which justifies [Thomas] Carlyle in saying, “no lie can live forever.” There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth, crushed to earth, [will] rise again.”

There is something in the very structure of the cosmos which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying,

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.

This is our faith, and this is what will carry us through.

Use the audio player below (or click here) to listen to excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 address to the Methodist Student Movement (9 minutes).


The entire text and full audio of King’s address can be found at AmericanRhetoric.com.

According to an article in the Fall 1995 Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the Methodist Student Movement was organized in 1937 and continued until 1965.

The organization was reconstituted — as the United Methodist Student Movement — in 1996.

This post was first published in January 2009.

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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This opinion pieced was originally published in a slightly longer form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

It is nice to be liked. United Methodists are well liked, at least according to a recent survey (PDF) by Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research. Sixty-two percent of Americans have a “favorable” or “somewhat favorable” opinion of United Methodists.

This is compared with favorable opinions of  59 percent for Roman Catholics, 53 percent for Southern Baptists, 37 percent for Mormons, and 28 percent for Muslims.

New survey, but nothing new

Over the years, several surveys and studies have reported somewhat similar results. Methodism, at least for the past 100 years, has reflected American popular religious culture. Methodism gave to the country gospel hymns, Mother’s Day, chicken-and-noodle suppers, and “the right hand of fellowship” (traceable back to campmeeting days).

United Methodists are middle-class. They are common, ordinary people. They do food pantries, deliver Christmas boxes, and always cooperate in the community Good Friday services.

While some denominations are regionally concentrated, United Methodists are everywhere.

In every state, in almost every county, in almost every little community and even in the open country, there are United Methodist churches, sometimes big brick churches with steeples, sometimes little frame churches.

The teachers, the owners of small businesses, the farmers and the skilled workers are very often United Methodists. United Methodists are the backbone of the Rotary Club, the home ec club, and the Girl Scouts.

Methodists through the years have been good citizens, good neighbors, and have been optimistic about the future of the country.

So, there is no surprise that most Americans think favorably of United Methodists.

United Methodism has a well-established ‘brand’

Much is made today of “branding.” United Methodism has it. The American public’s good impressions about The United Methodist Church ought to work in our favor.

Those of us who work with evangelical renewal groups within The United Methodist Church deal continually with pastors and lay people who want to opt out of United Methodism. It is dead, liberal, hierarchical, and bureaucratic, they say. We in the renewal groups urge people to stay.

There are a number of reasons why some of the greatest opportunities for ministry are in The United Methodist Church. The UM Church has the doctrine and the polity — to say nothing of the money — to be an influence for good in the world.

Because of Methodism’s favorable impression many people seeking a new church home will give the local United Methodist Church a try. They may not stay, but at least Methodists get a chance.

When I was an active pastor doing house-to-house visitation (a lost art these days, I am sorry to say), I was always accepted — even with strangers. United Methodists just by the name have a “foot in the door”; they just need to “make the sale.”

A downside to our popularity

Christians should beware when all people speak well of them — especially in pagan territory. During its early years in England and in America, Methodism was a despised sect.

Methodists were enthusiasts (too excitable); their camp meetings were out of control; their preachers were uneducated. They sang “ditties” instead of stately hymns. They offended people by talking to them about their souls. They opposed “worldliness,” which included Sabbath breaking, dancing, card playing, gambling, alcohol, and fancy dress.

For the first 75 years of their presence in America, Methodists would never have won any popularity polls. But Methodism grew. From 1784 to 1850, a period known generally as the Second Great Awakening, Methodism grew from 3 percent of America’s religious population, to 33 percent. It was in part because Methodism during this period thought it better to be despised for the gospel than to be respectable in the world.

It is time for the church to come up with something better than “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” as its slogan.

A better approach to making disciples?

It is time to talk about informed minds and changed hearts — and the narrow doors on the path that leads to life.

The UMC’s current emphasis on vital congregations is fine, but it needs to be understood that leadership and exciting worship and other marks of vital congregations must be based on commitment to biblical doctrine and biblical moral standards.

People talk about making United Methodism a movement again, instead of a dead institution. This will require new directions.

New life in Methodism will have to come through individuals, small groups, and local churches that will affirm with conviction United Methodist doctrinal standards, traditional Christian views on morality, and John Wesley’s passion of souls.

New life will come when United Methodists talk more about Jesus (this would lower our favorable rating in a hurry) and insist of the new birth as a condition of church membership. New life will come when people witness to miracles, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their churches, and to changed lives.

Let us pray for the day when The United Methodist Church’s brand isn’t just that we’re nice people, but that “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).

Such a message has always been “a stumbling block” to some “and folly” to others (1 Cor. 1:23), “but to [those] who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

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Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
‘Open Hearts’ slogan is marketing, not theology | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (July 12, 2007)
United Methodists poised for ‘open house,’ media campaign | United Methodist News Service (Aug. 30, 2001)

The video below was produced for the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration:

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The Mission Society (formerly The Mission Society for United Methodists) is celebrating its 28th birthday today. Society president Dick McClain recounts the founding:

A small gathering of people met together in an airport hotel in St. Louis. Like any other meeting, this one had potential — potential to be hardly remembered just a few months later even by those in attendance, or the potential of birthing something new in the world that would effect lives far beyond imagining.

mission-society-logoThe people in the room that day sensed deeply that they had been called by God. So…this group of United Methodists launched out in faith.

They would establish a missionary-sending agency that would offer Christ to the world’s under-evangelized and unreached people, while also providing increased opportunities for God’s people to respond to His call to cross-cultural missions.

This new organization would not be funded by the United Methodist Church or by any denomination; it would instead be funded by individuals and local churches. In other words, it would rise or fall according to the wishes of the people who partnered with it.

It was a gutsy, sacrificial move. Some of those present pledged thousands of dollars they did not then have.

Six weeks later, on Jan. 6, 1984, The Mission Society was incorporated.

Today, The Mission Society has more than 200 missionaries serving in 37 nations around the world. Most serve outside the U.S., although several are on staff at campus ministries in the U.S.

The Society also has more than 30 volunteer mission representatives available to “introduce” The Mission Society to local churches and to “help pastors, mission committees, and individuals implement the vision the Lord is giving them to reach the world with the gospel.”

You can learn more about The Mission Society here.

The Mission Society also publishes an excellent quarterly magazine, Unfinished.

(The above post is adapted from a post first published in 2009.)

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The Mission Society celebrates 25 years
Dick McClain named president of The Mission Society
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Related articles and information
The Mission Society and GBGM build relationship: Leaders help mission groups to make up | Sam Hodges, UM Reporter (Nov. 18, 2011)
Dr. Thomas Kemper, chief executive of the UM General Board of Global Ministries, addresses The Mission Society Board of Directors | Audio (Nov. 2, 2011)
Going worldwide: For 25 years the Mission Society has helped the church discover its mission | Dick McClain, Good News (September/October 2009)
Report on The Mission Society’s 25th anniversary celebration | Mission Society News (Sept. 17, 2009)
Video the 25th anniversary celebration | The Mission Society media library
Timeline of The Mission Society
Built to last: A look at The Mission Society after 25 years of building for God’s Kingdom | Interview with Dr. Phil Granger, Unfinished (Winter 2009)
Report on the October 2008 Mission Society ‘visioning’ gathering in Prague, Czech Republic | Jim Ramsay, The Mission Society (Dec. 2, 2008)
There must be more: Mission Society ‘campus missionaries’ are helping feed the spiritually hungry at several U.S. colleges | Anna Egipto, Unfinished (Spring 2009)
The Faith that compels us: The first decade of the Mission Society | An excerpt from The Faith that Compels Us by H.T. Maclin (Bristol House)
The demise of the world’s greatest mission agency | Mark Tooley, Touchstone magazine (November/December 1998)
An open letter to the United Methodist Church from The Mission Society | The Mission Society, via the UM Confessing Movement (May 8, 1998)
Struggling for soul and purse: Disgruntled Methodists challenge their biggest agency | TIME magazine (Jan. 30, 1984)
Methodist critics form own mission agency | David E. Anderson, UPI (Jan. 27, 1984)

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Jan. 1, 1622: The Roman Catholic church adopts January 1 as the beginning of the year, rather than March 25.

Jan. 3, 1785: The Methodist “Christmas Conference” concludes at Baltimore, Md., having created the Methodist Episcopal Church in America (now the United Methodist Church).

Francis Asbury (pictured kneeling) and Thomas Coke were elected as the denomination’s two first “general superintendents.” Later the title was changed to “bishop.”

Jan. 6, 1850: Charles H. Spurgeon, who would become one of the greatest preachers of all time, converts to Christianity during a service at a Primitive Methodist church, as a lay preacher spoke on Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”

Mr. Spurgeon described the event in his Autobiography:

[The speaker] had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed — by me, at any rate — except his text. Then, stopping, he pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery, and he said, “That young man there looks very miserable”…and he shouted, as I think only a Primitive Methodist can, “Look! Look, young man! Look now!”….

Then I had this vision — not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Savior Christ was…. I no sooner saw whom I was to believe than I also understood what it was to believe, and I did believe in one moment.

Jan. 6, 1984: The Mission Society for United Methodists is established — with a goal of “offering Christ to the world’s under-evangelized and unreached people.” Now known simply as The Mission Society, the organization — which receives no denominational funding — has more than 200 missionaries in 35 nations.

The group’s mission statement, updated in 2010, now reads: “The Mission Society exists to mobilize and deploy the body of Christ globally to join Jesus in His mission, especially among the least reached peoples.”

whitefieldJan. 10, 1739: George Whitefield (left), whose preaching sparked America’s first Great Awakening, is ordained to the Anglican ministry.

Whitefield later identified with the Methodist movement and took to open-air preaching after jealous ministers denied him the use of their pulpits.

Jan. 21, 1621: Pilgrims leave the Mayflower and gather on shore at Plymouth, Mass., for their first religious service in America.

Jan. 22, 1973: The United States Supreme Court invalidates all state restrictions on abortion in its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions.

Years later, it was learned that the Roe case was premised on a deception. The plaintiff, “Jane Roe” (later identified as Norma McCorvey), had not been raped as claimed. In 1995, McCorvey became a follower of Christ and a pro-life activist.

Jan. 27, 398: John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher of his age, is consecrated bishop of Constantinople.

Adapted with permission from ChristianHistory.net.

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