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The following post is by blogger and church planter David Fischler. He writes frequently on topics related to mainline Protestantism at his blog, The Reformed Pastor.

David S. Fischler

A New Jersey native, David was born of Jewish parents and became a Christian in college after reading the Bible for the first time. He served as a United Methodist pastor for nine years (North Carolina Conference) and is now a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

David holds degrees from Rutgers University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). He is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Trinity School for Ministry near Pittsburgh.

This opinion piece first appeared in a different form at The Reformed Pastor. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.

The Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, via the trial and “punishment” of lesbian minister and same-sex union blesser Amy DeLong, has declared that the denomination’s Book of Discipline is merely a Book of Suggestions — and, by extension, that the views of the worldwide church that passes that Discipline every four years can be effectively ignored.

DeLong received only a slap on the wrist — a light 20-day jury-imposed suspension — though found guilty by a unanimous vote of presiding over a 2009 union ceremony at which a woman married another woman. Ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions are expressly prohibited in the UMC (¶341.6).

By a 12-1 vote, DeLong was acquitted on a second charge — being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” — even though had she informed Wisconsin Conference officials two years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship. The Book of Discipline says self-avowed practicing homosexuals are disqualified from serving as clergy (¶304.3).

From the penalty argument by the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, counsel for the UMC

By a unanimous verdict, you have found that Rev. Amy DeLong is guilty of conducting a ceremony which celebrated a homosexual union in violation of ¶2702.1b of the Book of Discipline…. [This] is not [an] insignificant violation…. [All who are] part of the Order of Elders of The United Methodist Church are bound together by the covenant that we have joined, as it is expressed in the Book of Discipline…. [W]e have agreed to uphold the Discipline and abide by its provisions….

Neither this annual conference, nor this Trial Court, has the authority to establish or alter official rites and rituals. No individual pastor has the authority to establish or alter official rites and rituals. The General Conference, 15 years ago, unequivocally declared that “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers.” This provision is binding on every United Methodist pastor. When any of us violates a provision such as this, we are setting ourselves over against the Church that has ordained us, declaring that we will not submit to the authority of the Church. This we are not permitted to do….

The Church’s main interest in terms of penalty is that the requirements of our Book of Discipline are honored and complied with. We want to ensure that Rev. DeLong will conform her future behavior to the requirements of the Book of Discipline, so that we are not back here again in the future to do this all over again. In addition, we want to ensure that others in our church will know that we all have an obligation to conform our behavior to the requirements of the Book of Discipline. Otherwise, here and elsewhere, we will be facing the scenario of repeated disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church. No church or denomination can long survive such rending of its covenant….

I invite you, the Trial Court, to consider [the] types of harm that are likely to be done by an inadequate penalty…. [S]ome United Methodists will become discouraged, feeling that there is a lack of accountability to our Church’s rules. Some may even leave local congregations because of it…. More broadly, harm will be done to the Church’s covenant by an inadequate penalty, since it would appear that the terms of the covenant are optional, and each clergy member will feel free to interpret that covenant in their own terms and adjust their behavior accordingly, leading to disunity and widespread conflict. Most broadly, we need to consider our brothers and sisters in Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world…. [T]here is no disputing that becoming a more gay-affirming church would severely harm our Church’s witness in… countries…where our brothers and sisters are confronted with life and death circumstances in their conflict with radical Islam….

[T]he fundamental purpose of the penalty…is not retribution, but restoration — not only restoration for the individual, but restoration for the Church body. The penalty of suspension until such time as Rev. DeLong commits herself to live by the terms of the covenant to which she agreed has the virtue of enhancing the unity of the Church around our common covenant. It is proportional to the offense, in that it withdraws the right to perform ordained ministerial functions from one who has abused that right by performing an ordained ministerial function contrary to the Book of Discipline. It gives maximum power to Rev. DeLong herself, who has the ability to choose the length of her penalty by choosing to return to live within the covenant and comply with the terms of the Discipline.

During the trial, that moral standard for UM clergy got lost in technicalities that may provide a road to chaos.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

DeLong’s counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, had argued during the trial that church investigators never asked the lesbian minister whether she engages in prohibited sexual activity, the church’s accepted definition for “practicing.” And DeLong declined to answer that question when church counsel the Rev. Tom Lambrecht posed it during her testimony….

“I don’t know if you’re being voyeuristic or just plain indecent, but there is no way, when you are trying to do me harm, that I’m going to answer and share the intimate, sacred details of our lives,” DeLong said.

What this comes down to is that, in acquitting DeLong, the jury of Wisconsin Conference clergy members decided to adopt the approach that has been used in other mainline churches for years to get around “fidelity in marriage/celibacy in singleness” standards.

The jury would not convict DeLong of being a practicing homosexual unless it had some kind of independent evidence of sexual conduct that is, under normal circumstances, impossible to obtain.

Make no mistake: Widespread adoption of this evidentiary standard will vitiate the  UMC’s prohibition on sexually active homosexual clergy. It will be the means that liberals will use to frustrate the will of the church as a whole — unless a way can be found to stop them.

Indeed, the pro-homosexuality Reconciling Ministries Network in the UMC crows that the DeLong approach is the key, for now, that will enable any practicing homosexual clergy member to avoid conviction at a church trial.

The outcome on this charge appears to signal that it’s possible for gay and lesbian clergy to be out about their sexual orientation, as DeLong is, and not be prosecutable under the Incompatibility Clause as long as neither they nor anyone else documents the details of their sex lives.

As for presiding at union ceremonies for two people of the same sex, DeLong said she has every intention of continuing to do so, as the United Methodist News Service reported:

The Rev. Amy DeLong testified that she would not abide by The United Methodist Church’s ban against clergy officiating at same-sex unions.

“I can’t imagine doing that,” she said in testimony…during the penalty phase of the trial.

To put it plainly, Amy DeLong announced that she considers the Discipline’s strictures to be optional in her case — and the jury, by issuing a toothless suspension, effectively agreed.

DeLong (left) celebrates outcome with supporter (UMNS photo)

“I feel good about what the church has done,” DeLong later said, as quoted in the Journal Sentinel.

“I think we’ve sent a message that the United Methodist Church will not throw out its gay and lesbian people, and that it has opened the doors for a more inclusive church,” she said.

Oh, in addition to her 20-day suspension (the counsel for the UMC had asked that she be suspended indefinitely, pending her willingness to submit to the Discipline — see sidebar), the court imposed another wrist slap: DeLong must “initiate a written document outlining procedures for clergy in order to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit or lead to future clergy trials.”

If Amy DeLong were willing to submit the church’s boundaries, that could a short paper indeed. All it would need to say is: “To avoid harming the clergy covenant, creating an adversarial spirit, or precipitating church trials, United Methodist clergy should by abide by the will of the church as expressed in the Book of Discipline.”

But that is just what DeLong has made clear she will not do — and, based on recent  reports in the denominational press (see here and here–PDF), DeLong apparently has the support of hundreds of clergy across the United Methodist Church.

Further, it would seem that performing homosexual unions is widespread in the Wisconsin Annual Conference. In trial testimony, the Rev. Richard Strait, chair of the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, said that if performing same-sex unions “were a heinous crime, there would be a whole lot of us in deep trouble.”

“A whole lot of us” is a telling phrase, suggesting that disobedience to the Discipline among Wisconsin Conference clergy and leaders is common.

What was really going on in the Amy DeLong trial was this: the Wisconsin Annual Conference (which in the person of the bishop appointed DeLong to her current position as director of Kairos CoMotion, an advocacy group that among other things seeks — surprise! — to repeal the prohibitions on sexually active homosexual clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions) is telling the rest of the denomination that it will not enforce the parts of the Discipline it doesn’t like. Expect other conferences to follow.

If this is not stopped, the collapse of the United Methodist Church as an even vaguely unified body cannot be far off.


Related posts
Bishop Mack Stokes: Holiness in human sexuality
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
In Mississippi Conference, testimony from lesbian couple stirs controversy
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related information
Lesbian elder’s penalty takes different path | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (June 24, 2011)
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Audio: Does the growing affirmation of homosexuality in the Western church further endanger Christians in Muslim lands? — A conversation with Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto | Issues Etc., Lutheran Public Radio (March 15, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)
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Issues related to human sexuality are front and center in both the culture and the church.

Bishop Mack B. Stokes (UMNS photo)

In this post, excerpted from the out-of-print book Scriptural Holiness For the United Methodist Christian (Discipleship Resources, 1987), retired UM Bishop Mack B. Stokes discusses sexuality from the standpoint of both the historic teaching of the Christian faith and the particular emphasis of Wesleyan believers on holiness of heart and life.

Bishop Stokes is a graduate of Duke Divinity School (B.D.) and Boston University (Ph.D.). He served on the faculty of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology from 1941 until 1972, when he was elected to serve as a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

His other books include The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage (1993), Major United Methodist Beliefs (revised 1998), and person-to-Person: Building a Relationship with God Through Prayer (2007).

(NOTE: References below to the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been updated to conform to current wording and paragraph numbering.)


When God created human beings in his image, God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And God called them to be “fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28)…. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical revelation, “we affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008).

As is the case with all human desires, sexual desires need to be directed and controlled. God’s call to holiness includes Christian stewardship of our sexuality. For this reason the biblical teaching is that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” (¶161F).

This raises serious questions…. What about premarital sex? What about homosexuality? What about promiscuity? What about adultery?…

[W]hen God’s love is immediately present and operative in us, how do we act?… For one thing, we act in full respect for the sacredness of our own body and soul, as well as for the body and soul of the other person…. It is not enough to think in terms of “consenting adults.” That is relevant in democratic courts of law…. [But] Christian youth and adults are governed by the presence of the living Christ in them and reserve for their life-partners in marriage the full expression of their sexuality….

[In regard to homosexuality,] the basic question is: What does holiness — the love of God and neighbor — move us to do?

Beyond question there are persons with homosexual tendencies. And beyond question they are precious in the sight of God. Christ’s grand redemptive work has been done for all. And all are called to be redeemed by grace through faith. But is the practice of homosexuality in keeping with God’s holy purpose for our lives?

Among the ancient Greeks and Romans the practice of homosexuality was condoned. And among some people today this practice is condoned and even publicly acclaimed. But in the Hebrew-Christian heritage this practice has not been approved. It has been repudiated as contrary to the revealed purpose of God for our lives.

Our standards are not to be governed by the pagans of ancient Greece and Rome. Nor are they to be guided by the standards and values of those of our own time who are not interested in what the Holy Creator requires.

It is one thing to have homosexual tendencies — just as it is to have tendencies toward promiscuity — but it is another to practice it. This is why we United Methodists say that “we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F)….

[As regards promiscuity, i]s it not one of the cheapest and most contemptible ways of using others as means to the gratification of elemental selfish desires? And is not this on the side of evil and against God and his righteousness?… In the light of the Bible and God’s holy purpose, promiscuity is as far removed from the grace of God in Christ as hell is from heaven….

[In summary, w]e may say that scriptural holiness leads us to practice the formula: In singleness, chastity; in marriage, fidelity.


Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Pro-homosexuality foundation pours millions into Catholic and mainline Protestant dissident groups
Breaking the covenant: Why aren’t ‘Reconciling’ churches being held to account?
Riley Case: Retired bishops’ statement is a sign of UMC’s sickness
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
In embracing homosexual marriage, Foundry UMC rejects UM boundaries, breaks with 2 millennia of church teaching
Riley Case: The future of the United Methodist Church is at stake
In GBCS article, UM elder argues against celibacy for single clergy
Board of Church and Society sex-ed writer: Sex outside of marriage can be ‘moral, ethical’
Judicial Council overturns bishop’s ruling on sexuality statement
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Judicial Council says no to same-sex marriage
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’

Related articles information
Eros defended or eros defiled — What do Wesley and the Bible say? | Ben Witherington, The Bible and Culture (Patheos.com) (Feb. 14, 2011)
Christianity elevates sexual morality (a historical overview of the Christian church’s teaching on sexual morality) — Chapter 3 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Book: Staying the Course: Supporting the Church’s Position on Homosexuality (ordering details) | Maxie Dunnam and H. Newton Malony, ed. (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Anyone who works under the authority or auspices of the Church must be held to the highest standards of behavior, free of misconduct in any form | UMSexualEthics.org
United Methodist churches perform same-sex weddings with one foot in the closet | Amanda Hess, TBD.com (Sept. 30, 2010)
UM Judicial Council backs clergy dismissal over affair | Linda Bloom, UMNS (April 27, 2010)
What the evidence really says about Scripture and homosexual practice: Five issues (PDF) | Robert A. J. Gagnon (March 2009)
Slavery, homosexuality, and not being of one mind | Riley B. Case, via The Sundry Times (July 1, 2008)
How churches can refine message on homosexuality | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (May 19, 2008)
United Methodists uphold homosexuality stance | Robin Russell, United Methodist News Service (April 30, 2008)
Judicial Council Decision 1032 and ecclesiology (PDF) | William J. Abraham, General Board of Higher Education & Ministry Consultation on Decision 1032 (February 2007)
The church and homosexuality | Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) (July 12, 2006)
Methodists strengthen stand against homosexual practice | Christianity Today (May 5, 2004)
Debate at the 2004 General Conference on various legislation related to homosexuality (includes audio) | 2004 General Conference Archive
Resources list: Ministry for and with homosexual persons (requested by the UMC’s 2004 General Conference) (PDF) | United Methodist Publishing House
Homosexuality and the Bible (PDF) | R. Albert Mohler Jr., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Homosexuality and the Great Commandment (an address to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh) | Peter C. Moore (November 2002)
Good News’ response to Cal/Nevada’s dismissal of complaints against 68 clergy involved in same-sex covenant | James V. Heidinger II on behalf of the Good News Board of Directors (Feb. 14, 2000)
Good News board urges bishops to preserve unity of church | United Methodist News Service (Feb. 2, 1999)
‘Good News’ says push to accept homosexual practice threatens to split United Methodist Church | United Methodist News Service (May 6, 1997)

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This edition of the Methodist Thinker Mini-Podcast features a teaching excerpt from the Rev. Rob Renfroe, pastor of discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church and the president of the UM renewal ministry Good News.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe

The excerpt is from a 2009 sermon series, “The Trouble with the Truth,” preached at The Woodlands UMC .

To listen (5 min.), click the arrow on the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.

Robert Lane Renfroe earned a B.A. magna cum laude from Rice University (1977) and an M. Div. summa cum laude from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1982).

After graduating from seminary, he was appointed to be the associate pastor at The Woodlands UMC north of Houston.

In 1988, he was named pastor of First United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Texas. Four years later, he moved to Mission Bend UMC in Houston.

In 1998, Renfroe was named executive pastor at Houston’s First United Methodist Church, serving alongside Dr. Bill Hinson (PDF). After three years in that role, he returned to The Woodlands UMC as the pastor of discipleship, a position he continues to hold.

From 2007-2009, Renfroe served as president of the board of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Renfroe became the leader of Good News — and publisher of Good News magazine — in the summer of 2009, following the retirement of the ministry’s long-time leader, James V. Heidinger II.

A 10-minute video excerpt from Rob Renfroe’s “Trouble with the Truth” series can be seen below.

 

Related posts
Renewal & Reform Coalition responds to retired bishops’ call to alter UMC’s sexuality standards
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
UM renewal leader: ‘The UMC is worth fighting for’
Podcast: Rob Renfroe on ‘The Deeper Issues of Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Charles Keysor – ‘How then should UM evangelicals fight?’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
A salute to James Heidinger of Good News

Related articles and information
The deeper issues of United Methodist renewal | Rob Renfroe, Good News (via The Sundry Times)
Compromising positions | Rob Renfroe, Good News (May-June 2011)
What do United Methodists expect from their bishops? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
Should the UMC change its ordination standards and allow sexually active homosexuals to serve as clergy? | Rob Renfroe, Good News (Feb. 17, 2011)
In pursuit of truth | Rob Renfroe, Good News (January/February 2011)
Good News moves ministry to Houston, Texas area | Good News (November/December 2010)
Your life, God’s gift | Rob Renfroe, Good News (November/December 2010)
Believe, experience, and increase | Rob Renfroe, Good News (June/July 2010)
Grace and truth (video) | Rob Renfroe, Asbury Seminary Chapel (April 13, 2010)
Health care and the most vulnerable | Rob Renfroe, Good News (November/December 2009)
Speaking the truth in love | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2009)
For the cause of Christ (PDF) | Rob Renfroe, Good News (May/June 2009)
Defining the issues: A Methodist witness | Albert Mohler (Nov. 1, 2006)
United Methodism in crisis: Scriptural renewal through the Good News Movement | Chapter 4 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)
Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church (ordering info) | Thomas C. Oden, Baker Books (2006)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
The story of Good News: A recollection by Charles W. Keysor (PDF) | Good News (March/April 1981)
The Junaluska Affirmation: Scriptural Christianity for United Methodists (PDF) | Forum for Scriptural Christianity (Good News) (July 20, 1975)

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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Dr. Stephen P. Wende, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church–Houston, Texas, urges the election of delegates to the 2012 UMC General Conference “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

Steve Wende addressing N. Ga. clergy in Jan. 2011

He says that the outcome of this year’s elections will determine whether or not the future of the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Delegate elections for General Conference 2012 are occurring now across the denomination, at annual-conference sessions that began in March. Most annual conferences in the U.S. hold their yearly gatherings this month (full schedule here—PDF).

To listen to the podcast (5 min.), click the arrow on the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Steve Wende, a native Texan, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

The audio of Steve Wende used on this podcast was recorded at a January 2011 meeting of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of clergy in the North Georgia Conference. Dr. Wende’s full remarks at that event are posted here.

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Steve Wende: Doctrinal orthodoxy should be deciding factor in choosing GC delegates
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Podcast — Randy Maddox: ‘Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline’

Related information
Schedule of 2011 United Methodist Annual Conferences (PDF) | General Council on Finance and Administration (Feb. 28, 2011)

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This is the latest in a monthly series that presents excerpts from the writings of John Wesley, co-founder (with his brother Charles) of the Methodist movement.

The following is condensed from “The New Birth,” Sermon 45 among Mr. Wesley’s standard sermons. For easier reading, some of the wording in this condensation has been slightly updated, based on the adaptation found in Renew My Heart (Barbour Books, 2011).

A link to the full text of the original sermon is included in the links below.

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”
(Jesus in John 3:7)

Baptism and the new birth are not one and the same. Baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration by His Holy Spirit — a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness.

Baptism, the outward sign, is distinct from regeneration, the inner grace being signified. The one is visible, the other invisible. The one is an act of man; the other is a change wrought by God in the soul.

Just as the new birth and baptism are not the same, they do not always accompany each other. One may possibly be “born of water” and yet not be “born of the Spirit.” There may sometimes be the outward sign where there is no inward grace. I do not now speak with regard to infants. Whatever is the case with infants, it is sure that all of mature years who are baptized are not the same as born again.

“The tree is known by its fruits,” and it is too plain to be denied that many of those who were children of the devil before they were baptized continue the same afterward. They continue to be servants of sin with no pretense to either inward or outward holiness.

Being charitable?

What must one say who loves the souls of men and women? We see them living in willful sin, and we are grieved. What can one say — other than, “You must be born again.”

“No!” says another. “That cannot be. How can you speak so uncharitably to people. Have they not already been baptized? They cannot be born again now.”

Wesley statue in Bristol, England
Photo by Chris Bertram (used by permission)

Can they not? Do you really affirm this? Then they cannot be saved. In saying, “They cannot be born again,” you, in effect, deliver them over to damnation.

Where is the uncharitableness now? On my side or yours? You block their way to salvation and send them to hell, out of mere charity!

Perhaps it is the sinner himself — to whom in real charity we say, “You must be born again” — who responds, “I need not be born again. I was born again when I was baptized. Would you deny me my baptism?”

I answer, you have already denied it by every willful sin you have done. I say to that one, if you have been baptized, do not admit it. For how highly it aggravates your guilt, and how it will increase your damnation! For in your baptism you renounced the devil and all his works. Whenever, therefore, you do any of the works of the devil, then you deny your baptism.

Never boast again of what ought to make you ashamed.


No exception

Whether you are baptized or unbaptized, you must be born again.

If you have not already experienced this inward work of God, let this be your continual prayer: “Lord, add this to all your blessings — let me be born again. Take away whatever seems good to You — reputation, fortune, friends, health — only give me this, to be born of the Spirit. And then let me daily ‘grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ'” (2 Peter 3:18).

Adapted from Renew My Heart,
published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.

Related posts
A word from Mr. Wesley: Holiness in singleness
A word from Mr. Wesley: The sure cornerstone of our faith
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The way to the kingdom’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘Salvation by faith’
A word from Mr. Wesley: ‘The first doctrine’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The new birth’
Podcast: Donald English — Aldersgate Day address, 1988
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Billy Abraham on ‘Connecting Doctrine and Evangelism’

Related information
The New Birth (full text) | The Rev. John Wesley (from The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition — Thomas Jackson, editor)

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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Dr. George Hunter of Asbury Seminary details how Methodism, at least in its institutional United Methodist form, has become what it was once a reaction against.

Dr. George Hunter

In his remarks, recorded earlier this year at United Methodist Congress on Evangelism, Dr. Hunter asks if “a once great movement” — now greatly deficient in New Testament Christianity — “can become a contagious apostolic movement once again?”

To listen to a five-minute excerpt from his January 2011 address, use the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB). (Audio of Dr. Hunter courtesy of GNTV Media Ministry.)

Dr. George G. Hunter III holds the Ralph W. Beeson Chair of Christian Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, where he serves as Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth. He the founding dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury.

Dr. Hunter is a graduate of Florida Southern College, the Candler School of Theology (Emory University), Princeton Seminary, and Northwestern University.

He is the author of a dozen books, including The Apostolic Congregation: Church Growth Reconceived for a New Generation (Abingdon, 2009) and The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again (Tenth Anniversary Edition) (Abingdon, 2010).

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Podcast — Eddie Fox: ‘That the World May Know Jesus’
Podcast — Sir Alan Walker: ‘Christianity at the Crossroads’
Podcast — Harry Denman: ‘Are We Making Christ Known?’
Podcast — Bishop William R. Cannon: ‘The Whole Gospel for the Whole World’
Randy Maddox: ‘Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline’
Billy Graham at the 1980 UM Congress on Evangelism

Related articles and information
The Call to Action: A serious conversation | George G. Hunter III, Good News magazine (March-April 2011)
Barbarians in our midst: How the Irish spread the gospel | A conversation with George G. Hunter III, Good News magazine (March-April 2000 — via Thunderstruck)

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The following commentary is by Terry Teykl, author of The Presence-Based Church, My Most Wanted: 40 Days to Pray for the Lost, and Pray the Price: United Methodists United in Prayer.

Dr. Terry Teykl

An elder in the Texas Annual Conference, Dr. Teykl is a “prayer evangelist,” traveling across the U.S. and around the world encouraging churches to develop and maintain prayer ministries.

He also serves as the “prayer pastor” at Faithbridge UMC in Spring, Texas.

Terry Teykl holds a Master of Theology from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree with honors from Oral Roberts University.

He is the founder of Renewal Ministries and Prayer Point Press.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
(Jesus in Matthew 16:18)

As the Church of Jesus Christ, are we overcoming — or are we being overcome?

I have to ask myself that question as I read about the events going on in our world today and the struggles our denomination is facing. Hemorrhaging and weak, we hardly seem like the prevailing church that started in the Upper Room and spread throughout an entire continent within a year-and-a-half.

I believe one reasons for our dysfunction is that we have become a church sold out to people. We have bought into consumerism and all the tenets thereof. The consumer-driven marketplace feeds on such factors as ingenuity, entertainment location, and image. The mottos are, “Make the customer happy. Give ’em what they want and they will come back for more. Make a profit at all cost.” The individual consumer is the prize.

While consumerism has its place in the marketplace, it is not difficult to see why it becomes a toxic virus when it is allowed to bleed over into the church.

When, as a church, we buy into the consumerism model, we begin to forfeit our birthrights as part of Jesus’ earthly bride. Driven by marketing, image control, and entertainment value, we allow ourselves to be shaped by the needs and desires of the church-shopping masses.

The whole thing becomes a people-to-people affair based on research and statistics. We do religious things based on careful assessment of human behavior in the “church industry.” Like Martha in the kitchen, we get so busy serving people that we neglect Jesus in the living room!

Being “culturally relevant” is fine — please hear me — but the church exists for God’s pleasure, not the pleasure of humankind. We are His bride, His love, created to represent Him and worship Him to His glory and honor.

We are not to be a consumer-based church, but a Presence-based church, sold out to inviting and welcoming the Presence of God.

Becoming Presence-based

The Presence-based church isn’t defined by procedures or specific worship styles. A Presence-based church doesn’t surface by following a prescribed formula, such as singing certain songs or ministering to people in a certain way.

Most importantly, a church is not Presence-based because of what it does or doesn’t do on Sunday morning. A church service is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It is simply a weekly expression of all that is going on under the surface.

Any church can become more Presence-based than it currently is. Any congregation, regardless of size or affiliation, can desire more of God and hunger for His manifest Presence. The issue is not so much about how we worship, but why we worship, and the heart attitude that we embody.

The Presence-based church isn’t interested in the question, “Are we attracting people?” but rather, “Are we attracting the Presence of God,” and, “Is He welcome and honored above all else?”

To be Presence-based, we must, like the Israelites in the desert, put the new Ark, which is Jesus, in the very center of our camp and be led, governed, taught, and sustained by Him alone. He is to be our identity.

The ‘Mary’ heart

Though there are several characteristics of a Presence-based church, the most distinguishing mark is a passion and hunger to know God as expressed through worship and prayer. Presence-based churches have the heart of Mary, who loved nothing more than sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Like the Levites who waited in the temple, lured by an intense fascination with the Ark of the Covenant, the people of the Presence-based church have tasted the incomparable sweetness of God’s nearness and bear His divine imprint. They worship because they are drawn to the Presence of God, and because being created by God for that purpose, they feel more alive and fulfilled during worship than at any other time. It is their passion and purpose.

In the Presence-based church, worship isn’t confined to a one hour service on Sunday morning. It is an ongoing dance that engages all that we are in loving all that He is. Presence-based worship is a response to a God who is so terrifyingly magnificent, yet so intimately known, that praise and adoration burst forth naturally and without effort. It cannot be contained.

Small groups worship at the feet of Jesus. The worship leaders usher the congregation to the feet of Jesus Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Even board meetings engage the business of the church at the feet of Jesus.

The Presence-based church lives on the cutting edge of worship because its people are constantly looking for ways to press past any barriers that would hinder their expression of love and adoration.

Worship leaders in Presence-based churches may ask people to bow or kneel or worship in a prolonged period of silence and listening. They may introduce His people to worship music from different cultures. Occasionally, they may even dismiss the visitors at the end of the service and invite the regular members to stay and continue worshiping past noon.

Outside the camp

The prayer life of the Presence-based church follows a similar pattern. Hungry to know God’s ways, His glory, His heart, His voice, His rest and His thoughts, the people push past prayer that meets human agendas to seek God just for Himself. They pray to see His face, not just move His hand.

This is a realm of prayer that few ever experience. It is the purist form of prayer that teeters close to the edge of worship — that of praying to know God for no other reason except that He is worthy to be known.

It is the prayer of healthy desperation, a yearning prayer without crisis. It longs to press against the veil of the spiritual realm with such humility and endurance that the breath of God can be felt.

The Presence-based church goes beyond the familiar to seek God. Just as Moses went “outside the camp” to be with God in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7), the Presence-based church is always pushing past the successes of yesterday and going beyond the normal routine of church life to pray and experience God in new ways.

Seeking God, romancing with Him, deepens our spiritual understanding and faith. It greatly enhances God’s ability to transform lives and impact communities through us. That is why we need to go outside the camp to seek God for all that He is.

Vast knowledge and profound experience awaits the body of believers that can shake free from the familiar long enough to gaze at the heavens and listen for the heartbeat of God.

Many of our churches today are experiencing “Presence starvation,” and the deficiency is crippling. They have fasted the Presence for so long that they have forgotten what it is like to feast. All the while, Jesus is in the living room, beckoning anyone who will to come and sit at His feet.

Those who do will have “chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from [them]” (Luke 10:42).

Used by permission of Terry Teykl and Prayer Point Press: www.PrayerPoint Press.com


Related post
Podcast — Terry Teykl: ‘Praying for the Lost’

Related articles and information
Prayer and Presence: Not prominent in the Call to Action | Good News magazine (March/April 2011)
Excerpt from My Most Wanted Devotional: 40 Days to Pray for the Lost (PDF)
Biography of Terry Teykl (Microsoft Word file)
Why you should start a prayer room in your church | Terry Teykl, ForMinistry.com
30 Scripture-based prayers to pray for your pastor (PDF) | Terry Teykl, Church Prayer Leaders Network
Interview with Terry Teykl about the Houston area’s ‘Pray Down at High Noon’ prayer focus | KSBJ (several audio clips)
Terry Teykl — chapel address at the Wilmore, Ky., campus of Asbury Theological Seminary (Sept. 9, 2008)

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