A way forward? Reflections on a new report from the United Methodist Church

Oct 18, 2018 by

by Martin Davie, Reflections of an Anglican Theologian:


At the end of July a report was issued by a commission of the United Methodist Church (hereafter the UMC) setting out possible ways forward for the church to enable it to overcome its present divisions on the issue of human sexuality.

This report will be of interest to Anglicans as an example of how Christians from another tradition are attempting to address the same divisions over sexuality that are being experienced within the Anglican Communion…

…A theological assessment of the report

Given the very tight timetable under which the Commission was working, this report is an impressive piece of work.

It takes seriously the current divisions within the UMC and provides detailed proposals for possible ways forward that build on the current structures and disciplines of the UMC and seek to maintain as much unity as possible while allowing for appropriate contextual diversity for the sake of mission. It goes into copious detail about the legal amendments that would be needed for reach of the proposals and how matters such as pension arrangement would work.

Unlike similar reports from Anglican churches it does not assume that a ‘one church model’ is the only possible way forward and, albeit somewhat reluctantly, it includes proposals that would allow the UMC’s current discipline to be maintained and in fact strengthened. Unlike in many Anglican reports conservative concerns are taken seriously.

All this having been said, from a theological perspective there are a number of serious theological problems with the report and the proposals it contains…

…[For example] the Commission’s suggestion that those in the UMC should ‘recognize all contextual adaptations and creative expressions as valid expressions of United Methodism.’ This is problematic because it seems to imply that anything anyone claims to be doing as a ‘contextual adaptation’ or ‘creative expression’ for the sake of mission has to be accepted as legitimate. This would mean accepting that Christian belief and practice are infinitely adaptable.

However, if Christian belief and practice were infinitely adaptable this would mean the concept of Christian belief and practice was meaningless. If any form of belief and practice could be called Christian then there would be nothing that was not Christian and so the term Christian would have no meaning. In addition, for something to be rightly called Christian there has to be some connection back to the teaching and practice of Jesus Christ and this puts limits on the forms of belief and practice that can be regarded as Christian. For these two reasons the report’s idea that all forms of contextual adaptation or creative expression should be accepted valid needs to be rejected.

This problem is not just a problem with what is said in a particular part of the Commission’s report. It is a problem with the argument of the report as whole.

Read here

See also: A Protestant look at the dogmatic timidity of the current Roman Catholic Synod, by Carl Trueman, Public Discourse

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