On Friday, October 7 in Chicago, there was nothing cheesy about the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). It was a day of praise and worship, rousing preaching, fellowship, and, like this fictional presidential speech, a declaration that United Methodists who uphold the doctrinal teachings of Church are not only standing firm, they’re going on offense. No longer will they be bullied by those who blatantly disregard the doctrines and discipline of The United Methodist Church. They love the UMC too much to allow that to happen. The event concluded with two bishops presiding over the Lord’s Supper. Following the event I had a few hours by myself to process the day. What follows are some of my scattered, unpolished thoughts.
First, I’m tired of being called an extremist because I uphold nearly 2000 years of church teaching and the doctrines and discipline of the UMC. By definition, an extremist is someone who exceeds the bounds of restraint by holding excessive opinions or views that are outside of the mainstream. The real extremists in the UMC are those who disregard the Church’s teachings and discipline, not the ones who uphold them. It doesn’t matter what label we use to call ourselves: Conservatives, evangelicals, moderates, or whatever. It’s time to stand unashamedly for Jesus Christ because of our love for Christ. Those who are attempting to hijack the UMC away from the truth of God through our historic Wesleyan heritage want to bring the moral fashion trends of the culture into the church. Scripture tells us the influence should go the other way. God is love, but God’s love is a holy love.
The presence of Central Conference representatives at the WCA event was a reminder of the sacrifices we must be ready to make for the cause of Christ. Even though they face occasional physical persecution in Africa, our United Methodist sisters and brothers courageously share the saving message of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is blessing them. In North America, evangelicals in the UMC have sometimes cowered when extremists call us names and we retreat to our church offices to hide. We must be ready to stand and then endure suffering, for if we take a stand, the suffering will surely come. However, as Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:29, we’ve been given the privilege of both trusting in Christ and suffering for him. It’s through suffering that we find joy.
Second, I left the event with the impression that by having 1) 1700+ clergy and laity in attendance from all corners of the Church; 2) an affirmation that the entire UMC in Africa stands with us; and 3) the presence of at least two bishops (and the names of Bishops who could not attend due to schedule conflicts), the WCA is making a statement to the Judicial Council and the forthcoming special commission that they are a large, organized, unified force in the UMC who cannot be ignored.
The event could have been a day of “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!” Conversely, it was a day of positive preaching, classic Wesleyan teaching, Christian love and fellowship, and a desire to see pre-Christian people around us transformed into the image of Christ. I don’t know what the future holds for the WCA or what the organizers do next. The hiring of staff with membership dollars signifies they’re here to stay (I did not join on Friday). Attendees at the event affirmed several statements of mission and purpose, but the organization’s primary purpose is still a mystery to me. However, I stand with them, for they are advancing nothing more than what is already in the Book of Discipline and historic Christian teaching.
For years, in talking with church members about events in the UMC, I’ve tried either to hide or to explain away the extreme actions by agencies and individuals in The UMC as not really affecting the work of the local church. However, the consecration of Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy was, in the words of WCA presenter Jeff Greenway, a “stake in the sand.” This blatant violation of the Book of Discipline has gone too far. It’s time to stand for the truth of the Gospel and our commitment to the doctrines and discipline of the UMC.
The WCA is a declaration that despite what extremists in the UMC might be trying to force upon us, like the citizens in Independence Day “We will not go quietly into the night.” We must never retreat, for as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-5, NRSV).
May the love of God the Father be our guide, the salvific work of Jesus be our motivation, and the power of the Holy Spirit be our strength.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts