By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)
Even in the most theologically radicalized areas, evangelical United Methodists need to stop waiting for bishops, General Conferences, or others to lead the renewal of our denomination.
That was the challenge issued by the Rev. Tom Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager of Good News, the oldest operating evangelical renewal group in our denomination. He was addressing the annual banquet of the Northern Illinois Conference Evangelical Association (NICEA) last month.
Lambrecht criticized United Methodism’s recent excessive focus on restructuring as “tinkering around the edges,” since the primary problems facing our declining (in the U.S.) denomination are spiritual, not programmatic or structural. He cited John Wesley’s prophetic statement:
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
Lambrecht also went beyond that favorite quote of United Methodist evangelicals to note that in the next paragraph of Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” he identified the “fundamental doctrine” of the Methodist movement he founded as “[t]hat the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.”
Thus, fundamental Methodist doctrine contrasts sharply with such liberal ideologies as faith in “continuing revelation” which can even directly contradict Scripture, seen in such places as the extreme heresies espoused by the Jesus Seminar or the Northern Illinois Conference’s notorious former bishop, Joe Sprague, or “the periscope approach” of those who “take one truth of Scripture and read everything through that lens” while dismissing “anything that they don’t think fits,” such as with pro-homosexuality activists who treat shallow notions of “God’s love” as invalidating biblical teaching about God’s moral standards, justice, and wrath.
Lambrecht also noted the hypocrisy of United Methodist clergy who are now promoting anarchy in our church through pledging mass disobedience to our denominational rules on sexual morality. These people voluntarily signed up for the covenant of United Methodist ordination and now expect to keep the benefits this ordination brings them while they shirk the responsibilities of ordination.
Lambrect also expressed concerns felt by many with the new denominational mission statement adopted by the denomination in 2008 (after being pushed by the Council of Bishops). The mission statement of the United Methodist Church adopted in 2000 was to “make disciples of Jesus Christ,” but this was changed in 2008 to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The addition and placement of the new final phrase demotes making Christian disciples from being a valuable end in itself. Lambrecht recalled that eliminating the British slave trade was not the main goal of early Methodism, but this was a result of the change the movement made in people’s lives.
Lambrecht urged orthodox believers within the United Methodist Church to “stop thinking of ourselves as this embattled minority,” since in fact “we are the majority of world Christianity.” He also urged grassroots evangelicals in our denomination to stop waiting for a time when “they” will set the denomination straight. He pointed to the painfully obvious fact that “our bishops are not very great leaders” but instead “are great followers” who are very susceptible to the social pressures within the Council of Bishops and who will therefore not lead our denomination out of its present spiritual morass.
Rather, the Good News leader stressed that orthodox United Methodists must being working now to recover Methodist spiritual disciplines (such as classes and bands) and open ourselves to the biblical gifts of the Holy Spirit, bringing spiritual renewal to our congregations and developing networks with like-minded believers throughout the conference to be prepared to lead the conference as our denomination turns around.