Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Who Inherits the Methodist Movement?

 One of the primary goals of my blogs over the last several months has been to debunk false claims from Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and Global Methodist Church (GMC) leadership. There are clear reasons why a person may choose to leave the United Methodist Church for the GMC. If a person or church makes that choice based on a prayerful, thoughtful, informed decision, so be it. But those people and churches do need to have correct information.

One of the false claims you may have seen is that the GMC are the rightful inheritors of the Methodist Movement. You'll see this in questions like, "Why are we the ones leaving the denomination when we have been faithful to the Book of Discipline?" I'll have a direct response soon to the question of faithfulness to the Book of Discipline. Today I want to address only the underlying issue - which group is the "rightful" inheritors of Methodism?

It's a trick question. While those of us who are progressive on LGBT+ inclusion have repeatedly been called "false teachers," you won't hear us pushing that rhetoric on traditionalists. The GMC will be one of many Methodist denominations in the greater Methodist tradition that encompasses dozens of denominations across the world.

I contend that those remaining in the UMC are at least equal inheritors of our tradition. 

First, note that the continuing United Methodist Church is not changing any of our doctrine. Is it true that some United Methodists don't follow that doctrine? Yes. You'll see that in comments like this one that remind us of the prominent case of Bishop Sprague (note that if you have to go back 20 years for your best example of a problem it may not actually be that big of a problem). It is also true that there are churches who refuse women as pastors, pastors that rebaptize and/or do not baptize infants, and churches that teach a strict seven-day creation. Being selective in following our doctrine is not a problem for only one side of our divide. 

The GMC is being formed at least in part so that they can attain doctrinal purity. That is a task that is bound to fail. They will be forced, just as the UMC is, with making decisions about whether to take action based on the inevitable deviation from their stated doctrine. 

Second, while the UMC is not changing our doctrine, the GMC actually is. The official doctrine of the UMC is contained in the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, the Standard Sermons of Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (written by Wesley), and the General Rules of the Methodist Church. The GMC adds the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Theologically, I have no issue with any of these. It's important to note that, while reason is not clear, Wesley explicitly chose not to include the first two in our doctrine - our Articles of Religion come from the Church of England and Wesley chose not to include Article VIII on the creeds. 

What is of ultimate importance here is not the content of the change, but the precedent the GMC is setting. While those of us remaining in the UMC are allegedly changing our official doctrine (which has never been changed), the GMC actually is changing our doctrine at the outset. 

Again, I'm not suggesting that the GMC should not be considered part of the Methodist family. I simply reject the contention that we in the continuing UMC are somehow rejecting our own tradition.


  1. Chris Ritter argues that while paper commitments to doctrinal faithfulness may exist, the reality is different in practice. He says the doctrines still obtain but "under glass" as preserved antiquity. In trying to make a case for dissimulation against WCA and the GMC, you have skipped around bald reality in the UMC.

  2. " Is it true that some United Methodists don't follow that doctrine? Yes." When you say this, I think you have missed the point. It's not about whether a member has gone off the rails, it is about how the UMC denominational apparatus has responded to officials and clergy of the church who have intentionally rebelled against doctrines and the Discipline of the church. Whether it is an older example of Bishop Sprague or a contemporary example such as Bishop Oliveto (or even the candidacy of Ms. Penny Cost), time and time again, we see a polity that shrugs off the importance of doctrine in the church; yes, that doctrine may still exist, but it might as well be relegated to a microfilm drawer.

    1. In the context of my blog, your comment is deeply ironic. Our doctrinal standards are silent on human sexuality. They are crystal clear on baptism. Yet I can give you, and have offered to others, 100% verifiable reports of UM clergy who blatantly violate our doctrine on baptism and are functionally baptist. I have literally never heard a concern raised about this from the traditionalist wing of the church with whom these pastors/churches align.

  3. The core of Methodism has never been limited to specific doctrine. Certainly there are the underlying sources mentioned here-but the actual living out of our Core Beliefs is adjusted at every General Conference. The incompatibility clause and prohibitive rules around homosexuality were certainly not part of those original documents. Many would say they were assumed. I don't think it is ever safe to assume in these matters. The fact is both the GMC and the UMC as well as other Wesleyan denominations will each carry part of our Methodist Heritage. And as important as that Heritage is: that Heritage is not what saves us.

  4. If you believe that the queering of the church is "sound doctrine," by all means, stay United Methodist.

  5. For UMC ACs and individual churches to have active WCA chapters is much like having an organization from another denomination actively encouraging UMC congregations to disaffiliate. The WCA global president is a GMC elder who first filed papers for incorporation for The Florida Methodist Church -- while he was still a member of the Florida Bishop's cabinet! The WCA is trying hard to make it seem like a binary choice between the UMC and GMC. Not so. Some congregations have gone ultra-progressive with the UCC. Others have gone ultra-traditional with the Free Methodist Church. Others have joined the relatively new (2009) ACNA, a buffet-spread mixture of Anglicanism and Wesleyanism but not in communion with the Anglicans or Episcopalians. Still others have chosen to go indy-non-denom. Listen very carefully to what you're hearing from the WCA.