United Methodism: Searching for Their "Theological Compass."


Dennis Hartman

        Recently a letter appearing in the "Cheers and Jeers" section of the Good News Magazine caught my eye. It was entitled "Theological compass" and was written by a California brother. As I read the letter I felt that the author, Mr. Ray O'Neil, made some important observations. One of which was that the UMC "has lost its theological compass." I agree.

        As an outsider, an independent Methodist pastor, I can see his point very clearly. No longer does the UMC have men that can stand on their own two feet and defend the great doctrines that our founder so aptly taught us. Where is a theologian within the UMC that can, and more importantly, will stand up to defend the historic Methodist Arminian positions? Where are the pastors who will not only love brothers of other denominations, but will also contend for the Biblical positions on Methodist Arminian and baptism that made us at one time the greatest soul winning Church in the world! Friends, he has a very valid point, and one that should be shouted from the roof tops. He said it well. "We are theologically and missionally dysfunctional."

        The word dysfunctional is very popular in our present politically correct environment. It is a word that is brandished about with gusto. We use this word in education all the time to label a student and get him/her into some sort of government program that all too many times does not help the child. We are slowly realizing that dysfunctional children are being raised in a dysfunctional family. There are those who claim that our society is dysfunctional, too. Indeed it was a good choice of words because we totally understand its meaning.

        The word "theologically" is also a good choice of words. Theo means God, and ology means the study of. Therefore, it simply means the study of God in all His ways. By using this word the writer made it clear that there is a lack of this within the UMC. The UMC has for to many years limited the study of God to the word "love." Wherein Mr. Wesley emphasized love it should nevertheless be equally noted that he took on the Calvinists, and their "Reformed" doctrines when it got in the way of holy living and evangelism. Wesley said that he was a man of the Book. This means that he had a simple faith in God and took Him at His word. He did not pervert the word love as most have in the UMC to defend sin, error, wrong doing, or try to get someone saved.

        Yet, I find it bizarre that today all to many conservative UMC pastors are throwing out these historic doctrinal positions in favor of the Baptist, Charismatic, or the Calvinist philosophies as they try to find their way once again. Why? One can only guess, and the following are mine.

        It could be that they are burned out on Wesley. After all most UMC pastors and laymen have never taken time to study him carefully, and therefore they have the wrong concept of what he believed. After all the liberals have played on his position of love and holiness to defend what they are doing. Still another reason is the easy access that they have to radio and television preachers/teachers. The problem is that most are either Baptist, Charismatic, or Calvinist. They are deceitful when they continually make the claim that they are just preaching/teaching what the Bible says. Then too these UMC pastors have to contend with the lay people who are taken in by these high powered preachers and who are burned out on Wesley and his theology. Yet the real Wesley was far from liberalism. Let's face it, these brothers are lying when they claim that the Bible teaches speaking in tongues, immersion as the way our Lord was Baptized, and eternal security as true because we know that God elected some to heave and the rest to hell. What UMC preacher to day will take the high road and study what Methodism believed, when it is easier to just go along and not make waves? After all, that is what most UMC pastors have been conditioned to do from seminary. It must also be admitted that many spin off organizations like the Good News magazine and the Confession group is not helping by promoting every other theology but Methodist Arminianism. Yes, we have lost our way indeed! We are indeed "theologically dysfunctional." Rather then stand it is easier to compromise in pious words and say we must drop these theological issue to bring the church together. Yet the Baptists, Charismatic, and Calvinist see their theological views as central to evangelism. Trust me, they are not out there to help the UMC to come back to God.

        Note too that Mr. O'Neil talked about being "missionally dysfunctional." Here again Methodism spread the gospel through its system of horse riding preachers as America moved west. It sent missionaries to China, India, Africa, and many other countries of the world. They want to preach the Gospel of Christ, and call men to spiritual conversion in Him. But today, that has changed in the UMC. It is common knowledge how many missionaries are social reformers for the leftist cause rather then to call men to full salvation in Christ our Lord. What about being born again to also change society?

        Indeed, Mr. O'Neil's article hit the nail on the head. But wait. The only problem with his article is part of the overall problem. While he does well to speak of losing the "theological compass," he dose not give us an idea of in what direction we should head. I guess we are to conclude that by reading his article. However, Mr. Wesley always spoke clearly enough and directly enough to the people so that they knew what he believed and taught concerning the Bible. That does not occur here or anywhere else in this magazine when comes to real Methodist doctrine. It is the same old harp against the liberal UMC powers that be.

        He says "We have prided ourselves in being an inclusive Church. Unfortunately, we have sacrificed our core (non-negotiable) affirmations at the alter of inclusion. Paradoxically, because our inclusion means anything, it also means nothing. Because we've lost our theological center, we have lost our freedom in Christ." He is correct. The UMC has become a slave to the liberal issues of the day. Also because of this liberalism, UMC members are filling up the pews of Baptist, Charismatic, and Calvinistic churches all across this land thinking that somehow they now go to a "Bible Believing Church." Yes sir, no more Wesley stuff, just the Bible. What a sad attitude. Remember, you can still believe the Bible and be a Methodist. Just ask Wesley. Your people have become slaves to other dominations for lack of spiritual food in the UMC.

        It is time for men like Mr. O'Neil to take some real leadership and demand that the UMC not only should clean house but find the theological core that made Methodism what it once was. It is time for men like Mr. O'Neil to lead the charge back to the teachings of our Lord and Savior as He so nobly taught our Founder Mr. Wesley. It is time for men like Mr. O'Neil to demand that magazines, like the Good News, quite being so inclusive of other denominational attitudes and doctrines, not that we don't love them, and start to educate the UMC lay people on historic Biblical Methodism. Until men like Mr. O'Neil stand, nothing will get done.

        In conclusion I want to give one more quote from his article. "Unfortunately, we neither have the theological center nor the backbone to make such difficult discernments." Friends your "center" positions is what got you into trouble. You can not be neutral for Jesus. It is either all or nothing. "Backbone" is needed in three different areas if Methodism or United Methodism is to be saved. First we must insist on the Bible as the only foundation for faith and truth. Our philosophy must be the Book. Second, we must preach the blood atoning work of the love of Christ to the lost world without apology. "Ye must be born again." Finally, we must stand as did Christ, his disciples, and Wesley against the error of Calvinism, and the such, so that men may live holy. Remember, most other denominations are looking to the UMC members to fill pews even though they pretend to help you. Who needs them when you and God make the majority? If IMARC can be of a help just let us know. Keep the faith and up with Bible Believing Methodism.

Pastor Hartman has been in the ministry for twenty six years. He graduated from the Institute of Christian Service of Bob Jones University. He also holds B.S. and M.S degrees from Columbus State University. He has traveled once to Russia, three times to the Ukraine, twice to England in a humble effort to help the missionaries spread the Gospel of Christ. If you would like to contact Pastor Hartman, please feel free to do so.