Britain Christian Living Ethics Sex and sexuality

The Marriage Madness in Methodism – CT

This weeks Christian Today article is a controversial one.  I was alerted to this by some brothers and sisters in the Methodist Church who were obviously distressed by the direction their church is heading….It is madness…
(Photo: Methodist Church)

The annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Great Britain is meeting in Birmingham this week and next, other things it will debate a report entitled “God in Love Unites Us”.

The report will be endorsed, unless something spectacular (or miraculous?) happens, as it has already been approved by 29 of the 30 Methodist synods.The report recommends that the Methodist Church approve of cohabitation and extend its understanding of marriage to “two people” rather than “a man and a woman”.

I have Methodist friends who are now wondering if they can remain in the Church and who feel a sense of bereavement as their Church seems to have been hijacked. But are they overreacting? What does the report actually say?

I have read through the whole document and I’m afraid it is worse than has been reported. It begins with a nice phrase, “We believe that God has made us to be in relationships and has shown us how to flourish through those relationships.” Unfortunately, it then goes on to ignore what God has shown us and instead relies more on Stonewall than Scripture.

Theological Waffle

There are endless pages of meaningless ‘theological’ waffle. It is, in effect, Alice-in-Wonderland, post-modernist theology where words mean “whatever I want them to mean”. There is a lack of reliance on Scripture, which is misused and abused as much in this report as any I have ever read. For example, how can the teaching in Psalm 139 that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” be seen as a justification for same-sex marriage or co-habitation? And the report speaks with such authority about Isaiah 56 and Acts 8 as to affirm positively other sexualities.

Woke Theology

Rather than regard Scripture as authoritative, the report tells us that it relies for “authoritative commentary” on sexuality from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which it naively describes as “independent”. And among other things, the report commends ‘queer theology’; tell us that sex is assigned at birth, based on “perceptions” of biology; and that sexual desire is a part of the wider desire for just and loving relationships! In an overpopulated world, sex should no longer be about procreation; gender is a social construct, and although only 2 per cent of people identify in the UK as LGB, the authors of the report believe – without out any evidence – that it is likely to be many more.

There is no concept of our identity coming from God, being made in his image, and, for Christians, being restored in the image of Christ. Instead, we are told that our identity is given us at birth by “those who care for us”. Nothing to do with either God or biology apparently. But the simple truth is that my parents, doctors and nurses did not decide as I came into this world ‘oh, let’s make this one a boy’!

And then of course there is the other great doctrine of the woke progressives: everything is to be determined by “lived experience” – as long as it is the right kind of lived experience.

“We would urge the Methodist Church likewise to recognise the lived realities of the way relationships are practised today,” the report reads. “A failure to do so may ultimately be regarded as hypocrisy, if it simply ignores how its members and adherents are actually leading their lives.”

So now we have the Church of John and Charles Wesley, the Church of George Whitefield, telling us that doctrine should be determined by what people want and how they live their lives; not what God says. Nothing here of repentance, renewal, or any idea that what we want might not be what God wants – and might not be good for us.

Humility or Hypocrisy?

“We believe that, in awe and humility, the Methodist Church needs to recognise that it is being called by God to take the next steps in the development of its understanding of relationships and marriage,” it continues.

“Those steps include enabling people of the same sex to commit themselves to each other in Christian marriage services.”

They say that this is being done on the basis of “the promptings of the Spirit in the light of the gospel values and trajectories of development that are recorded in the Scriptures overall”.

But this has nothing to do with awe, humility, Scripture, or the Spirit. To claim that the Spirit is guiding them to go against what the Spirit guided the early church to is about as near to blasphemy as you can get.

It’s a form of woke fanaticism – or as John Wesley put it: “Try all things by the written word and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of [fanaticism] every hour, if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of a text, taken in connection with the context” (Works, 11:429).

Stonewall or Scripture?

The reliance on Stonewall, the WHO, the “lived experience” of some and the doctrines of the current secular Zeitgeist, leads the report into the mistake of rejecting what the Bible teaches in some places as error. Again, Wesley summed up the traditional Methodist doctrine well: “Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth” (John Wesley, Journal, 24 July 1776).

Once you reject what Jesus says in Scripture, that makes you less rational, not more. For example, the report suggests, rightly, that no-one should refuse to marry someone because of race. Yet they then go on to say that clergy will be permitted to do so because of sexuality. Given that the Methodist Church will allow same-sex marriage, how can that be perceived as anything other than discrimination? If scripture does not forbid it, then why should individual churches or ministers be permitted to do so? This is an argument that will doubtless resurface in a few years as Methodism continues to ‘evolve’.

The Great Awokening

That is, if the Methodist Church is still here as it does appear to be in terminal decline. There are now only 164,000 people in the UK who are members of the Methodist Church – a decline of 6,000 over the past year. The trajectory is downward – despite boosts from immigration. If the Methodist leaders continue to be guided by the woke ideology of today’s elites, rather than the Word of God, that decline will accelerate.

Methodists were involved in the Great Awakening. Yet they are now turning into the church of the great Awokening. The saying ‘go woke, go broke’ applies to churches as well.

The Faithful

But all is not lost. Some evangelicals are making a stand – although that is anticipated in the report. As in the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, those who are making the policy and who control the denomination need the evangelicals to remain, and so there are the usual pleas for ‘unity’ and ‘disagreeing in love’ – even as the denomination changes its doctrines and moves even further away from the Christian faith.

Perhaps the strongest case against the report has been made by Rev Dr David A Hull, who has written The Runaway Train – a Message to Methodists. At the end of the book, he makes this plea: “The British Methodist Church faces a profound moment of decision. It must choose one or the other: to reaffirm the traditional teaching of the Christian church, the teaching of the Bible and its current position; or to abandon it in favour of a secular worldview that is shaped by political pressure groups. Either decision will have profound consequences for the future.”

Some will have to leave. Methodist clergy have to affirm that they hold to the doctrines of Methodism. If those doctrines have changed – as they will do if this report is accepted – then to say that you affirm them when you don’t, would be a lie. Liberals may find ways to make words mean the opposite of what they say, but no evangelical should play that silly and deceitful game.

This weekend would be a good time for all Christians to pray for our Methodist brothers and sisters. May the Lord strengthen what remains and is about to die. May he grant repentance and a return to the Gospel of the Wesleys and Whitefield – the Gospel of the apostles, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the only method that works.

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48 comments

  1. This is somewhat gutting to me as we were welcomed into the Methodist church with open arms and as I started Local preaching training, but it soon became clear from the content of the course material, ( supportive of higher, form, historical criticism, Bultmann and the rest) and from some preachers (who for example derided John Wesley) that it was losing its way and direction.
    A staunch Methodist friend a local preacher of some national recognition, recognised that a valid criticism of the church, was that its doctrine was thin on the ground. The quarrel between Wesley and Whitefield was theologically profound.
    Around the year 2000 one of the Methodist set communion services addressed God as Mother.
    The local church council of which I was a member rejected its use and it was not used by circuit ministers in our church.
    I was asked to be part of a support group for a friend who was accepted for ordination training on a university, ecumenical course. It was clear that his orthordoxy was undermined seemingly at every opportunity.
    I came away from Methodism and local preaching training, as I could not in all conscience have vowed not to preach/ teach against the doctrines, having come to delve into the underlying teaching of Arminianism and its outworking which can be traced to today.
    Having said all that, my O my, how Charles Wesley knew our triune God.

  2. I have come across a most interesting book. It was written by a member of the Church of Scotland. He is an Elder in his local parish. In it he expounds the views of Bishop Spong and Richard Holloway. He claims that the traditional understanding of God is no longer tenable because society no longer accepts it. In its place he proposes that we instead look to ‘the Source of Life, Love and Being.’ He explains why he thinks that the Biblical accounts of the Incarnation, the Resurrection and the Ascension were written as images and metaphors and were not, therefore, actual events. He rejects the idea of using the Bible as a source of morality. Instead he proposes that the understanding of God as the Source of Life, Love and Being should be at the centre of the Christian approach to morality. ‘And any teaching in the Bible which promotes a different approach to morality should be completely and utterly rejected’. So it is no longer just a matter of interpreting the Bible in a different way; it is about finding some other way of determining what is right or wrong.

    1. he rejects the bible and then tells Christians what should be at the center of their faith?

      sounds a little megalomaniacal.

  3. So, if you want a return to ‘historic teaching’, are you saying that re-marriage is out, divorce is out, and women presbyters are out? All these and others were thought of as against scripture but are now accepted by, I would say, all Methodists.

      1. That answer rather evades Graham’s question. He points out, quite rightly, that at one time women were not allowed to be ministers in the Methodist Church but are now: the Methodist church changed its teaching. So, if it can change its teaching on one issue it can change it on another. (But a follow-up question might be: which teaching is the correct one? It does not automatically follow that the latest teaching is the correct one.)
        The fundamental point here is that no Protestant Church claims to have infallible teaching authority. At one time (for some reason no longer) the Church of Scotland website had a section on the Westminster Confession. The section pointed out that while minsters and elders should assent to the Westminster Confession it is a ‘subordinate authority’ and subject to reappraisal in the light of new understanding of Scripture. (I would like to quote the exact words but, as I say, the Church of Scotland have expunged that section from their website. All that exists now is a link to another website.)
        Now the Westminster Confession of Faith says:
        “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.”
        But how many ministers in the Church of Scotland preach that doctrine from their pulpits? How many ministers in the Church of Scotland today actually believe that? So, in practice, what the Church of Scotland believes today is not the same as it believed in the seventeenth century. The Church of Scotland has, in effect, changed its teaching. Moreover, the Church of Scotland holds that it has every right to do so.
        There is a detailed history of the debate in the Church of Scotland over the status of the Westminster Confession here:
        https://www.melrosepeeblespresbytery.org.uk/WESTMINSTER%20CONFESSION.pdf

  4. I wish church leaders would realise that going woke doesn’t make their church relevant in the 21st century, but rather the opposite. Woke culture doesn’t need God or Jesus because it has no place for a transcendent moral authority or forgiveness. Aligning the church with wokeness will only increase the number of people who see Christianity as unnecessary and the church as irrelevant.

    I can only assume that Christians who buy into the woke doctrine of being the heroic rebels standing up for the oppressed see themselves as counter-cultural against The Establishment. It seems obvious to me however that wokeness *is* The Establishment, and can only maintain its role of rebelling against the oppressors by continually inventing more and more radical positions to defend against the previous iterations of itself.

  5. Wesleyan theology has never relied solely on scripture, but also on reason, experience and tradition. You may believe that scripture should be the be all and end all, but it is not Methodist to do so

    1. All theology, not just Wesleyan has reason, experience and tradition. All Christians take the Scripture as the ultimate authority and do not regard our reason, experience or tradition has equal to Scripture or as having the same authority. None of this report has anything to do with Scripture, reason, or tradition.

      1. Then Methodists are not Christians according to your definition.

        I didn’t read the document, but I have read your article.

        I would say that Methodists have a strong TRADITION of including diverse viewpoints rather than requiring uniformity of thought or theology. Under that tradition it is obviously harder and harder to sustain rules against gay relationships.

        I would also say that Methodists have a TRADITION of social justice and inclusion of social outcasts reaching back to Wesley.

        I would say also that it is hard to say from REASON or EXPERIENCE that the best lifestyle option for every gay person is to remain single their whole lives, but then celebrate every time a straight person marries.

        My point is really that you shouldn’t be too outraged or shocked that people who never agreed with you theologically also don’t agree with you on same sex marriage.

      2. I don’t care whether they agree with me or not. Its whether they agree with Scripture and with Jesus. Thats all that matters.

      3. As I said, it’s fine if you disagree with them, but I think it’s simply untrue to suggest that Methodists ever held what you would consider Christian theology. They aren’t going to produce a report that you consider substantive if they disagree with you on what sources should inform the report.

      4. Again you don’t know what you are talking about – you seem to have a habit of just making things up to suit your world view. As it happens I am sitting in front of a Methodist official document which states that ‘the supreme’ authority and rule by which things are to be judged is Scripture.

      5. Well I think every Christian wants to agree with scripture and with Jesus, but we’ve had two thousand years of disagreement on what that actually looks like.

      6. I know lots of people who profess to be Christians who don’t agree with Scripture or Jesus. I find the notion that Jesus is unknowable an offensive and absurd one!

      7. Living in the US, I have to say I agree with you on that one. There seem to be entire churches which are simply country clubs (not always in the country!) and I know from experience many do not even recognise famous passages of Jesus teaching when quoted to them.

  6. “All Christians take the Scripture as the ultimate authority”
    Catholics believe in the three-legged stool: Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.
    Not sure about the Orthodox but I suspect that they don’t believe in sola scriptura.
    As St Augustine said, “I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.”
    Against the letter of Mani, 5,6, 397 A.D.

    1. And yet most Catholic theology I read – including (especially Augustine) regard Scripture as the ultimate authority. He did certainly not regard the church as ona par with Scripture.

  7. As I understand it, evangelicals have as their goal to bring as many people to Christ as possible, and this includes everyone, including those who may identify as gay. And yet, the evangelical church often publicly, vehemently condemns gay people and any movements which support them, to the point that no one who identifies as gay wants to go near the church with a ten foot pole. I cannot think of any other sin which is treated in this way. I know many stories of people who have renounced adultery, addiction, and all sorts of other sinful lifestyles through being loved, supported and welcomed by a church. How can it be what God wants to repel some people to the point that they will never want to meet Jesus because all they hear of Him is that they are an abomination to Him and His people?

    1. K – I know of no evangelical church which does not offer salvation and repentance to all people. That is not the issue here – the question is whether God wants us to renounce sin and follow his ways when we come to Christ. The idea that we can be Christians but not follow what Jesus taught is the real abomination….

    1. We don’t believe the same book. The bishop of Liverpool does not believe the Bible. I prefer to being referred to Christ – rather than the Bishop of Liverpool!

  8. I know many people who claim to be both Christian and gay. Some were married in church, some are preachers. Are they all deluded? Are they not really Christians, they just think they are? Will they be in for a rude awakening in the last days? In the case of those who are married, is the love they claim to feel for their spouse not actually love (because God is love)?

    1. It is possible to be Christian and gay, just as it is possible to be Christian and hetrosexual. You are not saved by your sexuality! However if you claim to be Christian then surely by definition that means you will follow the teaching of Christ. Therefore you won’t commit adultery, or practice sex outside marriage, or teach against Christ’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.

  9. However I think most evangelicals would see conversion to heterosexuality an inherent aspect of repentance prior to salvation.

    The public condemnation of gay people is with intent to encourage gay people to want to be heterosexual and therefore candidates for salvation.

    1. I don’t know a single evangelical who thinks that conversion to hetrosexuality is essential before salvation. Do you actually know any evangelicals?! Thats the most bizarre and surreal view I’ve ever heard!

      1. David, come on, you cannot have it both ways.

        You cannot first condemn homosexuality, even going as far as to say anyone who disagrees with you on that isn’t a Christian, and then try to claim that not only is conversion to heterosexuality irrelevant to salvation in your theology, but that no evangelical believes that gay people are, by definition, not saved.

        Have you read the Nashville statement?

        Why would there be such outrage by evangelicals about outlawing conversion therapy if gay people could remain gay and be saved?

      2. You really do need to take time to try to understand what you are arguing against…then it would at least prevent you making it up! I did not say that anyone who disagrees with me on homosexuality is not a Christian. And no Christian does argue as you put it, that first of all they need to be converted to hetrosexulaity before they are converted to Christ. Your approach is a dishonest one. You are, to put it bluntly, lying. You also seem really confused. Just because I believe that thieves, murderers and adulterers can be saved, does not mean that I endorse theft, murder or adultery.

      3. So when are you going to write an article for the media demanding full inclusion of unmarried gay people in churches?

        Are the people who signed the Nashville Statement not evangelicals?

      4. I don’t need to go through a list of sins and sinners to say which ones are welcome and which are not. All sinners are welcome in church – and all are called to repent. And all of us are sinners. I’m not sure what difficulty you have with that…

      5. Sorry David to continue this conversation, but I thought it was very important that you see what is going on in parts of Western evangelicalism.

        I have just read a news article that the Presbyterian Church of America is passing a new rule that anyone who is attracted to the same sex cannot serve in ministry because they claim openly admitting this is “identifying with sin”

        Perhaps they haven’t got to the bit where Paul identifies himself as the “chief of sinners” yet or “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that we might be the righteousness of God”

        Anyway I thought it was an important example of where evangelicals are indeed saying that people who are attracted to the same sex (or gay) are excluded from becoming Christians.

  10. I’m a Christian and I’m not gay. I can imagine being tempted to commit pretty much any sin mentioned in the Bible (and I’ve done plenty of them!) – jealousy, not honouring my parents, not loving my neighbour, even murder – but I cannot ever conceive of being tempted to have sexual relations, or even look lustfully, at someone of the same sex. I’m just not ‘wired up’ that way. I expect you, and the non-gay Christians you know, are the same. Has this fact – that being gay, having those feelings and temptations, unlike any other supposedly sinful act, only applies to a small subset of the population, and that they feel it to be part of their identity, never given you pause? This article (I don’t know the author) gives an interesting take: https://psmag.com/.amp/social-justice/jesus-was-wrong-about-homosexuality

    1. Actually lots of sinful acts probably only apply to a small subset of the population – that does not make them any less sinful. The idea that if we are wired a particular way then it can’t be wrong is irrational – what if I’m ‘wired’ to murder? wired for adultery? wired to steal? or to get drunk? Does that make these things right? As for the article – it’s one of the worst I’ve ever read. You are not a Christian if you think Jesus was wrong….and you don’t get to just take the bits out of the Bible you like, and leave the bits you don’t like – because then you are not believing the bible – but just yourself.

    2. I don’t like the article – it decides for Jesus what he thinks of the gays and then tells him he is wrong!

      Juries are there so that people who are charged with crimes can be judged by their peers – people who have been through similar experiences.

      I’d argue that Christian and societal animosity towards gay people (and increasingly also trans people) has so much emphasis precisely because it’s easy to harshly condemn something you have not done and cannot imagine doing.

      This explains the difference treatment that Christians here in the US gave to Trump (lied about paying hush money to a stripper who he slept with while his third wife was pregnant with his child) compared to how they treat Buttigieg (a faithfully married gay man) or the woman in the DHHS who is the first trans person to serve at that level.

  11. Peter Jermey is nearly right.
    In 1970, the Methodist Conference confirmed a decision made in 1970, that, inter alia, made belief in the authority of the bible an optional extra. To my shame, I have to admit that it was not until 1980 that I left the Methodist “Church.”
    Many years later I learned that shortly before the first World War the Wesleyan Methodist Conference had decisively rejected a protest about an out and out theological and bible critic being appointed as principal of one of the colleges where Wesleyan ministers were trained. Prior to that point it had been possible to believe Wesleyan documents which asserted the authority of the bible, subsequently it was not, although many did not realise it. The article from which I learned this significant piece of history was written by a professing Evangelical who described the protesters as “Fundamentalists.”
    Similar things (notably the appointment of A.S. Peake as principal of Hartley College) happened in the other denominations which united to form the Methodist Church in 1932.
    True, in the early seventies the Methodist Conference threw out a minister who did not believe in a personal God, but nothing was done about approximately one third of the ministers present who voted against his removal.
    Asserting belief in the authority of the bible while appointing leaders who deny it has been very common among “mainline” British denominations for over a century.

    1. Also, perhaps more pertinently, Methodism has allowed divorced people to remarry, regardless of circumstance, in church for quite some time.

      I think it is hard to construct a theology that says that allowing a gay couple to marry is *worse* than allowing any divorced couples to remarry because Jesus directly calls divorce and remarriage adultery. The Methodist (and indeed Anglican) position on this is clearly untenable

      1. No – its not hard at all. We stick with the theology of the Bible – which does permit divorce (in some circumstances) and does not permit homosexual sex. It’s really not that difficult – unless you are just trying to make up your own religion to suit your views..

      2. Those are pretty limited circumstances though, David.

        Both the Methodist and Anglican churches in GB allow remarriage after divorce under *any* circumstances, which Jesus calls adultery, but did not allow gay people to marry once.

        We have different points of view, but again the RCC allowed Boris Johnson to marry for a third time, but won’t even allow priests to bless same sex couples.

        There comes a point where these double standards just become indefensible.

        Jesus called remarriage after divorce adultery in most circumstances, we agree on that at least (?) and said nothing about same sex marriage. How then can one be left to individual ministers/priests to approve and the other be a complete ban? It’s objectively very different treatment.

      3. The Methodist Church actually has a lower standard for remarriage (the minister just needs to agree) than same sex marriage (the minister and the church council need to agree).

        The Church of England will also remarry anyone divorced as long as a priest agrees to do it. The Church of England will not marry same sex couples even if the priest has no problem with it.

        The Roman Catholic Church will remarry anyone who is divorced if they are rich and powerful enough, but not otherwise (how else do we explain Boris). The RCC will not marry or even bless same sex couples.

  12. Well, unfortunately these are the bitter fruits of the Reformation with it’s thousands of denominations and it’s insistence that we all get interpret Scripture however we like.

    This article states –
    “There is a lack of reliance on Scripture, which is misused…”

    How can we possibly know that or be in any position to be the arbiter of whose interpretation is right and how’s wrong? ALL scripture is read by EVERYONE through a lens.

    In reality, Methodism’s Arminianism helps to counteract the depressing fatalism of Calvinistic theologies. Wesley’s doctrine of the witness of the Holy Spirit always provided marginal people and groups with an affirmation that they were loved and valued by God.

    This is what has happened here.

    1. The argument that God inspired his Word – which no one can understand is so depressing – as is both your misunderstanding of Calvinism, and ‘what has happened here’. I suppose we should not be surprised by the latter – given the former!

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