Lessons from the United Methodists

As is already well reported on, the United Methodist Church is set to split between a Progressive wing and a Traditionalist wing. What was the split over? It was over the issue of homosexuality, particularly with gay marriages, gay clergy, etc. Most of the mainline Protestant churches, like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, among others, have already changed their stances on marriage and sexuality. For example, in 2011 the Presbyterian Church USA had amended their Book of Church Order to allow for those who are openly gay and lesbian to begin being ordained as clergy. In 2014, the PCUSA permitted their pastors to begin performing same-sex marriages, only to see same-sex marriage recognized by the U.S. government a year later, with the Obergefell decision being passed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Evangelical Christians can, and do, recognize that homosexuality is a sin, that it is a deviation from God’s ordained pattern for human sexuality. We recognize that same-sex marriage is a deviation from the God-ordained pattern for marriage that originated in the book of Genesis. It is our Lord Jesus himself who said in Matthew 19 that marriage is between a man and a woman, and “what God has joined together let no man separate.” For one reason or another, and it may be due to the radical nature of the LGBTQ+ movement here in the U.S., Evangelicals have at times appeared squeamish over dealing with the issue. To be sure, we have not had to really deal with within our bounds as those Evangelicals in the UMC. Evangelicals in the UMC have been fighting liberalism in that commune almost since the beginning, knowing a split was a long time coming.

But, why now? Why see a split now? Likely, this is a “final straw,” for many, openly deviating from the agreed upon standards by the UMC. Of course, this is no secret that liberals in Christian denominations tend to forsake rules and conventions when it doesn’t suit them, but are merciless bureaucrats in other issues to keep the church “united.” An example can be demonstrated that when my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, opted to leave the PCUSA in 1973, provisions for exiting were removed, prompting the Northern branch’s stated clerk to comment that he’d, “never seen such harsh treatment of one’s brothers like that” (paraphrase). The Progressives in the UMC at least allowed Traditionalists to exit with money and their church buildings, among other assets.

One of the main lessons we can take from this split is this: now is the time for Evangelicals to be as clear as possible on where they stand on controversial issues. Sure, the world knows what has been said in the past by Evangelicals on issues related to homosexuality and abortion. However, those were different times and were levied by a different generation of pastors. The culture was aggressive, but not in the same way it is today. James says in James 1:5-8 that we are not to be double-minded, in that we ought not be speaking out of both ends of our mouths. We ought to say on the one hand we oppose the culture’s promulgation of homosexuality and transgenderism, while seeking to appease on the other. News flash: the only way Evangelicals can appease the culture is if we abandon God and his Word altogether, which is something we cannot do. Come what may, Evangelicals need to stand firm come what may.

Another lesson we can take is this: do not be afraid of what the world may do to you. Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew to not be afraid of the one who can kill the body and not the soul, but the One who can kill both body and soul by casting them into the Fire. In other words, we ought to be more afraid of the consequences of unbelief than the consequences the world gives us on what we do believe. If you lose your church, your job, or your freedom because you stood against the culture, so what? Did Christ not say you cannot serve two masters? I’m pretty confident that he did, and he was rather clear. Did the Apostle Paul not say that to live is Christ, and to die is gain? That in dying we can something far greater in Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer? Oh, how we need that reminder in Evangelical circles today!

A third and final lesson: continue preaching the Gospel. What is the Gospel, but Christ crucified for sinners, that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, that we have all transgressed his law, and that we need forgiveness for this? This is true for the homosexual, the adulterer, the glutton, the proud, the swindlers, the murderers, and the fornicators. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 that such will not inherit the Kingdom of God. However, Paul also says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (emphasis mine). Yes, one can repent of their sin by a moving of the Holy Spirit, and be washed, cleansed, and redeemed by Christ our Savior. The only hope for sinners is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ for this great promise of salvation, that Christ will change them by a supernatural work. I am reminded of Dr. J. Gresham Machen’s final message to his friend, John Murray, at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia: “So thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” Yes, we have no hope without Christ going to the cross. But, glory to God that we have that hope!

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