THE CHECKERED HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCE AND UNITY CONTINUES: THE COUNCIL OF BISHOP’S PROGRESSIVE INTOLERANCE TOWARD THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH’S CRISIS POSITIVELY MEDIEVAL
How does the Church deal with religious and theological differences and remain united? How does the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops’ plan to remain united despite the crisis of opposing views over same-sex sex? Take a crash review of the history of the tension between religious difference and church unity over the centuries. Though centuries have past, note the comparison between the medieval Church’s response to Martin Luther and the progressive Council of Bishop’s absolutist response to the crisis of same-sex practice.
ONLY ONE ACCEPTABLE CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: EARLY 16TH CENTURY EUROPE:
In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church knew itself to be the only true Church. The Church accepted that the integrity of the faith was kept from error by Peter and his papal successors. In the early 1500’s, Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic view of a number of critical, doctrinal matters such as the sole authority of Scripture, justification by grace through faith, and ‘the priesthood of all believers’. The Church rejected Luther’s views as contrary to the Church’s teaching. The Church’s and Luther’s views were mutually exclusive and neither side would allow the opposite viewpoint the right to exist. The Church accepted its teaching was the one and only authoritative position. Luther’s heterodox views were anathema and were rejected outright as Church teaching.
TWO ACCEPTABLE CHRISTIAN VIEWS: SORT OF – MID 16th CENTURY EUROPE
This changed after Roman Catholic and Lutheran forces came to physical blows. In 1555 after exhaustive armed conflict, the two sides agreed on the Peace of Augsburg. The upshot of the agreement was that each side agreed to allow every prince to decide the religion of the subjects in his territory – either Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism. This agreement marked a new direction in that the two theological perspectives accepted each had the right to exist peacefully side by side.
Later, in the mid-17th century after thirty years of warfare broke out between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the two sides brokered the Peace of Westphalia. Now three views - Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism – were allowed to co-exist.
CATHOLICISM ONLY ACCEPTABLE CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT IN ENGLAND: CATHOLICS AND PURITANS DIVIDED IN EARLY 17TH CENTURY IN ENGLAND
In King James’ England in 1603, Roman Catholicism was considered to be the only one, true, Christian religion. On account of this, some Protestant evangelicals separated from the Church of England and in 1620 came to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Later, after much water had gone under the bridge, an Act of Toleration (1689) was signed allowing dissenting Protestants, under certain conditions, to exist alongside Catholicism.
DIFFERING CHURCHES IN CHRIST’S GREATER CHURCH: DENOMINATIONAL MODEL
In early America, because numerous Christian denominations existed, authorities did not impose uniformity on colonists. As a result of the 1740’s evangelical revival, the inclusive term ‘denomination’ came into use. The term ‘denomination’ described a particular Christian group who assumed the essentials of the faith but was seen as an accepted member of the larger church, the ecclesia of Christ, to which all particular groups belonged. The true church was not identified with any singular denominational structure. People understood the Word of God must inhabit some outward form but refrained from identifying any particular denomination with the true Church.
TAKE AWAY: APPLICATION
What ‘take-away’ is there for the United Methodist General Conference in February as it convenes to adopt an answer to the church’s crisis over the acceptance of same-sex sex? The Council of Bishops is promoting the so-called ‘One Church Plan’. This view dictates conflicting views on homosexual practice must exist together in the church. Namely, some clergy can decide to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. Some may not. Some churches can vote to allow their pastor to do same-sex ‘weddings’. Some may not. Some annual conference Clergy Sessions – likely Virginia’s - can vote to allow homosexuals to be ordained. Some annual conferences may not. Is not this a commendable, inclusive option? It touts progressives and traditionalists agreeing to disagree and allowing each person with his/her conflicting view to be a faithful Christian belonging in the one, true church. It almost sounds like the Peace of Westphalia or the denomination model! Advocates and opponents of homosexual practice agreeing to co-exist! In actual fact, it is more an absolutist dictum walling off the one, true church.
Like the medieval Church of the 16th century, there is one position the Council of Bishops forbids to exist alone in the church. This is the position now in the United Methodist Church’s The Book of Discipline: ‘The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality’. For sure, in accordance with the ‘One Church Plan’ persons, churches and conferences are allowed to hold this view with the proviso they at the same time also allow the opposite view to be an equally blessed and Scripturally, faithful view. Specifically, the Council of Bishops are promoting the view that the only, authoritative position for the church (at least for now) is the postmodern claim that two diametrically opposite views are both Scriptural, both held by true Christians, both from God, both equally blessed and both belonging in the kingdom of God!
The Council of Bishops and the ‘One Church Plan’ cannot and will not grant the church’s sole and only view (which we conservatives hold) be that which says the only, acceptable biblical position of the Christian church is homosexual practice is condemned by God and incompatible with Christian teaching. More than that, God’s word not only uncompromisingly rejects homosexual practice but seeks to eradicate it. If the Council of Bishops and the ‘One Church Plan’ would allow the conservative/traditionalist position the right to exist, they would have upheld The Book of Discipline years ago and spared us a crisis. If they granted our view that the condemnation of homosexual practice is the only biblical view then they would be forced to accept our view has a right to exist. This they cannot do. By logic this would exclude their own view’s right to exist. So, with a medieval church absolutism they dismiss this as anathema and characterize it as unloving, intolerant, devoid of grace, hateful, and unchristian. This is why they have not upheld The Discipline and are not recommending ‘The Traditionalist Plan’. As far as the Council of Bishops majority is concerned, there is no room in the true church’s universe for the stand-alone position that the Bible’s one and only view is the condemnation and eradication of homosexual practice.
Persons will say traditionalists and conservatives are also absolutists. The difference is we readily admit it. We cannot and will not tolerate the false, logical contradiction that says both acceptance and non-acceptance of homosexuality are both acceptable biblical views in Christ’s Holy Church. We are forthright about this. On the other hand, the ‘One Church Plan’ and the Council of Bishops in the guise of inclusiveness promote intolerance. They are in fact saying to traditionalists, ‘You’re either in our church conforming to our vision, or you have no right to exist.’ Positively medieval!