It’s the Doctrine, Stupid

Right away, let me ask you to please forgive me for using the word “stupid” in the title to this post. My wife and I teach our kids never to use the word “stupid.” In this case I was just trying to be clever by using a phrase that was similar to one used in a presidential campaign not too long ago.

When I was appointed to my first church after seminary (back in June, 1992), I remember how popular the church growth movement was. I remember many of my United Methodist colleagues going to the latest and greatest conferences and seminars and buying the most current and “relevant” books that would solve all of our membership woes. And yet, what seemed so glaring to me, even then, was that everything seemed to revolve around “new and improved” programs and strategies. What I kept saying to myself was, “Don’t they understand that all these mega-churches they are seeking to imitate have core doctrines that they actually believe in and teach to their people.” (This was before Joel Osteen’s doctrine-free “success.”)

It seems that not very much has changed in the 20 years that I’ve been serving in the local church. My beloved UMC is still working through a “new and improved” paradigm or program every two years or so. It doesn’t seem to be working very well.

What’s so frustrating is that we have such wonderful, life-transforming core doctrines as well. (Parenthetically, I might also mention that John Wesley left us a wonderful legacy for “how” to preach the Word of God, do discipleship, etc.) However, it appears that our denomination often seems more enamored with fruit…while ignoring the root that provides it. We want inclusion, mercy to the last, least and the lost, everyone in service, etc., and yet it seems that we’re undermining the very means by which all of those things (and far more) will ever come to pass.

When I read about Scriptural Holiness, I read about inward transformation happening first before societal transformation can occur. Being must precede doing. Belief effects behavior. Confession, creed, and character shape our conduct. We ignore doctrine to our peril. Mack Stokes wrote,

“…for Wesley, scriptural holiness was seen as “inward holiness” produced by the supernatural pardoning and re-creating power of God through Christ, which impels us into “outward holiness.” The tree, being made good, bears good fruit.”

Doctrine really does matter. It shapes and forms who we are and helps us to understand whose we are. It’s with that foundation that we’re able to go out into all the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. But we must first be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ (new creatures in Christ) who have truly had our hearts changed and who submit to his Lordship. If we aren’t, then all we will be are Pharisaical workers who will be destined to burnout and crash because, like a branch cut from the vine, there will be no life-giving nutrients and power running in and through us. If we would bear much, good, and lasting fruit, then we must abide in Christ and he must abide in us.

Grace and Truth,


United Methodist Pastors Call on Council of Bishops

The following is from Good News Magazine. Used with permission. I encourage you to check this out and sign the statement.

UM Pastors Call Upon Council of Bishops to Issue Statement on Same-Sex Unions

United Methodist pastors of large and strategic congregations from across the nation are calling upon the Council of Bishops to issue a clear statement of support for the denomination’s standards regarding marriage and homosexuality. Good News applauds the leadership of the Revs. Tom Harrison, Charles Kyker, Edmund Robb III, Ken Werlein, and Steve Wood in spearheading the communication to the United Methodist bishops. An additional 54 pastors joined the effort.

“The United Methodist Church needs clear and prophetic leadership right now,” says the Rev. Ed Robb III, senior pastor of the 9,200-member Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. “As clergy, we are asking the Council of Bishops to make a clear and concise statement supporting our denomination’s stance on marriage and human sexuality.”

The signers are responding to the news that more than 900 United Methodist clergy have pledged to break the denomination’s prohibition against conducting same-sex unions. In response, these pastors of some of United Methodism’s largest churches have asked that the Council of Bishops “issue a public statement that you … stand together in your commitment to defend and enforce The Book of Discipline.”

“We love God and we love all people. We honor and respect scriptural authority,” says the Rev. Steve Wood, senior pastor of Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. “Our issue as UM clergy is the covenant that binds us together and keeps us united as stated in The Book of Discipline. The willful violation of that covenant by hundreds of UM clergy will fracture our unity.”

Good News encourages your support of this important stand by visiting and reading the letter and adding your name to the list of concerned clergy and laity.

“The response from our episcopal leaders will either hold together our United Methodist Faith and Practice or it will be the death blow which begins the demise of our church,” says the Rev. Charles C. Kyker, lead pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Hickory, North Carolina.

“As we approach the 2012 General Conference, United Methodists in the pulpits and the pews need to hear that their leaders are in touch with the mainstream and grassroots of the church,” says the Rev. Ken Werlein, senior pastor of Faithbridge United Methodist Church in Spring, Texas.

These pastors are reminding the members of the Council of Bishops that United Methodists in the pews do not comprehend how actions so clearly prohibited by The Book of Discipline can be acceptable within the denomination. “Even if such acts of disobedience are dealt with appropriately, if they occur in large numbers, the members of our church will simply not understand how such actions are possible,” the pastors write.

As the Call to Action Committee pointed out in its report, there is a chasm of trust between the people in the pews and the leadership of the denomination. The pastors’ statement suggests that if the bishops fail to act it will become more difficult, perhaps impossible, to convince their churches to pay their apportionments in full.

Very Important: Good News encourages you to forward this issue of Perspective to members of your Sunday school class, as well as your congregation, so that they too can have their voices heard. A signature form can also be printed from the website and passed around at your church to gain more signatures.

Life in the United Methodist Church

Many, if not most, UM pastors get periodic emails or phone calls (especially when the UMC – officially or unofficially – is in the news), asking whether or not an issue being discussed is going to come to pass. For the last 30-40 years it’s often centered around the issue of homosexuality.

There was apparently something going on in Ohio last week, news of which prompted some folk in my congregation to shoot me an email asking how close the UMC is to ordaining homosexuals, etc. I’m no prophet, but the vote at General Conference every four years is usually not very close. Only God knows what perseverance and incremental success may yield in the long run. At one time folk in the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian Church USA probably never imagined the direction their denominations would go. So, while I don’t see anything changing next year at General Conference, who is to say that it won’t the time after that… or the time after that?

At any rate, here are a couple of articles that recently came out that prompted the emails that I received…

Group of United Methodists try to change church’s position on gays by Michael O’Malley at

Liberals Denounce United Methodist Sexual Teaching at IRD

Truth and Joy,