Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Reason for Separation?

{Author’s note:  This is a rework of my previous piece, Teaching Heresy.  It was adapted to be printed in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate.  I'm hoping it will appear in September's issue, but I share it here because I do hope it speaks to a broader audience, and that it will be shared with folks who will give it honest consideration.}

Dr. David Watson in a recent speech to the Evangelical Fellowship of the Virginia Annual Conference boldly proclaimed that “expressive individualism” has “run amuck in the United Methodist Church.”(  He was very clear that this “expressive individualism” has supplanted ecclesiological authority in the message and actions of many United Methodist leaders.  He even mentioned an experience with one pastor who refuted the Incarnation by quoting Marcus Borg saying, “a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”  The pastor was saying Jesus was not the very Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, but just a man pointing people to God.
            This is not the Christian faith.  This progressive teaching is a modern blending of some of the heresies that have plagued the church throughout our 2000 year existence.  Antinomianism, Arianism, and Pelagianism are just some of the old heresies raising their respective heads in the progressive teaching within the church.  Pelagianism, as it was understood by the church, taught moral perfection as a result of human determination and will.  Grace was not needed in order to achieve salvation.(Shelley, “Pelagius, Pelagianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., 897)  It was an heretical attack on Original Sin, the doctrine that humans are born with the infection of sin through our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Interestingly, progressive teaching turns this on its head telling us people are born oriented toward homosexual behavior, but failing to acknowledge Original Sin as the most biblical and theological answer for this orientation.  Believers are expected to accept that a person’s homosexual orientation, and/or their gender dysphoria, is a result of the way they were created rather than an anomaly caused by the infection of Original Sin.  It is a complete denial that sin’s infection, working to turn our thoughts and emotions away from God’s good purpose, is part of the human condition.  Original Sin levels the playing field where humans are concerned and equally locates us as sinners in need of salvation through Christ.
Arianism, was an attack on the nature of Christ as the unique son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  Arius taught Christ was created not eternal and thus not God in the flesh.(Walter, “Arius, Arianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., 95)  This is seen in statements like Dr. Watson encountered where Christ was equated to “a finger pointing at the moon.”  According to progressive teaching the faith Christ taught was not a faith that looked for salvation in his life, death and resurrection, but only in the teachings and lifestyle he espoused.  His death was only an example and his resurrection just a spiritual reality with no basis in historical fact.  Former Bishop Joe Sprague of the Northern Illinois Conference faced charges of heresy in 2003 for teaching such views.(  He was acquitted but even he acknowledged his views are not orthodox.
When this false teaching about Christ’s nature is fleshed out we begin to see how neatly it fits with the revival of Pelagianism and its refutation of Original Sin.   If there is no original sin there is no need of salvation in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus.  People are essentially good without the infection of sin and have no need for a cure.  One’s orientation or dysphoria is simply the result of their birth.  The problem is not sin’s presence but the refusal of others to affirm the goodness of this state of existence.  This fits well with a neo-Arianism which does not provide salvation.  There is only an example to follow, which encourages emotional spiritual expression and work for societal acceptance, but little personal behavioral transformation and in the end no real social transformation.
This all of course has given birth to Antinomianism, which views grace as a license to sin and discards concern about the moral law.(Linder, “Antinomianism” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., 70-71)  John Wesley attacked the antinomianism prevalent in the church in 18th century England.  Whether among some Moravians who dispensed with all the means of grace until the Spirit moved them, or among some of the Calvinist teachings he thought encouraged it, Wesley countered antinomianism by demanding Methodists seek personal, behavioral and social transformation through participating in all the means of grace.  Methodists were to look to the Spirit to grant power to fulfill the moral law.(Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, 106-107)  When entire Annual Conferences pass resolutions to resist orthodox Christian teaching and affirm all expressions of sexuality across the LGBTQ spectrum there is little doubt antinomianism is alive and well and we are out of step with our historical and spiritual fore-bearers of the faith.(  Where is the call to turn to Christ for healing and salvation?  It has been replaced by a blanket acceptance that all is good and should be affirmed.
This is not the Christian teaching which says the power and presence of the Holy Spirit are given to generate new birth and energy for holy living.  It is heretical and regressive, not progressive and new.  The time has come for traditionalists to stand up and speak out against it.  Many people are calling for separation.  It may be necessary at this point in the church’s life, but it should be made clear there is no basis for separation except heresy is being taught.  If the presenting issues are just a difference of opinion as Dr. Lovett Weems has suggested in a recent video calling for institutional continuity, we have no basis to call for separation(https:/  He is right to call for continuity if he believes this to be just a difference of opinion.  But if it is only a matter of opinion, why not call for adherence to the Book of Discipline as the will of the church?  Differences of opinion should not facilitate institutional disobedience of the magnitude we are seeing.  Only two options are available; separation because some form of harmful teaching is afoot or obedience to the Discipline.  Many on the other side of this issue think we traditionalists are harmful in our stance and are calling for separation.  Traditionalists are clear where we stand, and we hope like-minded United Methodists will join us.
Finally, it goes without saying that reviling individuals is never our prerogative, but condemning false teaching is the responsibility of faithful Christian leaders.  Did not Paul condemn any gospel that refuted his own even if it should be taught by an angel from heaven?( Galatians 1:8)  He urged Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines,” and to “correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”(1 Timothy 1:3 and 2 Timothy 4:2)  Even Jesus instructed his followers to “beware of false prophets” and find ways to provide correction to one another.(Matthew 7:15; 18:15-17)  It is the duty of all Christian leaders not only to treat everyone with dignity and respect but to speak out against teachings they understand to be heretical and harmful.  It is our duty to inform faithful United Methodists about what exactly is at stake.


  1. You have rightly called us to attend to what is true and proper obedience.

  2. Thank you for this article, it will be spread so others can see the reason for the divide in our United Methodist Church. Praying that God causes the progressives to leave and start their own sect, but I'm not holding my breath.

  3. This is why the only way forward is to reaffirm SGC 2019, strengthen the elements of the Traditional Plan, and expect our Bishops and Pastors to shape up or ship out. And, most importantly, we must put forward a biblical anthropology that teaches that God's children can only shine when they live according to the teaching of Jesus Christ about marriage.