In recent years The United Methodist Church has been accused of not having doctrinal standards. I know you’ve heard comments like, “You can always join the United Methodists no matter what you believe.” People say this about us because many of our clergy and laity are genuinely concerned about being inviting rather than offensive. In the September/October edition of “Net Results” Magazine, Bill Easum provides excerpts from an article he wrote years ago, “On Not Being Nice for the Sake of the Gospel”:
I’m convinced that one of the main sins of the established church is that we have taught ourselves to be nice instead of being Christian. In spite of aspiring to be a disciple of Jesus, we teach that the essence of Christianity is to be nice. Where do we get such a notion? Certainly not from the actions of Jesus. Jesus taught us that being nice has nothing to do with being Christian. Being nice is often nothing more than a lack of compassion for people.
Easum’s words will strike a chord with those of us who strive not to offend. I, too, am embarrassed by Christians so strident in their relationships that the love of Christ is hard to find. But I am equally disappointed in Christians who haven’t learned that we can disagree on faith-walk issues without being offensive. It’s no wonder that many people surmise that being United Methodist means not having strong doctrinal positions.
Bishop Will Willimon has written another book, “United Methodist Beliefs: A Brief Introduction,” which I highly recommend. He writes:
I’ve heard people say, “What I like about being a Methodist is that you can believe fairly much whatever seems right to you.” They are dead wrong, a scandal to the religious movement that is the lengthened shadow of John and Charles Wesley. Doctrinal indifferentism and theological latitudinarianism are perversions of our Discipline’s mandate for each of us to be active theologians. We stress the importance of our theological commitments when, by long-standing tradition, the bishop asks every candidate for the office of elder in full connection these questions:
"Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?”
"After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?”
"Will you preach and maintain them?”
It matters what you believe. It matters to Christ. It matters to this bishop. It matters to the church where you worship or serve as pastor. It matters to the people that you encounter each day – people who are searching for answers to life’s tough questions, who are looking for someone to make a difference in their lives.
I encourage you to
read Easum’s article in “Net Results” and Bishop Willimon’s book on
United Methodist beliefs. We are a church with some firm beliefs. It’s
important that you study and know what we believe.