The Methodist Church: A Number of Positive Points

 

Methodist Discipline

The Methodist Church: A Number of Positive Points

The Methodist Church:

The United Methodists: A Number of Positive Points

Part 5

It might be fitting to include a number of positive points that may be attributed to The United Methodist Church in the past and up to the present time. Notice the following.

The Methodist Church led in the fight against liquor and helped to pass the Eighteenth Amendment after the First World War.  This was the Amendment to the constitution forbidding the sale of alcohol. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Methodist Church urged people to join the “temperance” movement of total abstinence. (As late as 1968, “the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted by a heavy majority not to permit local congregations the option of using wine in Communion.”[i])

At one time, Methodist ministers had to take a pledge not to drink and encouraged their congregations to do the same. Today the United Methodist Church states that it “affirms our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love for persons.” In fact, the United Methodist Church uses unfermented grape juice in the sacrament of Holy Communion, thus “expressing pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, enabling the participation of children and youth, and supporting the church’s witness of abstinence.”[ii]

We also notice that the United Methodist Church urges people to abstain from all alcohol use.  Notice this statement:

We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love for persons. We also recommend abstinence from the use of marijuana and any illegal drugs. As the use of alcohol is a major factor in both disease and death, we support educational programs encouraging abstinence from such use.[iii]

While we don’t see a campaign to totally ban the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, we openly acknowledge that this denomination has made a positive statement to people to keep from using these negative substances. In a day when the use of alcohol is generally accepted, we would commend Methodism for this apparent abstinence stance. As to how many members abide by this principle, we simply don’t know.

It is also interesting to note that apparently more Methodists oppose war than the general public. Article XVI, in the Discipline, on “Civil Government,” states: “We believe war and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ.”[iv]  “In 1932 the northern General Conference took a historic position favoring conscientious objection and requesting the government to stop all military training at civilian educational institutions. In 1934 the southern church also supported conscientious objection and asked all of its preachers to preach once a year on world peace.”[v] Although we may assume that this was a Biblical position, we think it would be a wrong assumption. We remember that all during this period, the Biblical foundation of the Methodist Church was being eroded, thus this opposition was more of a pacifist position than a Biblical one.[vi] [vii]

Yet the Methodist Discipline is quite clear about the military:

We reject national policies of enforced military service as incompatible with the gospel. . . . We support and extend the ministry of the Church to those persons who conscientiously oppose all war, or any particular war, and who therefore refuse to serve in the armed forces or to cooperate with systems of military conscription. We also support and extend the Church’s ministry to those persons who conscientiously choose to serve in the armed forces or to accept alternative service.[viii]

This seems to convey a mixed message as to how far the Methodist opposition to war really is. It would seem that this Church accepts various positions on the legitimacy of the military. However, we can be glad that this denomination goes as far as it does; it goes beyond many other mainline denominations.

By the time of the Second World War, Methodist opposition to war had eroded.  “Although Methodists, Evangelicals, and United Brethren each had published strong statements condemning war and advocating peaceful reconciliation among the nations, the strength of their positions was largely lost with American involvement in the hostilities of World War II.”[ix]

Instead of an opposition to violence, per se, the UMC opposition is to war and political conflict. As we have suggested, this opposition is not a matter of Biblical non-resistance, but more of a political pacifism of disarmament. Notice this explanation:

The United Methodist Church maintains that war is incompatible with Christ’s message and teachings. Therefore, the Church rejects war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide,  brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. It insists that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, the United Methodist Church endorses general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.[x]

Therefore, although the UMC fails to embrace a non-political, non-resistance, it at least urges peace between nations.

Let us now examine the UMC opposition to tobacco. As early as the time of King James in the seventeenth century tobacco has been condemned.[xi] People have known that tobacco use is a filthy habit, it is detrimental to health, and it is opposed by Scriptural principles.  Thankfully, through the help of medical and scientific advancements in the 1950s, society could see the extensive negative effects of using the drug we know as tobacco.  At the present time in America, tobacco is forbidden in most public buildings and society as a whole has come to view its use is foolish, filthy, and health-destroying. The United Methodist Church sees this accurately as it states:

We affirm our historic tradition of high standards of personal discipline and social responsibility. In light of the overwhelming evidence that tobacco smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco are hazardous to the health of persons of all ages, we recommend total abstinence from the use of tobacco. We urge that our educational and communication resources be utilized to support and encourage such abstinence.[xii]

Consider another positive stance that has to do with gambling. This sin has become epidemic in America.  Gambling violates the principle of the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31; Matthew 7:12) and violates the principle of love (Mark 12:28-31).  Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10a).  How can we truly “love” another when we use our money in such a foolish way—or attempt to “beat” another person so that you “win” but he “loses”? Many other scriptures bear on this practice of gambling.  The United Methodist Church rightly says: “Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive to good government. As an act of faith and love, Christians should abstain from gambling, and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice.”[xiii]

We would agree with this Methodist statement and believe that John Wesley would also! However, we do wonder if members heed this principle and refuse to gamble in all forms (lottery, horse racing, car racing, sports, etc.).

methodist

The Methodist Church: A Number of Positive Points

Several Positive Points to Remember

Although we will be covering a number of negative traits and characteristics about the United Methodist denomination and members, it would be fair to point out several positives. Originally, Wesley had certain “General Rules” that he urged upon his followers.[xiv]  Let’s notice a few of these:

  1. Rule 1: Wesley warned against taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). While this may not be foremost in the heart of many Methodists (or others), it was an early attempt to keep the membership pure and blameless.
  2. Rule 2: “Against the profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein, or by buying or selling.”[xv] Wesley referring to the first day of the week as the “day of the Lord” and not the Sabbath. Yet, as Harmon says, “Buying and selling on Sunday are specifically forbidden by this rule and forbidden, too, by the deeper conscience of Christian men and women.”[xvi] We think that few Methodists today would refrain from activity that Wesley would have considered wrong.
  3. Rule 3: “Against drunkenness, buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.”[xvii] This is reflected in the widespread Methodist campaign against liquor and the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. However, we wonder how many United Methodists of our day would refuse to indulge in any beer, wine, or liquor.
  4. Rule 4: “Against slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.”[xviii] History does indicate that there were slave-owning Methodists in the Confederate states. Many Methodists in the south fought for the right to keep slaves. Of course, nearly everyone today would see this inconsistency.
  5. Rule 5: “Against fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing [slandering] for railing; the using of many words in buying or selling.”[xix] This good admonition is based on a number of scriptures that we should heed (Romans 12:9-21; 1 Peter 4:8-9; James 3:17; 4:1; 5:12; Galatians 5:19-26; 1 Corinthians 6:1-2; etc.).
  6. Rule 8: “Against uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or ministers.”[xx] How we need this kind of admonition today just as people living in the eighteenth century did. But how many really avoid unlovable conversation and “unprofitable” conversation? How many avoid slandering corrupt officials?
  7. Rule 9: “Against doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.”[xxi] This is the negative of the so-called Golden Rule. While it is not as lofty a teaching as the Golden Rule, it is something to keep in mind in our relationships (cf. Romans 13:10).
  8. Rule 10: “Against doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as: the putting on of gold and costly apparel.”[xxii] This is obviously based on passages such as 1 Timothy 2:8-9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4. But how many Methodists or others today take Paul’s and Peter’s words seriously—and John Wesley’s teaching about this seriously either?
  9. Rule 11: “Against the taking of such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.”[xxiii] This would be based on such passages as Romans 12:2; James 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17. Harmon admits, “Time after time in the life of the Church various popular amusements have been blacklisted. For a long time the dance, the theater, the circus, were named as worldly amusements unfit for Christian participation. But Christian liberty allows each individual to determine in the sight of God what is right for him.”[xxiv] Although Wesley and the early Methodists did try to abstain from many worldly practices, we have no doubt that most contemporary Methodists have no convictions about such practices.
  10. Rule 12: “Against the singing those songs, or reading those books which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.”[xxv] If only all religious people were to heed this early Methodist rule—but surely few people keep this today. Harmon states: “This rule sets one on the positive way to righteousness by blocking out everything which does not help along that way. It was written to make all time count for God and strictly interpreted would forbid all secular reading and music.”[xxvi] Obviously, very few Methodists today would keep this rule of Wesley in mind.
  11. Rule 13: “Against softness and needless self-indulgence.”[xxvii] Based on a passage such as Mark 8:34 (let one deny himself and follow Jesus), we can see that this is an important principle. “People would believe our witness more today if we denied ourselves more, gave more, and so appeared to be more in earnest. We cannot spend vast sums upon our homes, our travel, our comfort, our ease in life, without losing something in our own character, as well as a great opportunity to influence the characters of others.”[xxviii] If only we all were to heed this admonition!
  12. Rule 14: “Against laying up treasure upon earth.”[xxix] Wesley was especially mindful of the dangers of riches. “Christianity always has taught diligence, thrift, frugality, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. But earthly values are never to supplant the coinage of heaven. Wesley’s rule for managing money is to be remembered: ‘Make all you can; save all you can; give all you can.’”[xxx] Wesley urged thrift and generosity among his followers.
  13. Rule 16: “By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men.”[xxxi] Based on such passages as Hebrews 13:16; Matthew 5:7; James 4:17; and Galatians 6:10, Wesley is urging his followers to goodness and mercy, virtues that we all should seek.
  14. Rule 19: “By dong good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another; helping each other in business; and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only[xxxii] This principle is based on Galatians 6:10 as well as Romans 12:10 and 13. It urges Methodists to have special concern for other Methodists and be mindful of helping them, even beyond others.
  15. Rule 20: “Shall so live by all possibly diligence and frugality that the gospel be not blamed.”[xxxiii] Based on Romans 12:11 and 1 Timothy 5:8, this rule admonishes us to be diligent in our affairs and thrifty in our expenditures, all for the blessing and benefit of others.
  16. Rule 22: “By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such as the public worship of God.”[xxxiv] As Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, we should gather with others regularly for admonishment and worship.
  17. Rule 24: “Must not neglect the Supper of the Lord.”[xxxv] The early Christians remembered the sacrificial death of the Lord regularly—each first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Regretfully, most of the early and present-day Methodists do this. But at least we see admonishment to remember the Lord through the Supper.
  18. Rule 25: “Must not neglect family and private prayer.”[xxxvi] It is so important that the whole family be led to worship, serve, and pray to God (Joshua 24:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). It is utterly important that the father (and mother) teach and train his children in the ways of God and lead them to regular—daily—prayer. But, as Harmon laments, “The old custom of holding family prayers has been discarded in most modern United Methodist homes, and the loss is very great.”[xxxvii] While this may be a principle that Wesley and early Methodists religiously applied, contemporary Methodists and other denominationalists have turned away from it.
  19. Rule 26: “Must not neglect searching the Scriptures.”[xxxviii] It is utterly vital that people—whether Methodists or others—make this a continual pursuit. The Word of God is food for the soul (Matthew 4:4) and more important than our “necessary food” (Job. 23:12). We need to search the Word (John 5:39) and study it daily (Acts 17:11). Sadly, modern Methodists fail in this regard because of rejecting that Word as being inspired, authoritative, and absolutely necessary.
  20. Rule 27: “”Must not neglect fasting or abstinence.”[xxxix] With the zeal and consciousness of God manifested by the early Christians, we can see why they would emphasize fasting (sometimes joined with prayer) (cf. Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). Surely most Methodists and other church-goers fail to consider and practice this.

Hopefully, we can admire some of these “rules” even though we may not want to establish an official document to require them.  In fact, many or most of them are actually required by the Word of God itself. We can commend the obvious devotion that such “rules” require and foster! At the same time, we know that few contemporary Methodists abide by them.

You may want to check this out in our United Methodist series:

[i] Ibid., pp. 579-581.

[ii] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Methodist_Church

[iii] The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1988, p. 100.

[iv] Ibid., p. 73.

[v] Piepkorn, Ibid., p. 582.

[vi] See the short tracts, Nonresistance and Nonparticipation in Civil Government and Biblical Basis of Nonresistance (Rod and Staff Publishers, Crockett, KY 41413). See also John Coblentz, Love and Nonresistance (Harrisonburg, VA: Christian Light Publications, Inc., 2007).

[vii] Two of our booklets would be Carnal Warfare or Spiritual Warfare? And What is the Christian’s Relationship to Civil Government? (True Discipleship, PO Box 330031, Fort Worth, TX 76163-0031). See also A Change of Allegiance by Dean Taylor (Ephrata, PA: Radical Reformation Books, 2008). Additionally, John D. Roth’s Choosing Against War would be helpful (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002).

[viii]The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1988, p. 108. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ United_Methodist_Church.

[ix]umc.org/site/ c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1720691/k.B5CB/History_Our _Story. htm#.Ua_9Pico4ec

[x] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Methodist_Church

[xi] King James wrote a tract that condemned the use of tobacco.

[xii] The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1988, pp. 100-101.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 105. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ United_Methodist_Church.

[xiv] See The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1988, pp. 74-77. The Evangelical Methodist Church has placed these “rules” in their own Discipline as well (emchurch.org/downloads/ General/EMC%20Discipline%20 and%20Handbook.pdf).

[xv] Harmon, p. 77.

[xvi] P. 78.

[xvii] P. 78.

[xviii] P. 79.

[xix] P. 79.

[xx] P. 81.

[xxi] P. 81.

[xxii] P. 81

[xxiii] P. 82.

[xxiv] Pp. 82-83.

[xxv] P. 83.

[xxvi] P. 83.

[xxvii] P. 83.

[xxviii] P. 84.

[xxix] P. 84.

[xxx] P. 84.

[xxxi] P. 85.

[xxxii] P. 88.

[xxxiii] P. 89.

[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 90.

[xxxv] P. 91.

[xxxvi] P. 92.

[xxxvii] P. 92.

[xxxviii] P. 92.

[xxxix] P. 93.

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