The Methodist Church: Widespread Unbelief, False Views, and Heresies

 

The United Methodist Church:

Widespread Unbelief, False Views, and Heresies

(Part 7)

heresy

Down through the years since the first century, God’s people had to teach against the false views that have invaded the established church.  Again and again in the Bible, we are warned against false beliefs and practices that would corrupt the original truth given by the apostles and prophets. Paul said that God’s people had “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20; cf. 3:5). The “foundation” was and is of utmost importance.  Truth is important and we must not deviate from it. Jesus Himself said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

Jesus warned, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He further said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The only point we wish to make here is that Jesus said that there would be people who call Jesus “Lord” but they are false. They don’t have the relationship with Christ and they profess.

Again and again in the New Testament writings, there are references to false teachers, false prophets, false “brothers,” and false ways. Many of these would deceive and lead astray Christians. As you read though the New Testament, take special note of the many warnings that are given to us (cf. Acts 20:28-31; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15; Galatians 1:7-9; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 1:3-11, 18-20; 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; 3:1-14; 4:1-4; Titus 3:9-11; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3-17; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 4-11; Jude 3-19).  We realize that these passages speak of different false teachers and false teachings; all of them were not the same. But they do emphasize that unbelief and false belief will always be a temptation and can easily lead us astray.  This is a threat in our own day as it was in the first century.

apostasy (2)

For the past 100 to 150 years, the Methodist Church has continued on a downward spiral of liberalism and unbelief.  One writer put it this way:

Modernism is not new in the UMC. It began to take root in the late 1800s, as Methodist pastors were indoctrinated in higher criticism in Germany and returned to spread this poison. Robert Chiles has documented this shift from historic orthodoxy to liberalism in his book Theological Transition in American Methodists: 1790-1935. A book entitled The Christlike God, published in the early 1940s by Methodist Bishop Francis McConnell of the New York area, denied the deity of Jesus Christ. McConnell said, “Is not this tendency to deify Jesus more heathen than Christian?” On the west coast, Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy in Los Angeles was spouting every sort of unbelief and heresy prior to 1950. He denied the Inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the Atonement, the Deity of Christ, the Second Coming. Kennedy said, “I believe the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the deity of Jesus.”[i]

The United Methodist Church is theologically diverse and liberal in belief. One source says: “The United Methodist Church allows for a wide range of theological and political beliefs. . . . Many practicing United Methodists believe this flexibility is one of the UMC’s strongest qualities.”[ii] Actually, according to the Bible, the widespread unbelief manifested in this denomination is a serious liability and tragedy! It is a manifestation of apostasy!

With this in mind, let’s discuss some areas of unbelief found in the United Methodist Church.  We know that this is not limited to this denomination. It is found in many of the leading “mainline” denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, and others. But we will be limited here in noticing the issues plaguing the Methodist Churches in general and, specifically, The United Methodist Church.

First, notice the issue of Christ’s identity.  In 1959, questions were given to 5,000 members and the answers given are revealing.[iii]  There is a faulty view of Christ Jesus.  The report states: “Two thirds of the respondents split evenly in describing Jesus Christ as ‘both divine and human’ (37.5 percent) and ‘a man uniquely endowed and called by God to reveal Him to man’ (36.4 percent), while other respondents split their answers among three other responses.”[iv]  It is quite clear that Jesus was both God (John 1:1; 20:28) and man (1 Timothy 2:5) and the other option was quite defective. If only 37% believe that Jesus is both God and Man, what does this say of the others? How can this unbelief lead to genuine salvation?

Second, notice concerns about whether Christ was born of a virgin. In a study revealing “new findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion,” we learn a number of revealing facts about American religious bodies. We’ll be referring to this professional survey a number of times in this section.[v] Along with this, various other surveys or polls will be cited. A 1963 survey of church members shows that only 34% of United Methodists believe that “Jesus was born of a virgin” and is “completely true.”[vi] Yet this truth is at the very heart of the gospel itself! Interestingly, the “Baptismal Covenant” of the United Methodist Church requires the candidate to answer affirmatively, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, [who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. . . .].”[vii] Do those baptized or confirmed believe these words—or do they lie? Even the traditional “Apostle’s Creed” plainly affirms:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary. . . .[viii]

Further, in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, Article II under “The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church,” we read that “the Son . . . took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided.”[ix] Thus, the virgin birth is not optional. This is the way that Christ Jesus chose to take upon Himself flesh and began to dwell on earth as a man. We can see that for 66% of Methodists, there is a serious problem with this cardinal Biblical belief.

Third, a further point has to do with Christ’s second coming in power and glory. This truth is affirmed again and again in Scripture. Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). When the Lord ascended back to God the Father after His resurrection, the angels told the apostles, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Paul the apostle also wrote, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8).

We also read that “Christ Jesus . . . will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:28). There is no doubt that Jesus Christ will return one day in the clouds to receive His people and to judge those who do not know Him and are in sin (Matthew 24:30-31, 37, 42, 44; Matthew 25:31-46). But is this basic, non-optional truth believed by most Methodists? When Methodists were asked about this statement, “Jesus will actually return to earth some day,” only 21% of them would answer, “definitely”![x] With this in mind, can we see the huge unbelief found within this denomination!

Fourth, what about Satan?  We know that the Scripture clearly affirms this truth.  The Bible says, “The great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9). Satan is referred to many times in Scripture and shown to be the supernatural enemy of God who seeks to lead us astray through deception (cf. Matthew 4:3, 5, 8, 11; Acts 13:10; 2 Corinthians 11:14-15; Ephesians 2:2; 4:27; 6:11; 1 John 3:8).

What about the Methodists?  A national survey in 1964 states that only 33% of Methodists are “absolutely sure there is a devil.”[xi] The more recent Baylor survey of 2005 states that 57% of Methodists believe that Satan “absolutely exists.”[xii] This is somewhat better, yet seriously defective.

Fifth, we might assume that anyone who claims to be a Christian will believe in heaven and hell for Scripture teaches this throughout the New Testament. Scripture says that when Christ Jesus appeared, He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In what is probably the most well known verse of the Bible, Jesus declared, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The apostle John then added, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (3:36). When Jesus told us about the great judgment scene, He finished by saying, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

We can see that eternal life with God as well as eternal punishment separated from God are both clearly taught in Scripture. But what about the Methodists?  In a 1964 survey, only 42% were “absolutely sure there is life beyond death.”[xiii] In the 2005 Baylor survey, some 74% of Methodists were “absolutely sure” that heaven exists. While there is some difference in these statistics, we may still think this is incredible, but apparently it is sadly true.

Let’s go on to examine a large range of different topics that figure into the picture of unbelief found in contemporary Methodism. The well-known Barna Group that specializes in religious surveys has indicated the percentage of Methodists that would affirm certain points of doctrine. This survey would include all Methodists—whether liberal or conservative, whether white or black, whether rural or urban. Notice these statistics[xiv] from a report released June 25, 2001:

Percentage            Statement

38%             The Bible is totally accurate

28%             I must share the faith with others

74%             Religious faith is important

18%             Satan is real

24%             Works don’t earn salvation

33%             Christ was sinless

73%             God is the all-powerful Creator

47%             I am absolutely committed to Christianity

49%             I am born again

4%               I am evangelical

We can see why Methodists in general are considered theologically liberal and why several smaller splits have occurred by those who are more evangelical in perspective. These statistics are shocking—and distressing!

As for “religious practices,” the same organization found the following results in their survey:[xv]

49%             Attend church

43%             Read the Bible

90%             Pray to God

18%             Attend Sunday school

15%             Are part of a small group

19%             Volunteer at church

23%             Donate money

20%             Share their faith

What about the Methodist clergy?  Years ago Edmund P. Clowney reported on a Gallup survey of clergy in various denominations. Notice what the respected pollster Gallup discovered in regard to Methodist ministers.  First, only 41% of Methodists believed (at that time) that “the Bible is the word of God and is not mistaken in its statements and teaching.”  Further, only 29% of the Methodists believe that God created Adam and Eve—the beginning of human life.  Additionally, only 42% of Methodist ministers believe in a personal devil.[xvi] Although these statistics may be somewhat dated, we can suppose that the figures do not reflect a higher degree of Biblical faith today.

An even older survey—and massive one—indicates the faith or lack of faith of Methodists in general.[xvii]  Here are some of the results:

18% of Methodists—“I believe in a literal or nearly literal interpretation of the Bible.”

18% of Methodists—“Adam and Eve were individual historic persons.”

13% of Methodists—“Scriptures are the inspired and inerrant Word of God not only in matters of faith but also in historical, geographical and other secular matters.”

40% of Methodists—“I believe that the virgin birth of Jesus was a biological miracle.”

49% of Methodists—“I accept Jesus’ physical resurrection as an objective historical fact in the same sense that Lincoln’s physical death was a historical fact.”

52% of Methodists—“I believe in a divine judgment after death where some shall be rewarded and others punished.”

58% of Methodists—“Hell does not refer to a special location after death, but to the experience of self-estrangement, guilt, and meaninglessness in this life.”

38% of Methodists—“I believe in the demonic as a personal power in the world.”

This level of unbelief indicates a high level of apostasy in The United Methodist Church leadership as well as the regular membership. It is also interesting to compare the clergy with the laity among Methodists. Notice these findings:

28% of Ministers agree—“I believe that the virgin birth of Jesus was a biological miracle.

34% of the laity agree—“Jesus was born of a virgin.”

21% of Ministers agree—“I believe in the demonic as a personal power in the world.”

13% of the laity agree—“The devil actually exists.”

We are aware that some of these findings do not reflect this year’s belief or lack of belief among Methodists, but we do see a trend. That trend is one of unbelief in the reliability and truthfulness of Holy Scripture.  There is a vast amount of unbelief among the members, and a rejection of what God in His Word affirms about many major truths, even elements of the gospel of Christ.

false teachers (2)

Do we see now the vast amount of unbelief and apostasy in both Methodist clergy as well as laity?  We have seen that many Methodists or United Methodists:

  • Deny that Jesus is both divine and human
  • Deny that Jesus was virgin-born
  • Deny the resurrection of Christ
  • Deny the second coming of Christ
  • Deny the existence of Satan
  • Deny life after death
  • Deny heaven
  • Deny that the Bible is totally accurate
  • Deny that Christ was sinless
  • Deny the account of creation
  • Deny the existence of Adam and Eve
  • Deny eternal punishment
  • Deny demons
  • Deny hell.

Yes, there are a few who may still believe the basic truths of Scripture, but vast numbers do not. Is it any wonder that some conservatives have formed their own evangelical Methodist denominations that are more evangelical in character? Is it any wonder that only 1% of United Methodists are considered “evangelical” in perspective?

A Biblical Worldview?

A perspective that many of us overlook has to do with a Biblical worldview. This will have much to do with the way we live, the way we view the world and its problems, the way we question or accept sins in society, and the views we entertain on God and the Lord Jesus—as well as eternity.

Barna’s polling organization has surveyed American adults on their possession of what he considers a “Biblical worldview.” His criteria are as follows:

  • I believe in absolute moral truth
  • I believe that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches
  • I believe that Satan is a real force
  • I believe that it is impossible for one to earn their way to heaven through good behavior
  • I believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life
  • I believe that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who still rules it today

You may ask, “But aren’t there many more basic teachings in the Bible that are vital for us to believe?” Yes, there are many more (Jesus is divine and human, He is the Son of God, He died on the cross for our sins, He rose from the dead, He sent the Holy Spirit who is active in the world today, Christ will come again, and many more fundamental principles. So basic are these that it would be impossible to be saved and go to heaven without acknowledging them. However, Barna limited his research to only a few of these elements of a “Biblical worldview.”

Barna’s study revealed some startling results. “Only 9% of all American adults have a biblical worldview.”[xviii] The research showed that “even among born again Christians, less than one out of every five (19%) had such an outlook on life.”[xix] Keep in mind that Barna’s definition of being “born again” is very broad. Further, Barna said that “only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making.”[xx] For the purposes of our study into the United Methodist Church (the second-largest “mainline” Protestant denomination in the United States), Barna found that only 2% of “adults who attend mainline Protestant churches” have this “Biblical” worldview![xxi]

Barna also found that those who did not have a “Biblical worldview” failed to have behavior that was consistent with Biblical principles. For example, 62% accept cohabitation (living in fornication), 36% endorse drunkenness, 31% condone sodomite sex, 37% accept profanity, and 44% accept adultery as morally acceptable.[xxii] The Barna organization also studied Protestant pastors regarding their Biblical worldview. They discovered that whereas 71% of Southern Baptist pastors could affirm the six (6) principles on this worldview, only 27% of United Methodist pastors could do so.[xxiii] Many other aspects of the study would repay careful study.[xxiv]

Please check out further articles in this series:

[i] biblebelievers.net/apostasy/kjcmethd.htm

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

[iii] Arthur C. Piepkorn, Profiles in Belief, Volume 2, p. 590.

[iv] Ibid., p. 590.

[v] Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe: New Findings from the Baylor Surveys of Religion (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008).

[vi] What Americans Really Believe, p. 4.

[vii] The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 35.

[viii] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles’_ Creed#United_Methodist_Church

[ix] P. 61.

[x] Stark, p. 4. This was for a 1963 church member sample. Presumably, the percentage would be even more distressing today.

[xi] Rodney Stark, p. 6.

[xii] Stark, p. 8.

[xiii] Rodley Stark, p. 6.

[xiv]barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna- update/53-religious-beliefs-vary-widely -by-denomination

[xv]barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna -update/54-protestants-catholics- and-mormons-reflect-diverse- levels-of-religious-activity. This was written on July 9, 2001.

[xvi] Edmund P.Clowney, “’Who Do Men Say that I Am?’ Beliefs of the Clergy,” Christianity Today, June 6, 1980, pp. 30-33. These and other statistics are discussed in our older work, Beware of False Teachers!

[xvii] Jeffrey Hadden, “A Protestant Paradox—Divided They Merge,” Religion in Radical Transition (n.p.: Aldine Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 48-66.

[xviii]barna.org/ transformation-articles/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in- worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years?q=biblical+worldview

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/131-a-biblical-worldview -has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life?q=biblical+worldview.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] barna.org/barna -update/article/5-barna- update/133-only-half-of- protestant-pastors-have-a-biblical-worldview?q=biblical+worldview.

[xxiv] For instance, Barna discovered that “whereas 53 of male pastors have a biblical worldview, the same can be said for just 15% of female pastors” (Ibid.).

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