The United Methodist Church: Many Concerns


The United Methodist Church:

Many of the Concerns that we would have about the United Methodist Church

(Part 8)


The United Methodist Church: Many Concerns


Richard Hollerman

Now we must discuss a number of the prominent teachings, beliefs, and practices of the United Methodist Church.  These should be of concern to any Methodist member who retains some belief in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures and who loves the Lord of Scripture.

  1. The United Methodist Church is a denomination unknown in the Bible.

The early Christians were corporately known as “the assembly [church] of God” (1 Corinthians 1:2), the “community [church] of Christ” (Romans 16:16), the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), and “Christ’s body”.[i] These terms were not exclusive, official titles; however, they were simply descriptive of some aspect or characteristic of the early Christians. Why should today be different?

Why should there be a United Methodist Church? Why should there be a Free Methodist Church, a Wesleyan Church, an Evangelical Methodist Church, or a Methodist Episcopal Church?  Why should there be one or two dozen different Methodist Churches or two dozen Baptist denominations, or two dozen Presbyterian Churches?  If the Lord said that He would build His ekklesia, His assembly or community, how can we rightfully change this? As we continue with these points, our concerns will become more evident.

  1. Individual members of the United Methodist Church are known as “Methodists”—those who are characterized by John Wesley’s “methods.”

In the New Testament, those who followed Jesus were simply known as “Christians” (1 Peter 4:16; Acts 11:26), “disciples” (Acts 13:52), “saints” (Romans 1:7), “believers” (Acts 5:14), “brothers” and “sisters” (Acts 16:40; James 2:15), and “children of God” (1 John 3:1-2).  Even these terms were not official or denominational, but descriptive of their lives and relationships with each other and with God.

Why shouldn’t we be content with Biblical terms instead of insisting on labeling ourselves after some method of meeting? And we must remember that sometimes Methodist groups are called “Wesleyan,” a violation of Paul’s command at 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 to not call ourselves after a teacher or preacher.[ii]

  1. The United Methodist Church has elevated men to the office of “bishop” and these men are over a plurality of ministers and churches.

In New Testament times, one position or work was called the “overseer” (KJV, “bishop).  The overseer had to meet clearly listed qualifications, such as being men (males), being married men (not single men), having believing children, and being exemplary in life (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). These overseers were also called “elders” or “shepherds” (KJV, “pastors”). These three terms were used interchangeably, according to the specific needs and given contexts (see Acts 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1-3). These overseers or elders were to be appointed in “every city” where there was an assembly (Titus 1:5). These workers were “among” the believers in a given locality (1 Peter 5:1-2), thus they were not from a different territory or location. In fact, these elders were to be appointed for “every church” (Acts 14:23) instead of being responsible for more than one church, such as churches in a  diocese.

It is also interesting to note that the overseers/elders were always in the plurality: when there were qualified men, there were more than one in each assembly (cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; James 5:14). We can see that the office of “Bishop” in the United Methodist Church is far removed from the simple overseers or elders found in Christ’s body of the first century.  In fact, the United Methodist denomination appears to be totally confused on the New Testament positions. As we have noticed above, the elder is also known as an overseer (KJV has “bishop”) or shepherd (KJV has “pastor”). These are not three different “officers” but a single position. The evangelist, preacher, or proclaimer is yet another position or work (cf. Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5) and not a separate “officer” called a “minister” or “pastor.”  Further, the “servant” (deacon, from the Greek diakonos) is a separate position, one in which a qualified man (male) “serves” a local assembly and helps the elders/shepherds.

The UMC deviates from the New Testament arrangement in various ways.  “A minister who is a deacon may be elected to the order of elders by an Annual Conference. This must also be by formal vote.”[iii] This confuses a minister and a deacon. “The ordination of elders is a much more elaborate ceremony than that of deacons. In this ceremony other elders join with the bishop in placing their hands upon the head of the person to be ordained, while the bishop prays that he/she may be imbued with the Holy Spirit ‘for the office and work of an elder in the Church of God.’”[iv] Where do we read of an “ordination”? And notice again that the position of “elder” and “bishop” is confused here. Additionally, note  that in the UMC a woman may be “ordained” to serve as an elder, something that 1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:5-6 plainly forbid.

We have seen that the elder is shepherd (pastor) and overseer (bishop), but notice this statement about the UMC: “Pastor—officially known as a ‘preacher in charge,” and this officer is to preach the gospel, “to administer the sacraments, perform marriage ceremonies, and bury the dead,” and “to have general charge of the worship of the Church. . . .”[v] It is true that the preacher (or evangelist) is to preach the gospel, but the elders/overseers should teach and be over the assemblies. Further, Scripture gives no precise directives who may baptize people, perform marriages, or bury the dead.

Continuing our examination of United Methodist officers, we read, “The bishop in United Methodist polity is the highest officer of the Church and the executive and general administrator of the Church’s work and program in the Annual Conferences assigned to him. Bishops are elected by the Jurisdictional Conferences and are consecrated, not ordained.”[vi] This greatly confuses leadership and order that should be plain to any reader of the Scriptures.  The “bishop” (“overseer” is a better translation) is the same as the elder and the shepherd and is no higher. He is certainly not the “highest officer” of a denomination or diocese. Further, the overseer or elder (or pastor) is a local position and work, one that goes no further than a local assembly.  Further, elders or overseers were “appointed” in every congregation (Acts 14:23) or “appointed” in every city (Titus 1:5)—presumably because there would be one small assembly in each town.[vii]

  1. The Organization of the United Methodist Church is very different from the arrangement of the body of Christ depicted in the New Testament.

In the early community of Christ, we find that each congregation was independent, united only in love and a commitment to the Lord Jesus.  If each assembly had qualified men, there would be a plurality of leaders called “elders,” “overseers,” or “shepherds” (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; James 5:14).  These men were responsible only for the local Christians in the assembly where they labored. They were not responsible for Christians in other congregations or other provinces (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 14:23).

The United Methodist denomination radically changes this God-given structure and organization. Here is one description that shows the complex arrangement within United Methodism:

It [the United Methodist denomination] functions through bishops, district superintendents, preachers-in-charge, Board secretaries, and local church officials who may be called Executive Officers; also through a chain of conferences—General Conference, Jurisdictional Conference, Annual Conference, District Conference, Charge Conference, and Church Conference—which may be termed Legislative or Administrative Bodies; and also through the regulations and provisions of the Book of Discipline which in addition to outlining the rights and duties of the executive and legislative bodies of the Church, provides a body of trial and administrative law which heads up the Judicial Council or “Supreme Court” of the Church.[viii]

This complex and involved arrangement is further described and contrasted with what many readers may assume to be true:

The United Methodist Church uses an episcopal system of governance, which means bishops provide the top leadership. All bishops (active and retired) are members of the Council of Bishops, which is required to meet at least once a year.

Bishops are directed to provide oversight of the entire church but have specific leadership responsibilities in a geographical area, called an episcopal area. An episcopal area is comprised of one or more annual conferences. There are 50 episcopal areas in the U.S. and 18 episcopal areas in the central conferences.

Both men and women can be elected bishop. The only requirement to be elected bishop is that the person is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. Bishops in the U.S. generally serve one area for eight years (two four-year terms) before they are assigned to another area. The Executive Secretary (a retired bishop serving a four-year term) is the chief operating officer for the council in their permanent, staffed office in Washington, D.C.[ix]

Hopefully, any unbiased reader of the above excerpt will see what an unscriptural—even anti-Scriptural—such an involved, complex, hierarchical arrangement this denomination has devised. What is wrong with the arrangement that Christ and the apostles provided 2,000 years ago? Must we be like the Catholic Church that claims that it has been given the right to change New Testament government and Scriptural positions into the complex organization that centers in the Vatican in Rome?  The United Methodist Church has done the same in a lesser degree.

God warned Moses about the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness.  He said to this trusted servant and leader, “See . . . that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:6). Similarly, God wants us today to order all things in the body of Christ according to the pattern that He gave through the “apostles and prophets” in the Holy Scriptures (cf. Ephesians 2:20).

Note this description of the General Conference: “This is the supreme governing and lawmaking body of United Methodism and one of the most influential church bodies in the world. It meets every four years and directs the affairs of the church. It is composed of ministers and laymen in equal numbers, all of whom are elected as delegates by the Annual Conference.”[x] But consider: where in the New Testament do we read of a “supreme governing and lawmaking body” other than the assembly of the Lord?  And we must remember that even the body of Christ can make no “laws” but simply obeys the laws of the Lord (Galatians 6:2). How can it be that there is a governing “body” within another “body”—one that is a denomination?  Where do we read of any “ministers” or “laymen” in the body of Christ?  Where do we read of “delegates” or of a “Conference” like this?

Notice this further description:

Above the sixty-four Annual Conferences are five jurisdictional conferences, established for geographical convenience in administrative matters. These meet quadrennially, at times determined by the Council of Bishops, to elect new bishops and to name the members of the larger boards and commissions. Outside the continental U.S., central conferences correspond to jurisdictional conferences; they meet quadrennially and, when authorized to do so, may elect their own bishops.  All bishops are elected for life (except in some over-seas conferences, where the term is four years), and a Council of Bishops meets at least once a year “for the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual affairs of the entire church.”

The General Conference consists of 1,000 delegates, half laity and half clergy, elected on a proportional basis by the Annual Conferences. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of any act of the General Conference that may be appealed, and it hears and determines any appeal from a bishop’s decision on a question of law, in any district or annual, central, or jurisdictional conference.[xi]

You should be able to see that the Bible doesn’t teach such things as a “Conference,” “jurisdictional conference,” Council of Bishops, a General Conference, delegates, and so forth. All of this is both extra-Biblical and anti-Biblical and should be renounced by those who wish to emulate the early Christians. This denomination also has a wide array of different programs and services:

In social ministries and education, the church operates or supports 225 retirement homes and long-term care facilities, 70 hospital and health-care facilities, 50 child-care facilities, 30 ministries for persons with disabilities, 8 two-year colleges, 82 four-year colleges, 10 universities, and 13 theological schools. United Methodists give more than $3.65 billion annually for clergy support and benevolences, local church building and debt retirement, and operating expenses.[xii]

We search in vain for anything approaching this kind of conglomeration of agencies in the New Testament.

  1. The United Methodist Church is a full-fledged religious institution.

This religious body openly admits to being a denomination or a religious organization or ecclesiastical institution. It has its own structure, its own bylaws, its own doctrine, its own organization.  In fact, local churches are under the control of the central authority. If a local congregation wishes to depart from the United Methodist denomination, they will immediately discover that they don’t even have control over their own church structure for it is owned by and controlled by the super-organization!

The United Methodist Church is a mainline denomination with highly-developed structure:

The church created a system that in some ways parallels that of the U.S. government when it came to America. The church has a General Conference, its legislative branch; a Council of Bishops, somewhat like an executive branch; and a nine-member Judicial Council, the judicial branch.[xiii]

This denomination is not at all local but worldwide in nature, with a central governing body that determines the laws and regulations to which all Methodists are accountable:

The General Conference is an international body of nearly 1,000 delegates that meets every four years. The delegates are elected by annual conferences (at annual conference sessions) to attend General Conference. They represent all annual conferences around the world. Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy.

Bishops attend the General Conference but cannot vote. Different bishops serve as presiding officers during the conference. Other bishops cannot speak unless permission is specifically granted by the delegates.

During General Conference, delegates discuss and vote on petitions and resolutions proposed by individuals, agencies, annual conferences, and other groups within the denomination. These actions result in a revision of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of law, and Book of Resolutions, policies of the denomination on current social issues.

It is at General Conference where delegates wrestle with today’s issues in light of scriptural teachings and the church’s understanding of that teaching. Here is where the church’s official stands and church policies are made regarding such issues as human sexuality, abortion, war and peace, as well as determination of ministries and funding.[xiv]

This is very different from the local structure of New Testament congregations in which each assembly was united to others in love but not in structure. We offer these quotations to show how radically different the UMC is from the New Testament plan and pattern.

In New Testament times, each congregation was autonomous, i.e., each assembly was on the same level as other assemblies. Of course, early Christians met in homes (cf. Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2), thus there was no commonly-owned property. Meeting places were not controlled by a super-organization from another area.

Numerous extra-biblical offices are needed for such a denominational structure. For example, there may be the College of Bishops, the District Superintendents, the Judicial Council, the senior pastors, the associate pastors, and many Directors of different ministries. In contrast, in the early body of Christ, there were such positions as the apostle (1 Corinthians 12:28, 29; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:11), prophet (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 4:11; Acts 21:9), overseer/elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13), teacher (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 4:11, James 3:1), and evangelist/herald (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5). Denominational positions or offices were unknown.

You may also want to check out this from the United Methodist series:

[i] Other designations may be found in our booklet, Christians Only.

[ii] See our little booklet, Christians Only?

[iii] Harmon, p. 115.

[iv] Ibid., p. 115.

[v] Ibid., p. 116.

[vi] Ibid., pp. 117-118.

[vii] See our booklet, How Were the Early Communities of Christ Organized?

[viii] Harmon, Understanding the United Methodist Church, pp. 95-96.

[ix] 1720699/k.528D/Structure__ Organiza tion_Governance.htm #.Ua0kVSco4ec.

[x] Harmon, p. 96.

[xi] Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations, 11th Edition, p. 240.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] 1720699/k.528D/Structure__Organization _Governance.htm#.Ua0kVSco4ec.

[xiv] 1720699/k.528D/Structure__ Organiza tion_Governance.htm#. Ua0kVSco4ec.

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