Disgust Over the Misuse of the Teachings of Jesus

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Picture and quote of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists

Many of you know that I grew up in a different denomination than the one than I serve in today. I didn’t grow up as a Baptist. I was saved during revival services shortly after my family moved to a new community and joined a United Methodist Church (UMC) in the community.

I made my denominational change one year before moving to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For my first three years in college, I attended a nondenominational church that was deeply centered around the Bible, a stark contrast to the denomination I grew up in. As I prayed about my future, I revisited a ministerial call I sensed as a middle-schooler, which I had pushed aside through my high school years.

I considered my calling and saw a stark contrast between my beliefs on a few key issues and the official doctrinal statement of the United Methodist Church, The Book of the Discipline. As I considered vocational ministry, I couldn’t see myself taking a paycheck as a denominational employee with very different beliefs on issues like the nature of the authority of Scripture and eternal salvation. In my mind, these were essential doctrines and non-negotiables.

Meanwhile, I saw changes in the direction the UMC was pursuing that seemed to be in conflict with clear teachings in the Bible. So I joined a nearby Baptist Church, which seemed to line up better with the Bible. Through the years, I have observed the UMC continue to chart the progressive path of other mainline denominations. Three years ago, I wrote a post about a vote the international UMC made. Despite the vote to seek a more “conservative-leaning” direction, many in the denomination chose to continue to pursue a “progressive” direction.

Today, conservative-leaning United Methodist Churches are faced with the option to continue to affiliate with the progressive denomination or to sever ties and unite with like-minded Methodist churches. For a limited time, these churches are free to leave the UMC to unite with the Global Methodist Church (GMC) denomination without having to forfeit their church property (which has always been owned by the UMC denomination).

Even if a more conservative church chooses to “live-and-let-live-for-the-sake-of-unity” and not depart from the denomination, its required “apportionment” funds will continue supporting the progressive direction and causes of the UMC. Given that UMC clergy are educated in progressive UMC seminaries (mainly Duke and SMU), there is no doubt about how denomination leaders will steer their churches. And because UMC churches cannot have official business meetings without the approval of their clergy, many of the UMC churches’ hands are tied and will be unable to disassociate from the denomination.

Caught in the middle are many denominational employees whose retirements are tied to the denomination. In addition, as I said earlier, after a sunset date, all property of all churches will belong to the denomination; after the sunset date, if a church chooses to leave the denomination, that church’s members must pay the denomination to keep its property or move to a new location.

Yesterday, a local UMC minister, quoting the well-known parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) posted “Disgust Will Kill the UMC and GMC — Be the change”. The article seeks to encourage unity among Methodists but it demonstrates a common misstep in reading and applying the Bible. Rather than focusing on the words of Jesus — which the article claims to do — the author actually twists the words to make the parable mean something quite different.

The main point of the blog post hangs on a Greek preposition, para in Luke 18:14. In English, we use para to form words like parallel. The writer suggests that the parable teaches that the Pharisee and the Tax Collector both walked away together, based on this Greek word.

However, herein lies a problem when doing “Word Study Bible Study”. As I learned in my Classical Greek classes in college — the same is true in New Testament Greek — there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between Greek and English words. Sometimes Greek prepositions mean different things when used with the different cases of Greek Nouns. In this verse, para is followed by ekeinos (the other) in the Accusative Case, rendering it’s proper translation is, as opposed to or rather than in a sense of comparison. This is reflected in every English translation of the Bible.

Jesus’ parable isn’t about how the two men walked away; the point of the parable is about who walked away justified , i.e., the one who humbled himself! The point of the parable is to contrast the sekf-righteous Pharisee and the humble Tax Collector. In this case, para doesn’t mean they walked away together, but that one walked away justified and the other didn’t!

Everyone is deeply affected by the treasonous act of our first parents. (Romans 3:23) God doesn’t justify everyone; that would be universalism. Justification — a right-standing before God — is freely given to those who humble themselves and repent of their sin. (Luke 9:23) Jesus and the New Testament writers uniformly affirmed the the need for people to turn from their sin and adjust to God’s ethical standards. Grace doesn’t negate life change. Grace empowers life change.

This Biblical understanding on grace conflicts with the popular teaching in the United Methodist Church today. And it is unloving to affirm sinners in their sin. Unity is a good thing. (Psalm 133:1) But unity for unity’s sake isn’t healthy. Being faithful to the teachings of Jesus demand we divide fellowship over some issues. Matthew 7, which begins with the familiar, “Judge not” warns fifteen verses later to watch out for false teachers. (Matthew 7:15–23)

All of this begs the questions for all of my United Methodist friends and family, “Who is trying to justify themselves today?” and “Who is being faithful to (and with) the teachings of Jesus?”