By Cecil Willis
Like our digressive brethren, denominationalism continually moves further and further away from the truth as it is in Christ. In recent weeks, the Quadrennial United Methodist General Conference was held in Atlanta. The purpose was to rewrite their creed, which is ordinarily done every four years. But at this Conference, drastic changes were being made. One writer described the final form of the creed as “the first major overhaul of the denominations theological guidelines in 150 years.
For some time before the Conference, it was known that drastic changes were going to be made in the formulation of Methodisms doctrinal stance. Time magazine (May 8, 1972) stated: “Methodism) once a movement that leaped like a brush fire along the nineteenth- century frontier, has suffered a net loss of 518,000 members in the past four years-the 6; biggest of any church in U.S. history.” James DeForest Murch stated: “Methodist Sunday school attendance has slipped by one fourth, missionary forces by one-fifth, and church attendance by still larger percentages” (Christian Standard, June 25, 1972).
One of- the most important reports considered by the Conference was the “Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards.” Modernism has eaten ever deeper into the clergy ranks of the Methodist Church. Ohio Bishop F. Gerald Ensley who delivered the major address at Atlanta, admitted that the denomination contained many “wistful skeptics,” including some among its clergy. Murch stated, “A recent poll confirming the bishops view shows that only 49 percent of the Methodist clergy believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.”
The committee that worked on the “Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards” admitted that it faced “a bewildering spectrum of doctrinal diversity.” Modernism, in nearly every possible form, had appeared in official literature, various public pronouncements, and in the seminaries and pulpits. The Committee had to reckon with “black theologies,” “womens liberation theology,” “third world theology … process theology,” “development theology,” “linguistic analysis,” “existentialism,” “special-interest theologies in current fashion such as the theologies of hope, ecology, and the Jesus movement.”
What could the Commission do when faced with such a wide diversity of theological perspectives? It condemned nothing at all as heresies, but simply rejoiced in the “doctrinal pluralism” and “doctrinal diversity-in-Christological-unity” which are tolerated in Methodism. They were proud of the fact that Methodism lets men think for themselves and as they please. The Commissions report sounds as though our Brother Carl Ketcherside may have been a prominent member of the Committee. He also could rejoice in “doctrinal pluralism” and be satisfied with “doctrinal diversity-in-Christological-unity.”
The Committees report was accepted by a vote of 925-17! Some of the dissidents felt that “the new Statement has pulled the teeth out of the doctrine of the church and allows Methodists to believe, practice, and preach anything they like from atheism to ultra-fundamentalism without risking a violation of Methodist standards.”
Another important report was that of the “Report of Christian Social Concerns.” With so little emphasis upon doctrine, it is obvious that this typical modernistic denomination was mainly interested in social concerns. With their social gospel impetus, they created a whole new “Social Creed,” dealing with ecology, the right of private property which they declared to be “A trusteeship under God and is limited by the overriding needs of society,” drug misuse, war, etc.
With-so much theological latitude granted, one should not be surprised to learn that the Methodists also conceded comparable latitude on moral or ethical issues. Murch, armed with what he called “a complete file of the Daily Christian Advocate published by the Atlanta General Conference,” reported “The marriage institution was lauded but different standards for men and women were condemned. Broad permissive divorce was endorsed with the right of all divorced persons to remarry. Homosexuals were welcomed to the church as persons of sacred worth.” Yet the apostle Paid said “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Co. 6:9, 10, New American Standard Version)
Having compromised the truth of God, denominationalism has no grounds upon which to make absolute ethical judgments. Hence, some denominationalists are willing to compromise on nearly any ethical point. A report prepared for an Episcopal Convention stated: “There is no scriptural command requiring total abstinence for the God-fearing man . . . a Christian who drinks moderately with due respect for the feelings and needs of his brothers and with a conscientious care for the claims of God can drink with thanksgiving to Him for these blessings.” Yet Solomon declared: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler: And whosoever erreth thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
On nearly every moral issue, there are among the denominationalists the ethical relativists. Time magazine defined situation ethics, which many call the “emerging contemporary Christian Conscience,” like this: “As to sexual morality, the traditional rules are giving way to situation ethics — meaning that nothing is inherently right or wrong, but must be judged in context on the spur of the moment” (April 22, 1966, p. 42).
Joseph Fletchers book Situation Ethics could be called the Bible of the situationist. Fletcher is now Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Virginia Medical School, and was formerly Professor of Christian Social Ethics at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge Massachusetts. On the subject of abortion, Fletcher says, “Situationists would favor abortion for the sake of the victims self respect or happiness or simply on the ground that no unwanted or unintended baby should ever be born.” (p. 39) His rationalistic justification for this position is that the embryo is an “aggressor” or an “unwelcome invader,” and therefore may be forcibly expelled in self defense!
Fletcher also would, under some circumstances, justify premarital sex. He asks, “Does any girl who has relations . . . outside of marriage automatically become a prostitute? Is it always, regardless of what she accomplishes for herself and others — is she always wrong? Is extra-marital sex inherently evil, or can it be a good thing in some situations?” (pp. 17, 18)
Pageant magazine a few years ago quoted the Chaplain of a famous all-girls college as giving the following advice to the girls there: “Sex is fun … there are no laws attached to sex. I repeat absolutely no laws. There is nothing which you ought to do or ought not to doThere are no rules of the game … we all ought to relax and stop feeling guilty about our sexual activities, thoughts, and desires… The good news of the gospel which has been delivered me is that we have been freed from such laws as evaluative codes of behavior.” (Oct. 1965, p. 47) Fletcher even goes so far as to make the following statement: “. . . any act — even lying, premarital sex, abortion, adultery, and murder — could be right, depending on the circumstances.” (Quoted from the back cover of Situation Ethics)
Once a man cuts himself loose from the Law of God as a basis for moral conduct, he is at sea without chart or compass. When one becomes a doctrinal relativist, he is well on his way to ethical relativism as well. If some of our brethren are ready to accept “doctrinal pluralism, or “doctrinal diversity-in-Christological-unity,” they are logically committed to a defense of ethical relativism. And I might add, one brother among us (Leroy Garrett) already has written a lengthy treatise in defense of situation ethics. And there is not a “unity-in-diversity” brother who can answer him. Either Gods Word is the basis for both doctrine and practice, or there is no absolute basis at all, and one must retreat into doctrinal and ethical relativism.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 38, pp. 3-5
August 3, 1972