United Methodist Pastor, Rev. Rob Renfroe, wrote an article some time ago called, “Three Requests of My Centrist Friends: An Open Letter.” Rob is the Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas and a leading voice in the Wesleyan Covenant Association. His article resonated deeply with me, as I believe the broader Wesleyan-Holiness movement is already—or soon will be—facing the same issues the UMC has been navigating for years.
Navigating Cultural Tension
The UMC is dealing with a lot of tension as it pertains to sexuality, marriage, and ordination. In fact, these issues are splitting the church. In light of cultural shifts, many pastors and theologians are changing their views on these important biblical matters. As culture continues to force-feed us the trending narrative on sexuality, it’s easy to forget that God’s desire is to alter our way of life to His will, not alter His will to our way of life.
In his article, Rob used the term “centrists” to describe what I recognize as “progressives.” What centrists in the UMC call the “far right,” progressives in the Church of the Nazarene call “ultra-conservatives” or “fundamentalists.” Know this, progressives like to define the terms, and as the old adage goes, “The one who defines the terms wins the argument.” I hope we are paying attention.
Although semantics vary, the heart of Renfroe’s article speaks to an issue with the potential to cause a lot of damage. Therefore, I have used his article (link below) as a source for the following thoughts as they pertain to my own tribe. There is no doubt that the Church of the Nazarene, and many other denominations, will have to endure the same storms the UMC has navigated regarding these essential issues.
In dialoguing with pastors and leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, and the broader Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, I’ve discovered that progressive theology is making inroads in churches and universities at an accelerated rate. One does not have to look much further than social media discussion groups to see how widespread progressive ideas are becoming.
The reason I believe social media is a good place to gauge where leaders stand on these issues is because they tend to be “braver” behind the veil of a computer screen than they are in real life situations. The exact same people I’ve dialogued with on social media platforms have scurried to avoid face-to-face engagement—I have some really funny stories.
While I believe many progressives genuinely love Jesus, I sincerely think they are confused about the nature of the gospel. In their attempt to be graceful, they are actually condemning people by adjusting scripture to align with behavior that God condemns.
Biblically speaking, there aren’t any gray areas concerning issues of sexual intimacy and marriage. So, as much as I love these folks, I realize that it’s unlikely we will ever find common ground. Therefore, I have to remind myself in the midst of all the clamor, that the world is going to be the world, which is exactly why the church needs to be the church.
Ignoring the Bible
Progressives like to call themselves orthodox, but realistically they’re treading on thin ice. They have to reinterpret various passages of scripture to arrive at their conclusions regarding sexuality. As Renfroe points out in his article, their arguments for changing the church’s position on sexuality and marriage are out of harmony with everything we use to measure truth—the Bible, theology, and science. Progressive arguments for same-sex monogamous relationships simply don’t work without ignoring the Bible (Renfroe, paragraph 2).
Theologically, when we arrive at a place where we feel certain portions of scripture could be blotted out altogether, that’s more than a difference of interpretation. That is a difference in how we view biblical authority and inspiration. It’s hard to imagine the dissension the UMC is enduring because of the many pastors and leaders that are outright ignoring their covenants of ordination and rebelling against the authority structure of the church.
I wish progressives would admit that they’ve departed from a biblical view of sexuality, marriage, and ordination. They should confess that they simply don’t believe that all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness… (2 Tim. 3:16). Exegetically, Paul’s reference to scripture in 2 Timothy would include numerous Old Testament teachings that progressives like to ignore altogether. (Renfroe, paragraph 9)
I am not a biblical fundamentalist in the sense that I believe God forced the hand of human authors to pen the Bible. Orthodox Christianity does not believe God turned human beings into robots for the purpose of writing words on paper (Renfroe, paragraph 10). Progressives paint a negative picture of those who disagree with them as being close-minded to new ideas about gender and sexuality. We are not close-minded; we simply believe God has revealed His will for our lives through His written Word, which includes clear instruction for engaging in sexual activity.
So, although people may vary in their views regarding the canonization of scripture, I would part ways with anyone when it comes to ignoring passages you don’t think God could have possibly inspired. Who are we to decide what stays and what goes when it comes to the Bible? Anyone who understands anything about the process of canonization knows that the Bible was not haphazardly thrown together.
Pushing the Narrative
It is impossible to make the Bible say what progressives want it to say without intentionally changing the meaning of several passages. This is why they push their narrative methodically and tirelessly. They know it will take time for people to accept it. They also know that societal influence coupled with time will lead people to eventually swallow the pill. In other words, the more progressives push the new sexual ethic in the church, over time, they know people will buy-in—just like with culture—regardless of how far removed from biblical Christianity it may be.
No serious student of scripture could ever endorse progressive theological views on these issues. Nowhere does scripture teach that sexual intimacy outside of one man and one woman is acceptable. In fact, it’s clearly condemned, time and time again, as God created sex with more in mind than our culture tends to recognize.
I have a high level of respect for many of my progressive friends. Although, my respect is diminishing due to how they treat others who disagree with them. I believe they’ve sold-out biblical Christianity for some form of spiritually infused humanism. They treat Christianity as a subject to be explored instead of a Person to be encountered. It’s a road that leads to anywhere and nowhere at the exact same time.
(Sources: Rev. Rob Renfroe, “Three Requests of My Centrist Friends: An Open Letter” from The Perspective Newsletter, link: http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Three-Requests-of-My-Centrist-Friends—An-Open-Letter.html?soid=1108936514096&aid=UvYvSC3-8S4, and various conversations with denominational leaders in the Church of the Nazarene)