Tract Number Two
Our Doctrinal Standards and the Church’s Worship
AT ISSUE: What does the scriptural confession of Jesus Christ as Son, Savior, and Lord, as interpreted according to United Methodist Doctrinal Standards, require of us regarding the liturgical re-invigoration of our worshiping communities.
The way we worship and the way we speak about God are closely connected. Confusion about the identity of God results in confusion in our practice of worship. Confusion in our worship often results in confusion about our God’s identity. Therefore, the doctrinal renewal of the church will have clear implications for the renewal of our worship life.
Confessing United Methodists contend for worship practices that are fully in accord with scripture, ecumenical tradition, and our historic doctrinal standards. We rejoice that our Wesleyan tradition stands firmly within classical Christian liturgical practice and teaching, We pray for its renewal in each United Methodist congregation and conference.
We recall the worship of the church to its specific focus in the work of the triune God, made known to us in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
The most persistent problems of our worshiping communities are infrequent Communities, absence of a meaningful confession of sin, and forgetfulness of the historic Christian tradition of worship.
We urgently call for liturgical reinvigoration of our Church which will include:
- A thorough re-acquaintance with the Wesleyan tradition,
- A new openness to ways in which God is forming our lives in covenant communities after the pattern of the mind which was in Christ Jesus.
- A renewed seriousness toward the means of grace and holy living, (including the Lord’s Supper, personal and public prayer, searching the Scriptures, fasting, caring for the poor, visiting the sick, small group discipleship.)
We receive the means of grace as a gift from God, not an ideology we invent or reimagine, The church has an identity grounded in Jesus Christ, not created or projected out of our own desires and experiences. We have doctrine that binds us, not to unchanging verbal formulations, but to the freedom to proclaim God’s coming in our midst, as witnessed to by Scripture, recapitulated in our confessional statements and standards, and praised in liturgical language that remains faithful to the apostolic witness.
Crucial Questions and Challenges:
Many in our day are tempted to exchange historic Christian worship for political, therapeutic, sexual, or gender-based ideologies with thin religious veneers. For example:
- A recent chapel service at Garrett Evangelical School of Theology included a “Psalm in Search of the Goddess: which sang the praises of Nut, Isis, Asherah, Cybele and other goddesses. (This service was later renounced by the administration of the school.)
- Our national clergywomen’s magazine “Wellsprings” recently printed a Croning Ritual which is rooted in the tradition of Wicca or Witchcraft, according to one of the co-authors.
- The liturgical proposals made by the feminist or Women’s Spirituality Movement have been documented by Cynthia Eller in “Living in the Lap of the Goddess” (Crossroad, 1993).
Every challenge to faith gives the church the new opportunity to clarify the center and boundaries of faith. United Methodists must decide in what ways this incorporation of neopagan witchcraft and goddess spirituality blurs the boundaries of our faith and compromises theological integrity for the whole church. However, bizarre, these new experiments in worship give us such an opportunity to rethink and clarify the sole Lordship of Jesus Christ, and to examine reckless forms of liturgical experimentation, especially among those who pretend to have at heart interests of faithful United Methodists.
We believe that many of these new rituals are so patently out of touch with the mainstream of consensual ecumenical liturgy that there is little fear of it suddenly taking over our worshipping communities by storm. While liturgical experimentation within the boundaries of classic Christianity by United Methodists holds no threat to the worshipping community, the women and men of the Confessing Movement think that ideologically-charged, eucharistic experimentation is a serious threat to the church.
Where neo-pagan practices go unchallenged they undermine our clarity, the Lordship of Christ, and reduce our worship tradition to moral confusion, idolatry, and chaos.
Corrective Principles Amid the Crisis of Worship
- We affirm the General Conference action mandating the use of Trinitarian language for the sacrament of baptism and services of ordination, and oppose the increasing diminution of the name of Father in United Methodist prayers, liturgies, and publications, We confess that “There is but one living and true God” who is “maker and preserver of all things,” who has become known as God “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (Article 1, Twenty Five Articles).
- This affirmation makes it necessary that we reject as false teaching the view that Christ speaks equally through all the religions of the world and all possible spiritualities, that the sacrificial death of Jesus was unnecessary, and that salvation can be found apart from the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christian worship centers our lives in this saving truth.
- We take this initiative because we have discovered that within United Methodism there are many who regard our church connection as an institutional guarantee for diversity without limits rather than a commitment to worship the revealed God of the biblical faith together. We reject the claim that the individual believer is the final arbiter of what is true and false.
2. On the search for principled use of language, the Discipline should specifically protect the church against exaggerated efforts at inclusive language which deny ecumenical triune teaching in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
3. On the principle of seeking realistic dialogue amid real differences, the General Conference should create a commission for study of the relation of feminist and classic Christian teaching, which would seek to sort out for the laity both the strengths and excesses of feminism, both its achievements and dangers. At least half of the representation of such a commission should be composed of persons strongly committed to classic Christian teaching under the normative authority of scripture according to our doctrinal standards. The commission should be inclusive of both women and men.
Dear Reader: You may or may not agree with all that is said above. But we know you love the church and we invite you to join us as we think together about doctrine and our life together. “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.