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  • Writer's picturePaige Patterson

Church Theft

The Dallas Morning News (11-9-22) chronicled the decision of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church’s vote November 7, 2022, with a 94% majority to exit the United Methodist Church. This surprising and almost unanimous decision was made in response to the increasing cultural and doctrinal compromises of the denomination. But rein in your horses of division for a moment. Is this a case of church theft? Without a doubt, it is precisely that. But before one convicts a thief, we need to be sure that we identify the appropriate culprit. And none of the members of White’s Chapel carry an ounce of guilt.

In 18th-century England, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, together with others, presided over a revival within the Church of England. While there was no intention of establishing a new denomination, the unavoidable conclusion was that these men who longed for revival were no longer welcome in Anglicanism. The result became the founding of the United Methodist Church with 80 million members world-wide. Recent history focused on Methodist abandonment of the theology and methods of the Wesleys and Whitefield. It can be described best as the theft of a great idea! Over the last 100 years, parishioners who did not have the theology of its founders absconded with the name and often the properties of the saintly Methodists whose sacrificial, “circuit-rider” preachers paid a heavy price to take the Gospel of Christ to the frontiers of American life.

Is there any argument that justifies this behavior, which has repeated itself with alarming frequency? Grand larceny is practiced without so much as an apology to the founders and their wishes. Whitefield and the Wesleys would not be able to recognize the contemporary Methodist Church. Luther would be mortified, if like Rip Van Winkle, he suddenly awakened in the pew of most German Lutheran Churches. Calvin could count a few more faithful reformed, but the majority have little in common with the French reformer. And the poor souls who endured drowning (after all, they were Baptists) and suffered flames stoked by churchmen in order to leave a testimony of the saving grace of Christ and the witness of Holy Scripture most often find themselves far removed from the Baptist World Alliance, the British Baptist Union, the American Baptist Convention, and even the once faithful Southern Baptist Convention.

Please understand–I am not suggesting perfection on the part of any, save Jesus of Nazareth. That on which I do insist is the right of the followers of Christ to affirm their cherished convictions and lifestyles without fearing the point of a sword–and without fearing a later pilfering of the labors they have faithfully expended in establishing their witness. In America, we allegedly enjoy religious freedom! What prevents a group of activists from publicly advocating a doctrinal position that canines must be excluded from all worship in church congregations? Not a hand should be lifted against the expression of heart-felt religious convictions. But those voicing such convictions contrary to the faith and practice of the first generation of adherents should bow their heads in shame and in the failure of their own courage. To take what others have done, change the message, and present the new claims in the name of the earliest generations of believers is simply not honest.

Not only is such a failure of integrity, but one also wonders where the courage that impelled the preaching of the Wesleys and Whitefield, catapulted Luther to the pinnacle of the Reformation, and inflamed the consciences of the martyred Baptists of yesteryear has gone? The noble women and men who cut fresh swaths out of the fabric of society deserve faithfulness to the stately traditions that they engendered and protected–some at the cost of their lives.

The finest conceivable beginning to such recognition is the clear evidence that almost every denomination in Christendom has been hijacked by the most onerous thieves. Do not claim any longer to be a Methodist while rejecting the most sublime commitments and theology of John Wesley! And when the subject arises, utter a positive word for the White’s Chapel Methodist Church and the courage and conviction they have shown in their public stand!

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