Can Christians now remain in the Methodist Church?

You may have picked up that the Methodist Church have now officially voted to affirm same-sex unions as a church. The Church Times report, ‘The Conference, meeting both online and in-person at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham this week, voted 254 to 46 in favour of a resolution by which “the Conference consents in principle to the marriage of same-sex couples on Methodist premises throughout the Connexion and by Methodist ministers, probationers or members in so far as the law of the relevant jurisdiction permits or requires and subject to compliance with such further requirements, if any, as that law imposes.”’

The Methodist marriage canon has now been redrafted and replaced with the following standing order:

The Methodist Church believes that marriage is given by God to be a particular channel of God’s grace, and that it is in accord with God’s purposes when a marriage is a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it. Within the Methodist Church this is understood in two ways: that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; that marriage can be between any two people. The Methodist Church affirms both understandings and makes provision in its Standing Orders for them.

As David Robertson has entirely rightly and reasonably pointed out here, ‘the Methodist Church has voted that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, AND that marriage can be between any two people… You cannot affirm that marriage can ONLY be between a man and a woman and then affirm that it can be between any two people. The Methodists have made logic, language, and reality meaningless.’ David also goes on to point out that their spokesperson insisted this ‘was not a change in doctrine’, which is patently untrue to even the most casual observer. He also notes that an amendment was tabled affirming the uniqueness of Christ. He says, ‘ I understand this was voted down because those who work in multi-faith chaplaincies said it would make their work “difficult”‘.

I have direct contact with a number of former Methodists, who are still well-connected within Methodism, who saw this coming a few years ago. It has been pushed back, delayed and the can firmly kicked down the road a few times. But now, all that was predicted back then, and even within the last few months has been warned was coming, it is finally here. The Methodist Church have now gone beyond the Church of England. They don’t merely permit within their ranks those who openly deny the teaching of Christ, they now embrace a position as official doctrine that stands opposed to Jesus and his teaching.

As you probably know, I find Anglican arguments for remaining in the Church of England to be woefully thin. I find it impossible to reconcile submitting to those who give succour to, and welcome, false teachers within their ranks. I struggle to see the justification for belonging to a communion in which church discipline is non-existent. Where doctrinal error is being preached and proclaimed – even affirmed – by those within, with no care or concern from the leadership that such things are a denial of Christ, I find it difficult to see how faithful Christians can remain. I find arguments to the XXXIX still being sound to be weak in practice as they are openly denied. I agree with Francis Shaeffer here on the denominational question:

I would also share Al Mohler’s view here, ‘In the end, the only sufficient reason for separating from a church is theological. A faithful Christian must separate from a congregation or denomination when that body obstinately rejects efforts at doctrinal correction over an issue of true significance.’ Likewise, as RC Sproul put it in here:

If a church is so derelict in the truth that the Word of God is not preached or that heresy is preached, you must leave the church. Why? The church is the principal organ that God has given to nurture your soul and that of your children. To keep yourselves in a church where the truth is twisted beyond recognition and where you’re not being nurtured by the truth of the Word of God is to rob your children and your own soul of sanctification. I say that you should run for your life and get in a church where you will be fed and nurtured by truth and the Word of God.

As Schaeffer put it:

One thing that isn’t a matter of individual conscience, that is, when it becomes impossible to bring discipline against avowedly liberal pastors and theological seminary teachers in the denomination, when the possibility of discipline comes completely to an end, I don’t believe it’s possible after that to stay in these denominations without thinking through what you have accepted. What you’ve accepted then, if you stay in after discipline is completely ruled out… is perpetual pluralistic church. A church in which liberals and bible-believing Christians are supposed to live together forever. And this it seems to me is just impossible.

For me, the Church of England has already hit the buffers so far as these things are concerned. References back to one’s foundational documents simply don’t help as they are roundly ignored, discipline not implemented and doctrinal error that leads to perdition is permitted.

But the Methodist Church have now gone one step further than even this. Not only have they, like the Church of England, permitted such doctrinal error within their ranks for some time now, they can not longer even point to their founding documents. They have now changed them. Changed them so that even the Anglican claim that the root remains good cannot be employed in their church. The old argument that ‘we still hold to the doctrines of the church; it’s the others who have moved from them’ no longer stands. The central doctrines of the church have become what no Evangelical believer can reasonably affirm.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves seriously, when is a church no longer a church? For the Reformers – and I would agree with them – it is when the right teaching of the Word is no longer present and there is no right practice of the ordinances. And those two things are closely linked because you don’t want to be admitting to your table those who deny the core truths of the gospel. Denominationally, the same holds. Where your denomination is binding your church to affirm what is evidently not true, even affirming doctrine that will jeopardise the salvation of all who abide by it, then your church and/or denomination has become apostate. It is no longer teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, but a false gospel that will lead people to Hell.

Under those circumstances, how can Christians rightly stay? What does Paul say in 2 Corinthians 6:14, ‘Do not be yoked together with those who do not believe. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?’ How much fellowship should darkness have with light? As Schaeffer rightly pointed out, to stay under such circumstances is to confuse the church with the world. That is why Jesus said, ‘come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord; do not touch any unclean thing, and I will welcome you’ (2 Corinthians 6:17). To stay is to endure doctrine that leads to destruction. It is to indulge others in such beliefs. It is to ultimately belong to a church that is, in reality, not a church any more. Jesus makes no bones about lampstands being removed.

No doubt calls will be made to remain for all sorts of reasons. But to paraphrase Jesus, what does it profit a man to keep his denomination and yet lose his own soul? As RC Sproul put it earlier, ‘the church is the principal organ that God has given to nurture your soul and your children.’ Do you really want to gamble with that? Other churches exist where such things are not in question. When Jesus calls us out of the world, into churches that are supposed to be lights on a hill, when the lampstand has been removed, all we are left with is a godless social club that – whilst no doubt having lots of benefits – does nothing for the kingdom and even less for anybody’s salvation.

Can God still use those who insist on staying? Of course he can. He can do anything he likes. But that God can do something, doesn’t mean we should do it. As David Robertson rightly put it, ‘just because God can do something with the mess that we create, does not mean that we should disobey Him in order for him to show his power!’ God can work through our sin – even the sins of apostasy – but we shouldn’t seek them out so God can work through them. It bears saying, he can work when we don’t sin too and, given his will expressed in scripture, delights to honour those who honour him. Those who take the hard decisions to be faithful today, will not be put to shame on the last day.

In the end, we can thank God that he does not need any particular church or denomination to fulfil his sovereign will and purposes. Your particular church may stand or fall, your entire denomination may apostasise, but God’s plan is unthwartable and his people unsnatchable. All true believers – those who belong to Christ’s universal church across all denominations – will remain faithful to him by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. We can trust in God’s plans and his sovereign desire to save all who are his. ‘He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.’