“Unity In Christ, That The World May Believe”
The Confessing Movement Conference
Cincinnati, Ohio, Saturday, Sept 24, 2005
Unity is the critical issue in The United Methodist Church today. This was evidenced by discussions at the 2004 General Conference and the subsequent appointment of the Unity Task Force by the Council of Bishops. We in the Confessing Movement welcome serious attention to unity and the discussion that has begun across the church about the meaning and basis of unity.
This statement continues a tradition begun with “The Houston Declaration” and “An Invitation to the Church” of speaking to our United Methodist Church, from time to time, on important issues of doctrine, morals, and leadership. We are the grateful heirs of the classic faith of the Church as transmitted through our Wesleyan tradition. We celebrate the power of the gospel to unify women and men of all ages, nations, and races who have found new life and restored dignity in the truth of Jesus Christ and in His body the Church. This document rests on three deep convictions:
- There is no authentic unity in the Church apart from agreement on the truth of the gospel.
- Our constitutionally protected Doctrinal Standards are foundational to our agreement in the gospel.
- There are inadequate proposals for unity to be named and critiqued.
Doctrine is a necessary foundational element for the unity of The United Methodist Church. Against the claim that “doctrine divides,” we believe sustainable, visible unity depends on the recognition of and agreement on official church teaching and discipline. Therefore, we in the Confessing Movement, in the spirit of St. Paul, are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” as we “confess one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” (Ephesians 4:3,5). The Holy Spirit is at work in our church offering a crucial moment of course correction and the possibility of a deep and lasting reformation.
A number of options for unity are abroad in our church. Contrasted with understandings that focus on polity or apportionments, on pension plans or principles of inclusivism, we believe unity in the truth of Christ is critically dependent on unity in doctrine. Our official United Methodist teaching is more than adequately articulated in our Constitutional Standards. Proposals for unity that ignore, evade, or minimize our historic standards are inadequate.
Genuine unity in the church is not secured by religious sentiment, sincere piety, tight property clauses, or appeals to institutional authority and loyalty. Not all opinions are compatible with our Doctrinal Standards. False understandings of inclusivism demand acceptance apart from repentance and obedience to the good news of God’s grace for all sinners. This ideology has become a substitute gospel that confuses the church and fractures its unity.
Genuine unity, as a precious gift of the Holy Spirit, is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, witnessed to in the Holy Scripture, summarized in the ecumenical creeds, celebrated in worship and sacraments, demonstrated in common mission, articulated in our teaching, lived out in love, and contended for by the faithful.
Recovering and sustaining unity requires:
- a new appreciation of the necessary role of official doctrine in the intellectual and spiritual life of our denomination,
- the careful teaching of the apostolic faith by bishops, pastors, and seminary professors, including its call for personal and social holiness,
- diligently maintaining the beliefs and standards of The Book of Discipline as a covenant of trust.
Practices that contribute to disunity include:
- neglect of Scripture and disobedience to our Doctrinal Standards,
- claims of new sources of revelation that set aside the authority of Holy Scripture and the tested moral standards of the church,
- capitulation to lifestyles that are inconsistent with Christian discipleship.
There is a new hunger for the stabilizing role of classic Christian teaching in our denomination. Dissent is inevitable and not to be feared. Principled dissent is to be tested in Christian conferencing by its congruence with Scripture and the church’s Doctrinal Standards.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Confessing Movement will boldly continue to confess the faith in order to reform and renew The United Methodist Church by advocating our doctrinal unity in Christ and our mission of making disciples. We believe that genuine unity in truth will result in more effective mission: Knowing the one God who has sent His Son Jesus Christ, we yearn to be one in Him in the power of the Spirit, that the world may believe (John 17:21).
We pray for all in The United Methodist Church to join us in this holy work of recovering our unity in Christ.