By Keith Boyette
The question reverberates down through the ages. When Jesus first asked, “Who do you say that I am?” he directed it to those who knew him best – disciples who had walked with him for an extended period of time – who had seen him in public and private moments. The disciples’ answers are intriguing, but Peter is the one who testifies to the reality of Jesus: “You are the Messiah (the anointed one), the Son of the living God.”
Jesus underscores the critical nature of Peter’s response: “Upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” The church, including The United Methodist Church, exists only because Jesus is building it. The church is grounded in the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The church remains vital only if Jesus remains central to its witness.
One of the first confessions in the early church was the simple, but profound declaration, “Jesus is Lord!” This declaration placed the speaker in a distinctly counter-cultural position. Rather than be shaped by the cultural currents at work in any age, the confessor was saying that the defining reality for the shaping of his/her life was the person, work, and teaching of Jesus.
How we individually and corporately answer Jesus’ question is at the very core of the current storm besieging The UM Church. Our Confession of Faith in Article V declares, “We believe the Christian Church is the community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ.” Unless our relationship with Jesus is rightly grounded in his supremacy and absolute authority over our lives, corporately we are not a Christian Church and individually we are not Christians.
Despite the doctrinal standards established in our Book of Discipline, segments of the UM Church profess a different understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. A recent article by Roger Wolsey, an ordained United Methodist pastor in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference and Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is representative of this different understanding. In an article entitled, “It’s Time for Progressive Christianity,” Wolsey writes, “Jesus isn’t God. Jesus didn’t die for our sins. . . . Jesus’ resurrection didn’t have to be understood as a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one. . . Christianity isn’t the only way for humans to experience salvation.” Wolsey’s article contains a revealing caveat: “I do believe that Jesus was divine (in the same way that you and I are) . . . .”
The message of Wolsey and others like him radically departs from the core doctrines of the UM Church and are an integral part of the journey that rejects the authority and Lordship of Jesus. This approach affirms “we are devoted to [Jesus], we cherish him, we revere him, we are endeared to him,” but never acknowledges him as Lord – never submits to the person of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. It embraces the idolatry of making Jesus in the image of the beholder rather than acknowledging that we are increasingly to be conformed to the image of Jesus in our lives. And it gives license to redefine any issue to suit a personal agenda rather than seeking the mind of Christ and the will of God. It turns the Christian faith on its head.
This is not a new battle in the church. Every generation has had to confront the false gospel that would deny the Lordship of Jesus. The battle in our generation is being fought out over the church’s sexual ethics, definition of marriage and ordination standards, but at its core, the battle is over how we answer Jesus’ question – Who do you say that I am?
As we journey toward the special General Conference in February 2019, don’t lose sight of the real issue being decided. We are not deciding whether the UM Church will continue as an institution. We are not deciding whether we will redefine the church’s sexual ethics, definition of marriage and ordination standards to depart from the Judaic and Christian teaching derived from God’s revealed word which has been lived out as revealed truth for thousands of years. We are answering Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” The Wesleyan Covenant Association has made its decision. With Peter, we confess, “You are the Messiah (the anointed one), the Son of the living God.” Jesus is Lord!
Keith Boyette is an elder in the Virginia Annual Conference, and President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
This article is one of a series of articles on “Preparing for the Future” offered to clergy and lay leadership to assist in preparing local churches to understand the issues confronting The United Methodist Church as we approach the 2019 special General Conference and decisions that local churches will have to make in the coming months. Click HERE to read other articles in the series.