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Iowa United Methodist Church Amid Chaos Part IV

Aunt Harriet, thanks for your note about the terms I shared with you. I guess the adjective you used (“wordy”) is true. I apologize for that. I was wondering if you remember the song the Beatles sang, “Yesterday”?


All my troubles seemed so far away

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay

Oh, I believe in yesterday

It reminds me of a quote about history and yesterday…

“If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday.” (Pearl S. Buck)

I thought it might be helpful to talk about some history of the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Denomination was formed in 1968 by the joining of two denominations, the Methodist Church, and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. But there were issues even before then. In the early 1900’s a movement away from Biblical authority was called “theological modernism”. It tried to move Methodism away from its traditional roots.

In the early 1970’s and later, a push was made by several groups within United Methodism to bring the doctrines closer to cultural norms (aka making the Wesleyan Quadrilateral a Square – see “Square Peg in a Triangle Hole” article). This movement was expressed particularly within the structures in the General Church and not necessarily towards the regular church member. The institutions of the General Church, seminaries, and Bishops were particularly targeted.

The breakdown of doctrine would eventually be revealed in the early 2000’s. A United Methodist Bishop, Joseph Sprague, would preach, teach, write, and endorse a theology that denied the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of Jesus and the accuracy of the Gospels. The bishop was confronted with the theological differences between his beliefs and the doctrines contained in the denominational rule book, The Discipline. He was never released from his duties as a bishop, which empowered him and his theological point of view even more.

(I can speak to this personally when I pastored a church in Iowa. A district superintendent required all pastors in the district to attend a day long lecture containing the idea that the virgin birth of Jesus never occurred. When I asked the lecturer what am I supposed to tell my young Sunday School students, he remarked, “it’s a fable and no different than Santa Claus”.)

The drive to align culture with theology continues today. A current bishop, Karen Oliveto follows Bishop Sprague in her theological teaching and preaching. She says Jesus had sins such as “bigotries and prejudices” and he needed to be “converted.” Just as before, those who should hold Bishop Oliveto accountable do not. She continues as a bishop today and endorses doctrines which do not match those of the United Methodist Church Discipline.

From 1968 through today, groups I would call “compromisers”, have battled in Annual and General Conferences for the official United Methodist doctrines to merge with culture. Each time these doctrines are brought up in General Conferences, the result is to keep a more traditional view of scripture and theology.

I hope this wasn’t too wordy. It contains a lot of information.You told me I need to keep my sermons shorter.I’ll keep working on that.I pray this finds you well.Continued blessings!

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