The Wesley Covenant Association And The Debasement Of Language

The Rev. Jeff Greenway discusses the need for church reform April 28 at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “We Believe in the Church!” event, hosted by Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Greenway, a leader of the association, is senior pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church. Photo by Tim Tanton, UMNS.

But somehow in the last 40 years our modern culture has decided that God’s Word and His Will for us in no longer the truth. It’s now a truth. Our personal experience is often the sole determiner of truth for many in our culture and, sadly, in the Church. The new norm is if a person wants a thing, having that thing becomes their right. A person just needs to claim a thing, and it becomes their truth. It’s true for them. Truth is what they make it. And that individual truth according to out culture is equal to, or even better than the truth of Scripture and it supersedes the Will and Wisdom of the Creator of the Universe. For the better part of 200 years, the Wesleyan-Evangelical-Orthodox tradition has stood firm on the principle that all Scripture is God-breathed. Not some. All. That Scripture is the primary lens through which we frame our faith and practice, followed by 2000 years of Christian tradition, reason, and personal experience. But for the last 40 years, there are some in our church who want to claim that Scripture’s authority is no longer primary and can be shaped or over-ridden by personal experience. Some believe that those Scriptures that no longer conform to the norms of modern society are obsolete and without meaning. In essence, they want the church to proclaim to the world that in some places in Scripture, God got it wrong. – Rev. Jeff Greenaway, “The Bible Is True,” video transcription by me

I saw that United Methodist Insight had reprinted a response to Rev. Greenaway’s statement regarding Scripture. Written by Hebrew Scripture scholar Rev. Dr. Steven Tuell, it clearly and decisively demonstrates the nonsense that is the Wesley Covenant Association’s (WCA) position regarding Scripture. As a focused critique of the mess that is Greenaway’s statement, it serves well demonstrating what many have been saying for decades – whether they called themselves Good News or The Confessing Movement or the Wesley Covenant Association, in their declarations regarding both Scripture and doctrine these supposed “Orthodox” Christians are about as unorthodox as can be imagined.

I want to take this critique back a couple steps, however, and focus on the fact that the jumble of words that is Greenaway’s, and presumably the WCA’s, position regarding the place of Scripture in the life of the Church and believer is a carefully crafted jumble. The use of undefined words, whether Truth, Orthodox, Evangelical, society, culture, or what have you, allow the listener to define them for him- or herself. The use of the weasel words “Some people”, without once saying who they are, to describe those who offer a different view of Scripture, a view that is claimed to be the view of “some people”, again without reference to any individuals or groups within the Church, writings or speeches by such people, allows not only the creation of a straw argument, but for the listener to have a clearly-defined adversary, one whose position regarding the Bible, Truth, God’s Will are not Wesleyan, Evangelical, or Orthodox.

I sadly sold off a small book by the Thomist Josef Pieper, Entitled Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, the work addresses modernity’s assault on the the meaningfulness of language through its manipulation by those in power. While we are all familiar enough with it in our secular politics – “fake news” anyone? – its place in our sectarian political life, posing as a legitimate way of understanding the place of Scripture in the history and life of the Church is a sad demonstration of the depths to which those in the WCA will sink to manipulate the conversation regarding the place of sexual minorities in the life and mission of the Church.

In the United Methodist Church, persons are ordained into the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order. That first one, Word, has many layers and meanings, not the least of them being preaching the Word to the faithful. This isn’t just some part of the life of a pastoral minister; it is among the most solemn, sacred duties, a blessing and gift from God to be the person through whom the message of grace and salvation is to be offered. This message can come in many forms, but because of the place of the Divine Logos in the history and life of the Church, our words should be among the most precious tools we have. Through them clergy should be seeking as clear a communication as possible, a simplicity and elegance of presentation that offers faith, hope, and love to the people gathered to worship God.

The Rev. Jeff Greenaway uses words carefully, to be sure. Rather than for the sake of simplicity and clarity, however, his “statement” is a carefully crafted piece meant to strip words of meaning and manipulate people toward ends that have nothing to do with the Gospel. It is not only the debasement of language. It is the denial of the purpose of the preaching office of the Church. I and many others have maintained through the years that the whole self-proclaimed orthodox/evangelical wing of the United Methodist Church is neither; in their latest guise as the Wesley Covenant Association, they demonstrate that both thoroughly and consistently. They are now, sadly, demonstrating their willingness to abuse language in service of a narrow, clearly theologically and Biblically false ideology. This should give us all pause as we move forward: The willingness to debase language so casually and so clearly in service of raw power demonstrates a willingness to do pretty much anything in order to achieve ends that have nothing to do with the life and mission of the United Methodist Church.


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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.

Howdy! Thanks for reading. Really. Be nice and remember - I'm like Roz from Monster's Inc. I'm always watching.

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