I’m joining the Wesleyan Covenant Association

Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, addressing the inaugural WCA conference.
Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, addressing the inaugural WCA conference.

Last Friday, I joined over 1,700 fellow United Methodists from around the world, including many clergy colleagues from North Georgia, at the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in Chicago.

You can read about the meeting here. According to a founding document that was approved at the meeting, the organization exists to “advance vibrant, scriptural Christianity within the global United Methodist Church.” It continues:

We affirm that the core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture. We look to the Bible therefore as our authority and trustworthy guide, which “is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16; NRSV). Illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church’s primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice.

We affirm classical Wesleyan doctrine and the historic faith, which the church has used to define the parameters of Christian teaching.

We believe that both women and men are called to and gifted for ordained and licensed ministry, and both genders are able to hold any role of leadership within the WCA.

The WCA specifically renounces all racial and ethnic discrimination and commits itself to work toward full racial and ethnic equality in the church and in society.

We believe marriage and sexual intimacy are good gifts from God. In keeping with Christian teaching through the ages and throughout the Church universal, we believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union. We affirm faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness as equal paths of discipleship.

In grace and truth, we seek to love God with our whole hearts and afford every person compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity.

Among other things, the WCA urges our bishops to fulfill the promise they made at General Conference to appoint and convene a commission to resolve the crisis that threatens our denomination’s existence, and to do so quickly. It urges them to call a special General Conference in early 2018 to vote on this commission’s proposals. It rejects any plan for unity that involves the so-called “local option,” which allows individual congregations or clergy to decide whether or not they’ll submit to historic Christian doctrine regarding marriage and sexual ethics.

I affirm each of these points. And along with the WCA, I reject “unity” at any cost. If we can’t agree on a proposal that will enable our church members to live together with integrity and in good conscience, then let’s create a plan for separation.

I know this sounds drastic. Why has it come to this? Why has the WCA formed now?

One reason only: Since the bishops promised to form their commission at General Conference in May, in exchange—they vainly hoped—for breathing room to solve the problem, covenant-breaking among clergy and annual conferences has only increased. As one WCA statement points out, “at least nine boards of ordained ministry or annual conferences and two jurisdictional conferences have pledged not to conform or comply with the requirements of the Discipline.” One jurisdictional conference even elected a bishop who is herself in a same-sex marriage, in defiance of church law.

In general, I’m a reluctant “join-er” of organizations. But I decided to be part of the WCA because, like Wesley, I am a “man of one book”—or at least I want to be. And despite what you’ve heard, the issue that divides our denomination isn’t marriage and sexual ethics—those are merely symptoms of the real issue.

The real issue is the authority of scripture: will we as a denomination be faithful to God’s Word or won’t we?

A part of me wishes I could be among the famous “Methodist middle,” and sit outside the ring while Methodists further to the left and right of me duke it out. It would certainly be better for my career. But I can’t. When I was ordained in 2010, I told God, my bishop, and our annual conference that I believed in our church’s doctrines, which included its traditional stance on marriage and sexuality. My fingers weren’t crossed behind my back. I wasn’t equivocating.

I wasn’t even—to use the popular parlance of candidates for ordained United Methodist ministry—”conflicted.” Not by 2010. I’ve long since repented of the ways I played fast and loose with God’s Word in the years during and shortly after attending a liberal mainline seminary. But in 2010, I meant it.

My point is, if I weren’t convinced at ordination that our church was right about marriage and sex, that this is what I believe God is telling us through his Word, based on our best exegesis and interpretation of scripture, I would have found another church in which to minister. At least I hope I would. (God knows I’m a hypocritical sinner.) To do otherwise would compromise my integrity even more than it is routinely compromised by sin.

All that to say, within the next couple of years—in fact, before the next scheduled General Conference of 2020—we’ll know whether or not we will, as a denomination, strive to be faithful to scripture as our “primary and final authority on all matters related to faith and practice.”

In the meantime, I intend to play my part to ensure that we do. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

That’s why I went to Chicago last week. And that’s why I’m joining the WCA.

11 thoughts on “I’m joining the Wesleyan Covenant Association”

    1. Thanks, Tom. After I published that, I decided that it sounded too much like a press release. The revised version is more personal.

      I can’t be part of a denomination that compromises on this issue—even if, ostensibly, it lets me continue to hold my “private” beliefs. I can’t do it. You know?

      1. Yes. And this is the “right issue” to draw a line about. Sometimes we have to “grin and bear it” with respect to “mistaken” beliefs of our compatriots (such as the “no drinking” of the Baptist persuasion!) because nobody fails to err in some manner or another. But putting scripture aside for one’s supposedly more “enlightened” views is a limit.

      2. Exactly. Putting scripture aside for any reason is a bridge too far. I mean, we can disagree, but let’s make sure we’re disagreeing over what the Bible says, while still agreeing that “what the Bible says” is all that matters. You know?

  1. Brent,
    I agree with you and what I’ve read of the WCA. I suffered through the same Seminary as you & was often the target in discussions because of my stance on the Bible. May God bless you for making this stand!
    Blessings Brothers,

    1. Good for you. I wasn’t a “target” in seminary, since I was with the liberal majority at the time. 😔

  2. I cannot tell you how reassuring it is that large group of the faithful is taking this stand. I believe that a split in the denomination is inevitable, given the absolute inflexibility of the LBGT crowd. It’s just not an argument that allows “peaceful coexistence”. Better that we bite the bullet and get it over with. Then each group can go about the business of practicing their faith in the service of man and God.

  3. While I agree with you, that the Body of our Lord should come to this makes me very sad. UMC is only one part, and though this schism is inevitable and probably long over due, it is still sad. I do not claim membership in UMC. Grew up RC, I did. Now I just claim Jesus, Him risen, He paid the King’s penalty for the King’s law. That’s the main thing. He went to the cross so that we each and all could fall into relationship or out of relationship with the Father. Our choice. It seems to me a clear choice, precisely laid out in the Gospels, and at length demonstrated by Paul and others. Clearly He is Emmanuel King. Those who feel burdened by this choice and need a liberation gospel or a free-floating unmoored interpretation of what is clear, have the spilt-blood freedom to do so. As for me and my house…
    But we must make it clear why we stand, firmly AND gently, but unyieldingly, where we stand.
    May God grant you steady hands and feet, a stout heart, a bold voice.

  4. I do believe what we say in the Apostles Creed, “I believe in the Holy catholic Church”. But, I have wondered more than once what that is, and is not. The “church universal” as we know it today, is certainly divided. I don’t like being a divider, but neither can I just “go along to get along”. Troublesome….

  5. Brent, so encouraged by this news. I believe that we are meant to be obedient through our words and actions. Nowhere have I read that loving and forgiving one another means enabling and even encouraging sinful behavior. Thank you for your leadership and keeping us connected to these important developments.

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