After the Methodist Church’s decision to back gay marriage and affirm cohabitation, evangelicals are weighing up their future in the denomination.
The Rev Dr David Hull, Chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together, spoke about the change of position on marriage and what options are available to evangelicals in that body.
The Methodist Church seems to have been on this trajectory for a long time.
Sadly, the vote hasn’t come as a surprise at all. These resolutions were passed provisionally two years ago before coming back for ratification, and the voting around the country already indicated that there would indeed be a majority very much in favor.
But the results of these local votes also show that there are tens of thousands of Methodists across Great Britain who will be very, very unhappy with these decisions and find themselves in a very difficult position within the life of the Church.
There are many Methodists who remain committed to the teaching of the Bible and of Jesus himself, that the Church has held through thousands of years of history and which is still held by the majority of Christians throughout the world today. That is, that part of God’s purposes for creation and His vision for life and society is that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, to the exclusion of all others – the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy.
That belief has now been relegated to a minority position within the Methodist Church that requires the protection of a conscience clause, and that does leave evangelicals in a very difficult position within the Church.
John Wesley was a man who was absolutely committed to the authority of the Bible and the clarity of its teaching. He described himself as ‘a man of one book’, which doesn’t mean he only read one book – he read widely! But he was absolutely committed to one book above all other books – the Bible as the supreme authority of faith and practice in the life of the Church and Christians.
And Wesley was also committed to that principle of the Reformation – that the Bible is understandable, generally speaking, to ordinary Christians, and what we need to know for life and faith is clear to us from the Scriptures.
It’s interesting that scholars generally agree that the Bible’s teaching on this subject is very, very clear – that God created us for either single celibacy or marriage between one man and one woman for life – the only appropriate context for sexual intimacy.
And Wesley was all about the transformation of society through the preaching of the Gospel, and it was his belief that this transformation occurs as individuals respond to the Gospel and their lives are conformed to Scripture.
Wesley stood against many things in society that were demeaning to life and that were restricting people’s freedoms. He created societies of hope and holiness all around Britain and these spread throughout the world.
Sadly, what the Methodist Church seems to have done is align itself with the spirit of the age, rather than holding out a vision of freedom, hope and holiness to a world that is desperately in need of it.
The general temperature now is one of sadness mingled with hope. We have very much identified with Psalm 130 – “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” And so we’ve been calling out to the Lord in the sadness of these days while reminding ourselves that the decisions of the Methodist Conference do not change ultimate reality, that Jesus is still on the throne and He is still committed to His promise to build the Church. Nothing will ever prevail against that; He will still one day usher in a new Heaven and a new Earth, and He still calls us to be caught up in His mission to this world, to bring hope and holiness to a world in need. It is confidence in this that gives us hope. And so we move forward in hope and we fix our eyes on that promise.