Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey
Many readers would have attended the 60th anniversary gatherings held earlier this year (2019) that were arranged by the Billy Graham Association (BGA) in recognition of the impact and long-term ministry of Billy Graham. Soon after Billy Graham’s death (February 21, 2018), the BGA released a documentary to provide an ‘official’ film of Billy Graham’s ministry calling. The documentary is now available via streaming services.
This is a personal journey, and features Billy Graham from his early years and at different and pivotal points of his life and with members of the Graham family.
His wider connections and ability to relate to a wide variety of people is a feature. In the USA and in other places, his regular appearances on radio, and then TV talk shows brought him into contact with many people who would never have attended a crusade. The ecumenical foundation of his crusade gatherings, and his general support for integration are prominent in themes, but of course the central focus is on his calling to preach the gospel.
There has been some debate over the style of the documentary and criticism that it was not a critical or academic documentary, though I think this misses the point as that was not its purpose. It is a relatively short overview (about an hour) and serves the purpose of being a visual eulogy for the countless millions of people that Billy Graham connected with, and clearly could attend the actual funeral. People are invited into the life of Billy Graham and towards the end of the documentary the actual funeral service is featured. I found the documentary to be quite illuminating and humble in its approach, with a focus on giving thanks to God for the life of one person who was called to tell others in this very public way about his lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
(Another interesting film, though not BGA produced is Billy: the early years (2008) - this reviewed in an early ACCatalyst: March 2009.)
Liberal Development of the UC
The Liberal Theological Development of the Uniting Church
The current debate about sexuality in the UCA would not have arisen to the extent it has without a prominent liberal theological presence in the wider councils of the church, especially the Assembly. A question I am often asked when I visit congregations is how did we get to this place? Another question is: Why has the UCA developed an overt liberal theological orientation (especially when its membership has been largely theologically conservative)?
While many PhD theses could be written about these questions, I note below some brief points and comments. These points are expanded on in my earlier articles available on the UnitingViews website and in a revised article taking into account more recent developments.
Given the context of union, the UCA was always destined to become more theologically liberal than the antecedent denominations because in the case of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism most of the more conservative ministers, and a good section of the more conservative members stayed out of union. It is worth noting that Victoria was the only state to have more Presbyterians enter union than Methodists. The larger base of former liberal Presbyterian ministers made Victoria into a more overt liberal state that soon overwhelmed Tasmania as well.
The Interim Report on Sexuality (IRS)
Liberal theology was spurred on by the didactic report of the Task Group on Sexuality (1991-1997). The Victorian base of the Task Group, the process adopted, the IRS (1996), and the final report itself (1997), helped to provide a foundation for public liberal theology as well as entrenching the polarisation during these formative years of the UCA.
Leadership of Officers and Members, particularly in the Assembly
Before the Task Group on Sexuality the liberal theological section of the church had strengthened its involvement in the growing institutional life of the church (especially the Assembly), and following it maintained significant influence through membership on key Synod and Assembly committees which contribute to the overall directional leadership of the church. As liberal leaders have moved into Presbytery positions, presbyteries have also come under the influence of the liberal school of direction. Over time, more and more of the theological liberal members of presbytery and synod gained election to the Assembly, leading eventually to the dominance that exists today.
Theological training in the UCA developed towards a general progressive and theologically liberal character (with some individual and Synod exceptions at times) and over time more liberal theological ministers were produced, often then ending up in moderate-evangelical congregations with the result usually being decimation or slow bleeding out and/or conversion of the congregation to a neutered faith or an ideological liberal theology.
Attitudes to Sexuality in a changing society
The growing public discussion, influence and position of homosexual people in society in the 1970s and 1980s provided a pointer to how homosexuality would become a major focus for the church. As the UC became more focussed on ‘loving our neighbour’ through provision of good works and community services and a certain understanding of social justice, sections of the church began to equate ‘loving God’ with ‘loving our neighbour’ and supporting their personal needs a priority. As society moved toward support of the GLBTIQ agenda, parts of the church saw this as a natural step as well.
The dominance of personal story in UCA theology
It is an irony that the UC has produced critics of Pentecostal and charismatic theology because of their perceived focus on experience, and yet within the public voice of liberal theology, personal experience is the cornerstone of UCA theology and personalisation of the debate has played a very significant role in the councils of the church. The bottom line is: personal story today trumps the story and theology of the bible.
Up until the 2003 Assembly there were enough evangelicals and moderates at the Assembly meeting to ensure no major radical sexual agenda crept in at least by defined resolution. The agenda was not forgotten though and by 2003, the sexual agenda pushed again and the start in terms of resolutions, R84, opened the door for the future liberal pattern. The three areas in which the UCA has traditionally been identified:
* Ecumenical Relationships
* Relationships with Aboriginal and Islander members
* Multicultural and cross-cultural relationships
had slowed the adoption of the sexual agenda, but they had become more sidelined in favour of a focus on the place of gay and lesbian people in the church.
In the 1997 Assembly, it was the Church’s broad commitment to these three areas that helped to affirm the church’s traditional understanding on marriage. Since 2003, the increasing focus on the need to make a more defined commitment to gay and lesbian ministers and members in the church eventually produced the outcome at the 2018 Assembly. Once the Australian parliament had changed marriage, it was clear what was the next step for the dominant liberal theological group, even though the majority of UCA members were not supportive of same-gender marriage. For the liberal members at the Assembly they had already moved with the direction of Australia and it would have been more unusual to have not gone down that path.
Published as 'The Bentley Report' in ACCatalyst March 2019
ACC Statement 25 March 2019
The ACC National Council met 10-12 March 2019 for its annual face-to-face meeting in Sydney. The Council has prepared a statement to confirm and clarify the stand that the ACC has taken since the 15th Assembly decision on diversity and marriage. The ACC National Council considered all the complexities that are at present abounding, and we earnestly seek your prayers and support. Please continue to also join with one another and encourage each other in the faith.
Peace and grace
The ACC National Council
March 2019 ACCatalyst Magazine
The March 2019 Edition of the ACCatalyst Magazine is now available to download. As the UCA has entered a new era of change and Australia itself is increasingly debating issues in this ‘new era’, it is timely to read Monica Doumit’s paper from the 2018 ACC Conference on religious freedom. Peter Bentley explores the development of liberal theology in the UC and Rev Rod James continues his reflections on the cross of Christ, and Rev Warren Clarnette provides helpful reflections on ministry today.
United Methodists reject changing marriage teaching
At the 2019 Special Session of the United Methodist Church (USA) [23-26 February], a plan to liberalise the denomination’s teaching on marriage was rejected.
See the report in Juicy Ecumenism
The Confessing Movement (in the United Methodists) provided daily reports and a summary of the decision that explained the decision making process and the outcome. Excellent information in the lead-up to the decision is also available on their website.
Lenten Studies 2019
ACC Members may like to consider using these Lenten Studies prepared by Leigh Harkness drawing from D.A. Carson’s commentary on The Gospel According to John. Leigh has kindly made them available for wider use. 2019 Lenten Study Series (6 studies): February 2019.
Jesus' Farewell Message (PDF 12 pages - printable in A4 format)
ACC Prayers for the ACC and UCA
The ACC Prayer Co-ordinator, Rev Anne Hibbard has provided a prayer for the ACC during these difficult days. Members may use this prayer freely and distribute as you are able and especially for your congregation in their prayers during Sunday worship.
PRAYERS OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING
We praise you and thank you for your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, the Living Head of the church. We thank you that he comes, addresses and deals with us so that we might live and endure through the changes of history through the news of his completed work.
We thank you that the Uniting Church acknowledges that the faith and obedience of the Church are nourished and regulated by the Biblical witnesses and that when the Church preaches Jesus Christ her message is controlled by them.
We thank you that you have called the Uniting Church to live and work within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as that way is described in the Basis of Union.
PRAYERS OF LAMENT AND CONFESSION
We come humbly before you in sorrow for the Uniting Church in Australia. We grieve that the Assembly Decision on marriage holds. We cry out to you Almighty God to have mercy upon us as our church where now the “ruling authority” of the UCA has become “a diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings” (R64).
· Forgive us when we too have stumbled and bowed down to this god of the age, the new diversity that demands there be no other but it.
· Forgive us when we have been silent instead of speaking the truth of the gospel.
· Forgive us when we have compromised for our own security and safety, the teaching of Scripture and the Basis of Union in the UCA.
· Forgive us when we have denied the importance of living within the faith and unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
· Forgive us for forgetting that Christ alone is supreme in the church and allowing his voice not to be the one and only, but just one among a myriad.
· Forgive us when we have spoken the truth in harsh arrogant ways closing our hearts to the possibility of your grace.
We praise you for the gift of Christ’s blood poured out, so that all who repent and believe might have forgiveness and new life.
Thank you too for the gift of the Spirit that constantly corrects that which is wrong (erroneous) in our life and in the life of the UCA.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
We grieve for the many members and even congregations who have left the UCA in the last few months and those who are still considering what to do. May you grant provision, guidance and strength for each one. Provide for those who no longer have a spiritual home both those in the UCA and those who have left.
We pray that our leaders would begin to grieve for the “unity in diversity” that is causing so much heartache and division. We pray for those who have departed from the faith of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by ignoring the witness of Scripture and the Tradition of the Church consistent with the Scriptures. When division comes to the church through the disobedience of those in authority help us to extend your love and reconciliation to those who have strayed from the truth. Grant us the strength, boldness, strategy, humility and compassion to be a fellowship of reconciliation using our diverse gifts that Christ may work and bear witness to himself.
We pray for our Congregations that they may stand firm, and be a true witness to your love shown to us in Jesus Christ: compassionate judgement, with forgiveness and hope. And may we be hospitable places for those who wish to worship and serve you in Spirit and in Truth with joy.
We pray for the Ministers of the Word and church leaders in the UCA who are struggling to know how to remain true to you and also to respect the structure and authority in the UCA. It seems for many of us these two are becoming incompatible and our integrity is dividing. We give you thanks for the courage of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations becoming a replacement Assembly that can help both congregations and ministers alike to find a place of belonging without leaving the UCA. Thank you that this is a ministry of reconciliation where a divided integrity by your grace can become whole. Help the ACC to serve humbly, seeking your will and way at each step.
Continue to fill us with your Holy Spirit. Fill us with passion for Christ’s commission, so that others may see our good works and praise our Father who is in heaven.
By your grace and for your glory, in this time of great uncertainty, help us to
Confess the Lord Jesus Christ,
Proclaim the Truth
and Renew the Church.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church we pray
“Now to Him who by the power at work with us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21.
Rev. Anne Hibbard is the School of Faith and Prayer Co-ordinator for the Assembly of Confessing Congregations
ACC Pastoral Letter January 2019
Following the ACC National Council Meeting held on 21 January, the ACC distributed a Pastoral Letter to members for their information, consideration and prayer.
ACC Pastoral Letter 24 January 2019 (PDF 5 pages)
Happenings in another denomination (we are not alone)
Happenings Around the Church: The Newsletter of the Confessing Movement (within the United Methodist Church USA)
TIME FOR A REALITY CHECK—THE GAP
By Riley Case
Is the United Methodist Church in trouble? In February 2019 a special called General Conference is supposed to lead the church in a “Way Forward.” What is hoped for is some plan that the conference will adopt that will bring the United Methodist Church together around commonly shared beliefs and values. From the beginning, The Confessing Movement has questioned whether this is possible. The differences in the church are too great. However, because of our love for the church many of us have put on a hopeful face; we have cooperated with the process. We have sought to be faithful in prayer. Now it is time for a reality check.
Check #1. Barring some unusual turn of events, the United Methodist Church has not yet strayed so far afield that it will turn its back on 2,000 years of church history and long-standing moral codes to reverse its position on such matters as the definition of marriage and its teaching on celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage. Despite the fact that this is precisely what a majority of U.S. bishops is proposing through its lobbying for the “One Church” plan, it isn’t going to happen. By some strange twist of logic these bishops believe that by removing all negative references to homosexual practice in the Discipline the church will live together in peace. United Methodism as a whole is too much committed to the Bible and our Wesleyan heritage to suddenly abandon that which we have identified as a part of historic Christianity.
Check #2. If this is true, then it is time to have some discussions about a serious problem in the church, namely the disconnect between institutional leaders and rank and file UMs. The institutional leadership of the church is simply not understanding the depth of convictions of its own constituency, including and especially with that constituency outside the United States. We appear to be living in two worlds. We talk past each other on the meaning, for example, of Christian unity.
The disconnect is not a new thing. Perhaps it is better to call it the Gap. I became painfully aware of this one week into seminary years ago. I was a student pastor and I realized there were two different worlds, the churches on my circuit that I loved and cared for and the seminary. It was a national election year and in a poll 88% of the seminary faculty identified as Democrat. I don’t think my churches would have polled 88% Republican but they were certainly more conservative than liberal in their politics. And in their theology. And in their Biblical interpretation. And in their moral values. We had pledged in those days to abstain from alcohol and tobacco. Many in the seminary community honored that pledge,but many did not. So there was a Gap.
Later, as a part of Good News, I was involved in a series of conversations with Curriculum Resources persons on Sunday School material. The philosophy at that time was that one size fit all. There was no theological or cultural and educational diversity. Institutional conformity disallowed anything but denominationally produced progressive literature, film strips and even hymnals. Meanwhile, numbers of local churches were in rebellion over whether the material they were supposed to use was appropriate. So in our conversations we would talk about the Gap.
The 1972 General Conference gave progressives everything they asked for with the exception that an amendment from the floor of the conference had added to the statement on human sexuality: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Of course the phrase would need to be deleted at the 1976 GC. However, in the April 1976 issue of Interpreter magazine, a major article reported that on the basis of 13,000 responses from UM clergy and lay “United Methodists across the church are more conservative—both theologically and sociologically—than the church’s programs.” Only 20% of the laity supported a four-year study on homosexuality. 75% of the clergy and 79% of the laity opposed gay ordination. Less than 40% of the laity supported continued support of the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, and Consultation on Church Union (COCU). Thus, the Gap. The incompatible phrase was not deleted. In fact, stronger language was added to the Discipline.
In 1980 a major effort was made to overturn legislation passed in 1976 that church funds would not be given to groups advocating support of gay groups as well as the statement on not condoning the practice of homosexuality. UM News Service reported that the major agencies and caucus groups, with the exception of Good News, supported the changes. In addition, a new advocacy group, the Coalition for the Whole Gospel, formed to advance the progressive agenda. As for those who opposed the agenda, like Good News, the following was written by The Social Questions Bulletin published by M.F.S.A.
Religious fundamentalism, with its moral absoluteness, its other worldliness, and its holy war mentality, also thrives in a climate of fear and uncertainty. The wedding between militant fundamentalism and reactionary politics is a natural and occurring one.
The inflammatory language of that opinion and many others is not that much different than what is being advanced in 2018. From the institutional point-of-view, evangelicals in the church were (and are) backward, hateful, fundamentalist, homophobic, and unenlightened and do not represent true United Methodism which is, of course, that reflected in seminaries, boards and agencies and progressive caucus groups. Even at that time (1980) questions were being asked whether the institutional leaders of the church were aware of the Gap, that is, the great difference between their understanding of the Church and that of rank and file United Methodists.
In 1988 the GC authorized a Homosexual Task Force made up primarily (as could be expected) of board and agency types to see if the church could find a Way Forward (though they did not quite describe it that way). The Task Force (naturally) came to the 1992 GC with a 17-4 recommendation to remove the restrictive language on homosexual practice from the Discipline. Once again there was a misreading of United Methodist constituency (the Gap). The General Conference vote rejecting the Task Force report and upholding the Discipline was 710 to 238.
After the 2000 GC Christian Social Action, the official journal of the Board of Church and Society, devoted 80% of its Nov.-Dec. issue to the horrific actions of the General Conference. By this time The Confessing Movement was on the scene, so it was attacked as well as was Good News. Of The Confessing Movement and its motto Confessing Jesus Christ as Son, Savior and Lord, the journal opined: “Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of history and the church”—the very statement contradicts “a tradition extending back to John Wesley, which not only affirms a variety of Christians within the denomination, but also respects and celebrates the diversity of world religions through which God continues to speak.” Oh yes, the Gap. Evidently the institutional leadership believed that to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior was much too exclusive and did not represent the views of the denomination.
The teaching of the historic church on human sexuality was upheld by the succeeding General Conferences of 2004, 2008 and 2012. Again in 2016 the pressure was on to reverse the UM stand on human sexuality (which is also the historic stand of the Church Universal). Arrayed against the evangelical renewal groups, which wished to support the long-standing position of the church, were the Connectional Table (the influential agency in the church), 28 bishops and their signed statement, numbers of boards and agencies, and a strong coalition called Love Your Neighbor made up of 13 official and unofficial caucuses of the church. In addition, a number of plans and ideas from those calling themselves “centrists” or the “middle way” or the “way forward” were advocating “live and let live” policies. None of the proposed changes and compromises even made it out of committee.
Can we begin to talk about the Gap? Talks about amicable separation were already in progress in 2016. Institutional leaders were horrified. An appeal was made to the bishops to intervene. Another study. Another commission. More discussion. By a vote of 428-405 the legislation before the 2016 GC on sexuality was not brought to the floor and instead the church called for a special General Conference to find “a Way Forward” (as if the church had not been working on this for 50 years).
The bishops (and other institutional leaders) in their proposal for a plan for “A Way Forward” have evidently not learned much from the past 50 years. They are lobbying to ditch the church’s long-established standard on sexual morality. They appear to assume that the rank and file of United Methodism doesn’t care that much about marriage and will continue to support the institution even if the church ordains gays and lesbians and conducts same gender marriages. They argue that “unity” of the institution takes precedence over all other convictions, even the commitment to Biblical standards. They would also reject all ideas of a “gracious exit” for those who in good conscience could not support the church’s new non-stance. This is called the “One Church” plan?
Are we not learning anything? What has changed since 2016? Is there a ground swell of support for the church to abandon long-time standards? Is there any evidence at all to assume that the UM Church, if we pass the One Church Plan, will be different from Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, Presbyterians and American Baptists who are all in the midst of imploding following their abandonment of Scripture in these matters? Is there any evidence that there will not be irreparable harm in Africa if the church suddenly declares that the practice of homosexuality is not incompatible with Christian teaching, but is simply a matter of personal preference and all such practices are to be approved lest we appear not to be inclusive?
Time for a reality check. The conference will not adopt the One Church Plan. What it will adopt or not adopt, as the case may be, is yet to be determined. Keep praying.
Happenings Around the Church 9.1.2019
ACCatalyst December 2018 Magazine out now
Download the December 2018 edition of ACCatalyst.
A focus on the 2018 ACC National Conference - great reading for Christmas