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Confessing Movement issues statement on unity

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The Rev. Maxie Dunnam
Sept. 28, 2005

By Daniel R. Gangler*

CINCINNATI (UMNS) - The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church has issued a proclamation welcoming "serious attention to the denomination's unity and the basis of that unity."

The proclamation was approved Sept. 24 by the more than 300 participants at the Confessing Movement's national conference. According to the two-page document, "Unity in Christ, That the World May Believe," the proclamation came as a reaction to discussion at the 2004 General Conference - which adopted a unity resolution - and the appointment of the Unity Task Force by the Council of Bishops.

The document was introduced by the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and vice president of the Confessing Movement, on behalf of the group's board of directors.

The document rests on three convictions held by the movement:

  • "There is no authentic unity in the church apart from agreement on the truth of the gospel.
  • "Our (United Methodist) constitutionally protected Doctrinal Standards are foundational to our agreement in the gospel.
  • "There are inadequate proposals for unity to be named and critiqued."

Doctrine is central to the document, according to Dunnam. "We don't want this to be a strident doctrine," he told the conference.

The proclamation is "not an action plan but a platform for action," he said. The Confessing Movement board members are preparing a letter to the Council of Bishops asking for the integrity of the United Methodist episcopal leaders, he said. A commentary will be written that might suggest actions to be taken, he said.

The document states, "Genuine unity in the church is not secured by religious sentiment, sincere piety, dead orthodoxy, tight property clauses or appeals to institutional authority and loyalty." It defines genuine unity "as a precious gift of the Holy Spirit … rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, witnessed to in Holy Scripture, summarized in ecumenical creeds, celebrated in worship and sacraments, demonstrated in common mission, articulated in our teaching, lived out in love, and contended for by the faithful."

The document proclaims that unity requires official doctrine, careful teaching of the apostolic faith by the leaders of the church and the maintaining of the denomination's Book of Discipline as a covenant of trust.

The document also cites "practices that contribute to disunity," including neglect of Scripture, disobedience to the church's Doctrinal Standards, claims of new sources of revelation that set aside the authority of Scripture and the tested morality of the church, and "capitulation to lifestyles that are inconsistent with Christian discipleship."

The proclamation says dissent is inevitable. "Principled dissent is to be tested in Christian conferencing by its congruence with Scripture and the church's Doctrinal Standards."

The document affirms the Confessing Movement's mission to reform and renew the United Methodist Church by advocating doctrinal unity in Christ and the church's mission of making disciples. The document closes by stating that the movement prays for all United Methodists to "join in this holy work of recovering our unity in Christ."

Several participants at the conference said the section on dissent needed strengthening, but Dunnam said those drafting the final statement "did not want to send any kind of a warning or threat to the church."

One participant appreciated "the sweet spirit" and said it was important to keep that. Another said, "We need a goal-line stance. I'm tired of being on the defensive. I'm not afraid to talk about 'amicable separation'" - that is, allowing the breakup of church membership and property because of theological differences.

Dunnam reminded the group of its vision of unity. "We are not divided from the church," he said. "We are living the book. … We will deal with the 'what ifs' when the 'what ifs' come along. ... We will bear that cross."

After the proclamation was confirmed, the Rev. Robert Renfroe, a Confessing Movement board member and associate minister at the Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, addressed the conference. "We need to listen as first steps toward unity. Listen to others; listen to God," he said.

"Homosexuality is not the issue," he said, referring to a topic that has been a focal point of theological debate in the church. "There are deeper problems." He outlined those as the nature of moral truth, authority of Scripture, revelatory words of Scripture, and the uniqueness of Christ as supreme Lord and Savior of the world.

"These are the issues that divide the United Methodist Church. They must be addressed," Renfroe said.

The Indianapolis-based organization is an unofficial United Methodist caucus supported by 1,526 congregations, 5,025 clergy and 661,804 laity, according to the group's data.

*Gangler is director of communication of the United Methodist Church's Indiana Area.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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