The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Conclusion)

This post is a conclusion in a series discussing the General Conference’s “Resolution of IntentWith a View to Unity“.

In the Introduction of this series,  I stated that I support the intent of the “Resolution of Intent”. Despite this support, I cannot ignore that it contains careless mistakes.

In Part 1 of this series, I described my method: noting the named Articles of Religion and identifying each one’s source in the original Thirty-Nine Articles.

In Part 2 of this series, I looked at the original “Resolution of Intent” as approved by the 1970 General Conference. I then made corrections for which there is a strong prima facie case. (By no means do I claim that these corrections are the final word. I only claim that there’s a solid case to be made for them based on the evidence so far.)

In Part 3 of this series, I looked at how subsequent petitioners and General Conferences dealt with the text that needed corrections. In my opinion, some did better than others, but ultimately, none of them made the needed corrections.

In this Conclusion, I will just record some current thoughts on this General Conference Resolution. This is not the day to try to summarize nearly two millennia of Christian conflict in a blog post.

Why this is important

¶ 105 in the current Discipline describes “Our Theological Task”. The text under Reason on page 86 begins:

Although we recognize that God’s revelation and our experiences of God’s grace continually surpass the scope of human language and reason, we also believe that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason.

The text under Tradition on page 83 begins:

The theological task does not start anew in each age or each person. Christianity does not leap from New Testament times to the present as though nothing were to be learned from that great cloud of witnesses in between. For centuries Christians have sought to interpret the truth of the gospel for their time.

Reason calls on us to take notice of all Tradition, including those aspects with which we are uncomfortable.

If the above justification sounds too scholarly, there’s the more pragmatic basis that the Resolution in question is addressing a denomination with 100 times as many members as The United Methodist Church. It isn’t too much to ask that the resolution explicitly name the ten “bitterly polemical” Articles from the original Thirty-Nine Articles, and that the resolution explicitly name the eight Articles retained by Wesley. If The United Methodist Church can’t explicitly name what it regrets, why should anyone take The United Methodist Church seriously in its expression of regret?

Another pragmatic basis is the realization that if this resolution wasn’t taken seriously by the General Conference, it’s difficult to know how seriously to consider its other resolutions.

I’ll close this post with two other related observations from the current Resolution of Intent.

Observation one

The first observation concerns this text:

At the General Conference of 1992, a new resolution, “Ecumenical Interpretations of Doctrinal Standards,” offered by the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, was received, adopted, and subsequently printed in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 1992 (245-46). Although grounded in the Study Commission’s resolution of intent, this document is not as comprehensive in its scope as was the original, with specific reference to our current understanding of the composition of our Doctrinal Standards.

Let’s take a closer look at this “not as comprehensive” document approved by the 1992 General Conference.

The original petition to the 1992 General Conference, petition 10654 (ADCA, pages 818-819), began the “Resolved” paragraph with this sentence:

Therefore, be it hereby resolved that we declare it our official intent to interpret all our Articles, Confession, and other “standards of doctrine” in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

Here is how the above sentence was amended and approved by consent calendar (DCA, page 295, Calendar Item 645):

Therefore, be it hereby resolved that we declare it our official intent to interpret all our these Articles, Confession, and other standards of doctrine in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

Here is how the 1996 General Conference modified this one sentence in the 1992 Book of Resolutions (petition 21056, ADCA, page 265; approved on consent calendar, DCA, page 142, Calendar Item 208):

Therefore, be it hereby resolved, that we declare if it our official intent to interpret these Articles in consolance consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment. …

“We will interpret these Articles in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment.” Why only these Articles? Is it because these Articles alone might offend a larger institution?

At least in the current resolution, the General Conference didn’t officially fall for such an empty relativistic ecumenism, no matter how juicy some might find it.

Observation two

One problem I have with “Resolution of Intent—With a View to Unity” is its tone: it has a “mistakes were made” vibe about it. In evoking the idea that it all happened a long time ago, I’m also not too thrilled that it misquotes Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper“.

Perhaps the “mistakes were made” attitude is what bothers me the most about the Resolution of Intent. It took many people to not double-check their work. Because so many different people are involved, no one person is responsible for these mistakes.

It will take the efforts of more than the next General Conference to confront these decades of negligence.