Can We Trust The Church?

by
February 20, 2014

What constitutes true marriage? Does marriage really have to be between a man and a woman? Or is love between any two adult partners all that is needed? Does marriage have to last a lifetime?

Can we trust the church in its understanding of marriage? If we can’t, then what can we trust the church with?

Ironically, there is significant confusion in the Church. I’m thinking of the church of which I am a part, the United Methodist Church. A number of our ministers have performed marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples, knowing this is a violation of our understanding and doctrine of marriage. At the 2012 General Conference (the only body in our church that speaks for the whole denomination), the policy forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions was challenged but upheld. The conference delegates also left in place the church’s official doctrine declaring support for “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

At this 2012 General Conference, it was reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman by stating:

We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Though numerous clergy have violated the position of the church on this issue of marriage, recently it reached an almost unbelievable level of violation. A retired bishop disregarded the request of the Resident Bishop of North Alabama and the Council of Bishops and performed a blessing of the wedding of a same-sex couple in Alabama. That retired bishop now faces formal charges, at the urging of the Council of Bishops.

Another bishop of our church responded to the whole issue by acknowledging that we United Methodists are divided in our understanding of the nature of Christian marriage, and pleaded that we live civilly with our differences. The way he stated this was shocking to me.

As I have stated many times in the past, I acknowledge my human sinfulness, and do not presume to believe that my position is the unequivocal truth. I cannot know God’s Truth on this issue, and can only stand on my limited conviction of what I believe. I will not force my convictions on those who believe the opposite.

 My question to the Bishop is, given your admission that you “cannot know God’s truth on this issue,” why can’t you trust the Church?  And if you can’t trust the Church on this issue, how do you determine when to trust her and what you can trust her with?

 Who are our chief shepherds and teachers in United Methodism? Our pastors and bishops are our chief shepherds and teachers. The General Conference is the only body that can speak for the church in defining who we are and what we believe, thus the General Conference establishes the doctrine and discipline of the church.

 We don’t need theology based upon our personal opinions. As John Calvin pointed out, the human heart is an idol factory. If we are going to be a church that is a part of the Church, what we need is biblically informed theology so that we can stand against the tide of humanism as the “people of God” set apart to represent God’s Kingdom.

We United Methodists are united with nearly all Christian authorities and bodies across history and culture in how we view marriage: as a relationship instituted and ordained by God for the lifelong relationship between one man as husband and one woman as wife.  From the beginning the church has considered marriage the most intimate of human relationships, a gift from God, and a sacred institution.  Protestants consider it to be sacred, holy, and even central to the community of faith. Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider it a Sacrament. Biblically, it is to be “held in honor among all. . . .”[Heb. 13:4]

In his teaching, Jesus Christ underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage between one woman and one man. He stated that God had created mankind as male and female, [Genesis 1:27] and that in marriage “‘the two will become one flesh’. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”[Matt. 19:5b-6]

 This is the corporate, and continuing witness of the Church throughout history. We need to keep in mind that how we think must not be restricted to random feelings and even individual interpretation of Scripture. We need to be in harmony with the whole Body of Christ and all the saints now and forever.

I was pleased that recently the United Methodist bishop in Oklahoma was quoted defending natural marriage in his state along with the Catholic archbishop there and a Southern Baptist leader.  Theirs was the true unity of the Body of Christ.

If we can’t trust the church in our understanding of marriage, then whom are we to trust?


Maxie Dunnam
Maxie Dunnam, Director of Christ Church Global, Christ United Methodist Church, Memphis Tenn. Past President of Asbury Theological Seminary; past World Editor of The Upper Room. Author of numerous books, including The Workbook of Living Prayer which has sold over a million copies.