changing lives church

Acceptance: Institutional or Confessional?

I reflected about acceptance at camp and in the church several days ago. My friend, Ben Simpson, clarified for me a distinction in acceptance through sharing the following:

Institutional acceptance is based on a characteristic of a particular institution, organization or community.

Confessional acceptance is based on our confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and the character of the God that we serve.

I have experienced churches to be accepting based on a mix of these in varying degrees. Can you have one without the other? How do they interact?

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

2 replies on “Acceptance: Institutional or Confessional?”

This is an important issue, and one that I think goes to the heart of the transition between the Methodist/Wesleyan movement, and the institutionalization of the United Methodist church which has in many ways lead to the steady and accelerating decline it has experienced since the Merger.

When we focus on “Membership” gains/loses in an institution, focusing on “acceptance of everyone” we have lost the essential dna and driving force that underlies the very purpose for the institution itself, which of course is the proclamation of the Gospel and the invitation to repentance, saving faith and radical discipleship. Membership is a category highly to be prized by the social elite, the political aspirant, the civic leader, and the like. (At least in days gone by) Conversion to kingdom mission is the stuff of significant movements of God. The two are, in fact, incompatible.

I’m afraid that the history of the UM church is the sad history of all those who stayed behind in the respectable mainline confines as kingdom movements emerged, and ultimately splintered from the church. Movements like the Holiness movement, the Salvation Army, the charismatic movement, the pentecostal movement, etc etc.. While we once were a trailblazing frontier faith, we are now mired in the mendacity of institutional bureaucracy. Institutional preservation has eclipsed missional integration. How else to you explain the reality that candidates for ordination can question the most basic tenants of trinitarian doctrine and still be ordained, but dare they question something like infant baptism or the iteneracy and they will be tossed unceremoniously to the curb. The world turned upside down!

One of the most disturbing things I hear in Methodist Circles is the notion that the UM church is not a “Confessional” Church. In essence this is to say we are not in fact a Church at all. The church is built on Confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The first confession of course being that of St. Peter, and moving forward through the centuries. To eschew confession is to eschew Jesus and his demand that we become his followers. In essence its to abandon the mission. Thus we become seriously in danger of having Jesus look at all of our “Good Works” and say those most haunting of words. “Depart from me, for I never knew you”.

Well, if we are talking Christian churches, I would hope that the confessional acceptance is included in the institutional acceptance.

For my mind, the institutional acceptance can vary, but should be careful how tightly it restricts membership. Issues like infant baptism or absolution can lead to potential members turning away and finding other churches. Each institution has to decide where the line needs to be drawn.

Of course, this lines can also lead to some fun.

“As long as Baptists marry Catholics, the Methodist church will survive!”

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