Whenever a Methodist coworker or friend learns that I used to be a Methodist, they ask in bewilderment, “Why aren’t you still a Methodist? How could you leave the largest and most popular denomination in the USA? Don’t you think we’re friendly? Why don’t you come to our UMC? We are sure you’ll love it, won’t you?”
I grew up attending First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in London, Ohio. A few days after my birth, my parents took me to be baptized by sprinkling. As the water hit my face, I blew raspberries. My older brother said, “There goes the motorboat!”
God used FUMC to instill a sense of beauty and fear in the depths of my soul. The building had three large stained glass windows on the walls and one on the ceiling below the church bell. London FUMC had an organ that was the largest in the central Ohio area. There were low notes that you could not hear, but could feel as the floor shook. That organ put the fear and awe of God in me. Each Sunday morning, the organist played a piece by Johan Sebastian Bach before the ringing of the church bell. Then the acolytes would bring the light into the sanctuary. On special occasions, the bell choir would bless my ears with its other worldly chimes. In addition, the entire order of the service had a planned beauty to it, following the liturgy. Unfortunately, aesthetics was all FUMC had to offer.
The preaching and teaching of London FUMC had no solid grounding. My Sunday School lessons varied from Bible stories to Eastern mysticism. One teacher taught reincarnation, telling the class that she had met a former friend who died and came back as someone else. Sermons revolved around the following subjects: Be good. Don’t hurt anyone. Accept diversity. Don’t judge anyone. Have warm fuzzies about yourself. Love everyone. Although these are nice goals, they ignore the reality of human nature. It is incredibly hard to be good when your inner being is evil.
Although FUMC taught that human nature was good, my dad taught me a little of the Methodism of old. Dad taught me that I had to obey all of the commands of the Old Testament to be saved. Combining the impossibility of obeying the entirety of the Mosaic Law with the impossibility of “being good” will result in either a false sense of self-righteousness, or utter failure and despair. I constantly failed to obey the Law. I found it even harder to be good. Yet, I tried to put on a facade of righteousness before my school friends. Inside, I was plagued with guilt with no hope of forgiveness. Neither my dad, nor the FUMC taught why Jesus died on the cross. The FUMC only said, that Christ died as an example. Of course, I asked, “An example of what? I could step in front of a bus. Splat! What would that be an example of?”
For a Few Dollars More
After hearing and embracing the Gospel, I remained Methodist for a few years, hoping that either London FUMC, or the United Methodist denomination as a whole could be reformed. Each Sunday morning, as the collection plate was passed, I donated to missions, hoping that my contribution would result in the salvation of others. At the time, my brother was on the finance committee. The finance committee was struggling to fund a renovation of the church building. During the end-of-year meeting of the finance committee, my brother noticed that the missions column had no money, as if no one donated to missions. My mission money had been redirected to the building beautification fund. This action led me to leave the FUMC.
I wrote the following letter in hope that God would use it to draw the leaders of London FUMC to repentance.
Dear Pastor Hensel and Church leaders at the First United Methodist Church,
Greetings and Merry Christmas to you all. All praise to God the Father and to Jesus the Son to whom all glory is given. May the Holy Spirit guide you in this joyous celebration of our Lord and Savior’s birth.
I sometimes wonder how Paul wrestled with opening an epistle to a Church he loved, but was deeply concerned about. I have thought about writing this for some time, but I did not want to offend anyone. However, I imagine Paul offended quite a few people in his day. Therefore, I write this letter of concern. I do not write to attack the Methodist Church, but to express my loving concern for it as an organization and as a people of God.
A year ago, I became a member of another Church in town. The decision was one which took much thought and time. I would have preferred to stay in the First United Methodist Church and made a difference, but after visiting Methodist Churches in Bowling Green, Piqua, and Somerford, I saw that the problems were too widespread for little ol’ me to handle.
You may be asking at this point as to what problems I am referring. I’ll start off by saying that I was not saved in the Methodist Church. I had been a “cultural” Christian. I thought I was Christian because I went to church and was baptized as a baby. I was saved during a Chrysalis retreat at the Piqua Methodist Church. Why wasn’t I saved beforehand? It is because the Methodist Church taught materialism, relativism, and secular humanism rather than Christianity.
I am deeply concerned about how “money-centric” the FUMC is. Every letter I have received in the past year has something to do with money making. I have even received a letter saying that I could become a “saint” if I donated at a certain level. At the dedication of the new sanctuary, which was the last service I attended at FUMC, Pastor Thomas said that the renovation had to be done to beautify the building so that it could be a light unto the world. It was materialism justified by evangelism; however, buildings do not save people’s souls. When Jesus told the disciples to be a light unto the world, He wasn’t talking to a building, but to people. Their lives were to be a witness to God, not a beautiful building.
Concerning all of the sales of baked goods, auctions, and dinner fund raisers, did not Jesus drive the money changers out of the Temple? You may argue that those sales benefit the Church, but the money changers had the same argument since they provided the way for people to buy sacrifices. Yet Jesus drove them out.
I am also concerned with the problem of relativism in the FUMC. As a child, I was taught by a Sunday School teacher that reincarnation was true. She even gave a story about a person she had met who had died and was reincarnated as someone else. This was a Sunday School teacher who was supposed to teach us about Christ, yet she was teaching Eastern mysticism. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he writes, “If you point these things out… brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales;”
I am also deeply concerned about secular humanism preached from the pulpit. I have not heard your preaching Pastor Hensel, so this may not apply to you. However, most of the sermons I heard in London, Piqua, and Bowling Green FUMC’s had little to do with Christ. This is the main reason I did not become a Christian in the FUMC. Does the Methodist Church assume that everybody automatically has salvation knowledge the second they are baptized? The Gospel must be preached to reach people! People die every day. Once dead, they can’t be saved. If you would preach that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in the Son…” you would see a major difference in the Church. Many would leave offended that they were called sinners; however, those who would stay would receive the knowledge of salvation and the gift of eternal life. We as the Body of Christ have the gift of eternal life. Why should the Methodist Church hide that gift behind the veneer of a beautiful church building?
I know I have been somewhat emotional in this letter, but eternal life is at stake! If I had never went on that Chrysalis retreat seven years ago, I would still be going to the First United Methodist Church; however, I would be living in ignorance of the beautiful yet undeserved, complete and perfect, wonderful and incomprehensible salvation that Jesus made possible for us on the cross and in His resurrection. I ask that you please consider all that I have written and pray that the Holy Spirit would give you wisdom concerning these things.
Once again, I do love you all, but am saddened about the state of the Church that I was raised in. I will also keep these things in prayer.
May God Bless and Keep you,
A week after sending the letter, Pastor Hensel wrote me a short note saying, “Thank you for your concern over our finances.” The pastor had missed the point. Ten years later, the evangelism committee of London FUMC wrote letters to former members asking why they left. I printed off a copy of the same letter I had sent to Hensel, sending it to the evangelism committee. Hopefully, it did not fall on deaf ears.
Escape from Alcatraz
My mother continued to attend London FUMC until she moved to Florida. Mom had to take care of my dad who was suffering from multiple cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. She did not have time to attend church until after his death. At that time, mom joined Christ UMC of Venice. She told me that it was very different from London FUMC. Christ UMC had her reading and studying the Bible. They got her involved in the Church. I was still concerned about her soul until I visited for Christmas last year. The Christmas Eve service had a clear presentation of the Gospel. Their trust was in Christ crucified, dead, buried, and raised on the third day. Their hope was in the glory and resurrection to come. My mom had escaped from the prison of modern liberal theology. It is in the rarity of churches like Christ UMC that I have any hope for Methodism as a whole.
In short, I left Methodism because the denomination in general has left the truth of scripture, the Gospel of salvation, and the mission of the Church. They have embraced secular humanism, materialism, and moral relativism. Instead of repenting from its ways, the UMC denomination continues to reject Christ in favor of friendship with the world. Keeping that friendship requires the UMC to redefine evil as good, and good as evil.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. -James 4:4
…my apologies to Clint Eastwood