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Resolution of Intent: With a View to Unity


In 1750, John Wesley wrote the sermon "Catholic Spirit," in which he presented his views on mutual tolerance among those seeking to unite in love:

". . . And 'tis certain, so long as 'we know' but 'in part', that all men [sic] will not see all things alike. It is an unavoidable consequence of the present weakness and shortness of human understanding that several men will be of several minds, in religion as well as in common life. So it has been from the beginning of the world, and so it will be 'till the restitution of all things.'

"Nay farther: although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true (for to believe any opinion is not true is the same thing as not to hold it) yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions taken together are true. Nay, every thinking man is assured they are not, seeing humanum est errare et necire-to be ignorant of many things, and to mistake in some-is the necessary condition of humanity. This therefore, he is sensible, is his own case. He knows in the general that he himself is not mistaken; although in what particulars he mistakes he does not, perhaps cannot, know.

"I say, perhaps he cannot know. For who can tell how far invincible ignorance may extend Or (what comes to the same thing) invincible prejudice; which is often so fixed in tender minds that it is afterwards impossible to tear up what has taken so deep a root. And who can say, unless he knew every circumstance attending it, how far any mistake is culpable Seeing all guilt must suppose some concurrence of the will-of which he only can judge who searcheth the heart.

"Every wise man therefore will allow others the same liberty of thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ from him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that
single question. 'Is thine heart, as my heart is with thy heart' " (The Works of John Wesley, Volume 2, Sermons II, "Catholic Spirit," 83-85).

Unfortunately, in Wesley's 1784 abridgement of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, and not in keeping with the tone of "Catholic Spirit," a number of strong statements against the Roman Catholic Church were included.

In 1970 the General Conference adopted a resolution of intent. It was offered to the conference by Albert Outler on behalf of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards. Engaged in the debate, among others, were Harold A. Bosley, Robert E. Cushman, and Georgia Harkness. The resolution was adopted as presented (Journal of the 1970 General Conference, The United Methodist Church, 255). However, the resolution was not included in, or was mistakenly deleted from, The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 1970.

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 Commisssion'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.

The original resolution of intent is resubmitted as a substitute for "Ecumenical Interpretations of Doctrinal Standards":

WHEREAS, it is common knowledge that the context of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (1563-and specifically Articles XIV, XIX, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXV, XXVIII, XXX) was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. They were aimed, deliberately, at the Roman Catholic Church in a time of reckless strife, and were a mix of the theological and nontheological convictions of embattled schismatics fighting, as they believed, for national survival and evangelical truth. John Wesley's hasty abridgement (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of the ten of these anti-Roman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. This reflects his conviction as to their applicability to the Roman Catholic Church as he perceived it at the time. This much must be recognized and acknowledged as belonging to our inheritance from our Anglican-Wesleyan past.

It is, however, one of the virtues of historical insight that it enables persons, in a later age, to recognize the circumstances of earlier events and documents without being slavishly bound to their historical evaluation, especially in a subsequent epoch when relationships have been radically altered. Such a transvaluation will enable us freely to relegate the polemics in these articles (and the anathemas of Trent, as well) to our memories "Of old, unhappy, far-off tales/And battles long ago" and to rejoice in the positive contemporary relationships that are being developed between The United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, at levels both official and unofficial.

Therefore, be it resolved, that we declare it our official intent henceforth to interpret all our Articles, Confession, and other "standards of doctrine" in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment, as these develop in the light of the Resolution of the 1968 General Conference on "The Methodist Church and the Cause of Christian Unity" (Book of Resolutions 1968, 65-72). This implies, at the very least, our heartiest offer of goodwill and Christian community to all our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, in the avowed hope of the day when all bitter memories (ours and theirs) will have been redeemed by the gift of the fullness of Christian unity, from the God and [Creator] Father of our common Lord, Jesus Christ (Journal of the 1970 General Conference, The United Methodist Church, 255).

Resolution #3145, 2008 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #97, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #86, 2000 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 162.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.