United Methodists, whether conservative or liberal theologically, foresee a period of critical decision-making approaching on the mainline denomination's horizon.

Though membership declines have lessened in recent years, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is often perceived as a "sick denomination," one that requires serious rethinking and recommitment if it is to play a role in modern culture. Membership in the United States, now at 8.6 million, has been decreasing for more than 25 years.

Several movements within the UMC are dedicated to furthering reform in the church. Perhaps none has the potential for controversy as much as the so-called Confessing Movement. Not even two years old, this movement, which seeks to reground the church explicitly in its historic statements of theological doctrine and mission, has attracted thousands of supporters and the focused attention of UMC's leadership.

That attention should only increase next April with the church's quadrennial general conference.

Confessing Movement leaders say they have assembled a coalition of UM moderates, traditionalists, evangelicals, conservatives, and charismatics to prevent the denomination from losing its historic faith and doctrinal distinctives. To that end, they urge the church to begin a vigorous internal discussion on the lordship and uniqueness of Christ, the status of its founding documents and statements of faith, and its duty to carry out the Great Commission.

The Confessing Movement's critics assert the movement has set itself up as the arbiter of orthodoxy and thus is a threat to the UMC's tradition of tolerance.

Yet, movement leaders reject this characterization. "We're not trying to define one narrow thing you've got to believe," says John Ed Mathison, ...

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