Feud over 'progressive' Methodist teachings unites churches, but sounds like 'Sunnis and Shiites' to one local

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church/Facebook)

FOUNTAIN HILLS, Ariz. (Christian Examiner) – Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and non-denominational churches in the town of Fountain Hills, Ariz., are walking hand-in-hand in opposition to the progressive teachings of a local Methodist pastor.

According to a report in Christianity Today, eight churches have teamed up for a campaign of banners and sermons aimed at David Felten, pastor of The Fountains, a United Methodist congregation, for his denial of the virgin birth, advocacy of gay rights, and his willingness to participate in services at a nearby mosque. Multiple letters from church leaders to the local newspaper have also taken on the pastor's teachings.

Topics identified as critical and foundational tenets of the Christian faith in the sermon series include: -- The Deity of Jesus Christ; -- the virgin birth of Jesus; -- the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus; -- the inspiration and trustworthiness of biblical scriptures; -- the fact that Jesus is the only way of salvation and thus the only way to get to heaven.
- Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church

Each of the churches participating in the campaign against the Methodist church recently began a sermon series – Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction? -- and several church pastors published editorials in the Fountain Hills Times, the local newspaper serving the community of 23,000 roughly 30 miles outside of Phoenix.

Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church launched its sermon series with a Facebook post on what the pastors of local churches "have identified as critical and foundational tenets of the Christian faith. Topics will include: The Deity of Jesus Christ; the virgin birth of Jesus; the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus; the inspiration and trustworthiness of biblical scriptures; the fact that Jesus is the only way of salvation and thus the only way to get to heaven."

While neither Felten nor his church are mentioned in any of the materials promoting the sermon series, according to CT, both he and the church are mentioned in newspaper editorials. The title of the sermon series also makes it clear that Felten and the church, according to its website the "only openly 'Progressive' church in town," are the targets.

Felten told a local television station his church offers an alternative to biblical Christianity where people "don't have to deny science, they don't have to hate their gay neighbor, they don't have to read and take the Bible in a way that causes them to abandon their rational mind."

The Methodist church website also addressed the controversy, encouraging its members to be proud of the congregation's character.

"Our strategy is not to be defensive or argumentative, but to keep articulating the positive attributes of Progressive Christianity and always err on the side of grace as we move ahead," the church wrote on its blog.

While the effort to oppose false teaching has united the churches, many in the town have indicated they may be growing weary of the debate.

Jerry Miles, a resident of the town, wrote in a letter to the local paper that, though he knows several parties in the dispute and regards them as "good men," he believes the "community is beginning to sound a lot like the Sunnis and Shiites from the Middle East, arguing over relatively minor points of the same religion."

Another resident, Phil Iverson, said the attacks on Felten offer comfort to the irreligious and atheists. "Religious convictions are not going to change and the bewildered bystanders must wonder if Christianity really has any value," he wrote.