Doctrine, discipline, denial and the CTA

Why has the church done so little good? Why does it falter?

Our answer and John Wesley’s are quite different.

In his sermon “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” Wesley lays out three problems. The people do not known scriptural Christianity — that is sound doctrine. The people are not under proper discipline. The people do not practice self-denial.

The problem of the church, from Wesley’s point of view, was theological and spiritual. The solution was proper doctrine, good discipline, and daily self-denial.

When we talk about the problems of the United Methodist Church these days, matters of theology and spiritual disciplines barely come up. They are viewed as secondary or even the by product of other practices.

Field preaching and class meetings were ways Wesley could get doctrine, discipline, and self-denial into practice among the people. The practices were based on a clear understanding of the content and meaning of Christian life.

We go about it the other way. Not wanting to get tangled up over theological disagreements or tricky discussions about what kinds of things we should deny ourselves, we talk and act as if the forms of ministry are empty vessels. Once we have those, we can pour in whatever theological content we like. The theology is secondary to the forms.

Preach a certain way. Use multimedia. Organize small groups. Rotate lay leaders. Do this stuff, and everything will be good. The Call to Action report states plainly that theology has no bearing on church vitality.

Wesley would say we’ve got our cart and horse mixed up. Do our bishops think Wesley was wrong about this?

2 thoughts on “Doctrine, discipline, denial and the CTA

  1. Working on the forms while ignoring the substance rarely works. But, we don’t know how to handle debate over doctrine and practice. Also, those who would be on the minority side of these discussions would rather not be faced with the options of exit or conformity. Therefore, we sound a lot like the Unitarians.

  2. From the CTA steering team report “all considerations for reordering the life of the church should be predicated upon sound and accurate understandings about how to direct resources in order to foster vitality in congregation”. It is clear that doctrine was not considered to be a resource. It was focused on money, people and organizations. Then there was this “Making this change requires leaders to forge strong coalitions, joining with willing partners who agree to disagree about lesser matters and setting aside many passionate causes in order to focus instead on overarching goals for the greater good”. Until we can decide upon what is or is not a lesser matter there are problems. It is difficult to revitalize when there is a civil war going on. I also found this little gem to be interesting. “Since rulebound structures inhibit innovation, continuous renewal, and viability, a key
    responsibility of leaders is to suspend rules in order to test and assess the efficacy of
    new, worthy ideas.” If the rules get in the way then ignore the rules. Where do you suppose that will take us?

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