A true Church-of-England man

In 1745 and thereafter, John Wesley exchanged a series of letters with a Mr. John Smith, who the editor of my copy of the works of Wesley notes is generally presumed to have been the Bishop of Oxford writing anonymously.

In one of the letters, the bishop accuses Wesley of deviating from the teachings of the Church of England. Smith criticizes Wesley for always appealing to the official doctrinal standards of the church in defending himself from such charges. The Articles of Religion of the Church of England and the Homilies were adopted in the 16th century. Smith writes that he is accusing Wesley not of deviating from those, but of deviating from the doctrines as actually preached in the 18th century Church of England, which presumably did not reflect the official doctrinal standards.

Wesley replies:

Well, how blind was I! I always supposed, till the very hour I read these words, that when I was charged with differing from the Church, I was charged with differing from the Articles and Homilies. And for the compilers of these, I can sincerely profess great deference and veneration. But I cannot honestly profess any veneration at all for those Pastors of the present age, who solemnly subscribe to those Articles and Homilies which they do not believe in their hearts. Nay, I think, unless I differ from these men (be they Bishops, Priests, or Deacons) just as widely as they do from the Articles and Homilies, I am no true Church-of-England man.

This exchange struck me as quite similar to our situation in the United Methodist Church. We have our doctrinal standards that were established a 200 years ago. By every official word, they are the standard of teaching in our churches. But they bear little actual influence throughout a great number of our churches.

To be a true United Methodist, then, should we reflect the preaching and teaching of our day or — if it differs — the doctrinal standards set out in our Book of Discipline?


10 thoughts on “A true Church-of-England man

  1. What a great find, John! Thanks for sharing it. Sadly like our situation today. You really must grab Abraham’s “Waking from Doctrinal Amnesia” if you haven’t read it already.

  2. John,
    In the same context, what was the primary complaint of the Pharisees about Jesus’ teaching? Was it that he was also not preaching the accepted doctrine?

    Why did Wesley “rebel” against the established church? Was it not perhaps because of the establishment’s desire to hold on to a 200-year old set of rules and call it doctrine?

    I will not deny that there are key concepts upon which we need to base what we say and do; call it doctrine if you will. But I also know that we as a church, historically, have set rules that were based on our own thoughts.

    The Methodist Church split apart in the mid 19th century because of slavery and the notion that because slavery was in the Bible it was acceptable. It also reflected a notion that not all humans were created equal.

    We have people who used the Bible in an effort to destroy the scientific process simply because the first words of Genesis are to be accepted as rock solid truth and we are not to believe what the rocks actually tell us.

    Should our doctrine not only reflect the thoughts and actions of Christ but our understanding of what the world is today?

    1. Tony, our doctrinal standards do not call for a literal reading of Genesis. Wesley read them that way, but our Articles and Confession do not call for us to read the Bible that way and our non-binding statements in the BOD about Scripture certainly do not call for a rejection of science — quite the opposite.

      1. John,
        I hope I wasn’t suggesting that the Methodist Church calls for the rejection of science. My comment was more in general than denomination specific.

        My point, I hope, was that if we establish something as doctrine that is later proven incorrect, then we must make the change. I know that one later post will point out that we have the ability to do that but are we to hold onto out-dated doctrine until the standards can be corrected?

        One of the driving forces behind the civil rights movement was that people had been told to wait for the system to catch up but after 120 years, people no longer could wait.

        Should we know the doctrine and thoughts of the United Methodist Church? Absolutely! I know of a couple of lay speakers/servants in this district/conference who have absolutely no idea what it means to be a United Methodist and we try not to send them out.

        By the same token, it isn’t just the lay speaker/servants and pastors who need to know the doctrine of the church; the people need to know as well. I find, in this area, so many people who are United Methodists but have no idea what it means to be a United Methodist. Therein may lie the problem; if the people do not know, they cannot tell what it is that their pastor is telling them.

  3. Very relevant to our times when we profess one thing, then preach another. Different in that both the Torah and the Articles were set and unchangeable, thus became passe’. By contrast, our Discipline is updated every quadrennium . If a preacher thinks is it wrong the correct action is petition to amend, not simply defiance while continuing to collect a salary or pension from the denomination. If a person be taken in a fault.. there are steps for remedy. The third step is removal from the congregation. That is a Biblical principle that is not passe’.

    1. I do not advocate excommunication. We Methodists accept all persons just as they are, but that does not mean we need support their behavior with cash payments.

  4. “To be a true United Methodist, then, should we reflect the preaching and teaching of our day or — if it differs — the doctrinal standards set out in our Book of Discipline?”

    The UMC today is not the Methodist Church of Wesley’s day as the prior post points out.
    Unless one is familiar with the “Articles and Homilies” that were points of disagreement how can one answer? If persons do not know the full context of The Book of Discipline, How will they answer the question?

    What doctrinal standards are in question?

      1. Thank you.
        Thinking out loid is what I sometimes write.

        My take is the following .
        Because all doctrine and practice “official” held by the church stands or falls, are accepted or rejected on Article V—Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
        Article V is the foundation of all “official” doctrine and practice of the church.
        It is what Wesley taught:
        “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any [one] that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

        It is where the Brethren stood:
        Article IV in the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church :
        “We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.”

        It is the sufficiency of scripture that is being questioned and challenged.
        Wesley made clear Methodist stand where scripture stands on all issues written of within.
        We are not required to follow what is NOT written within BUT are required to follow what IS written within the Holy Bible.

        So the answer to your question IMHO is scripture is to taught first on all issues the Holy Bible addresses.
        All other topics are up to the conscience of the individual.

  5. ” teaching of our day ”
    What specific “teaching of our day ” conflict with the doctrine of the UMC?

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