A foolish consistency?

Two recent comments have me thinking hard about the meaning of ordination.

Dean Snyder engaged me in an exchange about taking ordination vows in a church that is not perfect. It is a place of saints and sinners and its polity, doctrine, and discipline reflect that. Snyder pointed out ways that our history has been filled with problems. If we won’t take ordination vows in a church that is sinful, then we will not get ordained. If we think the church’s current doctrine is without error, then we forget the principle that the church is always in need of reformation. (Morgan Guyton commented in the same vein, I think, when he testified that he feels strongly called to lead the United Methodist Church toward new doctrine and practices.)

In another vein, Holly Boardman commented on her own disillusionment with the UMC. She wrote of coming to see a church in the thrall of riches and too prone to let democratic values trump gospel holiness. These convictions led her to retirement. She came to see too large a gap between what the church claimed it believed and how it acted.

I am grateful that so many people share their own stories about how they have come to balance the competing tensions that are at the heart of ordination and appointment in the United Methodist Church. I am finding that there are really two different questions when it comes to a calling. The call of God is one thing. The living out of that call within a particular church is another.

I have been working under the influence of something Will Willimon wrote somewhere. He said preachers are not called to preach their own faith. They are called to preach the faith of the church. This has set in my mind — certainly in a place that I am inclined to go anyway — in the direction of trying to discern what the faith of the United Methodist Church actually is and what it is I am being called to preach and teach.

I wonder if that is a misplaced thought. Is looking for doctrinal integrity and coherence in the church a kind of idolatry? At the very least, it seems naive.

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15 thoughts on “A foolish consistency?

  1. I agree with you, John, in terms of the Methodist answers to those questions being the most consistent with Biblical Christianity, as I have come to understand it. That is also part of what led me to stay in the UMC as the venue for my ministry.

    The way I look at it, we are called to proclaim and live out the doctrines that are established by our doctrinal standards (including Wesley’s sermons). I believe this approach to the Christian faith can be very effective in meeting today’s challenges with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our church does not preach or live out its own faith perfectly (sometimes not very well at all). Unfortunately, we don’t even agree on what our church’s faith is (which is the source of a lot of our conflicts in the church today). But we have an objective understanding of what our faith is in our doctrinal standards, and if we will be faithful to that, God will work through us in amazing ways.

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