One of the purposes of doctrine is to divide — and there was nothing for the Church of England to divide itself from. England was insulated from the factors which made doctrine so significant a matter on the mainland of Europe in the Reformation and immediate post-Reformation periods.
This quote from Alister McGrath‘s highly readable and interesting book Reformation Thought: An Introduction offers his explanation for why doctrine and doctrinal disputes were never as important to the English Reformation as they were on the continent, where Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Reformed theologians found themselves locked in continuous doctrinal debate.
It may be part of the reason why we United Methodists find doctrine such a delicate subject. We spring from Anglican roots. Even the Lutheranism that has been grafted into us is a non-doctrinal Pietism. We did not arise as a movement seeking to change the church’s doctrine and theology. We do not relish tales of university professors hammering theological treatises to church doors. We do not celebrate the publication of massive tomes of systematic theology. We sing hymns and speak of heart warming experiences.
And this may be part of our challenge today.
We are not living in the sheltered world of Elizabethan England, where the crown eliminates the need for doctrinal clarity by forbidding rival religions and shunning public atheism. We are not on the frontier of America where doctrine does not matter as much as a good horse. We are not in mainline America where everyone is a Christian and the liquor stores all close on Sunday morning.
Is it possible that Methodism is by its nature a sheltered bird that struggles in the buffet and tumult of doctrinal storms?