The meaning of United Methodism?

While I was in Jordan and Israel — seeing first-hand what intractable problems can be created by divisions over religion and identity — a group of high-profile United Methodists have been circulating a call for A Way Forward in the midst of our crisis.

It includes a proposal — discussed insightfully by David Watson — for a congregationalist “local option” on matters relating to sexual ethics.

It also proposes the following as what unites us as United Methodists:

To be United Methodist is to believe, follow and serve Jesus Christ. It is to hold together a passionate and personal evangelical gospel and a serious and sacrificial social gospel. It is to hold together a deep and wide understanding of grace and a call to holiness of heart and life. It is to hold together a faith that speaks to the intellect and a faith that warms the heart. To be United Methodist is to be a people who study and seek to live scripture and who read it with the help of tradition, experience and reason. To be United Methodist is to invite the Spirit’s sanctifying work in our lives to the end that we might love God with all that is within us and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

United Methodists believe that God’s grace is available to all, not only a predestined “elect.” We believe that God brings good from evil, but we don’t believe that God causes evil. We believe that it’s okay to ask questions and that we’re not meant to check our brains at the door of the church. We find helpful those guidelines we call the General Rules: Refrain from evil, do all the good you can, and do those things which help you grow in love for God. The Covenant Prayer is for us a powerful reminder of what it means to call Jesus Christ Lord: “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what you will…”

Much of this is appealing. But it is hard to get past the generalities to specifics without instantly being caught up again in the same arguments that so bedevil the church right now.

I’m also struck how here — and in the other parts of the statements — there is so much emphasis on the intellectual aspects of faith. There is a lot of “head” religion here with a secondary nod toward the holiness of the heart.

I’ve long wondered if there is any way to fairly describe what is at the heart of who we are as United Methodists. Do you think Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter — who appear to be the primary authors — have hit upon it?

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12 thoughts on “The meaning of United Methodism?

  1. No. This could just as easily describe the mission of the United Way as it does the United Methodist Church. Where is the fear of God, the call to repentance, the growth in holiness/sanctification, the desire to obey God?

    John Wesley described, in part, those whose heart is as his, and who should take his hand in fellowship by asking:

    Does the love of God constrain thee to serve him with fear, to “rejoice unto him with reverence” Art thou more afraid of displeasing God, than either of death or hell. Is nothing so terrible to thee as the thought of offending the eyes of his glory Upon this ground, dost thou “hate all evil ways,” every transgression of his holy and perfect law; and herein “exercise thyself, to have a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man”?

    Such a call to dying to self and living to Christ is absent in this “way forward.” I’m reminded of an oft repeated warning in Scripture: There is a way that seems right to man, and it’s end is death.

  2. Is being United Methodist a genetic thing? But, anyway….I’ve read the entire “way forward”. Interesting. Doesn’t really solve anything though does it? Well….it does temporarily quiet the confusion and turmoil being displayed for the whole world to see.
    Have you ever noticed how Satan carefully chooses his moments to strike, in accord with his goal to confuse people as to the difference between good and evil? He doesn’t take advantage of all sin to correspondingly afflict each person who sins, because then he would eventually discourage sin, and his success depends upon encouraging it.

    Satan was patient indeed….much much more patient then most of us could ever claim to be. He waited until divorce ran ramped in the church….both leadership and congregation. He waited until pornography became an addiction….both in leadership and congregation. He waited until sexual abuse became an epidemic….both in leadership and congregation. He waited for greed to become the norm….both for leadership and the congregation. He waited…..and then exposed the church to the world as being a phony hypocritical worthless establishment and used us…..US….to mock Jesus Christ…..because for so long….we have been. And he did it with one…..one sexual sin…..homosexuality. Amazing. We should all be on our knees….all of us.

    We all have reasons to compromise bering obedient to God’s Word. We can all find ways of skirting around the heat and pressure of standing firm in obedience. Sure….we all raise our swords and say we contend for the faith….but what about contending for the obedience of God’s Word. But then again…..that would mean you would have to take just as rigid of a stance against those in the church who look at porn, have impure sexual thoughts, have premarital sex, steal, gossip, and abusive. What a can of worms that would be….wouldn’t you agree?

    “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” –1st Corinthians 6:9-10

    The way forward??? Probably starts with true repentance…..starting at the leadership and down. The neglect of obedience to the whole Word of God was the seed sown….in my simple humble opinion.

  3. Two Concerns: 1) The hallmark of Wesleyan theology, (Marks of The New Birth, Almost Christian, Scripture Way of Salvation, The New Birth, Circumcision of the Heart, The Wedding Garment), was a proclamation of the gospel which Wesley insisted was the repentance of sins, turning from darkness to light, brokenness to healing and death to life. This is lacking in the document when mentioning “essentials of Wesleyan Faith. 2) Why would we be “congregationalist” on the issue of human sexuality, some would say sin or “porneia”, and not any other issue? Very concerning indeed. Can you imagine the chaos this would create in appointment making in all jurisdictions and annual conferences? What about the divisiveness in local churches?

  4. If there is a “way forward,” it will be because able orthodox leaders (scholars like Watson, pastors like Kyker, and fearless local church laity) insist we march toward the promised land, and that we not settle for wilderness meandering, craven pandering, confused maundering, or theological laundering. These leaders must accept the CALL to lead (when it comes), and not choose that moment to retreat to the oasis of the local church or the (perceived) safety of seminary precincts.

  5. “But it is hard to get past the generalities”
    Very true and that causes a lot of confusion and a lot of room for interpretation.

    So what is the answer?
    I think the answer is a look back at how these generalities where applied.
    If you are going to quote Wesley you have to take a look at what Wesley did, how he lived and what he supported and rejected.

    The only evidence that I have been able to find (outside of scripture) directly related to the Big issue dividing the church today is Wesley’s sermon 52 preached before The Society for the Reformation of Manners.
    Wesley appears to look favorably on this group and the works they did. Wesley says:
    “For this end a few persons in London, towards the close of the last century, united together, and after a while, were termed, The Society for Reformation of Manners; and incredible good was done by them for near forty years.”

    6. It is a society of the same nature which has been lately formed.
    This society “formed lately” in 1757 by Methodists and others was modeled after the original Society for The reformation of manners in 1690.

    10…
    The number of persons brought to justice, from August, 1757, to August, 1762, is…………………9,596
    These numbers are directly quoted from the “Account of the Societies of The Reformation of Manners”

    So what did the Society for the Reformation of manners do that had the support of John Wesley?
    What did they stand against and what did they stand for?

    You can read the original ‘An Account of the Societies of the Reformation of Manners in London and Westminster” online at Goggle Books online for free. It is a tough read but explains what they where all about.
    There are also actual court cases to view on line.
    The group was formed to “Promote the Execution of the laws against the Prophene’s and Debauchery” for reform of the nation. I understand Prophene’s to mean the profane and the word manners to mean morals.
    http://www.londonlives.org/static/Reformation.jsp

    Actual cases can be viewed at Gay History and Literature and Homosexuality in 18th century England A sourcebook complied by Rictor Norton who was a writer of culture and other things.

    1. Wesley actually does write specifically about the “big issue” confronting us and in explicit terms. It is not one of the standard sermons, but in his other writings. He was not at all equivocal on the topic.

        1. The most explicit place I recall is in Part II of the Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion. In that he goes through a litany of sins running rampant in England, including the following:

          “But as if this were not enough, is not the sin of Sodom, too, more common among us than ever it was in Jerusalem? Are not our streets beset with those monsters of uncleanness, who “burn in their lust one toward another,” whom God hath “given up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient?” O Lord, thy compassions fail not: Therefore we are not consumed.”

        2. Thank you for the reply.
          What you wrote may be clear and self explanatory to some but to those that have come to believe Sodom and Gomorrah is about hospitality and not related to homosexuality it is not clear at all.

  6. It is a more robust and broad account of what unites us as Wesleyan Christians that the left or the right generally give, and if it is a little light on the “heart” side for the conservatives and a little light on the “justice” side for the liberals, it’s probably as good as it’s going to get. We have too many kinds of Methodists for one statement to easily placate everyone. Generally, though, I find the bifurcation of “head and heart” religion troubling, and moreover, I thought this statement – especially that first paragraph you quoted – pretty heavy on what would be called the “heart” side: personal evangelical experience, holiness of “heart and life,” sanctification, faith that “warms the heart.” Don’t forget Hamilton was a Pentecostal before, so I think he’s sympathetic to the role of experience in the Christian life.

    I think a lot of the reaction against this is based more on a personal dislike of Hamilton and, to a lesser degree, Slaughter. It’s been interesting to watch the conservatives turn on him since he “came out” as having changed his views on sexuality.

    All that said, I don’t count myself a supporter of this document. I think it needs serious work, though not for the reasons you name.

      1. I have not written about them yet, but episode 2 of the WesleyCast that will be released next week includes a discussion by all three of us about it.

        In short, I think Bill Arnold’s analysis in his book Seeing Black and White is on point – Hamilton’s pragmatism often gets in the way of good theological reflection. I see that reflected in the A Way Forward document.

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