Less Methodist = More Wesleyan?

Talbot Davis argues that a church becomes more Wesleyan by looking less Methodist.

[T]he sad irony is that many of the structures a local United Methodist congregation adopts in its effort to be faithfully United Methodist — structures that by and large arose in the 20th century — actually inhibit that church’s ability to be authentically Wesleyan.

What do you think?


9 thoughts on “Less Methodist = More Wesleyan?

  1. It’s hard to disagree. I was recently looking at a Discipline from 1916. It was 1/4 the size and it was almost entirely theologically focused. It seems that we have done a lot more work in the past century making sure the business side functions in an orderly manner. We haven’t done so well on the theological and practical side.

  2. Methodism isn’t the problem; Mainline-ism is. Scott Kisker has written convincingly on this. Methodism and Wesleyanism are synonymous, or should be. Methodism was redefined in our rush for societal acceptance.

    1. I suspect Talbot was using Methodism in this example as a stand in for “Mainline-ism.” Kisker’s book is wonderful.

  3. Well…

    I think the very things he rejects as inhibiting Wesleyan Methodism do not have to at all.

    The order of worship in the hymnal includes call to discipleship as one of the responses to the Word. Different churches can model that differently. An altar call such as Talbot Davis describes can be one of these. Where’s the issue?

    Likewise, nothing in our worship resources discourages the pursuit of evangelism and holiness, and much actively underwrites it. Perhaps the question is not whether our resources have provided for this, but how some use or fail to make full use of them to these ends.

    The six denominationally approved and mandated special offerings underwrite how United Methodists in particular are in mission with each other globally, beyond the local congregation, while at the same time a good bit of the funds gathered from some of these offerings can return to the local congregation via the amount conferences keep to underwrite such ministries where they exist in the conferences. Nothing says one can’t support other things, too. But these are considered a minimal expectation, such as “the penny” as “apportionment” was considered mandatory (except for those who could not afford it) in early Methodism. So here, it seems to me, he brings the epithet of “rebel” upon himself by specifically disobeying the mandate to collect these offerings in his local congregation, an authority he does not have in our system.

    As for worship music, the official hymnal functions as a “core collection” that represents who we are as United Methodists, not “the only things ever to be sung.” That’s why we continue to issue new collections of music, as well as make hundreds of new songs and hymns and even choral arrangements available at no cost (thanks to World Service funding) on the GBOD website. In this, however, I would have to agree that The UMC has differed from Wesley, who in fact insisted that ONLY the hymns from the hymnals he provided be sung by early Methodists, and that Methodists quit singing or refrain from singing all others. For him this was a matter of doctrinal integrity. He could (and did) guarantee that what was included in his collections actively supported Methodist doctrine. Because he could not do so for others not included in his collections, he actively discouraged their use.

    So it seems to me that none of Talbot Davis’s chief objections hold up or justify his position that the worship resources and the financial and other institutional expectations of The UMC themselves inhibit a genuinely Wesleyan expression of Christianity in our churches. Rather, they may serve to point our he does not like what we provide or how we order our common ministry as a denomination, and so may not, despite his ordination vow to the contrary, accept our liturgy and discipline, alongside our doctrine.

    United Methodist clergy are not, in ordination, given a choice of which of the three they vow to accept and then subsequently show their acceptance through their leadership in presbyteral or diaconal ministries. We are to accept them all.

    1. I agree with you in theory, but the problem is that there is no enforcement of the acceptance of either our doctrine, discipline, or liturgy. Everyone seems to pick and choose what they like, and bishops can’t (or won’t) do anything when someone chooses to ignore any of them.

    2. You suggest the grounds for an interesting empirical study. In theory, there is nothing in the UMC doctrine, discipline, and order that prevents the church from embodying a Wesleyan expression of Christianity, but in practice do the churches that most reflect the Wesleyan emphases that Davis outlines follow closely the elements he raises concerns about?

      Here’s his list of Wesleyan traits — and, of course, we could argue whether this list is complete or correct, but let’s take it as it is for now:

      An evangelistic spirit — “you have nothing to do but save souls.”
      A burden for holiness — “spread Scriptural holiness across the land.”
      An unwavering belief in both prevenient grace AND free will — for example, Wesley’s ‘Predestination Calmly Considered’ in which you open the booklet and there is nothing calm about it.
      A commitment to a living faith made evident by good works.
      A celebration of the gift of assurance — “he has taken away my sins, even mine.”

      Can we identify United Methodist congregations that fit this description? What do they look like in terms of liturgy and things like special Sundays and the other items Davis raises?

      I think this does demonstrate that nearly everyone has problems with the doctrine, discipline, and liturgy of the church. Some have problems with some parts. Some have problems with others.

      Which is more important? Which sin is the most grave? These are interesting questions to me.

  4. I think we can be more charitable in receiving what Talbert Davis offers rather than soak him with the charge of “rebel.” If he is a reb, he’s of that nonconformist sort that mostly stirs up some sanctimonious pedantry between the sanctuary and the potluck, but he’s not one who rebels at Holy Scripture or John Wesley or holiness or the historic Great Tradition or marriage according to Jesus and Genesis. Yes, he may have a band in his church and give altar calls. Let them come to Jesus right now. Okay, so maybe he’s a confessed controversialist in expressing himself. But I think he’d buy the ice cream so we could discuss it.

  5. I wonder if the root of tare stems from the exclusion of the “brethren” ….the church members….in the not to distant past of the UMC. There are many responsibilities within the church that are not and never were given to the Pastors, or Elders, or Bishops….but to the “brethren”.

    If I were a Pastor in the UMC….I’de begin by revealing the necessity of spiritual maturity and equipping the “saints” accordingly to carry out the ministry. And once that responsibility of the Pastor was fulfilled…..I’de teach and support the following responsibilities of the members until it became their reality:

    2 Thessalonians 2:15…..Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

    2 Thessalonians 3:6…. But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

    Romans 16:17….. Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

    Hebrews 3:12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 3:13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

    And Paul’s instruction…. “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all men, see that no one repays another with evil for evil but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men.”

    Time to wean the church from the bottle….and time for your leadership to give up your prideful idea that it is you that has the authority or ability to knit the body together. You need the members in your church to do far more than tithe….you need them to become a church at all.

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