Help me understand today's Methodism

Discussion in 'Non-Anglican Discussion' started by anglican74, Oct 29, 2015.

  1. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    I've been trying to wrap my mind around methodism.

    Here are a few salient points I've grasped so far (never being a member among them). Please feel free to correct me or add your own!

    1) There is one Methodist 'church' by and large, in the world, the "UMC," united methodist church, notwithstanding the myriad little splinter groups, the nazarenes, the wesleyan churches and other fragments?

    2) The UMC is going through a convulsion not unlike the Episcopal Church but on a global scale, where the heterodox 1st world Methodists clash with the conservative 3rd world?

    3) The conservative non-Europeans have held the line up to this point, but the heterodox and heretics are slowly gaining ground?

    4) Judging from this thread, Methodist spirituality is in a slump, having been attemptedly revived by theologians who teach 'paleo-orthodoxy' (ie. "ancient orthodoxy"), which ironically unfolds as being the Ancient and Anglican tradition?


    What else am I missing?
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2015
  2. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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  3. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    I haven't been in a methodist church in 20 years so I don't think I have much input to give on its current state.
     
  4. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    There is one Methodist 'church' by and large, in the world, the "UMC," united methodist church, notwithstanding the myriad little splinter groups, the nazarenes, the wesleyan churches and other fragments?

    Not exactly. Methodist polity is connectional, so there is a great deal of local autonomy. The United Methodist Church is the successor to the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in Baltimore in 1784 as a result of the American Revolution and the Church of England's refusal to appoint Bishops. The British Wesleyans didn't formally separate from the CoE until after Wesley died in 1791, and they are represented today by the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Because of British colonialism and US missionary zeal, most churches elsewhere are affiliated with one or the other. But Methodism is not a monolithic ecclesiastical organization -- in fact, it has a very colorful sectarian history. See my blog dedicated to it here: https://raschau.wordpress.com/

    The Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, and the Wesleyan Church all have their roots in the Holiness Movement. The latter two were founded almost solely for the sake of advocating abolition, although anti-Episcopal sentiment had been present in American Methodism from the very beginning. Each of those denominations have 1-2 million members, and the Free Methodist Church in particular is the most viable alternative to the UMC. I myself have traveled 60 miles to attend services at a FMC.

    The UMC is going through a convulsion not unlike the Episcopal Church but on a global scale, where the heterodox 1st world Methodists clash with the conservative 3rd world?

    'No' votes from African delegates were the only thing preventing the UMC from changing its statement on sexuality in 2012. A split is inevitable, and 2016 may be the year. Ironically, because of the nature of the connectional system, it may be the liberal majority that dumps the conservative minority and continues on as some other name.

    Judging from this thread, Methodist spirituality is in a slump, having been attemptedly revived by theologians who teach 'paleo-orthodoxy' (ie. "ancient orthodoxy"), which ironically unfolds as being the Ancient and Anglican tradition?

    There's a wide disconnect between UMC theologians and the ministry. I doubt any UMC pastors are actually teaching paleo-orthodoxy to the laity, and I doubt the laity would be very receptive because it sounds like too much of a vaguely Papistical innovation for the Evangelical members, and too Christian for the liberal members. What Oden describes as 'paleo-orthodoxy' and Abraham and Vickers call 'canonical theism' could very well be described as the Continuing Anglican movement, or even an Anglican revival, "retrieving the Anglican heritage of the UMC," or something else more productive. That they made up new phrases to describe something that already exists is actually kind of puzzling. I realize they don't want their message to be "give up on the UMC and go join the ACNA," but that's the logical conclusion.

    Here's an extract from a promo piece about Oden's book (Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology): "A renowned theologian, Oden provides a consensus view of the Christian faith, delving deeply into ancient Christian tradition and bringing to the contemporary church the best wisdom from its past... Written for clergy, Christian educators, religious scholars, and lay readers alike, Classic Christianity provides the best synthesis of the whole history of Christian thought... Oden's magisterial study not only treats the traditional elements of systematical theology but also highlights the foundational exegetes throughout history. Covering the ecumenical councils and early synods; the great teachers of the Eastern church tradition, including Athanasius and John Chrysostom; and the prominent Western figures such as Augustine, Ambrose, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, this book offers the reader the fullest understanding of the Christian faith available."

    And from Canonical Theism by Abraham and Vickers: "Canonical Theism is a post-Protestant vision for the renewal of both theology and church. The editors call for the retrieval and redeployment of the full range of materials, persons, and practices that make up the canonical heritage of the church, including scripture, doctrine, sacred image, saints, sacraments, and more. The central thesis of the work is that the good and life-giving Holy Spirit has equipped the church with not only a canon of scripture but also with a rich canonical heritage of materials, persons, and practices. However, much of the latter has been ignored or cast aside. This unplumbed resource of canonical heritage waits for the church to rediscover its wealth. With a bold set of thirty theses, the authors chart and defend that mine of opportunity. They then invite the entire church to explore the benefits of their discoveries. This ambitious book offers insights to be integrated into the church body, renewing the faith that nourished converts, created saints, and upheld martyrs across the years."
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
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  5. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    What a tremendous answer Rhys thanks to you in abundance. I wish I could present more likes!

    Are there resources you would point me to apart from your blog which document the goings on in the UMC today, the clashes and all? Also any conservative podcasts? It is a fascinating topic to me, and especially this fascination with paleo-orthodoxy that you seem to indicate happening in academic circles.
     
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  6. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    Glad I could be of some help. If you have any more questions I'll try to answer them.

    The most recent fiasco of note was the Frank Schaefer trial: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/27/methodist-panel-upholds-reinstatement-of-the-rev-f/

    Basically, he presided over his gay son's "marriage," was put on trial for violating the church discipline, defrocked, and then reinstated after a flood of outside pressure. He now fancies himself a "human rights activist."

    Here is a report about the 2012 Conference: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/methodists-homosexual-act-incompatible_n_1476042.html

    And a report about a small but disruptive protest afterwards: http://www.christianpost.com/news/g...-umc-conference-after-failed-amendment-74411/

    I'm not sure if there are any 'watchdogs' out there who follow the UMC day to day. I'll dig around a bit and see if I can find anything.
     
  7. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Anglicans have a ton of watchdog blogs and such. Howcome the methodists, counting in tens of millions of church-members in the US, do not?
     
  8. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    1. The UMC is, first and foremost, a 'Mainline' denomination like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The difference is -- while conservative members of the PCUSA can (and have, in droves) go over to the Presbyterian Church in America or to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, while conservative Episcopalians can defect to the Anglican Church in North America or some other 'Continuing' denomination, and while conservative Lutherans can join the Missouri or Wisconsin Synods -- there is (as yet) no alternative to the UMC.

    2. This is partially because the Wesleyan theological heritage has largely been forgotten. The Presbyterians have Calvinism and the Westminster Standards to fall back on; the Lutherans have, well, Lutheranism, and since both have very well defined theologies, it is not difficult for conservatives to branch off with relative ease and find their place in another denomination that explicitly teaches Calvinism or Lutheranism. Methodists should be joining the Free Methodist Church, or the Church of the Nazarene, or the Wesleyan Church, or any other church that teaches Wesleyanism - but this is not happening, and I suspect it's because people are not attached to Wesleyan theology because they do not have a clear idea of what it is, so schisms in the UMC aren't given the same amount of attention or scrutiny as the other Mainline denominations.

    3. Methodism has always been an 'active' religion at the forefront of advocating for abolition, prohibition, civil rights, feminism -- whatever the popular cause of the day might be. It is not surprising, then, that they have fallen victim to modernity and conflated social righteousness with Scriptural holiness (Shakespeare might say they have been hoisted with their own petard).

    4. Another part of the problem was the Presbyterian schism of the late 19th century -- the "Old School" (5-point Calvinists) vs. the "New Lights". The latter faction were influenced by Methodism and other revival movements, and the so-called "Princeton theologians" were bitter about it. I think it was B. B. Warfield who spread the malicious opinion that Methodism is nothing more than a rootless hodge-podge of revivalist sentiment with no doctrine to speak of. It was repeated often enough in those days that I'm sure even the Methodists started to believe it.

    5. It's safe to say that a vast majority of Methodists are ignorant of their intellectual heritage. This is partly the nature of Pietism ("religion of the heart"), partly the nature of revivalism, partly the fault of modernism, but part and parcel of experientially based religion in general. Even "paleo-orthodoxy" is a symptom of this, because UMC theologians have promoted it has a renewal movement from without (applying Patristics to Methodism) instead of a rediscovery from within (Patristics as Methodist heritage) -- which is puzzling, because there are 250 years of catechisms, systematic theologies, and doctrinal treatises from all sects of the Methodist tradition - most of them in the public domain - just waiting to be retrieved and updated for a contemporary Evangelical audience.

    So, in short, there are no UMC 'watchdogs' because the United Methodist Church is largely perceived as a tradition that has always valued personal piety over doctrine and social activism over orthodoxy.
     
  9. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    "So, in short, there are no UMC 'watchdogs' because the United Methodist Church is largely perceived as a tradition that has always valued personal piety over doctrine and social activism over orthodoxy."

    Great analysis Rhys. Even as a child, I remember thinking it was odd that no one got up in arms when a preacher would say something clearly and outlandishly heretical, but find out he drank a beer one time 3 towns over, and the congregation would ready the pitchforks.

    I think another reason why there are no watchdog groups is because of their pastoral system. Maybe this isn't true now or true everywhere in the UMC but when I was a member, pastors rotated email every 4 years from church to church. If you didn't like the pastor, no need to leave. Just wait she/he'llbe out of your hair eventually.
     
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  10. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    That's funny though because wasn't Methodism supposed to be about "The Method?" Doctrine is supposed to be at the center of this thing, no?
     
  11. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    Sorry, it's been a while.

    The 'Methodist' label was originally a pejorative insult directed toward the practices of Oxford's "Holy Club."

    By rule they eat, by rule they drink,
    By rule do all things but think.
    Accuse the priests of loose behavior.
    To get more in the laymen's favor.
    Method alone must guide 'em all
    When themselves "Methodists" they call.


    After the mockery began in earnest, Wesley started publishing "for the people called Methodists," and it stuck.

    The nickname comes from the Holy Club's rigorously systematic approach to applying Christianity to everyday life. Such a block of the day was for prayer, another block for Bible study, another block for visiting prisoners, and so on. This is the 'method' you are referring to. Part of this came from their study of the early Fathers and the ascetic practices of the desert monastics, and another part came from their study of the German Pietists and contact with the Moravians.
     
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  12. anglican74

    anglican74 Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Thank you my friend. This certainly clears it up quite a bit. Do we know where that spirit had gone, and when? Like was it still clearly present in the following century? I am reasonably confident Methodism becomes a regular mainline denomination in the twentieth century, is that correct?
     
  13. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    An excerpt from Methodism: Empire of the Spirit by David Hempton (Yale University Press, 2006):

    Chapter 9, "Methodism's Rise and Fall."

    As it turned out, it was not Methodism that was poised to sweep the world but its Holiness offspring, Pentecostalism. Here was another movement giving voice to ordinary people, thriving on mobility, depending on women, privileging personal transformation over public reform, and vigorously organizing dislocated people into noisy cells of perfectionist excitement.

    Above all, Pentecostalism is an enormously successful continuation of Methodism’s energy and mobility, which transformed the religious landscape of the North Atlantic region and beyond in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The next Christendom, already under construction in the global south, would not look the same if Methodism had never existed.