Friday, April 28, 2006

OUR DOCTRINAL STATEMENT IS LIKE A STRONG DOES OF NIGHTQUIL


WARNING: THIS IS A LENGTHY POST AND POSSIBLY NOT TOO INTERESTING TO SOME...

One of the papers that I've had to write for my District Committee on Ordained Ministry are my thoughts on the Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task. Well, I just finished writing it and emailed it off. But I thought I'd share it here in case anyone is having trouble sleeping today. Nighty night....


In order to engage this portion of the Book of Discipline I treated it as though I were writing in a journal my thoughts toward something. So although I may critique some areas for the most part I wanted to allow God’s Spirit to speak to me through the reading and to engage my imagination.

OUR DOCTRINAL HERITAGE

As I read through this section I am taken by the connection that is made with the “historic Christian faith”. I am about to complete a course in Christian Patristics and throughout the course I have been absolutely energized by the early church and how it shaped things for us. But I have also been surprised at how much tradition we have lost as a church. I believe that as United Methodism continues in the 21st century we will more and more need to reclaim the historic “practices” and liturgy that defined us as a people.

I also appreciate the emphasis that our preaching and teaching are grounded in Scripture, informed by Christian tradition, enlivened in experience, and tested by reason. I am not sure that tradition plays a big part any longer, but I also think that reason tends to replace tradition in many respects. I am not saying that we should be anti-intellectual in the least bit but that our foundations, what we call the Wesleyan quadrilateral ought to become more balanced between reason, experience and tradition in order to inform scripture.

OUR DOCTRINAL HISTORY

How amazing that Wesley saw the need to identify and connect the Methodists with the church universal. Of course I should not be too surprised- Anglicanism is a true give to the church universal- almost a “nomad of true tradition”. Although its beginnings are fairly shady and political, the ecclesiology that Wesley came out of is a wonderful collage of early church orthodoxy, catholic practices along with the protestant spirit. I think in many ways Methodism also captures that same quality.

I also find it a wonderful gift from Mr. Wesley that he invited the Methodist people to maintain a “catholic spirit”- "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think." As to what one might consider the “root of Christianity”. Even here the Doctrinal History is interesting because obviously the answer is that we find it in scripture- but scripture must be filtered through tradition, reason and experience. The other root of Christian truth can be found in the historic creeds. But even there we are not to set them apart as absolute doctrinal or theological standards.

The openness and willingness to allow a diversity of ideas and thoughts on theology and doctrine is one of the things that has kept me in the United Methodist Church. For someone who likes to think outside the box and ask hard questions, United Methodism is a real gift. Sometimes I feel like we are trying to make our family smaller and make our doctrines much more rigid and narrow than Wesley intended. But I think from reading this that Wesley intended for the Methodist movement to be a community of “practicing our faith together” and struggling alongside one another in love with these issues. And maybe defining our doctrine too narrow and specific moves us away from Wesley’s intent.

ARTICLES OF RELGION

Articles 1-4: As I’m reading through this first section it connects me with the early church and the early church fathers developing a creed that gives a foundation to the faith. The historic creeds such as the Nicene and Apostle’s creed provide that same language and foundation.

Articles 5-8: “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation”. That is so true, but I wonder if we have individualized scripture in such a way and elevated it to such a level that we now run the risk of not allowing revelation through the Holy Spirit to empower us a community to interpret the scripture and hear fresh and new words from God.


Articles 9-15. In this section what I read is that there is no place where God will not be, and that the community of God is intended for everyone to be a part of. “The grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification.” From that statement I believe that we can see that our denomination has been one for everyone. There is no one that could be excluded from a church that believes this.

Articles 16-18: In this section on the sacraments it deals with baptism and communion. I would love to see the church put Eucharist and Baptism as THE CENTER of our worshiping life together as a community. I know there has been a move to put more of an emphasis lately on communion but I am not sure that people connect with the idea that for Methodists baptism and Eucharist area “means of grace”- an outward act that is part of the process of sanctification.

Articles 19-23: One thing that stood out for me in this section was Jesus’ death being a perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual. I also find it interesting that Article 23- Of the Rulers of the United States of America was not one of Wesley’s articles but an article that was later added as tensions arose between Britain and America. Here is a wonderful example of doctrine being flexible enough to change with the times and practically answer needs as they arise.

OUR THEOLOGICAL TASK

This was my favorite section to read. I like the way the Discipline interprets what the theological task actually is. Theology is the ground upon which we test our doctrine as a community. It is through theological reflection that doctrine can be discerned and examined in the light of the ever changing culture around us. Within our denomination it should be expected that a wide array of ideas and thoughts will wrestle with our doctrine.

CONCLUSION

After having read through the Doctrinal Standards from the Book of Discipline I appreciate our tradition as Methodists even more. I see that our doctrine though foundational is also at the same time flexible. It is meant to unify us but as a community we are called to continually reflect upon it and where we find ourselves in the world around us. My hope is that this vision of Wesley- to be of a “catholic spirit” will remain a hallmark of who we are as Methodists.

4 comments:

Thunder Jones said...

"Anglicanism is a true give to the church universal"

Speaking for all Anglicans, we appreciate the knowing nod.

Then, I got to your discussion of sacramental life. How atypical is that position within the UMC? You may be called to service in the UMC, but if for some reason they don't want you...

St.Phransus said...

yeah, it's not too typical in the good UM of C... but 4th of July celebrations are.

i'm joining the order of st. luke which is methodist/ecumenical order that strives to live a sacramental life and encourage sacramental worship. so they are out there.

Jonathan said...

Thunder, what Jonathon wrote about the sacraments is nothing more than what our official United Methodist doctrine says. He is simply stating official UM doctrine. Remember that John Wesley was a faithful Anglican priest all his life, and he never, ever, ever questioned Anglican sacramental theology. I recently told someone that my two favorite Methodist theologians were Rowan Williams and N. T. Wright. When someone pointed out that they were Anglicans, I said, "so was John Wesley." Methodism at its best is very close to Anglicanism at its best. You wouldn't want us to measure Anglicanism by John Shelby Spong, so please don't measure Methodism by some low-sacramentalists. If you want a representative of Methodist theology, try Geoffrey Wainwright.

Thunder Jones said...

Jonathon,

I've taken classes with Wainwright and am very familiar with the very best of Methodism and have no problem with it at all. The problem is the the UMC isn't that Methodist. There's so much influence from camp-meeting and other holiness groups that the pietist element of the UMC has become overblown from British Methodism. Documents like "This Holy Mystery" are great and do a lot to fix the lack of sacramental thought in the UMC, but they often go ignored.

The question is how to re-invigorate the sacramental elements within the UMC when it has become a decidely low church movement over the past 150 years. The UMC has a serious problem when it comes to that. Groups like St. Luke's are great remedies, but are rarities. I look for a high church Methodist church for a long time before I gave up on finding such an elusive find, then I became Episcopalian.

No doubt that all denominations have warts and plenty of them, but trying to pretend that low-churchery hasn't stormed the UMC won't help. Keep up the good works and try to get weekly eucharist in your parish. Those forms are the best hope for freeing Methodism from the pietist over-infulence that has seized it.