Friday, January 12, 2007

RESTORING METHODISM pt1


I just began reading the book Restoring Methodism: 10 Decisions for United Methodist Churches in America, by James and Molly Scott. My pastor at HUMC, Allen Black, recommended it. I just finished the first chapter and so far I like it.

The book is not meant to lay down a set new direction for the UMC but to help open up discussion among clergy and laity and encourage us to remember where we come from, look at where we are, and then seriously engage one another to discern where God would have us go.

Here are some of the highlights so far:

"We look upon ourselves, not as the authors or ringleaders of a particular sect or party; (it is the furthest thing from our thoughts) but as messengers of God to those who are Christians in name, but Heathens in heart and life, to call them back to that from which they are fallen, to real genuine Christianity." - John Wesley

"We are always open to instruction, willing to be wiser every day than we were before, and to change whatever we can change for the better." - Albert Outler

"Two essentials for Wesleyan Christians when it comes to doctrine ought to be the doctrines of Justification and the doctrine of New Birth: the former relating to that great work which God does for us; the latter, to the great work God does in us." - Scott, p. 3

For me this is very important in that our understanding of justification allows us to see each other as a "work in progress" that God is always shaping even before we ever realize it. That statement is also important because it also stresses that the way we are "sanctified" (orthodox Christians might use the word "divinized") or in the working process of becoming more like Christ. And Scott sheds light on this process by saying that the New Birth happens because of what God does "in" us when we participate in the means of grace that Wesley spelled out.

"Our love and obedience to Christ and therefore to His Body (good trinitarian theology) requires us, particularly at this point in our history, to do everything in our power to correct past mistakes; to do everything we can to bring people into relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; to bring them into responsible Church membership; and to produce fruit that will last." - Scott, p. 5


Wow, this does not let anyone off the hook who is considered "The Church". What comes to my mind is that laity cannot sit back and expect clergy to do it all and be the "professionals" in the business of going out and making disciples. But clergy need to do a better job of assisting laity in discovering that they are actually all ministers and have "gifts" that God requires them to share within the context of the "ecclessia" or assembled body of Christ.

That might just mean that structures within our local churches look differently and formation and teaching people how to "practice their faith" might become a focus for clergy in building a united community of empowered followers of the Way.

4 QUESTIONS THAT UNITED METHODIST NEED TO ASK IN OUR ATTEMPT TO BE FAITHFUL TO WHO WE ARE:

1. What are we doing now that we should continue doing? (These are our strengths)
2. What are we doing now that we should stop doing? (This is our current reality)
3. What are we currently not doing that we should start doing? (This is our preferred essential reality)
4. What are we not doing that we should not start doing? (this is our guide as to which choices to affirm and what to deny)

"In every age there arise those persons who believe in some new revelation of sophistication and decry the New Testament teaching about the reality of the world and about us human beings that to them have become naive or outdated. However, biblical truth is timeless and must be reclaimed for each new generation." - Scott, p. 6


I would agree with Scott here, however I would also caution us in "how" we read the Bible. There are a lot of Christians who put so much authority into the Bible that they do so at the expense of the Trinity. And I say this because by doing so God's revelation through the discerning Body of Christ is silenced. So in the present time I believe we live in a bit of a tension.

"We will be relying upon Scripture, history, and tradition of the Church universal- and specifically our Wesleyan roots and Wesleyan essentials- to reclaim these truths, frame the issues, and seek the solutions."- Scott . 6


I love that statement. He puts scripture in its proper place- in community with and conversation with tradition, reason and experience. NICE!!

Why is it important to even have this discussion at all? For some I'm sure that whether the United Methodist Church survives into the future is a huge reason to have this discussion.

Here's what I believe-
This is very important to me because I feel that as a Christian from the Wesley tribe we have a unique and peculiar way of seeing the world and understanding what it means to be Christian and even how we are to "Be" a Christian. If we don't understand our peculiar doctrines, practices and way of life (and yes even the book of discipline contributes to the quirky peculiarness of Methodists) then we may as well be from the Baptist Tribe, or the Church of Christ tribe or even the Unitarian tribe.

I think each tribe has a place at the table, but I also believe that this is about living truthfully, faithfully and within the tradition I've grown into. I want to live as faithfully and truthfully as I can and I hope other Methodists do to.

shalom,
stPhransus

7 comments:

John B said...

Jonathon,

I'm not sure exactly what you mean when you say:

"There are a lot of Christians who put so much authority into the Bible that they do so at the expense of the Trinity. And I say this because by doing so God's revelation through the discerning Body of Christ is silenced."

I almost get the impression that you think that the Church is part of the Trinity??? The Church is not equal in it's authority as the scriptures which are "inspired by God." Tradition, reason and experience are the tools we use to understand the scripture. The Bible is the lens through which all things must be viewed.

I hope you can clarify what you're saying, because I'd like to better understand where you're coming from.

St.Phransus said...

Sure, John. Thanks for inquiring on that one. What I am trying to say, not so well, is that through the Holy Spirit, the Church, or the Body of Christ is empowered to be Christ visible, or incarnate in the world. Thus I do believe the Body of Christ to be "inspired by God".

To deny the Holy Spirit's work through the Body of Christ is to deny God as Father, Son AND SPIRIT or deny God as trinity.

I do want to be careful to not devalue scripture. Scripture for Christians ought to be the "norming norm" or standard out of which tradition, reason, and experience work together to create a world view, a community of transformation and way to be in relationship with God.

But I do think we have elevated Scripture at the expense of tradition (the practices, doctrines, rituals and worship of the prereformation church), reason (natural law, our ability to think rationally ) and experience (the work of the holy spirit in and through the Body of Christ to make Christ visible in the world now).

I probably wrote this long winded response and am totally off base with what you are actually asking.

sorry,

jnorm

the reverend mommy said...

Norming norm -- that's what's-his-name. What's-his-name also said some really valuable things about the locution, illocution and perlocution that really helped me place perspective on the different ways we tend to use the word "Word" or Logos.

Scripture is indeed the norm -- and it will agree with all right and true doctrines. If the doctrine or practice does not line up with scripture, then it is neither right or true.

What I think you are arriving at is what I think we mean by "Missio Dei" -- or at least in my understanding. If we can see God the creator sending the Son, the Creator and the Son sending the Spirit and the Trinity sending the Church, then yes, we have the wind of the Spirit with us -- that is the literal meaning of "inspiration." But what John B is saying is that it must be within that norm of scripture -- is that right?

I see it as a function of community itself. The Godhead EXISTS as community; that is truly the wonder and mystery of the Trinity and the bond that holds it all together is love. Take this to the logical conclusion and you see that "Church" can never be just business as usual or a social club -- it has to be the enspirited Body of Christ.

I'm now off to watch more anime (OK, new addiction.)

St.Phransus said...

revMom- THANK YOU. You articulated it much better than I can. Stan Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism refers to scripture as the "norming norm" for what is basically his version of the quad. (funny that he is baptist and has quite good wesleyan theology).

I met him a few years back when he came to nashville and we had a discussion about methodism in which he told me about his "good friend" randy maddox and how much his theology had helped shape his.

pretty cool.
shalom,
jnorm

Adam Gonnerman said...

Jonathan,

Hmmm...the three-legged stool of Scripture, History and Tradition are not unique to Methodism, and other groups include the additional leg of Reason to make it a chair.

Given that it looks like you've studied Orthodoxy and Catholicism, why do you prefer the Wesleyan perspective of the UMC? Just curious.

St.Phransus said...

I don't know that I prefer it but it is the tradition that claimed me when I was a teenager and as I've grown into the life of the church since then it is the tradition that has "raised me" since new birth.

What I have found as I have grown up in it is what I believe a disconnect between the Methodist Church today and what the Wesleys and early methodist were doing- which yes embraced some very catholic and orthodox practices and theology.

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