Tuesday, January 16, 2007


DECISION #10: "Recognizing the reality of the American Church.

In this chapter of Restoring Methodism James and Molly Scott try and put in perspective where, as a culture, we are today in America in relation to the Church. Once again, I think they are inviting some wonderful conversation to take place within the UMC. I will here, as in my last post, try and dialog alongside the authors by quoting some of the passages that stood out to me and then doing a little commentary. I invite you to dialog with the Scotts and myself too- in the comment section.

"It is the glory of the people called Methodists that they condemn none for
their opinions or modes of worship. They think and let think, and insist
nothing but faith by love." - John Wesley's Letters

"As the twentieth century came to a close, so also did a number of church
movements of that century... In one sense this is a repeat of history. Mr.
Wesley was well acquainted with all the controversy surrounding the various
political and religious conflicts of his time: Several groups were at
conflict with culture and Crown"- that is society and government- such as
the dissenters, Quakers, Moravians, and Anabaptists. Wesley himself
experienced significant friction with the Calvinists." (Scott, pp. 13 & 15)
This was an interesting section. The scotts basically introduce the idea that in the 21st century we find a church whose major movements just aren't translating to culture and being effective in sharing good news and kingdom building any longer. Movements such as church growth, neo-orthodoxy, evangelicalism, process theology, existential theology and others basically are not the answer to a postmodern post-christian culture. I would add to the Scott's thoughts that most if not all of the major movements they list are rooted in enlightenment thought and although they held a prominant place at the theological/practics table in the 20th century, in the 21st century they may still have a lesser place but will not translate to where culture is and God is calling the Church.

"... the conflicts that Wesley and the Methodists had with the political and
religious system of the Church of England (the Anglican Church) imposed
severe hardship on Wesley and his preachers. Thus it is understandable that
Mr. Wesley was tired of divisive opinions that did not strike at the root of
Christianity, but instead separated and persecuted others and effectively
weakened the Body of Christ." - (Scott, p. 15)

Oh man, does that quote ever speak to me a huge way. I think there many Christians who are so tired of the divisiveness that comes out of the political/power struggles that take place within local churches, denominations and within the overall Body of Christ. I've never been to general conference but I can only imagine that it sounds more like a 2am retelevised congressional hearing on CSPAN than a community of Christians who are called to teach the world what it means to talk to one another in a spirit of unity among differences. I think 21st Century Christians want to move beyond, and beyond literally means not one or the other but a third alternative, where we are currently and can do so without being clouded by political agendas but by prayer and listening.

"Throughout the twentieth century, church leaders appeared to place their
faith in this or that movement, in this or that person, and yet the
Methodist Church declined in membership, worship, attendence , youth,
children, and strength while the membership also grew older." - (Scott, p. 16)
Yikes!! That one hurt didn't it? It reminds me of when a friend of mine was harping on about the state of the church he attended (united methodist) and he made the statement, "If only Billy Graham would come to Nashville again. That's what we need. If he'd come and get the city on fire- we could then come together and show people a church home." I'd love to have a mass influx of people come to Methodist churches all across Nashville. I think they'd find a gift there and I think our churches if open to it would find a gift in the people who showed up. But I cannot put my trust in one person that their charisma is what it will take to get people fired up. I'll put my efforts in inviting the people of my own faith community to go out and meet people and make friends with them and invite them to be a part of who we are, and we in turn reflect who they are, ie incarnational ministry.

"... we already know that much of what we took for granted as being
immovable as the eternal hills has turned out to be perishable and passing. Much
of the old theology, the old mores of class, sex, the old pecking orders in national and international affairs, our old traditions of authority and civility- these are going or are gone. Worst of all, there are many who still identify these old familiar patterns with Christianity itself, and therefore assume- some in glee, some grief- that with the passing of the 'old regime' Christianity and the church are done for." (Scott, p. 18)
I have both frustration and hope for the church today. Part of my frustration lies with church structures, such as my own denomination, where much of the process for empowering people in leadership- both clergy and lay- is a matter of making faithful disciples to the status quo and structure. There just isn't too much room yet for more fluid models of doing church.

The church that was tied to empire is gone. Someone forgot to tell many of our churches that and that's a problem. We don't have to be tied to any political agendas that our American Civil Society would love for us to embrace, but now since that phase of our ecclesial life is over we can simply be about the business of kingdom building and becoming more of a missional outpost to the post-christian culture around us. HOW EXCITING IS THAT?!?

I believe that "Decision 10: Recognizing the Reality of the American Church" is recognizing that we aren't in Kansas anymore (well some of us are) and we definitely aren't on the Governor's Cabinet. God is calling the 21st Century American Church to become more grassroots, more missional, to adopt a think globally and act locally liturgy.

that's all for now friends and please realize that i am working this stuff out in here- take me to task and let's stuggle with it, but i really am trying work it out as i write it.


read pt. 1


Mike said...

What I really liked about this post was the sense that a recovery is possible -- as long as we can come to terms with our new reality and shift forward (or sideways, maybe). At least all we have to do is recenter (from Empire to non-centrical movement/mission). Good stuff!

St.Phransus said...

yup yup, i totally agree with ya on that one. i think recovery is absolutely possible- God gave us a gift through wesley's work and the tradition that has come out of that. thanks mike.

Mike said...

More on Wesley -- I've been reading Empire of the Spirit by Dave Hempton (sp?). It's got a great wholistic view of Methodism's history, especially how it modified itself to context (something that we haven't been able to do once we became institutional).

Brother Marty said...

Excellent points!
Funny how digging at the roots makes room for more growth.
I'm personally grateful to read posts that point to the early days, and relate them to the present day.
Thank you for your work.

Anonymous said...

thanks marty. i really do think that wesley and the early methodists have a lot to say to a postmodern american culture. we just need to do some listening.


Adam Gonnerman said...

The church in general definitely needs a more missional approach.

Melissa said...

I hear you on your frustration with church structures. There is a lot of good things about the way the UMC is organized, but the hierarchy and bureaucracy can really impede ministry. You definitely have a point about the church churning out status-quo disciples...and I'd go a step farther and say many of our seminaries are doing the same thing with its pastors. We're stuck in a 1950's model of ministry on so many different levels, and the denomination structurally isn't too friendly to innovative ways of being church.

Hopefully, that will soon change...