Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

What is Methodism? Four (4) Interpretations

I’m not a Methodist. I WAS raised Methodist and most of my family of origin are still Methodist, but I have been an Anabaptist-type Baptist for longer than I was Methodist. So, I present this as an “interested outsider,” rather than an insider. I offer these interpretations especially to Methodist friends and colleagues inviting feedback–agreement, disagreement, modification. alternative proposals, etc. The discussion should prove interesting.

1) Methodism as Modified Episcopalianism. In this perspective, Methodism is a variation on Anglo-Catholic Christianity. Neither John nor Charles Wesley left the Church of England. British Methodists have entered into a covenant with the Church of England. Methodism is an evangelical/pietist renewal (or internal critique) of Anglicanism. In the United Methodist Church, the bishops are the institutional home of this perspective–whether or not they think reunion with the Anglican Communion desirable. (This may also be true for the African Methodist Episcopal, AME Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal denominations, but I have never met a bishop in any of the forms of African Methodism, so I couldn’t say.) Had the Anglican hierarchy welcomed (not resisted) the Wesley’s Evangelical Renewal movement, it would have remained in the Church of England.

2) Santification as Key: Methodism as Holiness Movement. This view doesn’t see the 19th C. Holiness Movement, with dozens of new denominations spinning off from Methodism, as a new development, but as the original heart of Methodism itself. Had Methodism remained true to its Holiness heart, this view goes, there would never have arisen Free Methodists, Nazarenes, the Wesleyan Church, the Church of God (Anderson, IN-non-Pentecostal), etc. Wesley was influenced by Moravians, who were radical Pietists, and also by the “salvation as deification” theme of Eastern Orthodoxy. The essence of Methodism, in this view, is a Pietist-Holiness emphasis that includes both individual and social sanctification.

3) “Heart Religion”: Methodism as Doctrinal Pluralism. This is the theme of liberal Methodism. John Wesley had said that he didn’t want Methodists to be known “for their particular opinions.” Wesley’s conversion at Aldersgate was not an intellectual change of mind, but finding his heart “strangely warmed.” This interpretation allows for a wide diversity of doctrinal conviction, united by an inner salvation experience. Examples would include the Boston Personalists (e.g., A. C. Knudson, Bordon Parker Bowne, Georgia Harkness, & L. Harold DeWolf), the many Methodist Process Theologians (John B. Cobb, Marjorie Schuchocki, Randy L. Maddox, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Schubert M. Ogdon), some feminist and liberation theologians.

4)Methodism as Part of the Free Church/Believers’ Church Tradition. In this view, Methodism’s soteriology and ecclesiology places it among the Believers’ Church traditions that include the Hussites, Waldensians, Anabaptists, Friends/Quakers, Baptists, the Stone-Campbell movement, Pentecostals. The major difference is that Methodists retain infant baptism since Wesley hadn’t attempted to formulate an entire “systematic” theology and accepted the structures of the Church of England. (Anabaptists–and Nazarenes–would say that Methodists are confused about baptism. Infant baptism doesn’t fit their soteriology or ecclesiology.) The social sanctification, the many Methodist struggles for justice and numerous Methodist pacifists are all explained by this perspective say its proponents. Some in this perspective include the late Franklin H. Littel, Justo Gonzalez, James Lawson, James Farmer, Elsa Tamez, Theodore W. Jennings, Donald W. Dayton.

Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive categories. They are different ways to “slice” the same phenomenon. Do my Methodist friends find this helpful? I await your comments and dialogue with much anticipation.

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June 29, 2013 Posted by | Christian Denominations, Church, ecclesiology, history of theology, Methodists, theology, tradition | 1 Comment

In Appreciation: Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace With Justice (PCPJ)

I’m not a Pentecostal. One might fairly call me a semi-charismatic Baptist. The peace organization to which I have the most loyalty and identification is the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (followed closely by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) (BPFNA). But I want to pay tribute and express gratitude to my friends in Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice (PCPJ).
Because the vast majority of contemporary Pentecostals (at least in the USA) are extremely militaristic and hyper-patriotic, it surprises many to find that when they began in the early 20th C., most Pentecostals were pacifists and several Pentecostal denominations retained pacifism in their official doctrines for decades (e.g., the Assemblies of God did not change their pacifism until 1967). That story has now been told in several places: e.g., Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among Pentecostals; Paul Alexander, Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God; Paul Alexander, Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage.
What is less known is that a group of Pentecostals and Charismatics are working to reclaim that heritage. Think how difficult that must be. But since Pentecostals are 25% of the world’s Christians, the potential for peacemaking if that reclamation is even partially successful is amazing. I have been privileged to meet some of these courageous Spirit-filled, on-fire fools for Christ.
I want to commend them to you. There are far more of them than I can list, but these are my friends in the PCPJ:
Paul Alexander and Deborah Alexander; Eric Gabourel; Marlon Millner and Diana Augsburg Millner; Arlene Sanchea-Walsh; Murray Dempster; Anthea Butler; Dallas Gingles; Terry Johns; Shelly McMullin; Christa Savely; Rick and Jan Waldrop. I’ve probably missed some and to them I apologize.
I hope many of you check out PCPJ, subscribe to their journal, Pax Pneuma, and, if you consider yourself Pentecostal or Charismatic and want to become involved in Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, BOLD peacemaking, think seriously of joining them. This Baptist fellow-traveler will be praying for their every success.

June 2, 2013 Posted by | pacifism, peace, peacemakers, Pentecostals | 4 Comments