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

Independence Day Meditation: Can a Christian Be a Patriot?

Can a Christian be a patriot? I suppose that depends on the definitions of “Christian” and “patriot.”  If “Christian” refers to Constantinian Christians, that is, those who, since the Emperor Constantine conquered the Roman Empire “in the sign of the cross,” have assumed that there can be Christian rulers, then there appears to be no problem. Constantinian Christians show their patriotism by supporting the Christian emperor or king or queen or the “Christian nation” with the elected “Christian leaders” of the “correct” political party that God has chosen.  But this perspective took the way of Jesus Christ, a way of nonviolence, economic sharing, mutual servanthood and equality, and love of enemies which spread by evangelism and martyrdom and turned it into a religion of domination, economic competition, hoarding, hatred and killing of the enemies of the state–which spreads by military conquest and coerced conversions.  After the break-up of Medieval “Christendom” into modern nation states, Constantinian Christians were often drafted into wars with other “Christian nations.” Thus, they showed their patriotism by placing loyalty to the state above loyalty to Christ or to the Body of Christ and killed fellow believers in the name of God.

I am not a Constantinian Christian. I consider Constantine’s distortion to be a heresy that has haunted Christianity for over 16 centuries, now. I belong to that strand of nonviolent Christianity that was there from the beginnings of the Jesus movement and dominated for the first 3 & 1/2 centuries of church history, was recovered by some monastic movements (e.g., the Franciscans) and some Medieval sects (e.g., the Unitas Fratrum) and the Anabaptists, Quakers, Dunkers/Brethren, some Baptists, many early Pentecostals.  For this kind of Christian, the question of “patriotism” is far more problematic.

For the nonviolent Christian, one’s primary loyalty is to God in Christ; one’s “national loyalty” is to the Kingdom or Rule of God.  One sees God’s redeeming work in history as primarily working through the Church, scattered among ALL nations.  There are NO “Christian nations,” although there may be nations with large numbers of Christians whose history and culture has been influenced by Christian values.

Having “pledged allegiance” to the Kingdom/Rule of God in baptism, the non-Constantinian Christian cannot give ultimate loyalty to any earthly flag, republic, or government.  But is the Christian forbidden to have any feelings of affection for her homeland? I don’t think this necessarily follows.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem for killing the prophets and not knowing the “things which make for peace.” Matt. 23:36-38; Luke 13:33-35.  Although well aware of Rome’s injustices (crucifying Christ and eventually executing many of the apostles), the Apostle Paul seemed proud of his Roman citizenship and did not hesitate to make use of it in getting a hearing for the gospel.

I sincerely doubt that Christians are forbidden from cheering on their national teams in the Olympic games or from being proud of the best of their nation’s history and accomplishments.  I love the U.S.A. and cherish my citizenship and the best of our history, legal system, struggles for justice, our accomplishments in many areas. But no Christian (that is, no non-Constantinian Christian) can have an uncritical love of country or any form of national chauvenism, much less any jingoistic nationalism.  One has to acknowledge that every nation (most definitely including the U.S.A.) also has its national sins and many shortcomings.  The U.S., for instance, began as a contradiction in terms–a group of English colonies protesting unjust treatment by the mother country while simultaneously practicing far worse injustices against the indigenous peoples (so-called “Indians”) and slaves brought over from Africa.  Our beloved Constitution which set us up as a democratic republic, simultaneously engraved race-based slavery into the heart of the nation’s laws–and it took a terrible civil war and occupation of the rebellious Southern states before the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution could dissolve our slaveocracy and rebuild the republic on a more moral basis.  Even then, women were denied the right to vote until 1920 and, to this day, there is no guarantee of equal rights for women.  We all-but-exterminated the Native Americans in expanding the nation Westward and most of what we call the Southwest was land stolen from Mexico in an illegal war never approved by Congress.  It wasn’t until the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that the legal basis for segregation (approved by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896) was overturned and it took the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the victories resulting in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the U.S. version of legal apartheid was dissolved.

The U.S. has also committed crimes against other nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia–often backing tyrannies and dictatorships instead of democratic movements because of a narrowly perceived national interest. The U.S. lags behind many nations in legal protections for the accused, in abolishing the death penalty, in prison reform, in universal healthcare, in education of all citizens, and many other areas. We have much to learn from the mistakes and the successes of others.

If one’s definition of patriotism includes this kind of critical love which hopes for the best for one’s nation and wants to see it repent and do better, then, in this limited sense, I think even a non-Constantinian Christian may be a patriot.  But if by patriotism one means that one must always think one’s nation is “number one,” and “exceptional,” and that international law is only for other nations, or that one’s nation is justified in hurting other nations–either economically or militarily, then no non-Constantinian Christian may be a that kind of “patriot.” Nor may a Christian believe that “our freedoms” are given to us by military might–because freedom in the gospel has a different meaning than the individualistic egoism of our national self-centeredness and because as Christians we reject the way of the sword for the way of suffering love. Military service to a nation state is forbidden for those who part of the “army that sheds no blood” as the Church Father Clement of Alexandria described the universal Church.  We lay down arms and take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  As Lee Camp suggests in Mere Discipleship, Christian disciples do not make for “good Americans” (or good Britishers, good Germans, good Brazilians, good Zimbabweans, good New Zealanders, good Japanese, etc.).  Doubtless the Sarah Palins and Michelle Bachmans would call this perspective treason. So be it.

Christians need a cosmopolitan viewpoint and need to be in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.  If the gospel is true, then those of us united in Christ have more in common with fellow Christians in nations designated as “enemy” by our respective governments than we do with the non-Christian fellow citizens of our nation.  That’s not to mean that we should see those non-Christians as enemies, either. They, too, are created in God’s image and Christ died for them, too. All people are either fellow disciples or potential fellow disciples–so we may neither hate nor kill anyone.

I’ll cheer on the U.S. in the Olympic games. I’ll celebrate what is good in our nation’s history and laws–and that we gave the world baseball, of course. But if “patriotism” means celebrating war or defying international law or putting down other peoples so as to feel good about ourselves–or if “patriotism” means putting loyalty to one’s nation above loyalty to God’s in-breaking Rule (with its VERY different value system), then count me out. My religion forbids it.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Church, ecclesiology, nationalism, pacifism, politics, theology | Leave a comment

Pentecost Sunday: Come Holy Spirit!

1On the day of Pentecost [a] all the Lord’s followers were together in one place.   2Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting.   3Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.   4The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.   5Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem.   6And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages.   7They were excited and amazed, and said:

Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee?   8Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages?   9Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia,   10Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome,   11Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.

12Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?”

13Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.”

14Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd:

Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say!   15You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning.   16But this is what God had the prophet Joel say,

17“When the last days come,

I will give my Spirit

to everyone.

Your sons and daughters

will prophesy.

Your young men

will see visions,

and your old men

will have dreams.

18In those days I will give

my Spirit to my servants,

both men and women,

and they will prophesy.

19I will work miracles

in the sky above

and wonders

on the earth below.

There will be blood and fire

and clouds of smoke.

20The sun will turn dark,

and the moon

will be as red as blood

before the great

and wonderful day

of the Lord appears.

21Then the Lord

will save everyone

who asks for his help.”

22Now, listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders, and signs. All of you know this.   23God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you. So you took him and had evil men put him to death on a cross.   24But God set him free from death and raised him to life. Death could not hold him in its power.   25What David said are really the words of Jesus,

“I always see the Lord

near me,

and I will not be afraid

with him at my right side.

26Because of this,

my heart will be glad,

my words will be joyful,

and I will live in hope.

27The Lord won’t leave me

in the grave.

I am his holy one,

and he won’t let

my body decay.

28He has shown me

the path to life,

and he makes me glad

by being near me.”

29My friends, it is right for me to speak to you about our ancestor David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is still here.   30But David was a prophet, and he knew that God had made a promise he would not break. He had told David that someone from his own family would someday be king.

31David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay.   32All of us can tell you that God has raised Jesus to life!

33Jesus was taken up to sit at the right side [b] of God, and he was given the Holy Spirit, just as the Father had promised. Jesus is also the one who has given the Spirit to us, and that is what you are now seeing and hearing.   34David didn’t go up to heaven. So he wasn’t talking about himself when he said, “The Lord told my Lord to sit at his right side,   35until he made my Lord’s enemies into a footstool for him.”   36Everyone in Israel should then know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, even though you put him to death on a cross.

37When the people heard this, they were very upset. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “Friends, what shall we do?”

38Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit.   39This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live.”

40Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, “I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people.”   41On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized.   42They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread [c]and prayed together.

43Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked.   44All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had.   45They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it.   46Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread [d] together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely,   47while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Acts 2  Contemporary English Version.  I’ll reserve commentary for a post tomorrow. Today, let the Word speak.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Church, diversity, economic justice, Holy Spirit, mission, nonviolence, peace, Pentecost, Pentecostals, race, sexual orientation | Leave a comment