Two Track Methodism: Doctrinal and Missional?

These days, the Episcopal Church (as a part of the Anglican Communion) is a bellweather for the rest of denominationalism and their strife is played out in many denominations that are not homogenous or self-affiliating.

One interesting nugget coming from the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the possiblity of a two-track understanding of the Anglican Communion.  Tracks like the image to the right where multiple audio tracks are spliced together to create a musical whole.

Check it out and see what they can learn from us United Methodists as well about making two tracks become a harmony.

Anglican “Two Tracks”

…there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.

In other words, one of the principle areas of difficulty with people who disagree on doctrinal issues is that they have to be in “full communion” with those they see as less-than-faithful to their understanding of the faith.  By placing the church in two tracks, then those who are not game with all the aspects of the Anglican communion can call themselves Anglican and part of the crowd, but they are not part of the formal decision-making structure. 

Sounds a bit like a tiered system?  Well, that’s a hierarchical understanding that Archbishop Willams is pushing back against here:

This has been called a ‘two-tier’ model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

While at first OK, this brings it out a bit more: covenantal relationship means those who accept everything the Anglican church says…and the other folks who decided that for their context or locality that some doctrines are unacceptable, and they only loosely affiliate.  Two tracks of being Anglican: one holding doctrinal purity as above all else, the other holding missional relevance as strong enough to accept a different “track” of being Anglican.

Finally,

It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion…The ideal is that both ‘tracks’ should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency.

Is this a viable idea?  Archbishop Williams seems to be shooting for the unhappy medium: keep the church together by making it into Anglican and Anglican Lite.  The doctrinal purists can sit at the decision making table, and the Anglican Lites sit at the kids table…but hopefully happily because they still get the gold star by their name that says “I’m Anglican.” IMO.

Maybe they can learn something from us Methodists about what two separate-but-equal tracks looks like…

Methodist “Two Tracks”
One of the great things about Methodism is that we already embody these two tracks of existence in our ordination structure.  We understand Elders (who have full sacramental authority) and Deacons (who are often in church/world intersections) to be two ecclesial tracks, neither above the other.  Deacons and Elders can serve on the same committees and can be elected to the same clergy positions (though I don’t think Deacons can become DS or Bishop because those are church-oriented positions).  Through both clergy tracks working together, ministry is harmony for the most part.
The question is can this approach be made to entire churches or denominations.  
For the United Methodist Church struggling with gay equality, is a two-track system a solution:  One valuing doctrinal purity and the other missional relevance?
The only way I can remotely see it theologically sustainable is if it is split up along the same lines as ordination: presiding and serving.
  1. Doctrinal Methodists would preside over church functions and structures, maintaining the tradition and doctrinal relevance and faithfulness.  Churches, districts, or even clergy can be classified as these kinds of “appointable” positions.  They can comment on Missional advances, certainly, but not enforce secondary doctrines (like social principles) on them.
  2. Missional Methodists would serve the contexts they are in, held in tension between doctrine and relevance, at the intersection of church and world.  Churches in areas of the country with gay equality would be able to act and speak with authority to those contexts only.  They would get to justify missional advances in open forum with the DMs (omg, DMs in Methodism!  Do you defrock him? ::rattle dice:: yes.).
It’s an interesting idea.  I’m not proposing it or supporting it, but if two-tracks becomes part of the conversation, then I think the UM way of splitting up Elders and Deacons as separate tracks would be a helpful contribution to the discussion.  Is the UM system perfect?  Golly no!  But it is helpful for discussion.
Thoughts?  Welcome to our visitors and thank you for your comments!

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Comments

  1. Matt Stone says

    To be honest I'm uncomfortable with the suggestion that missional relevance and doctrinal purity sit in different corners, and also with the suggestion that we have to bends with the winds of culture to be missionally relevant. Sometimes making a difference means being different in critical ways. Do you see a difference between contextualization and syncretism for instance? That's not clear from what you say here.

  2. bgd90 says

    There can be no "two styles" of being Anglican or "two tracks" of Methodism no more than there can be "two styles" of being a Christian. What we've failed to grasp is that we can't follow a Jesus of our own making. We have to follow the Jesus found in the Word of God. There is no other. There's only "one" way…THE WAY

  3. Creed Pogue says

    There are those who seem obsessed with keeping "the gays" out (or getting rid of those that have "sneaked in") and those who are obsessed with "inclusion" for gays. These two groups probably represent about 20% of United Methodists. The rest of us are obsessed with figuring out the best ways to communicate our doctrine to the unchurched as well as current members. Additionally, we are obsessed with doing the best we can do to carry out Jesus' directives in Matthew 25. It is a false choice to equate "inclusion" with "missional relevance." Especially since the Western Jurisdiction (which was the only jurisdiction to give Amendment One over 66% support) pays the least percentage toward the general church apportionments and even has the rest of us subsidize their bishops.

    Another aspect of the problem with "two-track Methodism" is that we aren't discussing the pros and cons of intinction for Communion or whether to avoid mentions of Jesus' blood. Those differences we can accommodate within United Methodism.

    However, there are those who call into question God's role as Creator or whether Jesus experienced resurrection. While people have a right to their beliefs, those beliefs are not part of Christianity, much less United Methodism. When that is what is meant by "open minds" or "rethinking church" then we become no different than the Unitarians.

    Going back to your earlier discussion, deacons do not have guaranteed appointment and are ineligible to be DS or Bishop.

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