Are we looking to renovate Methodism–or repeal and replace it?
A Creeping Suspicion
Anxiety about the future of United Methodist is at high levels in some segments of the Church. Popping in and out of the online conversations is the hashtag #NextMethodism, used by bloggers writing about central characteristics of the Methodism they hope will come about when the current church is dust and ashes.
Sadly, the participants in the conversation are a segment of Methodism online that I have the most conflict with. I’m not able to engage them directly–most of them have blocked me on social media, so conversation has been stymied by their action (so much for clergy covenants of “watching over one another”). But after reading their contributions, I noticed an overall theme that needs discussing.
Amidst the several good statements they make, I’m left with a single question for readers of these contributions to #NextMethodism.
Love it or List It?
Let’s walk through the current crop of blogs’ treatments of what matters most in their dreams of what is next for Methodism. But to better analyze them, let’s put them in the negative because each of them are articulating what they hope for because they believe Methodism currently isn’t doing them well.
According to the #NextMethodism posts (source article linked to see their argument in their own words), the current state of United Methodism is thus:
- Methodism Today is not often feeding people spiritually or teaching entire sanctification correctly. (Watson)
- Methodism Today does not believe God is active in our lives enough. (Watson)
- Methodism Today does not pay enough attention to Scripture (Watson)
- Methodism Today doesn’t value Christian Community enough (i.e. Social Holiness) (Watson)
- Methodism Today does not teach sin, salvation, and love correctly (Watson).
- Methodists Today are not able to accurately and articulately defend the faith and are too ashamed of the Scriptures. (Fritsche)
- Methodists Today are more motivated by the “spirits of the Antichrist” when they live into the diversity of Christian theology. (Fritsche) […yes, it’s a direct quote…sigh]
- Methodists Today do not live or teach Christian Tradition. (Fritsche)
- Methodists Today waste their time advocating for government or societal help to the underprivileged and should do charity themselves instead. (Fritsche)
- Methodist Bishops of Today have utterly failed the church. (Wqatts)
- Methodists Today do not uncritically accept classic Christian affirmations. (Wall)
- Methodists Today prosecute conservative pastors who affirm classic Christian doctrines. (Wall)
- Methodists Today lie (or at least are revisionist) when they answer the historic questions. (Wall)
Last, but not least, the men at Wesleyan Way (previously named the Via Media…previously covered here and here) have taken a break from trying to revoke lay women’s church membership and each written on this topic of #NextMethodism. Here’s their claims:
- Methodists Today do not work together enough for charitable actions (Fife)
- Methodists Today do not share pastoral leadership with multiple churches enough (Fife)
- Methodists Today do not know intimately their missionaries enough (Fife)
- Methodists Today do not believe in Jesus and fail to teach who Jesus is enough. (McIntyre)
- Methodists Today do not know how to celebrate Communion because they make it so boring. (McIntyre)
- Methodists Today are not Sacramental enough. (McIntyre)
- Methodists Today are not motivated by the Holy Spirit to do their acts of charity. (Rohrs-Dodge) [How do you determine this? Is there a light that goes off? A mark on their foreheads?]
For many of the above, the only way to solve this problem is to end Methodism of Today (the institution) and create a new Methodism of Tomorrow (the movement).
Only one question
The best question I think you need to ask yourself is this one:
- Does the list of 20 items above reflect your personal experience of Methodism?
- In other words, do Methodists Today in your personal experience reflect most or all of this list?
If it does, then yes: you clearly are a part of #NextMethodism and we need to totally throw out the Methodism of Today.
If it doesn’t, though, maybe there’s enough redeemable of Methodism Today that we don’t need to throw out the good with the unacceptable.
To offer a substantive example, Rev. Fife’s article dreams of a Methodism that already exists in Oregon:
- Multiple churches volunteer regularly at the Portland Food Bank, and multiple churches help operate a family homeless shelter housed at one of our churches.
- Multiple pastors rotate through the Salem-Kaiser Collective of churches, and a cadre of local and lay pastors are under a supervising elder in La Grande, with education and training opportunities.
- First UMC in Portland is a Covenant Relationship with three missionaries, and they receive updates, itinerate and speak every other year, and the church asks their input on supporting Advance Specials in their region. I was Facebook friends with two of them and they provide on-the-ground responses for our congregation when events happen that we hear about.
So those dreams are already realities. But since those ministries are in the West, they are anathema to this group anyway, and won’t likely be part of #NextMethodism if the above group gets their way.
Idolatry of the New
What we see is the same ideology that permeates church growth strategies: it is easier to make new churches than reform established ones. It is easier to throw the baby out with the bath water than to see what might be tweaked to the new reality. And it is easier for people to go along with you because of American culture’s idolatry of the New.
In short, it is all too easy to let the Perfect become the enemy of the Good. And when that happens, there are casualties of churches that are doing “Good” well.
Amidst this whole conversation is the affection most of these bloggers have with the Wesleyan Covenant Association. “Join the WCA and Next Methodism Could Be Yours” might be their next slogan. And when you throw the WCA element into the mix, that really does involve repeal, replace, and removal of what makes Methodism today.
The only value that the WCA has for the institutions and methodology of Methodism is to either 100% control them or sell them–or simply disaffiliate from them. There’s no reconciliation being offered to coexist without command and control authority.
I will say this: props to these guys for putting it out there. This first post of mine is a summary of the existing contributions–I’ll be contributing my own in a short while so as to be a champion and not a critic. (Update: here it is!)
The charge is now for progressives and moderates to put forth what they hope the #NextMethodism has and not to cede the online field to these folks’ stilted takes on what the church can be. We need writings about discipleship and transforming the world, not just a laundry lists of things to believe better [ie. with stricter enforcement].
But I’m not sure that hashtag is the best place to do so because it seems to have a predominant perspective that the church should die so a “more perfect” one might rise in its place, absent of dissonance and, well, charity towards diversity.
Regardless, I hope Methodists celebrate what is going well in their contexts. Because I suspect what is closest to us is actually much better than the lists above. What’s Next may already be here, in pockets across the Connection, but only if we let the Good take the lead over the Perfect that has intoxicated the senses of the NextMethodism crowd.
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