God's Word for today

Friday, 19 December 2008

Why Methodism?

There has been some rather interesting (if somewhat despairing) posts appearing by various members of the British Methodist blogosphere concerning the future of the Methodist Church. But one by Richard Hall, a Methodist minister based in Wales (on his blog, connexions), was quite encouraging.

The full text of his post of the same title as this one can be found here, but there are a couple of passages that I'd like to reproduce here.

Concerning a dying Methodist Church:

People have been predicting the demise of the Methodist Church for a long time. Sooner or later, those predictions are going to come true — I can say with confidence that the Methodist Church is dying because I know for certain that the Methodist Church is not eternal. One day, just like every reader of this blog and every organisation that they might belong to, the Methodist Church will be no more.

It doesn’t matter that we’re dying. There isn’t anything anyone can do about that. Death isn’t failure. It’s an inevitable part of life. What matters is what we do with the knowledge of our mortality. That’s as true for an institutional church as it is for an individual. In any case, death and resurrection are central to the Christian gospel. To quote Will Willimon, “We serve a God who lives to raise the dead–even us. Therefore, we work with hope–not hope in ourselves and our efforts, but with hope in Christ.”

Concerning how a movement like Methodism comes into being:

If we were starting from scratch, you wouldn’t "invent" the Methodist Church. It arose, humanly speaking, by accident. John Wesley had no intention of starting a new denomination. But it was John Wesley’s own actions that made seperation from the Church of England inevitable. He put pastoral considerations ahead of Church order: by consecrating Thomas Coke as a Superintendent for the work in North America, Wesley opened a can of worms which led to the creation of the Methodist Church. It might not have been Wesley’s intention, but ‘blame’ for the Methodist Church most definitely belongs to him.

Concerning why people like Richard Hall, and I, and many others, are attracted to the Methodist Church as their "spiritual home"

It’s that pragmatism that continues to attract me to the Methodist Church. The truth is, the people called Methodist are apt to act first and do the theological thinking afterward. The way I read it, every significant development in the life of the church has been driven by practicalities rather than the outcome of a theology. One example will have to suffice. The Methodist Church in Britain has a body of lay preachers who are the envy of other denominations. On any given Sunday of the year, most Methodist pulpits in Britain will be occupied by the Local Preachers, trained, tested and authorized by the church for the conduct of worship and the preaching of the gospel. But the office of the Local Preacher was not dreamt up as a response to thinking through the implications of the ‘priesthood of all believers’. It came about because there simply weren’t enough ordained preachers to serve the growing number of Methodist societies. Pragmatism, not theology, called the shots. Since that time we have developed a robust theology of lay preaching and I would argue that our Local Preachers are a model to which the wider church should pay particular attention.

Richard closes by stating the following: The Methodist Church remains for many a place where God’s love is found and shared. That’s what excites me about the church, what keeps me within it despite its many shortcomings. Of course, God’s love is to be found in many other places too. But the people called Methodist are my spiritual family. That’s not a bond I’d give up lightly.

I often feel that I have a "love / hate" relationship with the Methodist Church here in South Africa, for indeed, like its British counterpart, the MCSA has its own piccadilloes. Having said that, there is no such thing as a "perfect church", and anyone who were to find one would defile it by joining it! But despite the trying times that one experiences in an organisation as large and diverse as the MCSA, it is for the above reasons (and many others) that I am proud to be a Methodist, and humbled to be training as a minister within her ranks.

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