Help Us With Upcoming Interviews: Grant Hagiya, Elaine Heath, & Steven Manskar (#WesleyCast)

Sennheiser microphon, via Creative Commons License.

Sennheiser microphone, via Creative Commons License.

This week, we will be conducting interviews for future episodes of the #WesleyCast with three outstanding United Methodist leaders:

  • Grant Hagiya is Bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of the United Methodist Church and author of Spiritual Kaizen.  Prior to being elected Bishop, he was appointed as the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Excellence, a joint position between the California-Pacific Annual Conference and the Claremont School of Theology, where he served as the Director of Leadership for the annual conference and a faculty member at the Claremont School of Theology.

  • Elaine Heath is a Professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, United Methodist elder, and the author of numerous books on evangelism and mission.  She is a sought-after speaker and is a leading voice for and active leader in Wesleyan missional communities, particularly through her role as co-founder and Executive Director of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

  • Steven Manskar is a clergy member of the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church and currently serves the General Board of Discipleship as Director of Wesleyan Leadership.  Steven writes and leads workshops and seminars on Covenant Discipleship groups, Small Group Ministry in the Wesleyan Tradition, and Wesleyan leadership, theology and practice. He leads two annual events: The Wesley Pilgrimage in England and Wesleyan Leadership Conference.

Like we said, these are three outstanding Wesleyan leaders! We are ecstatic to share wisdom from these folks, and we want you to help us do the best possible job.  Here’s how you can be of assistance:

  • Leave questions for one or more of these leaders in the comments section on this blog post or in our Facebook group.
  • Leave questions or share your favorite resource from one of these authors on Twitter using #WesleyCast.
  • Listen to these interviews once they are released, share the podcast on Twitter or Facebook and give us a review on iTunes if you already haven’t, and – as a bonus – you will be entered to win a free book or other swag related to one of these fascinating Wesleyan thought leaders!

Finally, thank you to all of our readers and listeners for spreading the word and encouraging this ministry – we couldn’t do it without you!

 

We Go Forward by Looking Back: The Via Media

Communion of the Apostles, by Fra Angelico. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Communion of the Apostles, by Fra Angelico. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

What became of the Wesleyan/Anglican Via Media? A friend of VMM, Rev. Kyle Cuperwich, brought an excellent article to our attention.  This is itself a chapter from a book by William de Arteaga, a charismatic Anglican priest and scholar.  He argues that, though the Wesleyan revival was viewed with suspicion by the Anglican establishment, the movement had the potential to renew something quintessential to its mother church:

“Although it was not noticed at the time, the Wesley brothers presented the Anglican Church with a grand opportunity to reestablish and refresh its central ideal, the via media.[38] In the vision of Richard Hooker and the other founders of Anglicanism, the via media was the special grace of the Church of England. It was to take the best insights of Reformation theology, especially is evangelical stress on salvation by grace alone, and combine them with the spiritual disciplines and sacramental worship of the traditional church.”

This “best of both worlds approach” that was original to the Elizabethan Settlement was revivified by John and Charles, and then some:

“The Wesley brothers did exactly that, and more. They brought passion to both the Evangelical and Catholic sides of the balance. They were better Evangelicals than most Protestants, and, at the same time, better at the disciplines of the spiritual life and more loyal to sacramental worship than most Catholics.”

It’s also worth pointing out, vis-a-vis the Eucharist, that the Wesleys out-celebrated the Anglicans of their day.  Most of us think of Anglicans today as very tied to sacramental worship, but in Wesley’s day most Anglicans only communed a few times a year, and only once was required by the church.  This sacramental companion to the evangelical revival is something missed by many Protestant evangelicals today.

What became of the Via Media, though?  Though Methodism, especially, in North America, would go on to have great success, the Via Media (re-)established by the brothers Wesley would be largely lost.

“On the other side, the Methodists, away from the Anglican Church, eventually lost the Catholic component of the via media. This is not to say that Methodism was in any way a failure, for the Nineteenth Century would see its spectacular triumph in America (next chapter), as well as its substantial growth and influence in the United Kingdom. But the Methodists at the end of the Nineteenth Century were far from what the Wesley brothers had planned or imagined. Most significantly there was a serious decline in sacramental worship as the Methodists began looking more and more like other Protestant groups.”

Thus, as we seek a middle way for today’s Methodists, we do well to remember the Via Media at its best: passionately evangelical and deeply Sacramental.  Protestant in ethos and Catholic in practice.  Preaching for conversion and praying for sanctification.  As many in the ecumenical movement argued for decades, we go forward together by looking back, by recovering the best of who we are for the 21st century church.

What would that Via Media look like today? Where do you see it re-emerging?

 

God is Not Through with Us

wesley monogram

John Wesley’s personal monogram.

The following is a statement that the curators of Via Media Methodists, along with a few other clergy colleagues, have drafted in an attempt to articulate common theological and ecclesial ground in the midst of dissension and fragmentation. We welcome your thoughts. 

God is Not Through With Us: A Statement of Methodists United

“Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
-Mark 10:9 (CEB)

We are a group of United Methodists who recognize that we are living in difficult times. We confess that we, too, have not always been faithful to our common covenant; our fears, frustrations, and perspectives have at times caused us to demonize, slander, and ignore our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yet in the midst of our brokenness, now more than ever we are committed to unity:

  • Our worship and adoration of the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — unites us.
  • Our baptismal covenant unites us.
  • Our Eucharistic fellowship around the one table of God unites us. It is at the table where we pray together for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and make us ‘one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world’.
  • Our submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ unites us.
  • Our commitment to Scripture as authoritative for Christian faith and practice, along with the aid of tradition, experience, and reason unites us.
  • Our common mission of love and service to the world unites us.
  • Our daily witness through our congregations and other ministries unites us.
  • Our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world unites us.
  • Our need for and celebration of God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace unites us.

While we acknowledge disagreement among us, we do not support acts that intentionally breach the covenant to which we have voluntarily and collectively submitted our lives through ordination and membership, or, conversely, which seek a false resolution to our divisions by further dividing the Body of Christ.

We are committed to the hard work of relationship and building bridges for conversation, forgiveness, conversion, and renewal. We are compelled to this vocation for the sake of our mission, which is best carried out by a church united “in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).

  • We commit to praying daily for our church, her leaders, and her mission.
  • We commit to daily self-examination and confession.
  • We commit to listening to the Spirit and one another, and engaging in intentional speech that seeks to do good and does no harm.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

(VMM would like to thank the following for their wisdom in helping craft this statement: Rev. Kyle Cuperwich, Rev. Ben Gosden, Rev. Josh Hale, Rev. Juan Huertas, and Rev. Matt Rawle).

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The Third Way as Christian Discipleship

Hauerwas

Photo of Stanley Hauewas, courtesy of Flickr under Creative Commons License.

“Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

-Hebrews 12:11 (NRSV)

I very much enjoyed the dialogue between my friends Matt and Joel about the nature of the via media in the UMC.  I would like to add a personal rejoinder of my own to that conversation.  Yes, I would agree that the Via Media or Third Way is about priorities rather than just positions.  I would also say, as I’ve told Matt, that it is also about tone.  But perhaps there’s another, deeper element at play – at least for me.  

In Unleashing the Scripture, Stanley Hauerwas writes something I’ve heard him say in person on more than one occasion:

“…I call myself a pacifist in public because I am obviously so violent. Hopefully by creating expectations in you about me, you will help keep me faithful to what I know is true.” (64)

What Hauerwas says about his identity as a Christian pacifist, I would also claim for my identity as a Third Way/Via Media Methodist.  I hinted at this at the NYAC dialogue: I am not a “middle way” person because I am especially moderate or tepid.  As Allan Bevere said in our recent interview, we Middle Way folk are people of deep convictions – and one of those deep convictions is that neither the left nor the right have a monopoly on the gospel or the Wesleyan Christian witness.

More than once, I’ve had people call me out for things I’ve said by reminding me of my own commitments to raising the level of discourse and being the change I want to see in the church.  At the time, such accountability is frustrating, and I resent it.  The author of Hebrews wasn’t joking when he said discipline is never pleasant when it happens.

But I’ve come to appreciate this insistence by others that I live up to what I have claimed.  Like Hauerwas, I claim this identity so publicly, not because I have achieved all the virtues necessary to live it out, but because I need others to keep me true to the life for which I am aiming.

The truth is, I can often be an extremist, judgmental jerk – just like I was in my fundamentalist days.  Whenever I fool myself into thinking I have exorcised this particular demon, its hideous head pops up again. This is not who I wish to be, and its not who I want to be.  It is not who the church has called me, through baptism and now ordination, to be.  So I thank you, my friends near and far, for keeping me faithful to what I know is true, for caring enough to expect from me (to cite Lincoln) the better angels of my nature.

A crucial aspect of Wesleyan discipleship is a combination of radical grace with high expectations for growth in holiness through the Spirit’s power.  I vividly recall Heitzenrater saying, of early Methodism in England, “it was very easy to become a Methodist, but it was hard to stay a Methodist.”

I ask for God’s grace, and your patience, that I – that we – might live out the highest ideals of the Christian life in all of our interaction.  If this project can move the needle one millimeter in that direction, I will consider it this a smashing success and a great gift from God.

May the Triune God draw us all nearer to the Crucified, and nearer to each other, that we might be salt and light in a bland and dark world.  Peace.

cellarium-at-fountains-abbey-1403450619yG5

Via Media Methodists Respond to A&W Plan: Part 3 (Trust)

When I was growing up, a very large church down the road had an interesting structure. The entire church operation was in the pastor’s name. His name was on the deed to the buildings, the land, the school, the bank account; it was all in the senior pastor’s name. His dad had founded the church and had handed it down to his son as the successor. The family was in charge of everything. The pastor’s spouse was in charge of the school. I thought this was very strange to have everything under the control of one person and one family, but the people who attended the church didn’t seem to mind. It had always been like this and they saw no reason in changing it because they trusted their pastor implicitly. They trusted that this man of God was never going to do anything wrong.

I see church in a very different way than these folks. Church is not something that I control, but something I am the rector over. Take the church I currently serve. It was planted over 207 years ago, and has been a living part of this community ever since. None of the people in the congregation planted the church. None of them were in the 2nd wave or the 3rd wave or 4th wave or even the 5th wave. They are here because of folks that were here before them. They are here because of pioneers who were willing to lead the way. I am appointed their shepherd for this time, but I know one day someone else will be their shepherd. This is not just the United Methodist system, but all church systems. No matter how long we stay in one place, eventually we have to hand it over to someone and let it go.

My friends Evan and Drew have reviewed the A&W plan in in part 1 and part 2 of this series much more in depth than I could, so I want to look at an underlying issue. I want to talk about the trust clause. Trust clauses are part of denominations that hold their property together in a trust as a body. Instead of the pastor’s name or the trustee’s name on the property deed, The United Methodist Church “holds the property in trust.” I had a friend recently lament to me that if the trust clause is the only thing keeping us together, then maybe we should let it go. What if the issue is not the trust clause but trust?

What if the deepest issue in United Methodism today is that we just don’t trust one another? This can manifest itself in a myriad of different ways, such as doctrinal erosion, labeling, name calling, and even wanting to shed ourselves of some of our churches. My District Superintendent called it a deficit of trust in the system. Maybe a lot of this deficit of trust is cause by the system itself. We have pastors who are placed in appointments and then judged on how well they meet certain tick marks on checklist sheets. We have pastors who graduate from seminary with expectations to change the church and manifest the kingdom of God only to find out that the real world isn’t that neat or easy. We have pastors who wrestle with faith, doubt, fear, and real issues that you can’t just dismiss.

Maybe my cynical friend is right. If the only thing keeping us together is the trust clause then maybe we should just do away with it. Let everyone out who wants out. Let people keep their property, their retirements, their congregations, and just become an independent, vaguely denominational church. Let the folks on the right leave and the folks on the left. Come up with some ritual of leaving for the occasion. Put annual conferences in charge of sorting it all out. Have a year or four of jubilee where all the churches that want out have a chance to do so.

Maybe I am naive, but I still believe in the resurrection. It is going to take some dying, but we can be the church of John & Charles Wesley again. In the words of Paul, we are going to have to die to our selves so we can truly be raised in Christ.

  • We are going to have to give up our ideas of a pure or perfect church. (I don’t believe this idea of church is possible in our broken world).
  • We are going to have to give up our exclusive claims to words like justice and orthodoxy.
  • We are going to have to give up the idea that all United Methodist churches will look alike and worship alike and believe alike. (If you know me, this one is hard for me)
  • We are going to have to learn how to trust other sinners. (This is only possible with reclaiming Wesley’s class meetings)

There is something I am only beginning to discover as I turn 40.

The church universal, of which the United Methodist Church is part of, is not mine.

It’s Christ’s. All I know that this sinner can do is play my part and trust that God will bless my insignificant effort.

How about you? Are you ready to trust again?

Via Media Methodists Respond to the A&W Plan: Part II

In a recent conversation, Stephen, Evan, and I were asked for a Via Media Methodists response to the new proposals from Dr. Bill Arnold and Dr. David Watson; these proposals have been dubbed the “A&W proposals.” We are honored that the via media is asked to be a conversation partner. Having followed Dr. Arnold and Dr. Watson for some time on social media, it is clear to us that they exemplify the ethos of the via media, a way that is so beautifully summed up by John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit”: “rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints and grounded in love, in true, catholic love…” “A&W” love God and they love The United Methodist Church, and they desire from her nothing but the strongest witness and the deepest commitment to Christ.  This is the second of a three part response.  Read Evan’s previous post here.  Drew offers the second response.

crosier

13th-century Archbishop’s crozier, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I miss Roger Ebert.  As a movie fanatic, I relied on his reviews and trusted his perspective.  What I most appreciated about Ebert was that he reviewed films based on what they were trying to accomplish, rather than comparing every film to a Citizen Kane or Godfather.  In that spirit, I will offer some thoughts on the A&W proposals based on their intended goal rather than what I think that goal should be.  Their intention, then, is “only to restore our polity to proper functioning, rather than restructure the denomination to accommodate irreconcilable perspectives.”  I confess I do not understand why we cannot or should not accommodate “irreconcilable” perspectives on sexuality, when we already do on matters like divorce, abortion, and evolution – but that is a separate question.

So the goal is to restore our polity to “proper functioning” rather than undertake a major restructuring.  On that score, I think what Drs. Watson and Arnold offer is quite successful if it could be implemented.  While imperfect, their suggestions are worth serious consideration.

Proposals #1 & 2 deal with the suspension of the trust clause for churches that cannot live within the current Book of Discipline, so that these churches can vote and decide to leave the UMC with their property intact.  This is interesting because it is offering an exit door to progressives for which some conservatives (such as members of the UM College of Cardinals) have pined.  While I believe there are legitimate concerns about this offering a kind of temporary congregationalism, I think the more serious issue is whether or not a critical mass of progressive churches would take this avenue if available.

This is, to my mind, offering a conservative dream solution to progressives who don’t want it.  Were progressives desirous to start their own church, and confident they could build a network of healthy progressive Methodist churches, I think they would.  For all the pious grandstanding from the far left about how “this is our church, too” I genuinely think they know that they don’t have the ability to start their own church from scratch.  Where are the progressive megachurches and healthy progressive denominations? (Before you say Resurrection, note that Hamilton only recently changed his view on sexuality, and in all other respects is far from a radical.) The progressive strategy for decades has been to agitate and advocate for change from within, rather than take an entrepreneurial approach, because they are quite aware that they have no ability to build something from the ground up.  Many of our most progressive jurisdictions and conferences could not survive as it is without support from other parts of the Connection, and so (on my humble view) they have made a virtue out of the necessity of staying.

Proposal #3 is connected to 1 and 2, offering a similar exit for progressive clergy to leave with their pensions and retirement intact.  I think #3 suffers from the same issues that #1 and #2 present: who would actually take the church up on these?  This may be even less likely for clergy.  United Methodist clergy who are ordained in full connection enjoy some of the best benefits packages around.  If it is unlikely that a progressive Methodist denomination would be economically strong enough to offer something similar – and I would all but guarantee that would be the case – then clergy would be hard pressed to make that choice.

Proposal #4 alters the Disciplinary language and practice about “Just Resolutions” so that the complainants would be required to be included in whatever resolution is reached.  My interpretation is that this is designed to avoid incidents like the Ogletree resolution, in which no accountability is present and the church clearly privileges the defendant over the complainants.  I was on stage with Dr. Arnold when he suggested the Ogletree decision was neither just nor a resolution, and I am inclined to agree with him.  No one likes trials, but the only thing worse than continued trials might well be avoiding trials either through ignoring Disciplinary breaches or legal fictions such as the Ogletree decision.

Proposals #5-7 add a set-apart bishop to lead the Council of Bishops and charge that bishop to enforce the Book of Discipline (presumably, the sexuality clauses in particular).  Additionally, the final proposal changes the status of retired bishops to bishops emerita/us (I can’t help but think this is inspired by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).  This seems clearly aimed at Bishop Talbert and others who would follow in his schismatic footsteps.

I am heartily in favor of all the proposals related to the episcopacy, and it is in these proposals that I think “A&W” have their greatest contribution.  A worldwide church such as ours needs a unified voice to lead it, and the set-apart bishop is long overdue.  I have watched a bishop I deeply respect attempt to juggle the duties of a standard episcopal area and the Presidency of the Council of Bishops, and I can only say – even for our most talented bishops – it is an utterly inhumane burden to place on anyone.

I find it pathetic that we may need to pass legislation to ensure that bishops uphold their consecration vows, but I suppose that is where we are.  The episcopal office, not just in Methodism but in the church catholic, is chiefly charged with guarding the faith of the apostles and serving as a point of unity and agent of order for the church.  Prophets and activists will inevitably make bad bishops, and if we need to legislate that fact to make the point then so be it.

To conclude, I would suggest that the best of the A&W proposal could shore up the weaknesses inherent in Adam Hamilton’s “A Way Forward.”  While I share concerns about congregationalism, I am not against a loosening up of the polity to accommodate various perspectives on sexuality (within reason, but that is beyond the scope of this essay), so long as basic doctrinal commitments are in place and vigorously defended.  I agree with Joel Watts’ take that the middle/via media/third way is more about priorities than positions.  I am less concerned that United Methodists come to different conclusions about sexuality than I am the un-theological roads that both extremes take to get there and the un-Christian ways they seek to force their conclusions upon the whole church.  Even many conservatives will admit that sexuality is only the “presenting issue,” indicative of deeper and more serious divides.  I agree, but I’d much rather fight about those deeper issues than a surface iteration like genital activity.

Something has to give.  Whether the path forward is the commendable A&W plan, that offers a gracious exit for those whose consciences will not allow them to stay, or something like A Way Forward with some teeth, so that a new, loosened arrangement actually brings peace to our warring factions rather than just moving the battle lines (this is where a functional episcopacy comes in), I am open to the suggestions.  Do I think the progressives churches and clergy will leave? I don’t. Is this potentially a reasonable carrot to offer before presenting the stick? Probably.

I have little interest in the sexuality debate, and such that I do possess wanes the longer it prattles on.  We don’t know how to have a healthy, doctrinally informed, logically sound and charitable discussion.  Most of our so-called conversation is nothing more than an endless parade of shibboleths designed more to show which team we are on than to understand one another.  As Allan Bevere suggested on a recent WesleyCast interview, it isn’t just the positions we arrive at, but the way that we get there that matters.  Too much of the UMC debate on sexuality is childish and/or pagan, and frankly – as it is usually carried out, from both sides – it’s boring.

But I care deeply about order, because I care about the mission of the church.  No organization can achieve its goals without alignment around ends, without some agreement on basic purposes,  and without healthy leadership.  The best pieces of the A&W plan offer a return to functionality that we desperately need.  That said, I am open to any arrangement that is biblically and doctrinally sound, and that promises not just a new settlement but a church that cares enough about her calling to live by a new arrangement and hold accountable those who refuse to abide by it.

I don’t think that is too much to ask.  What say you?

Via Media Methodists Respond to the “A&W” Proposals: Part 1.

logo_aw

In a recent twitter conversation, Stephen, Drew, and I were asked for a Via Media Methodists response to the recent proposals from Dr. Bill Arnold and Dr. David Watson; these proposals have been dubbed the “A&W proposals.” We are honored that the via media is asked to be a conversation partner. Having followed Dr. Arnold and Dr. Watson for some time on social media, it is clear to us that they exemplify the ethos of the via media, a way that is so beautifully summed up by John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit”: “rooted in the faith once delivered to the saints and grounded in love, in true, catholic love…” “A&W” love God and they love The United Methodist Church, and they desire from her nothing but the strongest witness and the deepest commitment to Christ.

This will be a 3-part response, released over the next couple of days. This is for two reasons: Evan, Drew, and Stephen all have different takes on the “A&W” proposals, and this is a good opportunity to highlight the diversity of thought coming from the middle. We hope that our contributions enable healthy, Spirit-filled conversation. Evan starts us off.

Dr. Bill Arnold and Dr. David Watson have offered some proposals for The United Methodist Church that are thought-provoking and worthy of consideration. I have some concerns with a couple of their proposals, and there are a few that I whole-heartedly endorse. I hope that my comments are conveyed with the same “catholic love” from which “A&W” developed these proposals.

Dr. Arnold wrote a response to the proposal “A Way Forward,” in which he rightly pointed out the congregationalism and loss of core Methodist/Wesleyan principles upon abandonment of the Trust Clause. He very clearly stated, near the end of his post: “…nor do I support removing the Trust Clause.” Yet, the first “A&W” proposal is to suspend (yes, I realize suspending is different than permanently removing) the Trust Clause for a quadrennia to allow churches who cannot abide the UMC’s teaching on human sexuality to leave with their property. Given the snail’s pace at which our top-heavy bureaucratic denomination moves (see GC 2012 for evidence), it is highly unlikely that all the necessary logistics of an exodus of local congregations with their properties would be accomplished in four years. It seems it would take at least two quadrennia. But more than that: is it somehow more tolerable to allow the local option for just one or two quadrennia? I see some overlap between this proposal and the local option of “A Way Forward,” the key difference being the time frame. Both sacrifice connectionalism on the altar of pragmatism in a way that continues to make human sexuality THE defining issue for United Methodists. Also, this feels like it is rewarding bad behavior, and that troubles me. Isn’t this proposal saying, in effect, “Well, if you don’t agree with the collective discernment of the denomination on this issue, that’s ok. Here, take everything that never belonged to you in the first place.”

That leads me to proposal #2. This proposal, as I understand it, would allow for the convening of a church conference to allow for departure from the denomination for “reasons of conscience” regarding par. 161.f. of the Book of Discipline. Through said process, the church could, among other things, be released from the Trust Clause. I suppose my objection here echoes Maxie Dunnam’s problem with the “Agree to Disagree” legislation presented by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter to the 2012 General Conference. We United Methodists disagree on everything from human sexuality to abortion to war to climate change. Why allow a church to leave the denomination, all property in tow, over this one particular social principle? Shouldn’t we also allow churches that might disagree on the denomination’s teaching on Israel/Palestine to leave as well? Or what about progressive churches that deny, for example, the virgin birth and literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ? These tenets clearly violate our doctrinal standards as set forth in par. 104 of the Book of Discipline. Or conservative churches that re-baptize? (Believe me, I know of some)! This practice is also a violation of our church’s doctrine. What does it say to allow such freedom to leave the connection over something that isn’t even church law?

Proposal #4 needs some further development. As I read it, A&W clump together Administrative Proceedings (par. 362-364 of the BoD) and Judicial Proceedings (par. 2701-2719 of the BoD). Administrative Proceedings and Judicial Proceedings often overlap in approach; there is a process, there is a strong preference for a just resolution. An administrative proceeding is more “informal,” in that it seeks a resolution “in house.” If that fails, it can move to a more formal judicial proceeding, a more serious inquiry, and, possibly a trial (I encourage those who are interested in the nuances between the two consult the Book of Discipline, especially par. 363.1, a.-g. and par. 2701). Lest I read between the lines too much, this proposal seems to be a reaction against Bishop McLee’s handling of the Ogletree case in the NY Annual Conference. Charges against Ogletree were filed under par. 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline, which deals with Judicial Proceedings, not Administrative Proceedings. The terms of just resolution under Judicial Proceedings is found under par. 2702.5. The paragraph there does not require the involvement of the complainant in reaching a just resolution; Bishop McLee, under par. 2702.5, handled the just resolution process appropriately. I agree with A&W that there needs to be some clarification and consistency needed on the just resolution process in par. 363.1 c and 2701.5. However, I think there also needs to be some pastoral care given for the complainant; perhaps the complaint does not want to be involved, and their wishes should be respected. Someone recently told me that the vast majority of complaints levied against clergy persons deal with harassment and sexual misconduct; that being the case, the care of and for the complainant must be of utmost importance. So, I agree with the heart of this proposal; I’d like to simply see more conversation around it and development of it.

I heartily affirm proposals 5-7. In my opinion, the answer to much of our current malaise is found in a strengthened episcopacy. We need our bishops to affirm the Order of the church. I would like to hear more about proposal 5 in particular. What are the checks and balances in place to ensure that the “set-aside” bishop responsible for enforcing and implementing the Discipline does so faithfully? What might prevent this position from becoming a highly political or ineffective office? How exactly would this “set-aside” bishop be able to tangibly and effectively enforce Order? I see this as a hard sell at General Conference, especially given the way the “set-aside” bishop idea was received in 2012; but, if this office were established and carried out practically and faithfully, it could be a real way forward.

A Hymn for the Thirsty: “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”

stones tongue

Rolling Stones logo, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

We live in an age of desires that cannot be quenched.  We want more: more Facebook friends, more Twitter followers, higher salary, more vacation time.  We approach almost every arena of life – physical, spiritual, emotional – like a Golden Corral.  We want all-you-can-eat everything.

But there is only One who can truly quench our desire.  As Augustine reminds us, only God can satisfy our restless hearts.  Only God can quench our deepest thirst.  Enter my favorite Charles Wesley hymn:

“O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!”

Charles wrote this hymn to celebrate the anniversary of a conversion, following his own experience a year prior.  Hence the focus on justifying grace that is available to all:

“Look unto Him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.”

As the hymn goes on, Charles gets more specific about who is invited to this gospel feast:

“Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you;
For me the Savior died.”

Few modern worship songs mention murderers and prostitutes and thieves, but Chuck does not shy away from the scandal that is the free grace of God offered to all.  Drawing on St. Paul, he concludes the hymn and gives a nod to sanctifying grace:

“With me, your chief, ye then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.”

“Heaven below” recalls the title of one of the most important studies of early Methodist worship, but it also describes a Wesleyan view of salvation. Heaven is not something in the “sweet by and by,” it is a life of holiness and happiness with the Triune God now.  Charles’ brother, John, writes of salvation in his sermon The Scripture Way of Salvation,

“It is not a blessing which lies on the other side death; or, as we usually speak, in the other world…It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing; a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.”

To “own that love” of God in Christ Jesus is heaven, and so we “anticipate our heaven below” by living with and for Christ now, transformed by sanctifying grace such that the Imago Dei is restored more and more fully in us.  Thus, “O For A Thousand Tongues” celebrates the full panoply of Wesleyan and ancient views of salvation: that whosover will may come, that God is a redeemer of the worst sinners, and that the fulsome redemption He brings is lived out here and now, anticipating what is to be enjoyed in eternity.

This a hymn for the thirsty.  And who among us is not? We try to sate that thirst with so many other things, with lesser goods and lesser gods.  But when we get a sip of living water, a foretaste of heaven here below, a thousand tongues are not nearly enough to sing the praises of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

P.S. For an excellent contemporary rendition of this classic, we can thank David Crowder:

choose-your-own-adventure

Choose Your Own Authority, #UMC Edition

Growing up, I loved the choose your own adventure books. The books have a story laid out, but as you get further in the book, you are forced to make a choice. For instance, if you open this door, you turn to page 76 and continue reading. If you go down that path, you turn to page 83 and continue reading. The choices split again and again until your adventure ends in a terrible fate or you would save the day. Many times I would go down one path and then back pedal until I found out where I messed up. (After all, I always wanted to be alive by the end of the book!)

When I became a candidate for ordained ministry, my mentors explained polity to me time and time again. They told me about itineracy, submitting to the authority of the Bishop and the authority of our Book of Discipline. I had to take United Methodist Polity in seminary. (Taught by a Bishop!) I understand my place in our church system. One of the things that I agreed to in my ordination was Order (a responsibility of every Elder in the United Methodist Church). My Bishop asked me these (and other) questions before we were ordained:

  1. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
  2. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
  3. Will you support and maintain them?

Bishop William Hutchinson told us that these questions were very serious questions and not to be taken lightly. He said they represent the foundation of our church system.

It seems to me that, in some ways, we are playing a “choose your own authority” game in The United Methodist Church. I’ve heard a lot about networks and spider/starfish organisms instead of our current mode authority. What I really keep hearing from folks is that many people want a congregationalist polity instead of our current connectional one. My background is Southern Baptist, so I have a little bit of experience in the congregationalist polity. Basically, the congregationalist polity allows the local church to be the primary decision maker in everything. They get to decide who they hire as a pastor. They get to make the decisions on who they baptize and when. They get to make decisions on who gets married. It allows for a local church to decide what is best for themselves at this time. It is a good way to order the life of the church, but my concern is that this may not be the best way.

A congregationalist polity also serves to disconnect us from each other. We become silo churches more worried about our ministry here in this place. We lose sight of the church universal. We have a tendency to become echo chambers where we surround ourselves with folks that look like us, talk like us, and think like us. In my opinion, our church witness suffers because of this.

All the current suggestions I have seen presented for “saving The United Methodist Church” involve some sort of move towards a congregationalist or pseudo-congregationalist polity.

I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I am just wondering if we can do better. There are two different movements our church can make in the future.

We can move to a loosely affiliated network, some sort of modified congregationalist system where churches get to pick and choose so to speak.

OR maybe…

We can move to a stronger connectionalism where we empower our Council of Bishops to lead us with authority and order given to them through the Book of Discipline and the General Conference. This movement would require us to be more consistent in our approach to doctrine and polity across the connection.

This is the age old argument: do we want to be more like one company or more like a franchise business? It is a “choose your own authority” type moment in the life of The United Methodist Church. We can turn to page 148 and choose congregationalism or we can turn to page 237 and choose connectionalism. I just wonder which choice will lead us to a terrible fate and which one will save the day.

 

“And Are We Yet Alive”

still alive

This is the first in a series by the curators of Via Media Methodists on our favorite Charles Wesley hymns. Evan starts us off.

I wasn’t born or raised United Methodist. I came to this family of faith as an adult, during my college years. It was in a small country United Methodist church that I heard a call to ministry, that I grew in grace, that I was given opportunities to serve. I found a place where I was affirmed, where I could ask as many questions as I wanted, where I experienced the Holy Spirit move in incredible ways. In many ways, and I don’t say this lightly, I owe my life — at least my spiritual life — to The United Methodist Church.

I could have chosen the Episcopal Church, or the United Church of Christ, or the Baptist church, or the Roman Catholic Church; all are important and vital parts that compose the Body of Christ. But I happened to walk into a United Methodist church on a cold December Sunday morning. And eventually, I made a choice to affiliate myself with this particular expression of Christ’s church. Lately, given the vitriolic and unkind infighting over sex and schism that is happening in many pockets of our connection, I have to remind myself that I chose this denomination, flaws and all (what denomination doesn’t have flaws?), and that the Wesleyan movement is, in spite of our flaws, one of the best expressions of the Body of Christ. I have to remind myself of the United Methodist particularities that drew me in and made me stay.

One of them is Charles Wesley’s hymnody.

I love the hymn “And Are We Yet Alive.” I would gladly trade every insipid, dull, wishy-washy contemporary Christian song for this one hymn. It is rife with Wesleyan theological distinctives: prevenient grace, sanctification and perfection, mission and service. I think there are fewer Wesley hymns that speak more clearly to where we United Methodists find ourselves today; yet, it also offers a way forward, a way to orient our lives together.

Consider these words from the third and fourth stanzas:

What troubles have we seen,
what mighty conflicts past,
fightings without, and fears within,
since we assembled last!

Yet out of all the Lord hath
brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford,
and hides our life above.

Troubles and conflicts, fighting without, fears within – sound familiar? Perhaps no other line more aptly describes our current situation. The promise contained in the fourth verse, though, is that our lives are hid in God; in the scope of things, in the long run, with this promise, might that not put our current division into perspective? How much do we let denominational identity politics and taking sides over issues define us, instead of boldly proclaiming stanza five:

Then let us make our boast
of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost,
till we can sin no more.

There is a lot of boasting happening right now across our connection; which side is boasting depends on the day, on the latest statements by a particular person or group or caucus, on the most current pronouncements from bishops. But I haven’t seen much boasting in God’s redeeming power. In Galatians 6:14, St. Paul wrote “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What about the move onward to perfection the last line mentions? If we believe that God works in our lives “to the uttermost,” then we will treat our sisters and brothers differently, even those with whom we disagree. It may provide the humility to realize that God is continuing the work God started in each one of us; none of us has perfect knowledge, or can claim that God is exclusively on our “side.” We are all under construction, and by God’s sanctifying grace, moving on to perfection. Each one of us must continue to press on to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

I love the last verse:

Let us take up the cross
till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss
so we may Jesus gain.

Friends, fellow United Methodists, believers who are following in the way of John and Charles Wesley, of Jacob Albright, Phillip Otterbein, and Martin Boehm (let us not forget our EUB heritage): Are we yet alive? Do we see each other’s faces? Have we taken up our crosses and begun to follow? Do we count all things loss – our opinions, our soapboxes, our sides – so that we may gain Jesus? Remember what brought you into the United Methodist fold. Remember what keeps you here.