Friday and Saturday, The Wesleyan Church had a conference in Indy on the church. It was a very packed schedule of speakers and respondents with almost 100 attending.
Joe Dongell of Asbury Seminary is an incredible mind and heart. He and John Drury win my "smartest presentations" award, the ones that provoked the deepest thoughts for me personally. Joe investigated the word pastor in the NT and found consistent connections with teaching the flock. He suggested that Wesleyans needed to return to "word-bearing" as the focal role of the pastor.
John Drury explored how the relationships of the Trinity might inform how we are the church. Very interestingly, he pointed out distinctions in the three referents "people of God," "body of Christ," and "temple of the Spirit." One thought that relates to membership planning is "particularism" of the people of God (and here I'm Schenckifying his deeper thoughts) as seen, for example, in Israel. Israel was not the whole world and yet God had a particular relationship with them.
Frank Robinson of California captured our popular imagination with tales of healing and rising from the dead today. Why dont we see more miracles in America? They're happening elsewhere?
Jerry Pence, one of our three general superintendents, asked how we might think of Wesleyan worship. He had some thought provoking questions on Wesleyans as orthodox, Protestant, Arminian, evangelical, Wesleyans.
Bud Bence discussed Wesley's eccesiology and argued that it was very practical and driven by his doctrine of salvation. His default was a very high church, but those impulses were always subordinated to his drive to save souls.
I argued that many of the aspects of the NT that we have generally taken in reference to us as individuals are actually oriented around corporate Christian bodies and only secondarily around us as individuals. I wish we had been able to have public discussion time because I really don't know what the specific reaction to any of these papers was, including my own.
Then Tom McCall, a Wesleyan who teaches theology at Trinity, talked about the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and he applied it specifically to The Wesleyan Church.
These papers, the responses and mp3's of the presentations should eventually make their way to http://www.wesleyan.org/symposium.
Perhaps the issue that was in the back of many of our minds at this conference was the coming discussions over membership requirements that will almost certainly take place next year at general conference. I think the question might be rephrased, "Within the universal church, what is the identity and purpose of The Wesleyan Church?"
I have two thoughts here:
1. First, The Wesleyan Church is not the universal church. It would be both silly and unwise to pretend like our identity is simply that of generic Christianity. Membership identity in a denomination is not a question of "What is a Christian?" or "What does the Bible require of a person to be a Christian?"
Most of those who frame membership requirements in this way reflect fundamental blind spots in the way they think. For one, the Bible did not set down its requirements with a view to 21st century America and the broader world. Its books addressed various contexts in the ancient world. To think our membership requirements would simply be a mirror of what the Bible required them reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the contexts of biblical instruction.
Secondly, to make the identity of The Wesleyan Church into "every church"--as if we obviously would only require what God requires of every Christian, the lowest common denominator of all Christians--is to insist that the ears be the eyes be the feet be the nose. We can look at the history of churches this last century and see two consequences of this line of thought: 1) either the denomination in question starts to think its members are the only ones going to heaven and it alone has the truth or 2) toward a blase grey melange of generic identity that really has no clear identity. The current non-denominational church is a mixture of both of these, 1) a melange of evangelical grey that 2) thinks it alone has the truth (in contrast to, say, Catholics and non-Calvinist groups).
2) This leads to number two. Denominations do a service to the body of Christ when they do "their thing" well. The Amish do forgiveness well. The question we Wesleyans need to be asking as we look to our denominational identity and our membership requirements is "What do we do well?" Optimism of grace comes to mind, victory over sin as a doctrine, social compassion was mentioned in my small group at the conference.
I've of course already written on this, so I close with two links:
What is a Wesleyan: http://www.kenschenck.com/wesleyans.htm
What is a Wesleyan university: http://www.kenschenck.com/wesleyanuniversity.htm