Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why Merge?

This is my third post in relation to recent decisions of the General Board of Administration 1) to explore connection/merger with groups like the Nazarenes, Free Methodists, CCCU, Bible Methodists, etc... and 2) to peal off two general superintendents in preparation for such mergers/connections and to streamline for our own effectiveness in the meantime.

Today I want to start a list of reasons why I think connecting on some significant organizational level is (mostly) a no-brainer, the kind of thing to which we should immediately say, "Of course," on the conceptual level and only turn down if the details would somehow put it off.

First, I should mention that I think the legitimate purposes of denominations are twofold: 1) to proclaim or preserve particular understandings of faith and practice for which God raises groups up and 2) to pool and focus resources toward common goals and purposes. There may be others, but this is my list.

If this is the list, then the following are some of the reasons for significant organizational connection I can think of:

1. It would be silly not to!
Given my two-fold sense of the purposes of denominations, I can't think of any principled reason for us to be separate:
  • We share the same focuses of faith and practice and
  • We are wasting significant resources by the multiplication of infrastructure between us.
2. Principle of Unity
The principle of the unity of the church pushes us to unify in identity if we do not have good reason not to. As far as I can tell, the only reasons not to would be logistical or financial, and surely God has given some people out there enough wisdom to figure out such details.

3. Easier to Fix Things
It is easier to make significant organizational shifts in the process of a merger than to do it out of the blue. I know some people have wanted a single general superintendent for decades. It would never have happened apart from the current financial situation coupled with talk of merger. The same goes for matters of stewardship, apportionments, collegiate allocations, etc. These things generally continue on their merry way until there is a crisis. A merger/organizational connection is a much more desirable catalyst for fixing these sorts of imperfections.

4. Pooling of resources
Each piece of the Wesleyan puzzle has something to contribute. Each has something missing apart. The voice of the Wesleyan tradition hardly seems a major player within Christendom and in that sense we can question whether any of us are truly fulfilling the legitimate reasons for us to exist as denominations in the first place. Perhaps the Nazarenes are a little known (although our condolences on the weird name).

But the rest of us are, to be honest, peons who have little impact on anything. The Wesleyan Church has 1700 churches in North America (big whoop=relatively insignificant) and the Nazarenes, despite having more buildings, apparently only have about twice our attendance in church on a Sunday morning(=problematic). The Free Methodists have interestingly decentralized quite a bit already.

What are some reasons you can think of for us all to reorganize ourselves together in some way? Reasons against?


::athada:: said...

Let me know when the world goes from 10,000 denominations to 9,999. I'll drink (Welch's, I assume) to that!

drwayman said...

Being a Nazarene who was raised Free Methodist, I think this would be a great idea. My understanding is what has held it up in the past, theologically, was the Nazarene belief in eradication of the sin nature upon the entire sanctification experience. Now, the Nazarenes have modified that belief to be more in line with the FMC, CCCU and the Wesleyans which is that the sin nature is NOT eradicated but a person enters a state of entire devotement to God and the sin nature is continually being killed off until one reaches glorification in heaven.

On a practical level, the other reasons why the merger hasn't happened is finding a name that all the denominations could agree on, what to do with the various educational institutions, what kind of government (FMC has bishops, Nazarenes have superintendant), and a fear that the Nazarenes (the largest group) would swallow up the identity of the other denominations.

Anyhow, I think it is a great idea and I would like to see it happen.

Ken Schenck said...

I grew up in the Wesleyan Church with the eradicationist view, although if anything Wesleyans have hardly even discussed entire sanctification until these last 10 years. If I had to guess, structure would be a major issue--with the Nazarenes because its leaders tend to wield more power and the FMs because of their use of bishop nomenclature. Finances and colleges might also be a sticking point...

Kevin Jackson said...

Thanks for this series, merger talks interest me, I would love to see more unity among Wesleyans.

I grew up Nazarene and currently attend. I haven't heard the eradication view preached from the pulpit since the early eighties.

Posted this on the Naznet board, discussion here if interested. From the comments there, it sounds like the Wesleyan position on the inerrancy of scripture might be a concern, apparently the Nazarene position is more liberal/less defined (which I was unaware of).

Kevin Jackson said...

Let's try that again.

Ken Schenck said...

My sense is that most Wesleyans--especially Wesleyan scholars and leaders--do not have a very precise definition of inerrancy, although certainly some would. My sense is that most Wesleyans in the pew simply take it in the general sense that God doesn't lie and that once we know what God is saying through any particular Scripture, that certainly will be true.

No one would go around arguing that the Bible has errors, whether Nazarene or Wesleyan, I hope. I think there is a significant recognition among Wesleyan leaders that the particular word itself carries a lot of modernist cultural baggage from the mid-twentieth century. We have no problem living with the word because we have never precisely defined it (it is more an affective expression of our faith in Scripture than a term with precise cognitive content), but if language that made the same basic affirmation without so much baggage were available, I don't think many Wesleyan leaders or scholars would be troubled.

drwayman said...

True, eradication may not be taught from the pulpit for years, except for some of the pastors that have not kept up with the changes in teaching, old-line Sunday School teachers, and some of our previous generation saints. I still run into some who insist that they just "make mistakes."

Michael Cline said...

"Each piece of the Wesleyan puzzle has something to contribute. Each has something missing apart."

There's your next post -- breaking down what each part contributes and what each part is missing. I would love to hear your take on that.

Of course there seems to be an underlying question in all of this merger talk: Whether or not God cares if we are a "big whoop," as you put it. Does being "insignificant" (in the eyes of whom?) equate with "not doing our job?" No offense Dr. Schenck, but there seems to be a lot of assumptions there that I'm not sure I can agree with. I'm for merger talks, don't get me wrong, but not so we can be a "bigger deal" in the American Christianity scene.

Michael Cline said...

As a Wesleyan, the Naznet conversation is very interesting to listen in to. It's funny how our denomination is perceived by "outsiders." I'm sure there are good reasons for some of the concern over a "fundamentalist" strand in TWC, but I think the people raising this concern would be pleasantly surprised if they were to talk to most of the denominational leaders of TWC (not saying that there isn't fundamentalism in TWC, but just that its likely to be more grassroots, in my opinion).

On another note, since when did believing in Scriptural inerrancy make one a fundamentalist? Schenck is right, we've never clearly defined what we mean by that term anyway. But still. It's odd that a term that has always been pretty closely associated with mainline "evangelicalism" is suddenly used as a litmus test for fundamentalism. It's just odd to me.

Then again, this is an important thing to consider. If we are going to merge, doctrine can't be 4th or 5th on the list. I'm not saying it has to be #1, but it can't be #10. When discussing this issue of inerrancy, one commenter said: "I agree that it's [TWC statement of faith" is clunky in a big way, but it's not as big a deal-breaker as issues of money and power. These are denominations we're talking about after all, not charity bake sales or ice cream socials."

If that's the way we look at this merger, we are in trouble from the beginning.

Michael Cline said...

And Ken, though I'm with you hoping that no one in either camp would "go around arguing that the Bible has errors," there are a few posters on Naznet (though I'm sure they don't represent the whole) that seem to be suggesting just that.

Ken Schenck said...

I wouldn't be surprised if there were some false assumptions lurking here. My point was not so much to point toward bigger being more God approved but for us not to take ourselves too seriously. I don't, however, hold to a "righteous remnant" view, that would see our small size as a sign of our potential election.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the Nazarenes will overwhelm the others and it will either be the Nazarene way or no way. I was raised a Nazarene and am now a Wesleyan attending a United Methodist Church. I can't imagine that it will ever happen for that very reason. There are a lot of issues to work out.

ann said...

Some random thoughts from someone who grew up Catholic, went to a Free Methodist youth group and college (Greenville), has been a member of FM and Nazarene churches, and now finds herself in a Wesleyan community:

-I'm no theologian, but they all seem the same to me. That's why every time I move, I look for one of the three churches to attend.

- When I had membership at a FM church in Missouri, my Nazarene church in Kansas accepted my membership with just a letter from the pastor. I wasn't required to go to any classes or anything.

- Personally, I think The Church of the Nazarene is the best named denomination. I hope I don't upset someone, but Free Methodist is too often confused with United Methodist. I always had to explain the differences to people. The name "Wesleyan" is OK because it is descriptive of the theology, but it's just a my opinion. I guess what I mean is that churches can be Calvinist, but that's not the name of the denomination itself.

- People will find a way to stay separate. Some people are just too tied to their particular denomination. Often, as Christians, we need to remember not to glorify ourselves, but we also have to remember not to glorify our denominations.

Ken Schenck said...

I've been told the matter is dead, not to waste another word of my time on it.

ann said...

Oh, Ok. I didn't realize I was so behind the times.