Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hopes for my church... (W)

One thing Bud Bence is known for in new faculty interviews--especially when we are interviewing a Wesleyan candidate--is to ask them in the words of Robert Frost, if they have a "lover's quarrel" with our denomination.  It is always an interesting question.  Presumably it is of some value to be a Wesleyan when you are applying for a position at a Wesleyan university, especially in its School of Theology and Ministry or seminary.

But critical thinking is also an incredibly important skill in an educator.  No one thinks the Wesleyan Church is inerrant   Indeed, it is not known for its history of profound thinkers, no matter how godly our forebears might have been.  It puts the candidate in an interesting position between having some critique but presumably not so deconstructive as to say you don't belong.

Of course one issue with the Wesleyan Church presently is that it's not entirely clear who we are.  There are some very attractive features of our denomination that are resulting in some transplant growth among our ministers.  This is an interesting phenomenon.  We have some of the benefits of a denominational fellowship--a network of people who get along, a pension plan that has survived the economic crisis well, a network that makes it a lot easier to find a church than some independent church.

Yet a local church really has a good deal of the feel of a Baptist church in terms of its structure and independence, and a large church can pretty much do whatever it wants (within reason).  We have district superintendents, but they don't "lord it over" local churches.  It is easy for a Baptist or a charismatic minister to come to the Wesleyans thinking--they're basically like me except they believe you can keep from sinning.  And some Wesleyans don't even think that.

The result is what I might call "transfer drift," ministers who join our denomination because we are a friendly denomination that looks a lot like wherever they've come from.  While the "weird bits" are easy to overlook because Wesleyans themselves don't seem to take them very seriously.  So ex-Baptists, ex-Pentecostals, conservative Methodists, find themselves in our pulpits and we welcome them, as long as they don't teach eternal security, don't promote tongues, and the Methodists can tell all the jokes they want about how liberal their former denomination was.

On the one hand, I like that we are such a welcoming and inviting denomination.  I consider it a strength and defend it as part of John Wesley's DNA--"If your heart is as my heart, put your hand in mine."  But here are some things I hope are not lost in our mindless melange of ministers:

1. We believe in a God disposed to have mercy on all, not a God who saves on the basis of what you know or as a slave to the rules of justice.  He disciplines to redeem, not to destroy because his honor is insulted.

2. Sin--understood primarily as doing wrong intentionally--is not normal for a Christian.  God does not have an absolute standard for sin.  His standards are attainable through the power of the Holy Spirit.  To do wrong intentionally is a rejection of him, and he will let a person reject him (even a Christian) to the point of eternal separation from his goodness.

3. Ministry to the poor and dis-empowered is a central element and charge of the gospel.  When we have the opportunity, we should challenge the structures of society that disadvantage others simply because of their race or gender.  We fully affirm the potential of women to take leadership in all positions of the church and the home.

4. We should not be a fundamentalist denomination, not only because fundamentalist approaches to Scripture cannot be defended on the merits but because fundamentalist approaches skew the prophetic voice.  The "fundamentalists" of the nineteenth century took the wrong position on slavery and women, and fundamentalism in the twentieth was short-sighted on poverty and civil rights.  Fundamentalism is strong on the letter but impoverished in Spirit.

There are voices in my church that currently pull in different directions from the above.  There are murmurs against women in ministry.  There is resistance to social justice here and there.  Our default is a kind of fundamentalist use of the Bible without any real awareness of it. There is a silent acceptance of popular definitions of sin and God's justice.

The generosity of our tradition in its focus on "getting people saved" allows many of these issues to be idle disputes in the background.  But these issues are the ones that distinguish us, the torch-bearing issues.  They are the ones where we have a potential contribution to make.  They should not constitute a "new kind of Wesleyan" or an "emergent Wesleyan" because they are the best of what we have been already.  But I invite the like-minded to rally around these identity markers going forward, even if I don't have a catchy name to offer.


Anonymous said...

Where's the "Like" button?!

Sounds like you are right on target with your observations and I hope that the Wesleyan Church doesn't slip out from under you. There always was a bit of truth to the old cliche: "I didn't leave my church, my church left me." You're lucky to have a church with which you can have such a feeling of identity. It seems like so many never find that place of belonging.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Scott (and Ken)
I have a different take. (And i don't mean this to be offensive, but it may be, but it is the way I 'see' or understand it).

Because the Wesleyan Church doesn't have a defined identity, it is easy for anyone to fit. This has its pros and cons, because without identity fully 'out there' there is more probablity that there will be confusion about whether one fits or not. And much more likelihood that there will be 'religious wars' as to defining what is to be....

Then, the Churchmen will more likely make a determination for and about the individual, which is like an over-bearing parent determining what their young adult should do or become. This is not good parenting, by any means. One must consider many factors in helping the young adult find themselves and it has more to do with 'real life' struggles, than religious identity.

Human development, personal interests, and commitments of value is a growth process that must be allowed the freedom to develop fully, and not pre-determined by the religious.

Those that have "other interests" must not hide behind 'religious liberty' and the Weslyan lack of identity to demand others do what the State Department does anyway, without any questions/ quandaries from faculty because faculty doesn't have tenure.

So, maybe the one identifying factor is "trust and obey", don't think for yourself or act in your own interests, as this would not be sacrificial service, and certainly not understood as 'Christian'. And this is the very thing that i find most disturbing!

Rational decisions must be encouraged, otherwise, we have the "empowered" steering the "ship" and it won't be balanced with accountablity to those that are more rational in their understandings, the faculty!

And Please, if anyone happens to take offense, then, be a "good Wesleyan" and forgive my ignorance!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Since, John Wesley was a hair's breath away from Calvinsim on one side, he was just as close to Catholicism on the other. That is a tight-rope that is hard to balance.

Religious zeal doesn't mix well with religious tolerance. And in today's climate of religious zeal, I think we need much more rational, and reasonable thinking about "the whole scheme of things" than one particular approach to a problem.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And such thinking should not separate the "sacred and secular"..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

::athada:: has left a new comment on the post "Passage for the Day":

To bad we can't go back to a former leader of the free world, one who really knew how to apply the Bible...

"This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.”

This is what was posted on another blog entry of yours, Ken.

I think this is a Reagan quote and it is America's Divine Destiny imagery. But, we have to question whether we agree as to American's Destiny, and whether we agree as to what "ideals' we are talking about.

Biblical Christians would "see" or understand everything according to Scripture, super-intending the text upon American ideals.

Multiculturalists would argue that America is not a distinct nation, it is only one among many nations that all have equal right under law to exist and determine their own 'cultural values'.

Somewhere there is a middle ground where rationality, law, religious liberty, all coalesce.....This is where my interests lie...Because I believe that both kinds of totaltalitarianism, religious or anti-religious are dangerous for man and society.

FrGregACCA said...

I appreciate the points you make, Ken. It is certainly a good place to begin.

However, IMHO, in the providence of God, Arminius, as appropriated by Fr. John Wesley, launched an historical process in which their followers would turn away from Calvinism and begin the long journey back to the original, authentic Apostolic Christianity of Orthodoxy.

Fr. John was, until his last breath, an Anglican priest. He is a predecessor, not only of Arminian Evangelicalism, but also of Anglo-Catholicism (whose vocation has always been to be Western Orthodoxy). He celebrated the Holy Eucharist, which he called "the Christian sacrifice" and received Holy Communion five times a week. He was deeply informed by the early Eastern Fathers of the Church.

Hence, my challenge to you and to all Wesleyans, regardless of denomination: finish the journey that Fr. John started! Follow the path that he laid out for you! Even now, he intercedes before the Throne of Grace that you will do so!

See the book link in the following comment, assuming it does not get lost in the Spam filter. If it does, it is called "Evangelical is not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament."

FrGregACCA said...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

With due respect FrGregACCA,
Your ultimate value is obviously your faith, or God. That is an important value to/for you. And the rituals and symbolism of the Church help you to experience your faith that aren't met otherwise. I understand that.

Ken challenges reason's citique to not deconstruct. Why? Because, if one used their reason, then faith would be deconstructed, because faith is not based in fact but belief. One chooses to believe or not believe, and this is the point in human development where one chooses whether to "lay their hat" with those of like mind.

What does one value most, faith or reason? If faith, then one will go about building castles in the air with theology. If reason, then one will build understanding on the academic disciplines. But, it is much more than an either/or, sometimes it is evaluating your ultimate values, and then finding a philosopher, writer or academic that hold those same values. Then, the learning can begin!

What I have always valued is liberty, and now I am finding that justice is another value of mine. When these are combined, then one comes up with individualism, which is the basis of our American government and I think, the basis of good all around...for human and societal flourishing.

Ayn Rand has intrigued me, but she is not accepted by the intellgensia philosophers, from what I have read.

And I find that it is the philosophical basis of our government that intrigues me, though I am ill informed! And from what I understand, political philosophy has not been valued, because politicizing or politics is what is of importance today and this is what I find as a necessary "going back" to find our American values, and ideals...from the Founders themselves...