Again, I apologize to those who don't care or have heard it all before. Maybe the muse will help me get it just right this time for some sort of booklet.
A Generous Tradition
I appreciate aspects of all Christian traditions. I appreciate the sense of security in God that Baptist traditions have. I appreciate the emphases on grace and freedom in the Lutheran tradition. I appreciate the depth of the Roman Catholic tradition. Surely no Christian tradition has everything right, and surely we can agree on many things in almost all Christian traditions.
I personally come from the Wesleyan tradition, a tradition that traces its origins ultimately back to an eighteenth century Anglican minister named John Wesley. I do not think for one moment that he--or I--have everything all figured out. Indeed, like almost all Christian traditions in North America, the Wesleyan tradition today includes numerous little groups that spun off from their original Methodist roots.
In our current setting, you would not have to pick a "denomination," a group of churches that join together on the basis of some commonality. In fact, some churches have banded together on the common ground of opposition to denominations. The current climate includes a multitude of non-denominational churches and even the house church movement is going strong.
But a quick look at the beliefs and practices of the most virulently non-denominational church will almost always reveal the influence of historical Christian traditions. How to they baptize? What do they believe about particular issues? The answers to these questions almost always will reflect the influence of particular Christian traditions.
So I come from the Wesleyan tradition and have stayed with my tradition despite growing up, studying, and formulating my own personal understandings and practices of faith. I could no doubt express my faith and be enriched in almost any church. Why, then, am I a Wesleyan?
One reason is because the Wesleyan tradition is a heart-oriented tradition that, because it is focused primarily on our intentions and character, can be generous toward differing ideas and practices. It is not that the Wesleyan tradition is unconcerned with ideas or has no interest in the pursuit of truth. It is only that its focus on virtue and pure intentions make those concerns a second or even third order of business.
John Wesley, like most great thinkers, has left us with several memorable sayings that capture key truths. One of Wesley's was that "if your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mind." I am a Wesleyan because the Wesleyan tradition is a generous tradition toward others. When we are at our best, we are more about finding what we have in common with others than with separating from others because of our differences.
Indeed, because of this heart-orientation, many churches in the Wesleyan tradition have developed a great freedom in church practice. For example, you will find almost every form of baptism in my own Wesleyan denomination, everything from believer's baptism to infant baptism to no baptism at all. While I have my own preferences, I delight in a tradition that does not fight over baptism, communion, or so many of the Christian practices that have so often divided Christian churches.
I am a Wesleyan because the Wesleyan tradition at its best is a generous tradition toward other traditions. Generosity in this sense is not the same as thinking all beliefs and practices are equally valid. It is simply an orientation toward others that sees the most important common ground as a matter of our intentions and character, not whether we all think or act the same way.