Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why I Am a Wesleyan 1 (W)

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.


Mike Gantt said...

Wouldn't you do Wesley an even greater honor by seeking to ground yourself in the apostolic tradition as described for us in the New Testament?

That is, aren't all the traditions you listed ones that arose long after the apostles had moved on? And since we have the thoughts of the apostles on paper, shouldn't we do what, presumably, Wesley and others did which is to look past our own current traditions, past even the hundred, two-hundred, of even 500-hundred-year-old traditions we have and seek how we can revive our ways by drawing directly from the Lord and His apostles?

Ken Schenck said...

I hope it comes out somewhere here that one of the things I like about the Wesleyan is the potential balance it can have between ancient-future. It has provided a great context for me to work out a balance between what I value in restorationist and "catholic" traditions.

π² said...

Is "Why I Am a Wesleyan" the chapter title? If so, I wonder if the content under that heading is too subjective to actually explain to people who Wesleyans are. I think why I am a Wesleyan is different than why you are a Wesleyan, yet both of our reasons fall within the tradition.

John C. Gardner said...

Greetings. Has the Wesleyan traditionmostly(since its inception)looked favorably upon other Christian traditions such as Calvinism and Catholocism? Haven't various denominations within the Wesleyan tradition also looked askance at fundamentalism? Additionally, haven't many Wesleyan or holiness churches adopted what might be termed a more fundamentalist view of Scripture rather than one rooted in Scripture but also in some form of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral?
These are just questions that I have as a lay member of the Wesleyan church.

Ken Schenck said...

Paul, John, part of my struggle in titling and such is to put things in such a way that I do not ignore those in the Wesleyan tradition who are different from me while doing what I want to do--cast vision for what I think the Wesleyan tradition can be. Your critique is welcome!

π² said...

Perhaps what would meet your purpose, and head towards a booklet, is a series of "Why I am a Wesleyan" articles from different people. Or maybe I'm just trying to get in your book :-) Since I came from a Baptiat tradition, I was this as a question during ordination. I think I'll write this on my blog when I get some time.

Ken Schenck said...

That would be one way to do it. K. Drury did an interesting series once you may have seen, "I like Baptists"... "I like Catholics"... It was a great attempt to show the intersections between his values as a Wesleyan and other traditions.

Joel Green chatted for a little while about putting together a compilation but didn't find much publisher interest. I've flown around this airport several times and different thoughts. One person says write it deep like Lewis and be positive... don't mention other traditions by name. Another says write it light and practical, so lots of people could read it.

Right now I'm just hoping I might come up with 24 pages that a lot of Wesleyans could identify with. It hasn't happened yet ;-)

FrGregACCA said...

Please, please, PLEASE recapture Fr. John Wesley's Anglo-Catholicism and move beyond it.

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...

I am a Wesleyan in my theological approach because the Lord lead me to such by an evalutation of all things biblical and social. I am not a member of any one particular church that bares the expounding of the Wesleyan tradition. Also i will not accept any postmodern approach to change the validity of a five hundred year old tradition. If you examine those that have done so within the Wesleyan spectrum you see that any attempt is degenerate and worldly.

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...

As for those Calvinists and Papists - we see a lesser to higher degree of bondage to the law in affirmation of piety and Christian living. Grace is needed to walk with the spirit in worship--rather then the letter. Of course i have contrasted Calvinists with Papists--but not to understand the Papist lightly nor in any sense of Ecumenicalism.