Monday, October 15, 2012

The Decade of Evangelism (1970s): Black and Drury

I am pressed for time so will only do chapter 18 today from Bob Black and Keith Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan ChurchSo far it's been:

Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6  The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists
Chaps 7-8  Birth of Pilgrim Holiness Church
Chapter 9   Multiple Ministries
Chapters 10-11 Roaring Holiness 20s
Chapters 12-13 Institutional Solidification (30s/40s)
Chapters 14-15 Prelude to Merger
Chapters 16-17 The Wesleyan Merger

Now chapter 18.
It is interesting to watch how the Wesleyan Church rode the waves of American evangelical culture in the last decades of the twentieth century.  So in the 70s we did door to door evangelism like everyone else. Then we would continue with church growth in the next decade and eventually leadership development.  Of course there's nothing wrong with any of these. It just seems that we have mostly been a follower denomination rather than one that leads the way. 

I was only a child but those days of the Four Spiritual Laws and Evangelism Explosion made an impression on me.  After all, Dr. D. James Kennedy's church was in my home town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I remember going to hear John Maxwell's "Evangelism Principles in Action" for the Florida district.  I still remember him talking about how much easier it was to say "WESSS-LEYAN" than "Church of Christ in Christian Union."  He held the attention of a kid who had trouble paying attention to anything, which was quite a feat.

My local church implemented "GRADE" with its Andrews, Timothys, Barnabases, and Abrahams.  To this day I like the pattern.  The Andrews are evangelists, the Timothys are disciplers, the Barnabases encourage, and the Abrahams pray.

Still, he was part of my childhood guilt network.  He made you feel guilty if you didn't witness to the person sitting next to you on the plane, the taxi cab driver, the cashier in the check out line.  It would only dawn on me a long time later that he was born to evangelize, an off the chart extrovert who could sell ice cream in a blizzard. It wasn't hard for him to talk to strangers.

The General Board's statement on abortion in 1971 was interesting: "Because of the sanctity of human life and the unique potentialities of the fetus we reject the practice of abortion as a technique in population control, or for personal convenience, social adjustment or economic advantage. We believe it may be employed therapeutically to safeguard the health or life of the mother, but only after spiritual, medical, and psychological counseling has been obtained. We believe an appropriate and morally acceptable alternative to abortion is to arrange for immediate adoption upon birth" (238).

This is a very interesting statement.  It is interesting because it was hot off the press, fresh. Today we are so used to our position on abortion that it seems obvious to us. We can't even imagine that a Christian would take any other position. So today we would never refer today to an "unborn child" as a "fetus." That's become politically charged language.  Indeed, it is fascinating that Black and Drury repeatedly say "most" were in favor of this position, implying that some Wesleyans at the time were not.

Finally, some Wesleyans in the 70s and 80s wanted to participate in the charismatic movement.  The general church pretty much stomped on this one.  Wesleyans who spoke in tongues were pretty much driven out of the denomination.  A study was commissioned to conclude that tongues in the Bible were simply speaking in unlearned human languages from somewhere on the planet.

I personally believe that is true of Acts 2, but it is almost certainly not true of 1 Corinthians 14.  You get the feeling some times that the general board sometimes has appointed scholars in order to rubber stamp what they already wanted. Of course that's not true scholarship. True scholarship has to be willing to come up with a different answer than it prefers.

And of course the application of Scripture isn't as simple as just interpreting what it meant originally either. So much of the church still functions with a fundamentalist hermeneutic. Rather than get a sense of the whole Bible, we jump from individual texts directly to today.

Today, I would say that the Wesleyan Church in general has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on tongues.  It's not allowed in public worship, but I doubt that many Wesleyans would try to stop you today from praying in tongues at home, maybe not even in a small group that was open to it.  But the WC of the 70s forbade all of these.

By the way, as an example of the hermeneutical process, neither the fact that Paul allowed interpreted tongues at Corinth nor the fact that he forbade uninterpreted tongues there automatically tells us what God wants us to do in a specific local congregation today.  We will have matured hermeneutically when we begin to understand these sorts of things.


Martin LaBar said...

"You get the feeling some times that the general board sometimes has appointed scholars in order to rubber stamp what they already wanted."

I was on the GBA at the time, when, as I recall, the General Superintendents made a recommendation for the study. The late P. W. Thomas was assistant secretary at the time, and he said (not publicly) something like what you did in the quote -- "we" were looking for support for a previous position, not wanting a full-blown study of what the Bible says about the issue.

John Mark said...

In the 1970's charismatics were almost always seen as aggressively divisive; right or wrong. This does not change what the Bible reveals about tongues, but might help explain why non-charismatic denominations were sometimes nervous about the whole issue.
J I Packer said the reason that Holiness and Pentecostal churches struggled to live in harmony was that they were so alike in so many ways, it was a competitive spirit, in his view--this from a book written in the 1980's....