The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

tisdag 7 juni 2016

Why United?

Limbo - a place of neither Heaven nor Hell. A place of waiting. Grey.

As a lifelong UMC and a clergy for the last 8 years I join the chorus of voices that opine wisely and not so wisely concerning our denomination. Is it broken beyond repair? Can we be "United" without being "Uniform" or "Of one mind"? Can trust be rebuilt?

It feels liks limbo...waiting for this Commission from the Coucil of Bishops to bring something to the next General Conference that can heal us. It feels like a Hail Mary. What can a commission possible find during a few meetings and emails that the entire Church hasn't found or thought about and tried for the last 40 years? How can this possibly not be a "kick the can down the road" thing?
Or is it, like I predict, a plan to introduce (side-load?) legislation that shifts authority from the General Conference (the Church) to Annual conferences (a bunch of congregations) or Central Conferences away from the combative General Conference? How can it not be some "third way option"?

I realize that I am very skeptical and I try to hold my cynicism at bay. Unfortunately the Council of Bishops haven't impressed me in the past (quite the contrary, to be honest). But hope is not dead. There is still a chance for a miracle...a true movement by the Holy Spirit that surprises us all. I pray so.

Two things, however, have been on my mind lately and I wonder if I am alone.

First of all, what is this deal with staying united, as the UMC, at seemingly all costs? What is the deal? I think I read it for the first time on the website for the "Jurisdictional Option". It claimed as a "pro" that "We still get to call us United Methodists!". Since when did that become a goal in and of itself? As far as I can tell we are at least 3 schism into the fray. Are we so naive to think that the prayer of Jesus in John 17 applies to us staying in the denomination currently called "UMC"? Surely not! If we want denominational unity we need to go to Rome. However, we are Protestants. We value Truth over Unity or at least we used to. Once we give up our desire for Truth we lose our purpose. Surely the only reason there are Methodists is that people believe that it is the true church that speaks for God the best? Where people find God's truth and not a bunch of nonsense?

Two, what is this "United but not unity" stuff? Disregarding the obvious fact that a church can disagree about small issues such as dress or worship style I wonder when we started saying that we can stay united with people/churches/conferences who disagree with us about matter with eternal implications. How, exactly, can any covenant last when the partners disagree vehemently about its very foundations? Can a marriage last if one partner believes in multiple partners and the other one doesn't?
The logic is clear to me. If a church says that "according to us we believe that God is saying in His holy and loving Word and Wisdom that X is both sin and not a sin" it is time to take some serious action. If the Church is unable to take such action so that the matter is resolved it needs to realize that it has ceased to either hear God or have the strength to lead people into all truth. At that time, it needs to allow for some sort of split where those who are seeking God's truth are able to do so according to their own conscience.

I have spent considerable capital, of various currencies, to stay UMC. It is the only major/historical denomination in the area of the world where I live that has a well thought-out understanding and desire for holiness/entire sanctification/Second blessing/perfect love...the very reason God raised up Methodists in the first place.
I would hate to see it go but I would rather see it split than to compromise on its principles of being One church where people don't speak out of their own understanding of God but speaks proudly and boldly about "We are the Church of God and we believe x, y and z". Much will be lost if we replace our current "we believe" to the oh-so-prevelant "I believe".

4 kommentarer:

Taylor W. Burton-Edwards sa...

I would encourage you to read "Wonder, Love and Praise," the sort of "proto-ecclesiological" statement developed by the Committee on Faith and Order that will be the basis of conversations over the coming quadrennium across the whole church leading to a final statement to be presented to General Conference for adoption in 2020.

You may read it here:

Part of what I think you will find there is that United Methodists do not and Methodism in general never did fit your definition of Protestant, which appears to be valuing truth over unity and saying, "We as a church have THE truth about God." John and Charles Wesley constantly republished their tract, "Reasons against a Separation from the Church of England," both in the hymnals they produced and as a separate tract for study and use in the Methodist societies. Francis Asbury even used in in 1780 to convince the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Societies here to reverse its decision to separate itself from the Church of England-- even during the midst of the America Revolution!

Methodism was not founded to be THE church that has THE truth that others don't have. It was a movement that was ecumenical in outlook from the beginning, a movement that gladly welcomed persons of all denominations into a process of discipling. When John Wesley finally did separate American Methodists from the Church of England in 1784 it was only because of what he called "a peculiar providence," the fact that so many Methodists in America were also Anglican, yet so many of the Anglican priests had fled the country that many of the congregations to which they were connected could barely function, much less provide the sacraments on much if any basis. This is why he also ordained several persons (including Thomas Coke as superintendent) to begin to provide congregational leadership and sacramental ministry among the Methodists. Anglicans over here would wait another five years (1789) before they officially split from England and created a process to support their work as Protestant Episcopal congregations going forward.

It wasn't because of truth, then, that Methodists (or American Anglicans, for that matter) formed a separate church. It was because of historical circumstances peculiar to their age that required a different kind of solution than staying within their current ecclesial structures determined elsewhere would allow.

What this heritage has meant for us as Methodists is that, while we did split in the 19th century over other issues (the role of bishops, racism, and slavery) we have been in the process of reuniting or at least reconnecting around common mission and vision ever since. This has meant that for the majority of our history in America, at least, we have in fact pursued a more ecumenical vision, clear about our commitment to sanctification and to core doctrines of the faith, but allowing for great diversity of thought, theology and practice at the same time.

It was this impulse, deep at the heart of Methodism itself, that impelled two recent movements among United Methodists in Sweden. One was to create the Uniting Church in Sweden, in which many United Methodist congregations in Sweden chose to join along with those of several other denominations. The other, announced at the 2016 General Conference, was to create a full communion agreement between those United Methodist structures still outside it with the United Church in Sweden. Even when we divide into different polities, we still seek, as United Methodists, to pursue the highest level of communion possible with other Christians. It was that important to our founder-- Jesus-- and his servant and our organizer, John Wesley. And so it remains that important to us-- including to those of us in Sweden.

Andreas Kjernald sa...

I appreciate your thoughts and your comment and will try to respond as soon as I have been able to digest your concerns, as well as the suggested reading.

A few quick notes, though:
1. I am keenly aware of the process that lead to the formation of the Uniting Church in Sweden and, believe me, there were A LOT of other issues at play than just our interest in ecumenical work.
2. I am not sure that I agree with your assesment of who gets to define what Methodists are and aren't. Isn't it clear that our current predicament is about two opposing camps arguing over "truth" instead of "unity"? My point was that Protestant churches at base are protesting something, most often Rome's interpretation and authority. Every Protestant church says "No, Rome, we don't agree with you. We believe that God says X and not Y".
Clearly, historical, pragmatical and ecumenical aspects abound when we think about why there is a UMC but at base I believe it is about theological truth.

Now, that can be couched in language that makes it less divisive but it is my understanding and education that Methodists, though always open to people from different denominations, also have been clear about what we believe to be right and wrong. An open invitation to "love alike" doesn't negate "the abomination of The Real Presence".

Taylor W. Burton-Edwards sa...


So, I think Methodists may not be quite the Protestants you seem to be describing us as. We were not formed as part of the Protestant reformation. We were a renewal movement alongside other churches in England in the 18th century, primarily but not exclusively Anglican churches. But one could be a Presbyterian, a Baptist, even a Roman Catholic and still be a Methodist-- provided that you didn't try to teach Calvinist (as opposed to Arminian) doctrine as part of your participation in the movement. The Wesleys had no objection to persons HOLDING such doctrines and still being Methodists. But they did not allow them to be taught in class meetings or society meetings or as part of field preaching.

Again, we became a separate church not because of differences in doctrine (truth claims, such as those that in fact DID underlie many 16th century Protestant churches) but because of historical circumstances that severely limited the access of many American Methodists to the sacraments, and about which the Church in England was doing nothing to bring any relief (though for good historical reasons!).

At heart, though, we remained open to receiving people of many faith backgrounds into our congregations and discipling groups. Hence, the United Brethren (Mennonite and Lutheran Pietist background, German language) and the Evangelical Association (Lutheran pietist and some Reformed theological background, German language), while not formally part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the US, pretty much were not part of it primarily for linguistic and cultural reasons, not differences over doctrine, even though the sources of their doctrinal focuses had been a bit different. As those language differences and cultural differences became blurred or largely erased, what did Methodists in the US do? They united with the EUB! Why? Because they were parallel in mission, even if informed by different streams of theology.

United Methodists thus don't and historically never have really fit the "Protestant" mold you seem to suggest we do, at least as far as I can see. We are a church that has been more catholic in spirit from the beginning, and, I hope we shall continue to be.

Andreas Kjernald sa...

I share your hope that we can continue to be an "open" church that indeed invites all.
However, even though I am familiar with the history lesson you shared I am also rather convinced that we as Methodists stand in the tradition of the Reformers, as we can see in the example of Arminianism and Calvinism (a clear Truth issue). Clearly, there were many other issues at hand that made us eventually become a Methodist church but even as we never forcefully removed ourselves from an ecclesial fellowship we, over time, became more and more invested in our doctrine and truth, if you will.

I find it interesting that the Wesleys, fallible as they were, agreed to let people hold to certain beliefs they wouldn't allow "officially", while also asking every person to be ordained "not mend our rules".

My arguement is that every Protestant church is at base a Protest movement, we are-not-this-but-that. We are not Rome (not even in apostolic succession)and therefore can not claim "unity" as our primary purpose. If we did, we would go to Rome. We can and should claim a "catholic spirit" but I believe that we should be equally concerned with truth, or orthodox faith...and it seems as if many would agree with me since Truth is what we have struggled to define for the last 40 years (regarding human sexuality).

I appreciate the time and thought you put into your comments and I try to hear what you have to say. Maybe I am just off in my estimation and beliefs about what we are...but as a life-long part of the UMC I might just speak for many others.