Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 24th, 2016 by Joel Watts

Methodist Ecclesiology?

English: transnational global interconnectedness

English: transnational global interconnectedness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So many plans about how to preserve The United Methodist Church, but how many turn to Wesleyanism in order to chart a path forward? This is interesting:

Methodist Ecclesiology

The most striking ecclesiological feature of Methodism is its ‘connexional’ structure. This stresses the relatedness, cohesion and interdependence of the Methodist Church. It links the local churches, circuits and districts to each other and to the ‘centre’. Oversight is vested in the Conference, which teaches, authorises ordination, deploys ministers and deacons, legislates and supervises the life of the Connexion. As a number of Methodists themselves have pointed out, the Conference acts as a sort of corporate bishop. Perhaps because British Methodism takes episkope seriously and has a strong central government in Conference, it has tended to be fairly relaxed about episcopacy. The British Conference has repeatedly stated its willingness in principle to adopt episcopacy (in the form of the historic episcopate) in the context of the quest for unity. Methodist bishops would be subject to Conference, however (just as, in questions of national policy, Church of England bishops are subject to the General Synod—though the Church of England does not usually think of it in that way).

Oversight is delegated by Conference to Circuit Superintendents and Chairs of District. Methodism is conceived as a single whole, unlike the Church of England which is made up of forty-four dioceses that are distinct units of oversight, each under the oversight of their bishop. It is as though the Methodist Church of Great Britain is one diocese, a single effective unit of oversight. Methodism unites synodical government and pastoral oversight into a single focus, whereas Anglicanism sees these as distinct though related foci and consequently experiences the tension between the roles of the General Synod and the episcopate. Methodism thus has a more centralised practice of authority than Anglicanism where it is more dispersed. To an Anglican observer, Methodism may well appear more hierarchical, authority-conscious and hide-bound by constitutional procedures.1

You can pick up the book on Logos.

How does Methodist Ecclesiology give us a way forward? It denies factionalism – either as ACs, JCs, or other regionalism embodiments. It also removes the concept of diocesan bishops. The connexional system provides for an accountability that is nearly unique in Christianity. It worked for a very long time — and as we moved away from it…

I’m with Scott Kisker who writes,

At seminary, I “discovered” John Wesley. I was shocked to find out that he had had a religious experience similar to my own. I couldn’t remember Aldersgate ever being talked about in any of the Methodist churches I had attended. I devoured his sermons. Reading them during my job at the circulation desk in the University Library, I brainwashed myself theologically. I found in Wesley and historic Methodism a glimpse of the kind of Christian community I was looking for—a spiritual depth only possible through relationships and mutual discipline, the sacred boundaries of mutual accountability. That glimpse has given me hope. It is why I am United Methodist. I know enough about Wesley and the movement to know that the kingdom of God did not come in its fullness in the eighteenth century. Yet eighteenth century Methodists certainly seemed more earnest about seeking it first, and the power of the kingdom certainly seemed more evident in their midst. Can it happen again2

  1.  Paul Avis, Anglicanism and the Christian Church: Theological Resources in Historical Perspective (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 161–162.
  2.  Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker, Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community (ed. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove; vol. 5; New Monastic Library: Resources for Radical Discipleship; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010), 13.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “Methodist Ecclesiology?”
  1. As we begin to recognize the GLOBAL reality of the Wesleyan movement, my hope is that we will become more open to completely DROPPING the current model “connection” that is based on the United States Constitution. Instead, we could focus on connecting through relationships of Wesleyan accountability via class meetings and bands (led primarily by laity). Appointed clergy could “ride the circuit” to preach, offer the sacraments, and give oversite and training to class and band leaders.

    Our current AMERICAN form of government in the church is killing us. It is artificial and destructive to the health of God’s community. I have difficulty supporting the notion of the WCA if it is content to live within the current, American-style polity of the UMC. It is time to move beyond that and adopt a structure that is more Wesleyan than American.

  2. Hopefully, take this with some humor.
    Two books by Kisker:

    “Mainline or Methodist?”

    From Book Description:
    “”Real Methodism declined because we replaced those peculiarities that made us Methodist with a bland, acceptable, almost civil religion, barely distinguishable from other traditions,”” writes Kisker. “”Like the Israelites under the judges, we wanted to be like other nations. We no longer wanted to be an odd, somewhat disreputable people. And we have begun to reap the consequences.””

    “Longing for Spring:”

    “Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker call for the planting of neo-monastic churches which embody the Wesleyan vision of holiness in postmodern contexts.”

    So, a return to historic Methodism?
    From wiki, origins,
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodism

    “Methodist preachers were notorious for their enthusiastic sermons and often accused of fanaticism….Theophilus Evans, an early critic of the movement, even wrote that it was “the natural Tendency of their Behaviour, in Voice and Gesture and horrid Expressions, to make People mad.”

    Maybe old Theo was right?
    Neo-monastic? Odd, somewhat disreputable people?

  3. Certainly, if we were to design a connectional/episcopal church structure we would not come up with what we have today. Nobody would do this on purpose. What we have is the result of 200 years of adjustments, additions, innovations, mergers, and reactions to temporal situations that have long passed–each new part having to be twisted to fit into an existing system so it can function with the rest of the machinery. Any attempt to upgrade the machinery has to be compatible with all the other cogs and wheels. That means that five years later we will be saying, “How did we get this mess.”
    The only real solution is one that no previous generation has been willing to do: stop the machine, rip it all out, and build new.
    Anybody up for that? If not, better off leaving it alone.

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