Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 3rd, 2014 by Joel Watts

Progressive #UMC is not “speculative latitudinarianism” (Wesley’s ‘Catholic Spirit’ Sermon)

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Found on FB – the creator is free to claim.

Evan has written a post about labeling and listening. Several responses are floating around on FB that suggest defending orthodoxy makes one conservative.

I beg to differ. I am not a conservative (unless I need to be to counter liberals like Ken Ham). Rather, I guess I would be a progressive, at least in the sense that I believe we should be open to change if presented with new information. However, I am still orthodox. This is not narrow-minded/conservative, but holding to the Great Tradition which is greater than I. I believe in indifference to those things that matter little, or those things open to interpretation. Indeed, I believe very much in Wesley’s Catholic Spirit.

Oddly enough, those who count themselves progressive often quote Wesley’s Sermon on the Catholic Spirit to suggest doctrines don’t really matter; all you need is love.

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.”

But, let me go further into the same sermon. Wesley actually condemns those without a doctrinal spine:

For, from hence we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.

My concern is that those who would so easily label via media as conservative and then claim the Catholic Spirit know nothing as to what either of those concepts mean. The Via Media group defends orthodoxy, but — and I can say this as one who claims the label — that doesn’t mean when it comes to the issues of LGBT, some who claim the label aren’t open, or even fighting for change.

I’m not interested, when it comes to orthodoxy, in latitudinarianism. If we are Wesleyans we should be concerned with orthodoxy. Equally, as Wesleyans, we should be weary to quote Wesley’s sermon against latitudinarianism in favor of our own latitudinarianism…

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

11 Responses to “Progressive #UMC is not “speculative latitudinarianism” (Wesley’s ‘Catholic Spirit’ Sermon)”
  1. You do realize quoting Wesley against “unsettledness” calls into question your blog title?

  2. Joe Tognetti says

    I recently had a chat about the difference between the liberal/conservative spectrum and orthodox/unorthodox spectrum with a colleague. We both agreed that 20-30 years ago, where a person/church found themselves on those spectrums was much more predictable, at least within mainline/historical Protestantism. Ex: it seemed almost a forgone conclusion 20-30 years ago that a church affiliated with Reconciling Ministiries was full of non-trinitarians and resurrection-deniers. That correlation is not nearly as strong today, in my opinion, and I think we’re all better for it.

  3. Joel, I will own up to creating the meme. I did this as a joke, but there is a serious side to it as well. I believe that Wesley has been misinterpreted, at times intentionally, to advance un-Wesleyan agendas using the structures of the UMC.

    Personally, I would consider you a liberal, orthodox Christian, meaning that, while affirming the church’s historic faith, you are willing to get all ideas out on the table, argue them out, and allow the chips to fall where they may. This is of course different than a liberal in the political sense, though you may be that as well. This is not the way in which I hear self-described “progressives” arguing. I think progressives are much more self-consciously and overtly political than the liberals by whom I was taught during my theological education.

    • Dr. Watson, I do think the meme is spot on.

      I would generally accept that description, even though I’m not sure I would say all ideas are on the table. I have a hang up with people trying to get rid of Christian Tradition, such as the Trinity and Salvation. Maybe discuss them, but…

      And yes, I do agree that self-identifying progressives today seem to be political. Of course, this means they are more likely ready to attack the underpinnings of the Church in order to let themselves move forward. Progressive, then, becomes a chant – a demand, “Progress!” even though I think they don’t know the meaning of that word either.

  4. Concerning “latitudinarianism”, I prefer 0″, over 90″. Warm and sunny, over freezing my butt off. You pick the longitude.

  5. latitudinarianism is too big a word for me to handle in my old age.

  6. Ronald D. Doub says

    My perception of the modern “progressives” is that they have taken an Orwellian approach to language. Therefore, it becomes next to impossible to discuss anything in orthodox Christian terms with them. Not only do they move with abandon into speculative latitudinarianism, but wholly embrace antinomianism. In this matrix love becomes sentimental, mercy becomes let me do what feels good, forgiveness becomes being excused, and grace becomes cheap.

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