Two stories have come to my attention recently. I believe both represent some of the issues involved in the current discussions within the United (not an adjective) Methodist Church.
The first is the rise of (underground and unofficial) women priests in the Catholic Church:
The ABC7 I-Team uncovered the growing movement of Roman Catholic women who call themselves priests. Their numbers are on the rise even though the Catholic Church does not recognize their “ordination.”
In 2008, the Vatican ruled that women are automatically excommunicated at the time they go through a self-styled “ordination” ceremony. At that time, the I-Team reported that a handful of Roman Catholic women were willing to face banishment. Their numbers have since blossomed to more than 200 women priests in 12 nations.
I believe we can agree that Rome has a pretty strict structure in place and yet, people — leaders and congregants — break the rules. If you are an (active) Catholic (at least a Catholic leader), I’m going to assume that you have something of a resolute faith that Rome is indeed the Church Christ left for the Apostles and so on. Therefore, I am also going to assume you believe something akin to papal infallibility (ex cathedra) and in excommunication. Thus, you don’t want to break the rules requiring excommunication. Or, at least, break them too easily.
In other words, regardless of the structure or the theology, some people are going to find it necessary to break rules when they feel that the church/organization is on the wrong side of God/history. The more so, it seems, when it comes to rights and individual worth.
Instead of a St. Peter’s basilica filled with the shouts of schism, Rome continues to march onward, obeying the rules in general — even if certain bishops do not. Rules exist, maybe not always enforced, but the faith God and Tradition overshadows temporary rebellions.
This is not the case with the United (not an adjective) Methodist Church.
Heck, this goes for protestants in general.
The second story is this:
Now, let’s face it – the PCA is still divided. Some see two groups, some three. I’ve even seen blog posts that define up to six different groups. But at the end of the day, I still see two main groups (with splinters among both). One group leans to the old ‘T.R.’ ideas (without the nasty attitudes for the most part). The other group leans to being the same ‘B.E.’s they have always been (that’s Broadly Evangelical for those not ‘in the know’).
Divisions have existed in the PCA since the formation — divisions on the role and nature of Scripture as well as the application of the theological framework. (Sound familiar?) Today, as the author alludes to, there are at least 6 different sub-denominations in the PCA.
And there is talk of division.
And there is talk from the middle of holding the two in tension with respect to both positions.
Many in the faithless extremes have this foggy notion that we are the only ones facing rebellion in the ranks or sense a loss of scriptural basis. Yet, I can point to Rome where their rebellion is rooted in the thing Wesley said he had to support — women ordination. Indeed, he rebelled within the Church of England to license women to preach. In the PCA, it is about the Westminster v. inerrancy debate. The UMC has already struggled with these things and decided a different course, but still yet we face disagreements.
I would argue that within such a group as a church, you will have people who disagree about even the basic commonalities.
If others can proceed past their own internal strife and if we can understand rebellion within a particular theological framework (perhaps on the Wesleyan model), then we have to understand, appreciate, and cope with the tension it produces.