David Watson, as usual, has provided an excellent piece about the “Next Methodism” that I strongly encourage you to read. His is likely to be much better than this, and is also the inspiration for this. Go read. This will be here when you get done. Now that you are back, I decided to use his format and add to the conversation the four things that I hope for from the next Methodism. I want to be clear here that I am not associated or endorsed by David Watson, and what follows are my thoughts and my thoughts alone.
The next Methodism will be apologetic, but not become apologetic.
Whatever comes next for the people called Methodist, I am convinced that they need to be apologetic in nature. Hold on, it’s not what you think. Methodists must be able to accurately and articulately defend the faith once and for all delivered. If this United Methodist experiment has taught us anything, it is that there is a serious problem with scriptural illiteracy in the church. Many people have read books about the Bible, but very few have read the Bible. Many authorities on scripture have come forward (cough…Hamilton…cough), but few of them have been accurate, and those who are accurate are not widely read it seems. I can not tell you the number of times I have heard someone mention this great new understanding they have heard that was nothing more than prepackaged heresy from the time of the early fathers. The next Methodism must be apologetic in it’s faith, but must never be apologetic for it. The next Methodism can not apologize if someone is offend by the scriptures, if someone has hurt feelings because their sin was mentioned, etc. We can not apologize for taking the whole council of the scripture into account, for Trinitarian belief, for following the Articles of Religion, or for holding to the faith once and for all delivered. We can not apologize for being a creedal church by failing to recognize them lest we offend someone with a “required belief”. We must be apologetic in our handling of the faith, but never apologize for that faith.
The next Methodism will be Spirit filled but not spirit filled.
Watson mentioned this concept, but I wanted to tag a little bit onto it that I feel matters a great deal. I have no issue with anything that Watson said (if you did not read it yet, go do it!), and it can be counted as what I would say, though not as well. I will say though that the next Methodism has to not be spirit filled. John, the disciple whom Christ loved, writes the following in his first Epistle. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits to see if they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the antichrist you heard is coming, and even now is already in the world. “ (1 John 4:1-3) Another John, this one Christ also loved, but better known by the surname Wesley said this regarding the passage. “Believe not every spirit – Whereby any teacher is actuated. But try the spirits – By the rule which follows. We are to try all spirits by the written word: “To the law and to the testimony!” If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God. Every spirit – Or teacher. Which confesseth – Both with heart and voice. Jesus Christ, who is come in the flesh, is of God – This his coming presupposes, contains, and draws after it, the whole doctrine of Christ. ye have heard – From our Lord and us, that it cometh.” In the experiment in Methodism known as the UMC, the Spirit is alive and well in many places, but the spirit is alive and well in far to many places also. Deny part of Christ, deny the bodily resurrection, deny the historic understanding of the Trinity, pass it all off as some sort of poetry, etc. you are indeed motivated by a spirit, but it is not The Spirit. Your motivations are the spirit of the antichrist, and it must not fill the next Methodism. By the way, as my way of trying to help the next Methodism along, this was apologetic in faith, but I am in no way apologetic for it.
The next Methodism will be archaic, but not anachronistic.
Archaic means “very old or old-fashioned” and the next Methodism must be very old. Methodism always was intended to be old, tracing back it’s origins and roots to the apostles themselves. It is old, because the faith it delivers and represents is old. It begins “In the beginning” after all. The faith of the Methodist is rooted in the Old Testament and continues on through the New Testament (they are not contrary after all), into and through the tradition of the church catholic onto today. It must be archaic because the message it delivers existed before time itself. We can find new ways to present the message of course, perhaps new examples that are easier to understand (but NOT the fidget spinner trinity bit….never that), but the message is archaic. New to those who have not heard, but older than time itself. Anachronistic means “belonging to a period other than that being portrayed” and the next Methodism must not be that! Far from it, the message of Methodism is needed today more than ever (maybe most in the United Methodist Church in some places), the message of Methodism does not belong to another time and place, it belongs to all times and all places.
The next Methodism must be progressive, but not at all progressive.
Progressive means “happening or developing gradually or in stages; proceeding step by step” and the renewed method behind the next Methodism must do this. I would say it has been doing this already, but that is a rabbit hole for a different day. While I do not doubt the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about change quickly, I do think that there is a danger of forcing it. When we look to the story of Pentecost we can either look at the surface and believe that the Spirit moved and wham! everything was different, or we can examine the whole of scripture and see all that came before moving, methodically if you will, toward that moment. The next Methodism must look back to see how it has gotten to where it is to both thank God for it, and also to understand it so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. The next Methodism must not, however, be progressive. It must not declare everything in the universe to be a “justice issue” and then try to entangle itself with the state to force “Godly change”. It must not Abdicate the commands that Jesus gave the faithful to the state and then call it Godly action. While faith will always inform our politics, or lack thereof, politics must not inform our faith. The next Methodism must stop writing letters trying to influence government (but the next Methodist individuals certainly may do so as they see fit). The next Methodism must be about the Kingdom of God and it’s eventual coming in full and not about trying to force the kingdom of Caesar to do what Methodists ought to be doing. Some would suggest that by paying taxes the commands of Christ to feed the hungry (and the others that are similar) are fulfilled, thus they have followed God, but the same taxes that fund social programs, also fund the bombs that kill innocents, and I do not recall Christ calling for that. That is the problem when you render unto Caesar, he does what he wants with it. Yes we must render to Caesar what is his, but that does not, and can not, fulfill the commands of Christ for the next Methodists (and all Christians in general). The next Methodist individuals may well be involved in political action, but the next Methodism can not be. The modern progressive movement is an unholy alliance between the church and Caesar, which seeks to render God impotent and ascribe to Caesar power that is not his. The next Methodism must not be progressive because the progressive movement is the very thing that is making the next Methodism necessary in the first place. (There is a difference between those who are Christian and more liberal leaning and those who are progressive. Those who are progressive include both liberals and conservatives, though liberals are currently the loudest voices.) Progressives have us question God and the historic truth of scripture, while Methodism has us question ourselves and how we fit into the truths of scripture. The next Methodism must never do the former and always do the latter.
I have a couple of times mentioned the UMC, but like Watson, I want to reiterate that this is not about the UMC, but about something much larger. Methodists existed before the UMC (or for you methonerds, even the MEC). This is about a reform movement that is in need of reform. This is about the Wesleyan approach to faith and making sure that it remains Wesleyan. It is about the next Methodists, whomever they may be, and whatever names may be on the doors, remaining faithful to the truths of scripture.
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’ “(‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.)
This is about taking seriously the fear that Wesley had near the end of his life, and ensuring that our children, and their children, do not need have the same fear.