(United Methodist) Theological Thursdays – Our Doctrinal History

This is not a statement of fact, but opinions of a first timer reading the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

Recently, I’ve read some legislation which would make sure that members of the United Methodist Church remembers their Evangelical United Brethren heritage, but upon reading this section of the BoD, I’m not sure that the failure to include Otterbien with Wesley is not just a natural evolution of the United Methodist. In the BoD, there is, while not a purely equal share, a great deal of coverage given to the EUB past. These German Methodists have given us a portion of the Reformed Tradition which I didn’t know we had. Granted, everything begins with Wesley, but…

They define “the scripture way of salvation” which I had a problem with due to the dubious use of that term so often today among Evangelicals as a “spiritual pilgrimage.” This includes the “integrity of basic Christian truth” and “practical application.” As said last time, this is the focus of Methodism, not in doctrine, but in living the Christian experience. While the UM is dedicated to certain doctrinal, core, truths, they generally live and let live with most beliefs. I mean, I am a pretty sacramental type of guy – the Sacraments came before Scripture, by the way – but they have allowed me in because they recognize the right for Christians to disagree about some of the finer details, such as Church government. (The UM, in my opinion, has it the best). With all of this toleration, they are committed to the “marrow of Christian truth” which is, of course, brought forth through the process of the so-called Wesley quadrilateral. They leave room for the lack of knowledge which once brought about, may change certain things.

If Rome ever opens its doors to a Wesleyan Ordinate, I can see it becoming an order, like the Benedictines. I mean, Wesleyanism, at least in Britain, holds Scripture first, but so too Wesley’s sermons. We have to remember that American Methodists and British Methodists have some differences, mainly due to the merger with the EUB and the ME. Wesley, then, seems to hold a higher place and rightly so. Wesley was methodically theological. Theology can be found in all of his and his brother Charles’ writings, from hymns to sermons. While these things play a large part in United Methodist history, due to that little dust up over taxes and tea, we soon separated and took a different course. On this side of the pond, Methodists followed the 39 Articles of Religion from the Anglicans. This wasn’t so much as rule book as a boundary marker. As a matter of fact, trials were brought against preachers for teaching outside the lines of the Articles. They should have done this about the holiness sects.

I find it odd that Socinianism, Arianism, and Pelagianism are still singled out in the BoD, given… well… you know.

Moving into the 1800’s, American Methodists stressed free will, infant baptism, and informal worship much to the chagrin of heretics – I mean, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Episcopalians. I find that last bit odd, however. I do think, tho, that it had something to do with the American Spirit. For me, worship, liturgy, is tide to theology, to doctrinal discipline. You can use either fear or worship to promote doctrinal discipline… since neither was apart of American Methodist, the 20th century allowed the ME to begin to loose a lot of the doctrinal integrity. I think that this is where the EUB comes in at. The German Methodists provide us with a strong connection to the German Reformed tradition, although I would disagree with some of the statements. To that end, with the revival of doctrine, it does seem that some within the United Methodist Church wants to move that way again… to doctrinal discipline. I would support this, somewhat, but if it prevents true doctrinal development, then we must be weary of it. They call this “doctrinal re-invigoration”, pointing to a recovery of the UMC’s doctrinal heritage – catholic, evangelical, and reformed.


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