You Want a Catholic Spirit UMC? Be Excellent to One Another.


It is often quoted among United Methodists, an excerpt from his sermon, “On a Catholic Spirit.” and it goes like this:

“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 doubt, we may.”

But, as we are so prone to do, we pull it out of the fuller context, one which begs us to reflect upon further. Here is the whole of the paragraph:

“But even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? 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 doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works.”

Sometimes, those opinions and modes DO prevent an entire external union. Finding our way forward as Christians means we own up to truths we hide from ourselves.

One thing I think telling for those of us from a Wesleyan-Methodist tradition is a couple of classes I took in seminary. I took two classes, one required for graduation and the other required for ordination. The first was Wesleyan Theology. It delved into the thought and understanding of Wesley’s view of God. The second was United Methodist Theology. This class dug into what the denomination had come to think and understand about God. Are they similar? Yes, because the second came from the first. But are they also different? Yes, subtle at points and more telling in others.

I will only consider one point because it seems most telling. It is what is often called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” but it is more correctly called “Outler’s Quadrilateral” after the theologian who described the four tenets. Albert Outler observed in Wesley’s theology four important elements: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In United Methodist theology, these four elements were given equal weight in how United Methodists should understand God.

But in John Wesley’s mind and theology, these were far from being equal. Scripture was primary and the other three, while important, were to always submit to Scripture. I’ll admit this maybe over simplifying but it is important. This simple difference in understanding has, I think, more than any other single point of contention, led the UMC to the place it finds itself.

I have read enough and listened to enough to see we are different and though descendents of Wesley’s great renewal, we are on differing tracks. But why should it mean, though we differ and need to seperate from an “external union,” that we not seek to find ways to love alike and to love one another?

I liken it to what I told my children, now adults, “I’m not going to agree with every decision you make nor do am I obligated to bail you out of the results, but I will love you and I do want you as part of my life.” Is there still a way forward? Yes, there always has been if only we’d live more gracious than we seem to be right now.

The United Methodist Church is a denomination, it is a sect of the Holy Universal Church of Jesus Christ. As such, it ought always be in submission to the realization it may become a dead sect, just as Wesley feared. However, from ashes also rise new hopes.

I leave this post with one simple rhetorical question and one quote:

First, how many of those churches Paul wrote to in the New Testament still exist today?

Second, “be excellent to one another.” Bill and Ted



2 comments:

John said...

"Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In United Methodist theology, these four elements were given equal weight in how United Methodists should understand God" Sorry, but as I remember an ordination question about this, scripture is primary. It is not a equilateral.

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Hey John, yes, you are correct. That is my point, UM theology has taken the quadrilateral and turned it into an equilateral. We can't put that "cat" back in the bag after all these years and it is how many are doing theology.

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