John Wesley’s “Reasons Against Separation from the Church of England” as a model for the UMC. In this installment, Reasons 7-9.
(Wesley’s words are in bold)
7. BECAUSE, whereas Controversy is now asleep, and we in great Measure live peaceably with all Men, so that we are strangely at Leisure to spend our whole Time and Strength, in enforcing plain, practical, vital Religion, (O what would many of our Forefathers have given, to have enjoyed so blessed a Calm?) This would utterly banish Peace from among us, and that without Hope of its Return. It would engage me for one, in a thousand Controversies, both in Publick and Private; (for I should be in Conscience obliged to give the Reasons of my Conduct, and to defend those Reasons against all Opposers) and so take me off from those more useful Labours, which might otherwise employ the short Remainder of my Life:
I am not in agreement with the direction the majority in my annual conference have gone on many issues, but I have also not been persecuted for my beliefs. Controversy is certainly not “asleep,” but I have always been “at Leisure to spend [my] whole Time and Strength in enforcing plain, practical, vital Religion.” Wesley is right that compared to our apostolic “Forefathers,” and even our ecclesiastical ones, our climate for continuing to preach the gospel is still a blessed calm. Indeed, as a member of the orthodox minority whose church is growing I have many clergy colleagues and members of the Cabinet who are interested in learning from us about our process for growing disciples. Working toward separation, engaging in posting charges against other clergy, or making loud speeches and protests at conference and denominational meetings tends to “banish Peace from among us, and that without the Hope of its Return.” Wesley saw talk of separation as a quagmire of controversy that would “take [him] off from those more useful Labours which might otherwise employ the short Remainder of [his] life.” I can’t help but think the separation talk is preventing us from redeeming the time we’ve been given as well.
I just turned 50 this past year and I realize that while retirement is still a couple of decades away (Lord willing), I want to spend the remaining time I have left doing “useful Labours” for the kingdom and not continually fighting battles that have no real “win” for an outcome. So long as I am not being forced to do something that runs contrary to Scripture and so long as I have the freedom to continue to preach and teach the gospel as I have been called to do, I cannot justify leaving. In fact, it’s my duty to stay and continue to be salt and light within the larger Church and within my community. Jesus refused to give up even on those who nailed him to the cross. We cannot give up on our brothers and sisters, either.
8. BECAUSE to form the Plan of a New Church would require infinite Time and Care, (which might be far more profitably bestowed) with much more Wisdom and greater Depth and Extensiveness of Thought, than any of us are Masters of:
This one seems self-explanatory. I know that meetings are taking place on both sides looking for a legislative solution for separation, but given a system where the only authority is a body of a thousand people who meet only once every four years (a system that, in my experience, makes the U.S. military look incredibly efficient by comparison), and given the absolute dysfunction of said body at the last General Conference, no such solution is forthcoming. Might not our time be more “profitably bestowed” in focusing on the task of making disciples in our communities? Do we need legislation to allow us to do that? Can we not be humble enough to say that none of us has the solution, nor the mastery of the “Wisdom and greater Depth and Extensiveness of Thought” that such a solution might require?
9. BECAUSE from some having barely entertained a distant Thought of this, evil Fruits have already followed, such as Prejudice against the Clergy in general; and aptness to believe Ill of them; Contempt (not without a Degree of Bitterness), of [4/5] Clergymen as such, and a Sharpness of Language toward the whole Order, utterly unbecoming either Gentlemen or Christians.
There are plenty of “evil Fruits” being consumed in this debate. I have felt the sting of those who “believe Ill” of me for my position and I must confess that have sometimes shown “Contempt (not without a “Degree of Bitterness)” to the other side as well. Every day there are missives on social media decrying the idiocy of those on the other side. This is conduct unbecoming of Christians and demonstrates to the world that, in some ways, Christ has made no more difference in our lives than that of the pagans. Wesley kept his lay preachers from being antagonistic toward the establishment clergy. This rancor gets us nowhere and hinders the cause of Christ both within and outside the church. As James puts it, “Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other” (4:11, CEB), and as Jesus said, our anger at brothers and sisters is an invitation to God’s judgment on ourselves (Matthew 5:22). It is certainly necessary that we speak the truth, but we must always to speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Later in his list of propositions, Wesley again addresses the clergy relationship issue and I find the way he does so to be helpful:
THE Clergy wherever we are, are either Friends to the Truth, or Neuters, or Enemies to it.
IF they are Friends to it, certainly we should do every Thing, and omit every Thing we can with a safe Conscience, in order to continue, and if it be possible, increase their Good-will to it.
IF they neither further nor hinder it, we should do all that in us lies, both for their Sakes and for the Sake of their several Flocks, to give their Neutrality the right Turn, that it may change into Love rather than Hatred.
IF they are Enemies, still we should not despair of lessening, if not removing their Prejudice. We should try ever Means again and again. We should employ all our Care, Labour, Prudence, joined with fervent Prayer, to overcome Evil with Good, to melt their Hardness into Love.
That sounds like a Christian strategy to me!