Thursday, January 11, 2007

Doctrine and United Methodist Identity

Henry Neufeld has an excellent post on how United Methodists define themselves. Or don't:

I attended two different United Methodist congregations off and on, and also went to small group Bible studies in both. When I had decided to rejoin the church, and specifically one of those two congregations I went to the pastors and discussed it. The first pastor told me that I would be welcome in his church no matter what. I explained that while I had been baptized, I had been out of the church for some years and wanted to acknowledge that. “We don’t care about that,” he said. “We just want you to enjoy our fellowship.” There was no discussion of my beliefs in any way. I’m not sure he had ever heard me affirm that I believed in God, though he knew I read Greek. I can testify that the two are not equivalent.

The second pastor sat down and asked me what I believed about Jesus. What a difference! We had a serious conversation. I even contested points with him. But at the end he knew that I did, in fact, believe in Jesus and was ready to accept me into membership. I joined the second congregation.

I suspect that the first pastor did not want to offend me by suggesting anything in particular I had to do. But by doing so he made me ask myself why I would join his congregation. What was the purpose? If it was merely to “enjoy fellowship” that wasn’t sufficient to me. By being open to all, I think he made the church seem to be unimportant and of little use.

Related thoughts from John Meunier.



Marie N. said...

I'm glad you found a new church home. I find the cafeterial style, (we will be whatever you want us to be) churches offer more pablum and platitudes, less sustenance for the soul.

Anonymous said...

That is a fascinating story. The first congregation is an excellent example of where we have gone wrong in the areas of accountability and discipleship. The early generations of Methodists would be horrified at the Laodicean lukewarmness of the UMC today.

Then again, there are many who would rather us use "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" as the sum total of our doctrine as opposed to the rich heritage we have at our fingertips.

bob said...

If we don't stand for something, we don't stand for anything.

Anonymous said...

good one bob

Dan Trabue said...

"But by doing so he made me ask myself why I would join his congregation. What was the purpose?"

Unrestrained acceptance? People dig being loved for who they are.

At our church, we welcome all. Period. Now there are those who will be offended by what we teach - which is certainly NOT pablum but highly opinionated, well-informed, Godly reading of the Word - and those will choose to not continue coming or not based upon how challenged and/or offended they are by what we teach.

My experience before joining our current church was different. We attended several churches and were mostly ignored. I'm sure we can all agree that's not the way to go.

I was offended by most of the churches we went to, but it was exactly because of the extreme pastiness of their teaching (if I can't tell you right after the sermon what it was about, that's a bad sign) and only ocassionally because of offensive doctrine (ie, doctrine that isn't in keeping with biblical teaching).

We haven't found our extreme open-ness to be a problem thus far. Quite the opposite. Folk find it refreshing to be welcomed for who they are.

I suppose I'm questioning the implication that a church can't be extremely welcoming AND radically adherent to God's Word at the same time. I'm sure it happens, but that hasn't been the case at my church.

John said...

I think that there's a difference between openness and vacuity. It is the difference between a church saying "we are open to many different points of view" and "we have no position on anything".

Dan Trabue said...

One of my favorite Jesus quotes is, "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" [emphasis mine].

Wonderful, grace-filled acceptance is a beautify and Godly thing.

Vacuity, on the other hand, is just a bore.

Dan Trabue said...

"beautiful" thing, of course. Not "beautify" thing. Although I guess, if your church operated a beauty salon...