November 29, 2005

Muddled Middle or Extreme Center

My friend Clif has been sending me updates on the post below because, quite frankly, I think he knows I disagree with some of the points made in the underlying article. First let me say that in general I agree with Jones and Hamilton on the notion of the Extreme Center. The question is the center of what.

As a Methodist I am certainly not a fundamentalist, and yet I adhere to the supremacy of scripture. As a Methodist I tend to be less dogmatic on certain areas of doctrine like the issues around the end times or other such things, but as Methodists we are confessional in that we believe that Jesus actually was God Incarnate, He was punished for our sins, and He was resurrected. On those issues there can be no real debate. (They are forever ensuring as doctrinal standards in our restrictive rules and cannot be changed.) In other words United Methodists...To the extent that they adhere to their own constitution and stated beliefs, are firmly orthodox.

So my question is the middle means what? I'm not big on saying we are in the middle, I tend to refer to it as the Muddled Middle and think of it as the place where churches go to die. What Jones and Hamilton articulate is not the muddled middle but the extreme center. The word extreme is important here. It is recapturing and rearticulating our Wesleyan core with confidence that we know what is in fact true about God. Namely that He has the heart of a Father and that grace is at the center of His relationship to and with us, and that this grace can transform us. That's appealing to me.

Several things drew my attention in the article. First among them Roberts said,

"But they also want a pastor who didn't ordain himself. Or who changed his first name to Bishop. Or who makes up the church's theological standards to fit her own tastes, needs or desires."

I almost fell out of my chair laughing at this one. After all we are a denomination founded by a renegade Anglican who was kicked out of just about every church he ever preached in, and who violated church law by ordaining missionary bishops (Coke then Coke ordained Asbury) to oversee the Methodist movement in America. And why was Wesley persona non grata in so many churches in England? Because they felt he was "making up the church's theological standards to fit his own tastes, needs, or desires."

Second, the Via Media is not the golden mean of Aristotle Roberts seems to suggest, in fact it refers to a radical middle way between Catholic and Protestant theologies, namely the understanding of grace. The unique focus of Wesley is the idea that grace is both the un-earned favor (Protestant) AND the power to overcome personal sin (Catholic) ... Some would call that quite radical.

Then he said:

"They want a church that didn't rise up out of a vacuum, but that has instead grown up in a creative way from the deep and nourishing roots of history and tradition. They want organization, and order, and transparency that can be trusted. "

Well this is interesting, given that the Methodist movement started as a rebellion of sorts against the established doldrums of the Anglican Church. John Wesley's famous "The World Is My Parish" quote refers to his defiance of the Church of England's insistance that he not preach outside of his parish ... and especially not to the people in the streets. John threatened the organization, order, and transparency of the established church.

So I agree lets persue the Extreme Center, not the Muddled Middle ... Centered on Christ and his mission in the world. After all it is his Body.

So recapping ... Extreme Center-Sign Me Up Muddled Middle-spit it out!

1 comment:

Chris Marsden said...

My background in the Christian Church (a denomination without any denomination) always makes me wonder why people worry about denominations to begin with. But as I look around my "denomination" I appear to be the minority. My focus...The Kingdom! Sometimes I still slip into "denom" thinking, and there are definitely core dotrines that more align with our bretheren then others, but overall its the Kingdom.

I too have noticed, in our denomination, that blurred line of what we claim to stand for, when in fact those founding the movement did the opposite. Technically speaking, the Christian Church serves "open communion." That is, anyone who claims Christ is free to partake. This is one of the issues that got the whole movement rolling. Men leaving established churches because of "closed communion," that is you have to belong to our group to partake. And yet, many of our churches stress that anyone who is a Christian by our definition is free to partake.

I think about the line from the movie "The Rock." One side of history labeled the America's founding fathers traitors, but the other side labelled them patriots. It is funny how what we celebrate in our denominations as our great history and distinctiveness, is somehow heresy in the next generations.

Thanks for the insight into another branch of the Kingdom.