Tim Whitaker Catholic Substance worship

Will there be catholic substance in the next Methodism?

on April 7, 2020
Bishop Timothy Whitaker
Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Photo credit: Kathy Gilbert / UMNS)

Timothy W. Whitaker is a Retired United Methodist Church bishop who served the Florida Area.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.

The United Methodist Church is poised on the edge of a great divide in 2021. It seems probable that the Church will split into at least two main bodies with perhaps several other groups going their own ways for a while. Because of our pattern over recent decades of preferring to fight with one another rather than to separate from one another, one cannot rule out the possibility that there may still be some kind of institutional stalemate in the next year.

An opportunity for reform

Whatever happens in the United Methodist Church during the next few years, this is a time of instability, but instability offers the opportunity for reform. By reform, I do not mean merely making necessary institutional corrections, such as dismantling a leadership structure and a bureaucracy that lack accountability, but recovering and appropriating for our time the genuine Wesleyan heritage.

Currently we United Methodists call “Wesleyan” whatever theology that fits with the dominant institutional agenda in America, and we give lip service to distinctive Wesleyan means of grace such as the class meeting while relying on technocratic strategies to “renew” the Church. After more than fifteen years of organizational theory, leadership theory and buzz words, the Church has continued to decline rapidly and also to disintegrate because we have forgotten that the lifeblood of the Church’s being is its spiritual and theological life rather than the business of its institutional existence.

A bright spot is that we have had many decades of scholarship in the study of Wesleyan history and theology, but strangely this scholarship has not engendered a movement of appropriating for the Church today the Wesleyan Way of making and living as disciples of Jesus Christ. The scholars have done their job, but they have not had a Church that is able to receive their scholarship and use it by implementing a spiritual and theological reform of the life of the Church according to the Wesleyan spirit. There is a disconnect between the stimulating research of Wesleyan scholars and the reliance of the United Methodist Church on sterile techniques for rousing the membership to life and reaching the hearts of people who have not heard the gospel proclaimed as real news from the living God.

The Wesleyan heritage with catholic substance

Because this moment of instability is an opportunity for recovering the genuine Wesleyan heritage, I wish only to lift up one concern that I contend is absolutely essential for a Methodist church and any Christian communion–catholic substance.

This term “catholic substance” is borrowed from the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. In Volume Three of his Systematic Theology, Tillich asserted that the “Protestant Principle” of reform needs to be accompanied by “Catholic substance.” I borrow Tillich’s term, but I define it in my own way.

“Catholic substance” can be understood as the historic deposit of the living tradition of the ecumenical Christian tradition. It includes rituals of Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist; the Christian liturgical year; liturgical practices and forms; the rule of faith embodied by the universal Nicene Creed and the Western Apostles’ Creed; the doctrinal decrees of the seven ecumenical councils from 325 to 787 C.E. (especially the first five–Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople II); the writings of the church fathers; the lives and writings of men and women saints, and a rich heritage of spiritual wisdom and practices in Eastern and Western Christian traditions of spirituality.

I employ lower case “c” in writing “catholic substance” because it constitutes a tradition embodied by many Christian communions and institutions.

We Methodists have received a heritage that gives us a clear direction about a Way of being the church. This Way includes the spiritual and theological teaching of John Wesley’s Standard Sermons and Notes on the New Testament and Charles Wesley’s hymns; engendering conversion and growth in holiness by means of small groups and service to the poor; and distinctive Methodist liturgies including the Covenant Service, which directs a Christian to participate in Christ’s total self-surrender to God, and love feasts, which cultivate a culture of personal testimony. This heritage needs to be recovered. However, we should also be aware that the Wesleyan heritage rests upon a foundation of catholic substance–the entire tradition of the apostolic and catholic faith.

There would be no “apostolical man,” as some Methodists described Mr. Wesley, unless there were apostles chosen by Jesus Christ to be the foundation of his church. There would be no Standard Sermons and Notes without the canon of the scriptures of the Christian church. There would be no Methodist hymns and liturgies without the liturgical tradition of the universal tradition of the Christian church. There would be no Methodist church with its own distinctive Way beginning in the eighteen century unless there were a Christian church instituted by Jesus Christ through his apostles and constituted by the Holy Spirit in the first century C.E.

John and Charles Wesley are the church fathers of Methodism. The Holy Spirit inspired and led them in discovering a movement that has proven to be a way of transforming lives and renewing the church. But we must always remember that they themselves were priests in a catholic church, the Church of England. The Wesleys’ creative activity of evangelism and nurture took place within the context of catholic liturgy, doctrine, and order.

In his contribution to A Library of Christian Thought, Albert Outler’s John Wesley (Oxford University Press, 1964) perhaps marked the beginning of a resurgence in Wesleyan studies. In his preface to this volume of selections from John Wesley’s writings, along with editorial introductions and notes, Outler observes, “One might apply a faintly fuzzy label to this distinctive doctrinal perspective:  evangelical catholicism. Its most important immediate source in Wesley’s thought was the Anglican theological literature in which he had steeped himself at Oxford and in Georgia. Its deeper wellspring was the Bible and its interpretation by the ancient Fathers of the Church….”

I think that there is a tendency by later Methodists to take for granted the catholic substance which characterizes both the Church in which the Wesleys served as priests and their own theology and spirituality. Any Christian communion that is self-consciously Wesleyan or Methodist has a responsibility not only to taste the distinctive Wesleyan heritage but also to drink deeply from the well of catholic substance, the living tradition of the apostolic and catholic faith.

For Methodists who truly understand the story of the Wesleys’ and of their faith, the concepts of being a “movement” and of being church are never in opposition to each other, but they always go hand in hand. Yes, the Wesleyan Way is always a movement of the Holy Spirit in the human heart and in the life of the church, but this Way presupposes and needs the substance of a church that is solidly built upon the gospel and the whole Christian tradition.

Recovering catholic substance in the next Methodism

How may we recover catholic substance along with the Wesleyan Way in the next Methodism?

We should be aware that the Wesleyan heritage is not a substitute for, or an alternative to, the historic ecumenical Christian tradition, but it constitutes only one way of appropriating the living tradition of the apostolic and catholic faith. While this seems only too obvious, this is a very necessary observation simply because there is a tendency among Methodists to think that we can take for granted the catholic substance on which the Wesleyan heritage rests. If we have to say so, then we must always acknowledge that, first of all, we are Christians, and, then and only then, we are Methodists. Like all other Christians, we also have a responsibility to know and to live according to the living tradition of the apostolic and catholic faith.

Reforming liturgy

The center of the life of the church is the worship of one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, in the one Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6, 12:1-13; Ephesians 4:4-5). From the beginning, the church has lived from its common worship on the Lord’s day, and all of its actions have flowed from its worship. The distinctive Methodist emphases on evangelism and service should be grounded in worship. Jesus said that “the greatest and first commandment” is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (cf. Matthew 22:34-37). Then Jesus added that there is “a second [commandment] like it,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:39-40). With our emphases on “doing good” and “mission,” we Methodists have a tendency to think and act as if the first commandment is submerged into the second commandment, forgetting that obeying the first commandment to love God is enjoying worshiping God together.

Not everything that is called “worship” today is really worship according to the historic ecumenical Christian tradition. Before we launch into the next Methodism, we need some serious evaluation of what we are doing in our services of worship. Currently there is a breakdown in discipline concerning how worship is ordered and led. Despite the fact that John Wesley submitted the Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, a version of the Sunday liturgy of the Church of England, to the American Methodists, it has not been the American Methodist tradition to require all clergy and congregations to adhere to a uniform liturgy, but even in American Methodism there have always been requirements to adhere to the official “ritual” of the Church and to expect the clergy and congregations to abide by certain norms.

There should be some freedom for clergy and congregations to adapt to their own local communities, but only within the limits of a common liturgical practice, including strict adherence to the rites for the sacraments and other services such as marriages and funerals.

The heart of reforming Methodist worship should be the celebration of the Eucharist every Sunday–one of the marks of both the historic ecumenical Christian tradition and the distinctive Wesleyan heritage. Our practice should be guided by John Wesley’s sermon, The Duty of Constant Communion, and our spirituality should be nourished by Charles Wesley’s many eucharistic hymns.

Not so long ago the life of Methodist congregations revolved around a Sunday morning liturgy in which the mighty acts of God were celebrated, a Sunday evening service when an evangelical invitation was offered to all persons, and a Wednesday prayer meeting that consisted of exposition of scripture and intercession for the world, the church, and its members. When a flurry of activities that are not worship dominates the weekly round of a congregation’s life, then the life of the church is distorted from being a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) into becoming a busy organization. The point is not that we should return to a pattern that served the church several generations ago, but that we should learn from past practices how the life of the church is ordered according to a rhythm of continual worship and prayer from which flows faithful living in the world.

There is a weighty question that is asked of all persons who are ordained for ministry in the United Methodist Church. The question is, “Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting and upholding its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and comitting yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?” The collapse of discipline in our Church in recent times is notorious, but we ought not miss how all clergy make a solemn vow to accept and uphold the liturgy of the Church. This will only happen if the Church has a liturgy and if this liturgy is grounded in the historic ecumenical Christian tradition.

Teaching doctrine

Liturgy, the worship of God, and doctrine, the teaching of the church, are intertwined. On the one hand, doctrine is derived to some extent from liturgy, as demonstrated by the fact that some of the greatest Christological texts in the New Testament are hymnic, e.g. Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:1-18. On the other hand, doctrine shapes liturgy so that there can be right praise that is ordered according to the revelation of God’s relation to us. As a particular concern, one reason that the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed should be recited every Sunday is because liturgy is the school of the church, and the members need to know the church’s rule of faith by heart.

The interaction of liturgy and doctrine indicates that doctrine matters not merely because it consists of correct thinking and speaking about theology, but because doctrine is essential for right praise or worship of God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We cannot worship and be in a right relationship with God unless our liturgy is ordered according to the truth that God has revealed to us. The word orthodoxy, which means “right praise,” is usually defined as adherence to the doctrine of the church, but the word is a reminder that the true purpose of teaching the doctrine of the church is to enable members of the church to truly know God and to rightly worship God.

Teaching orthodox doctrine is essential for the spiritual health of the church and its members. Why is there so much unbelief, lack of spiritual satisfaction, and dissension in our Church? One reason for disquiet in the Church is that leaders have substituted their own theological agendas for the doctrine of the Church. When personal opinions and feelings are taught instead of the doctrine of the Church–whether in a Sunday School class, from a pulpit, or in a seminary lecture–the body of Christ is wounded rather than made well and strong.

In their book, The Identity of the Church (SCM Press, 1987), Anglican theologians A.T. and R.P.C. Hanson observe, “To reduce Christian doctrine to the individual interpretations, insights and whims of each theologian, and finally of each individual Christian or arbitrary group of Christians, which is the logical outcome of much contemporary theology, is in fact to dissolve Christianity.” They add, “It is not the Bible that unites Christians, but the church’s tradition in interpreting the Bible, as the history of the ecumenical movement has shown. What we need is agreement on doctrine, on what we teach when we are not just repeating the words of the Bible.” They offer their own working definition of orthodoxy as the teaching of 1) the Trinity; 2) the Incarnation; 3) the Atonement; 4) the church; 5) and, the two sacraments of baptism and holy communion. This definition is a good starting place for identifying the essentials of orthodox doctrine.

As a practical matter, the renewal of orthodoxy in the church entails several practices.

A major project is to recover catechesis (“oral instruction”), the ancient church’s name for serious teaching of the doctrine and the way of life of the church to persons seeking to be baptized.

Moreover, there has to be discipline in what is taught in a congregation. The church of the future will be strong in its faith and witness only if the people are nourished by solid doctrinal teaching. Shallow and sentimental piety is no substitute for doctrinal vibrancy. The church’s faith is damaged and its unity is threatened when individuals or groups are allowed to teach unsound theology that is contrary to orthodoxy.

The pulpit must be the ordinary place where a congregation learns how to think theologically in accordance with the rich and deep tradition of the church. In his book with its suggestive title, The Reformed Imperative:  What the Church Has to Say That No One Else Can Say (Westminster Press, 1988), Presbyterian theologian John H. Leith writes, “The primary source of the malaise of the church…is the loss of a distinctive Christian message and of the theological and biblical competence that made its preaching effective. Sermons fail to mediate the presence and grace of God. Many sermons are moral exhortations, which can be heard delivered with greater skill at the Rotary or Kiwanis Club. Many sermons are political and economic judgments on society, which have been presented with greater wisdom and passion at political conventions. Many sermons offer personal therapies, which can be better provided by well-trained psychiatrists. The only skill the preacher has–or the church, for that matter–which is not found with greater excellence somewhere else, is theology, in particular the skill to interpret and apply the Word of God in sermon, teaching, and pastoral care. This is the great service which the minister and the church can render the world. Why should anyone come to church for what can be better found somewhere else?”

Doctrinal teaching and preaching are integral to the educative function of the healing grace of God in the spiritual life of the church and of its members. According to Luke Timothy Johnson’s translation of Titus 2:11-14 in his Letters to Paul’s Delegates (Trinity Press International, 1996), the apostle Paul says, “For God’s grace has appeared. It gives salvation to all people. It educates us, so that, once having rejected ungodliness and worldly desires, we might live prudently, righteously, and in godly fashion during the present time, as we await the blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us, so that he might ransom us from every kind of lawlessness, and might purify a special people for himself that was eager to do good deeds.”

A Plea for catholic substance

The division among United Methodists is usually depicted as a gulf between progressives and evangelicals. There is one thing that both groups tend to have in common–a neglect of catholic substance.

Progressives have inherited the liberal tradition that takes a polemical stance against the wholesome tradition of the church.

Evangelicals profess orthodoxy, but evangelical bodies have a record of being seedbeds for liberalism. This is probably because evangelicals’ passion for personal experience causes them to treat the liturgical and doctrinal traditions of the church as forms of “dead orthodoxy.”

As Albert Outler observed, John Wesley was an evangelical catholic. The next Methodism could be a church that is reformed to be both evangelical and catholic; a church that has an evangelical spirit in a catholic body which practices catechesis and eucharistic worship; a church that seeks to evangelize people of all ages, races, and social classes and to nourish them in the rich resources of the apostolic and catholic faith.

Read more of Bishop Whitaker’s writings here.

  1. Comment by Reynolds on April 7, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Why is this idiot using C.E. If your a Christian you should only use B.C and A.D. this is the problem with the Church they have given up on Christ and allowing secular people make the decisions

  2. Comment by Rich on April 10, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Great “accepting” statement. You should be ashamed for calling anyone a disparaging name for something as trivial as the use of a initials that are only meant to differentiate the periods in our religious history.

  3. Comment by Mercersberger on April 7, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    An excellent article, but it should be noted that the concepts of “catholic substance” and the “Protestant principle” were hardly original to Tillich.

    In the mid-nineteenth century German Reformed (antecedent to the UCC) theologians John Williamson Nevis and Philip Schaff published a series of books outlining these very principles.

    “The Principle of Protestantism” , “The Anxious Bench” and especially “The Mystical Presence” belong in the library of every serious student of Church history.

  4. Comment by L Cary on April 11, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Someone needs to translate this article into language that the bulk of laypersons would easily understand. (I’m not volunteering.)

    As it stands, it is an example of inside-baseball ecclesiastical jargon rendering it, to many, as opaque as peanut butter.

  5. Comment by Jim on April 21, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Lol – I thought the same thing but you’ve articulated so eloquently!

  6. Comment by Scott on April 7, 2020 at 4:47 pm

    Another call to go back to the good old days. Yes we should emphasize theological standards and stick to them. But a unified order of service that everyone follows based on Wesley’s suggestion? In case people haven’t noticed, the churches that are growing are the evangelical churches that spend little time on liturgy. Why their pastors don’t even where robes and stolls! Why we must maintain our theological standards and we must maintain our Wesleyan focus on evangelism, with loving our neighbor a second, but smaller emphasis, we need to learn to reach people in ways that they respond to. The young adults of today walk in to a church with stately pipe organ music, ministers robed up leading the church in reciting liturgy, and sermons based on cute examples and the majority never come back. They go down the street to the non denominational church, where the church doesn’t look tired and old, the music is of a type that speaks to them (it doesn’t have to be a rock band), and the pastor delivers a hard hitting, biblicaly based, and evangelical sermon. They don’t care about Wesley’s standard sermons, or his notes on the Bible, or the lectionary, or any of that stuff we preachers like to cling to. The guys that have figured this out have churches that are growing. I’m sure some of you will send me examples that prove me wrong, but take a look at Barna’s research and it will be clear what type of church is attracting the adults under 50 today.

  7. Comment by Rich on April 10, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Seems like a generalization at best. The only labels pinned to Methodist Churches in the last 20 years or so are terms like liberal, accepting and others similar in nature. Traditional worship service such as advocated in the article is no where to be seen.

  8. Comment by Search4Truth on April 17, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    Wonder if this commentator has ever read the Pentateuch? I wonder if much of what is misnomered today as Christianity has forgotten the awesomeness of God.

  9. Comment by David on April 7, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    The UMC has become more “high church” over the years. Prior to about the 1920s, one would be hard pressed to find the use of a brass cross and candlesticks on the communion table. This was usually placed on the floor level in front of the central pulpit. Altars were not really in use until the meetinghouse style was abandoned for episcopal style churches at about the same time. Clergy usually did not wear robes until the 1940s and 1950s. Some claim these changes were to move beyond the evangelical styles of buildings and services and seem like more “respectable” denominations. Today, ritual is clearly out of fashion and few will hang around for it as mentioned. The responsive readings were dreary to me back in the 1950s. Ritualistic fraternal groups have experienced a steep drop in membership.

    A hold over from the old days were the services in the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove, NJ. The clergy that appear in the summer even today do not wear robes. A visiting UMC bishop once took great exception to the fact that no cross was displayed. Shortly thereafter, the summer choir donated a suspended cross that appears for services in the multipurpose building. A “memorial cross” had been placed on a tower at the end of WWII. This is illuminated in the summer and supported by donations in memory of loved ones.

  10. Comment by Roger on April 7, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Bishop Whitaker, has outlined some important points in this article but they are not being practiced in the Church. In the past 20 years I have not heard but 1 or 2 things about John Wesley”s life, beliefs or substance of church faith. The one point I remember is “preveinant grace” and about 10 minutes of discourse on it . The next point is that Paul’s writings was used often in this article. The letters of Paul has not been used for Sermons in over the last 25 years in the pulpit and selected verses are used as they were in this article, but no Pauline doctrines expounded on them. People in the pew do not know what the Gospel is from Paul. Methodist are biblically ignorant for the lack of knowledge of the Wesley’s teaching and Bible from our Pastors and Laity. The 4 Gospels are the mainstay of their ministry. The International S.S. Lesson curriculam has included a few from Paul since it expanded to a 6 years rotation.

  11. Comment by Scott on April 8, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Roger this is not true in all churches. I consistently teach Wesleyan theology in my sermons and the teachings of the gospels, and the letters of the Apostles. But I am a biblical based preacher and do not use the lectionary. For all those he consider themselves Wesleyans but love high church worship, Wesley too loved the trappings of high church, but considered himself a dismal failure as a high church preacher. It was when he witnessed Whitfield preaching to thousands in the open air that he realized that being a street preacher (which he detested) was what God had called him to do. Wesley realized that you had to go to where the people are, not do what you want and expect them to come to you. Before we adopted high church we were expanding rapidly and since we adopted high church we have been declining. That should tell us something. We don’t need more liturgy, standard worship forms, or trappings of worship; we need to preach Christ crucified.

  12. Comment by Kevin on April 7, 2020 at 8:43 pm

    Bishop Whitaker sounds more like the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud in the mid 17th century than a Traditional Wesleyan. His Mainline High Church dream is not what Wesley envisioned that I recall from my studies. Did Wesley use some aspects of liturgy and the common book of prayer, yes, but that played a minor role in his meetings. Some of those things helped to keep others grounded in Orthodox teaching. In my studies I have never taken Wesley as what I call “Catholic Lite.”In the beginning of the official formation of a Methodist Church, from my studies, John Wesley did not even desire official Episcopal leadership. His vision was reform, personal holiness, and small group accountability so that disciples of Christ would go forth in the world as a living witness to all. Again, Traditional Methodist (the first 150 years) were essentially Orthodox-Pentecostals; Evangelical in nature and Orthodox in belief. Some of what he argues is important and I do not totally disagree with him, but it is going to far and is disingenuous to say this is Traditional Methodism. The vast majority of Methodist Churches before the 1940’s would not even recognize Methodist Churches today. We have created a monster that has become irrelevant; a mainline cancer that has infected us the last 75 to 100 years. We must get back to our Wesleyan roots and the methods that were fruitful. Before the 1870’s the Methodist Church was an exclusive church. We consisted of “members” and “attenders.” One could only become a member if he or she was a part of a class-band. By the turn of the 20th century, this exclusive church, was probably the largest Protestant church in America. The irony, creating an inclusive church that molded itself slowly into mainline status caused its demise, irrelevance, and witness to a broken world. I am looking for reform and change. If this is what our leadership hopes for then I will find my home in the Wesleyan Church, The Church of the Nazarene, or The Church of God where I will worship as a Traditional Methodist.

  13. Comment by Walter D Edwards on April 7, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    I feel that I understand and am able to say Amen to what Bishop Whitaker has written. I studied under Bishop Cannon, read Wesley’s Works in the Jackson edition, read the Sugden editions of the letters, and studied the Standard Sermons. I am grateful for the opportunity to pass along these learnings to some pastors I have mentored. Knowing that Wesley put a limitation of Scripture and the Divinity of Jesus Christ, around the “Think and let think” statement that has been so ofter misused. So nthank you Bishop Whitaker.

  14. Comment by Michael Pasquarello on April 8, 2020 at 8:20 am

    The author is not speaking of style but substance, where many so called “effective” or “successful” evangelical churches fall short. He is raising an important question as to whether a new expression of Methodism will be capable of receiving and handing on the apostolic faith of the whole Church. This is not about what “works” to reach people, but rather the question of faithfulness to the gospel in its fullness.

  15. Comment by Michael Pasquarello on April 8, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    The good bishop is not trying to reignite the “worship wars.” Nor is he defending the unfaithfulness of the mainline church, where forms of godliness have been retained without its power. As offensive as it may be, he is addressing Methodists who claim to be evangelical and orthodox, asking that we see ourselves as part of the whole “catholic” and in need of reform. To deny this is to cling to the “good old days” of our late modern religious practices which he as described well. To reduce this to a matter of either “high church” or “low church” is to miss the point. The question being raise is whether it is our desire to be a church in which the fullness of God is pleased to dwell in the person of Jesus Christ. When asked to define Methodism, Wesley would refer to the religion of the Bible, the early church, and the Homilies, Book of Common Prayer, and Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Or, as would state, Methodism is best summed up as follows: “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Christ our Lord.” The bishop is only doing what the Church consecrated him to do: to set forth the Trinitarian faith of the Church in its truth, goodness and beauty, with particular attention to the Wesleyan “way.”

  16. Comment by Mike on April 9, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    Both of your comments are right on and well stated, Michael. Thank you.

  17. Comment by Cody Fisher on April 10, 2020 at 9:48 am

    The article and your comments speak to me personally. I’m a Gen-Xer who is old enough to have lived through the zenith of the church growth movement and to have experienced many different trends come and go, but also young enough that people inviting me to their churches assume my first concern is modern worship music. I have never been affected by it. My mind goes numb. And you’re right this article is about so much more than taste in musical style, high/low church, or how a church is marketed. It’s about removing ourselves from that merry-go-round. There are empty, former mega-church buildings everywhere that evidence the fact that these church growth strategies are flailing. I’m not a pastor or church historian by any means, but wasn’t the church growth movement a reaction to the liberalism of the mainline, which was a result of the burnout left by the likes of Charles Finney, who was basically a church growth pioneer, etc.? All these trends were meant to pack the people in, all seemed to be working for a time, and all run their course. I think the bishop is right to call for people to stop trying so hard to give the people what they want and return to historic Christianity. I especially like the emphases on liturgy as catechesis and weekly communion. The communion rail is where I feel closest to Jesus. I think that’s where we are all closest to Him.

  18. Comment by Gabe Davis on April 11, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    If we are not willing to reform then there is no reason to start a new expression of Methodism and if we do not plan on being catholic( little c) in our approach we might as well join an existing denomination like the ACNA. If this new expression turns out to be the same as other churches of this modern churches what is the point. I think taking the best from all traditions and methodical reinforcing orthodox theology and holding worship separate and Holy from other church activities. I hope we take this article seriously It warmed my heart.

  19. Comment by Glen on April 11, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    This puts so little emphasis on the Bible that it sickens me. Just more shuffling of the deck chairs. The Titanic is going down.

  20. Comment by Joe M on April 12, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    People sense life when they find it, whether it is in a megachurch service with Hillsong music, or a liturgical Methodist service with Charles Wesley hymns. As fr “sermons based on cute examples,’ those afflict all groups pretty evenly. But groups that take pride in their distinctives, versus their seeker-friendly staging, can still appeal. The steadying dignity of low church liturgics, the common-sense theology of Wesley, and a hymnody that bests that of pretty much every still-exciting denomination — those are resources that should somehow be remembering versus closeted.

  21. Comment by td on April 12, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    I agree with the general points of this article. But i see very little chance that Methodist clergy will have any interest in embracing litirgy and ritual.

    They seem to have been convinced that people don’t want it. I don’t understand this; if we look at the Catholic Church, which is highly charged with theological meaning in its liturgy and ritual, you hear very little complaint from its members about not liking it. In fact, you are most likely to hear that it is one of the things that they love the most.

    Instead, what seems to plague the Methodists in this issue is the same issue that plagues it other problems: the clergy view themselves as private actors who want to do everything their own way.

  22. Comment by Pastor Dave Poedel on April 12, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    This evangelical catholic on the Lutheran side is excited and edified by this article. This is most encouraging. How will these congregations be identified? Are things that far along or is this conceptual. All I have to offer to you is my prayers for your faithful work for the good of the Church!

  23. Comment by Paul Cooper on April 14, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Oh how I miss the full choral and congregational liturgy of Holy Communion way back when I was an elementary-aged PK in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

  24. Comment by Siouxfan on April 20, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    It does not matter the denomination, priest or pastor or how big the Church is nor the laws of the Church!! Plain and simple the blood of Jesus Christ is the only way to be Saved!! Look at the thief on the cross he was repentant of his sins and stepped out on faith and accepted Christ as his Savior on his death bed!! He was of no denomination or Church ritual, not baptized nor confirmed or spoke any creeds yet Christ told him this day he would spend eternity in paradise with him!! You Must Accept Christ as your Lord and Savior that is done when Christ speaks to your heart. The road to hell is wide and the road to heaven is narrow! There is no guarantee of tomorrow accept Christ today!

  25. Comment by William on April 21, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    This is typical Bishop Whitaker—extremely verbose, vague, and esoteric. He calls for us to stand up for Wesleyan doctrine, but where was he over the past 10 years when the Council of Bishops was departing from the authority of Scripture? He was hiding under his desk.

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