Friday, October 10, 2014

Anabaptizing The Wesleyan Church

I'm an ordained Wesleyan minister. But let's be honest... a lot of that is happenstance. Soon after their conversions, my parents started attending the local Wesleyan church. That was almost 30 years ago. I'm still there. I love my home church. And I love The Wesleyan Church (TWC). Almost a decade ago I read through this handbook of denominations and determined that TWC was my 2nd favorite denomination behind only the Church of God (Anderson, IN). 2nd place out of so many is pretty great. In other words, nobody should interpret this blog-post as an anti-Wesleyan Church rant. I love my branch of Christianity and have every intention of spending the remainder of my earthly life there.

That being said, I do think The Wesleyan Church needs a bit more Anabaptism in its blood. Over the last decade I've become a lot more Anabaptist in my theology/doctrine. But I don't think TWC should become more Anabaptist because I did. I think TWC should become more Anabaptist for its own sake (surviving post-Christendom) and for Jesus' sake.

One of the go-to places to discover the basic elements of Anabaptism is the Schleitheim Confession. It lists 7 core convictions of Anabaptists:

1. Believer's Baptism
For the most part, Anabaptism has already won the day on this front in TWC. It is my impression that MOST (not all) Wesleyan pastors either highly prefer or exclusively practice only believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism). That being said, I definitely do sense a movement within TWC arguing FOR infant baptism. And, of course, that argument goes right back to John Wesley himself. Recently I've been leading a group through 60 of Mr. Wesley's sermons. One thing I've found is that Wesley seems to have had an intense internal debate about the practice. He was beholden to his (infant baptizing) tradition while hating some of its results. I'm not suggesting that we end the debate, but I do feel strongly about believer's baptism.

2. The Ban (Church Discipline)
Church discipline is in The Discipline, but it is generally not in the churches. Of course, it's super difficult to do church discipline in a culture where people can (and do) just change churches upon their first grievance. But I wholly believe that we need to find some way to discipline (in love) members who are falling away from the faith.

3. The Lord's Supper
Now, here's proof that I'm not just following Anabaptism step for step. In my readings of Wesley sermons, I really enjoyed his take on communion. He seemed open to anyone who was taking a step toward Christ participating in the sacrament. It was truly a means of grace (maybe even saving grace) for Wesley. Anabaptists seem more adamant that participants must be saved & baptized believers. I'll side with my understanding of Wesley here.

4. Separation
This is the area that stands behind my motivation for posting this today. It seems that lately (maybe its because I just attended a conference with Bruxy Cavey, Greg Boyd, and Brian Zahnd) I can't help but seeing as ugly the blending of church & state in America. Often, our local church are more passionate about patriotism than the Kingdom of God. Anabaptists, rightfully in my opinion, see themselves as a counter-cultural movement. I get the impression, however, that TWC sees itself much more as a para-culture ministry. I'll give one example. Today I was on the Wesleyan Pastor's page (Facebook) and found out that a number of pastors would be unwilling to marry a couple that didn't want a state license, but would have no problem recognizing a couple as married that did the whole deal before a secular judge. Something is backwards here! I'm not sure if we've nationalized our faith... or faithified our patriotism. I think all Wesleyan pastors should read this post from the Dean of Wesley Seminary.

5. Pastors
The Schleitheim Confession speaks of the importance of pastors. I don't think there's too much difference, here, between Anabaptists and TWC. I'm probably different from both of them. I feel like the ideal situation for any pastor would be to work their way out of a job! But that's another blog post.

6. The Sword
I don't anticipate the peace-making position to become a majority view within TWC. Personally, I don't believe Christians should participate in violence. I believe we are called to play a different role in conflict (prayerful peace-makers). But I try to be a realist. TWC isn't an Anabaptist denomination. It is enough, for me, that it allows those with Anabaptist convictions in its ranks (and promises to support them in their convictions). But I long for the day when we, as TWC, actually have confidence in the power of sacrifice. I long for the day when I stop hearing Wesleyans say things like 'Just nuke em.' I long for the day that when we talk about 'our' response... it's not the response of the nation that we have in mind... but the response Jesus wants to make through the church.

7. The Oath
Anabaptists are against taking oaths. TWC is against secret oaths. Close enough. This post is getting pretty long and I don't feel passionately enough about this issue to make a big deal out of this point.

To summarize, I feel that the Anabaptist tradition raises important issues for Wesleyans to consider. They make strong arguments for believer's baptism, the practice of church discipline, viewing the church as a radical counter-culture, and the peace-making position. These are all areas that I think TWC needs to seriously consider in order to survive in post-Christendom and, even more importantly, in order to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

I have no desire to leave The Wesleyan Church for an Anabaptist denomination, but I have every intention to bring these beautiful and powerful elements of the Anabaptist tradition more and more into The Wesleyan Church.

No comments: