Catholic and Methodist?

Recently I’ve been thinking about the possibility of identifying myself as a “Methodist Catholic.” I’ve never been able to understand why Protestant denominations call themselves “churches”, and I’ve been a Proddy my whole life. Every week (at least in my Methodist church) we recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed which affirms that we believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” not in “many, more or less respectable, sectarian and individually founded churches.” This basically means that we are claiming to represent one part of the ancient Christian Church that comes to us from the Apostles. Why, then, do we care about being “Wesleyan”? Certainly Wesley himself did not want people to become Wesleyans. His point, rather, was that the Anglican Church should reach out to those commonly left on the margins. He wanted to renew the Church of England by preaching to and caring for the poor. Shouldn’t the Church in general care about such “evangelical” practice?
Another emphasis of the Wesleys was the doctrine of sanctification, or holiness, or as the Orthodox put it, deification. In our lifelong quest to be transformed into the likeness of Christ we ought to meet regularly with other Christians to encourage each other and hold each other accountable. Not exactly an idea unique to Methodism. Every Christian is on a journey from sinner to saint.

With most other doctrines Wesley accepted the teaching of the Church of England, and never attempted to start his own “church.” He ought to be viewed as an Anglican who attempted to bring some traditional, but neglected, Christian disciplines back into the attention of his fellow Anglicans.

In the Roman Catholic tradition this would be the role of someone who founds a religious order, someone who encourages a renewal of Christian virtue without declaring the institutional church completely bankrupt and attempting to start another one. Why then are Protestant denominations so fond of calling themselves “churches”? Why not say that we are communities of the one universal church who happen to emphasize a given practice or doctrine, but who nevertheless ascribe to the creed of the church catholic? Why not, in short, call ourselves Methodist or Lutheran or Presbyterian Catholics?

If we see ourselves as part of the larger body of Christ, rather than focusing on our distinctives, we might have a more influential role in ecumenical discussions. It’s true that to a great extent this has already happened among the leaders of our denominations, but the realization of our catholicity has not impressed itself quite as firmly upon local pastors or their congregations.

This is particularly apparent in our liturgies. Many Methodist “churches,” for example, celebrate the Eucharist only once every three months. We wouldn’t want to commune more frequently for fear that we would be too “Catholic.” But, that is exactly what we are, unless we want to abandon the Creed.

As Protestants we should take seriously the “protest” involved in our name and ask ourselves what exactly we are protesting. Why are we protesting? Are we trying to call the church catholic back to its truest self, or are we just trying not to be “Catholic.” What is the purpose of our distinctives, to remind the Church of the Gospel or simply to be good Methodists?

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4 Comments

Filed under theology, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Catholic and Methodist?

  1. Sue

    Wow, Chris!

    It’s a good thought, but are you trying to start “Church Wars”? 😉

    So, I think I’ll just live my own life as a United Methodist within the catholic (lower-case) Body of Christ. “My” future church already celebrates the Eucharist once a month, a step up from my home chuch; and they sponsor a service of Eucharist at the local nursing home, as well, so that means twice a month for those who assist with that.

    Someday, maybe I’ll convince them to celebrate it every week. That will be up to God.

    The change you advocate, I believe, needs to happen from within; not by a decree from some higher authority that will impose it on people against their wishes. Imposing change on people makes for a “works-only” situation, where they are only complying because they are expected to comply, and not because they agree with it.

  2. Hello to another Chris,

    Thanks for these thoughts which I have just discovered. Believe it or not, there are also “catholic Baptists” such as myself out there. I join with you in praying for the unity and mutual upbuilding of the entire Church.

  3. Oh…and then I looked at your profile and recognized you as a fellow Duke student too!

  4. Donna

    I have also been strongly drawn to this conclusion. I believe that as long as Christians are separated Satan is happy. I long for us all to harken back to the intentions of the early church of being one with Christ and one in our mission of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. All of the other points can be summed up as man’s interpretation of the Bible. I hope that Catholics will consider softening some of their legalistic values that they hold dear and that the protestants will learn from the Catholics more devotion and loyalty to the true tenants of the church and not be afraid to stand for things that are not politically correct. I hope the Methodists in the more urban places such as New York will drop the politics and “causes” that they are so passionate about and return to the true intention of the church. If everyone were to follow the Bible there would be no need for politcal passions that have superceded the message of the church. I have been completely dismayed by the causes the United Methodist Women have taken on. They seem like a radical group like MoveOn or Acorn, but that is not the identity that I desire as a Methodist woman or one thankfully that I see day to day at my own church. But I believe there is a tragedy of the churches becoming too politcal as the Catholic churches did in the middle years and we must all fear that dividing us. I am happy that the two churches are talking and hopefully some progress can be made on behalf of all the churches to return to the message and mission of the church and leave the politics to others. The church is our refuge away from worldly matters and should not be burdened by politics. I do hope for the unity in the churches and then I think Jesus will come back for us when we get that right.

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