John Meunier Wants to be a Methodist
No, not just a member of a United Methodist congregation, but a Methodist. He has been reading Scott Kisker, and after his discussion he notes:
I don’t want something more than they do. “More” is not the right word. I want something real. I want to be part of the movement that started in a fishing village in Galilee and was rekindled in a coal field in England. I want the assurance of the Holy Spirit. I want the power of grace working in me to restore the image of God and the mind that was in Christ. I want to be one of the people called Methodist.
As I tend toward zealotry in all things, holiness appeals to me, but what standard for holiness do you use? Is it the SDA standard where eating meat and using cosmetics are sins? Is it what “scriptural holiness” meant 200 years ago, 2000 years ago, in which sect? Is it like conservative churches where I get the impression that the 2 worst sins are abortion and homosexuality?
I would welcome the preaching of holiness if instead of the list of bad things we don’t do here, but those bad people over there do, holiness were preached in terms of motivation rather than the specific action. For any action, there are only 3 possibilities. It follows God. It’s pride. It’s idolatry. Of course, following God doesn’t mean everything one does is for others. God certainly wants us to do some things that help ourselves. Anything that doesn’t follow God is certainly sin according to the first commandment. So it’s simple to preach.
I’ve only heard this preached once, by a conservative preacher who was saying not to make one’s spouse into an idol. I’ve never heard it in a mainline church. Even the conservative preacher didn’t take this as far as it can go. Imagine looking at abortion not in legalistic terms of whether abortion is always murder, but when those attacking abortion are making an idol of the unborn child instead of following God. That wouldn’t bring unanimity to the issue, but it would make some people take a step back. Over many issues, maybe it would show people just how much our culture is awash in pride and idolatries, inside and outside the church, especially among those who say they follow God, but are never challenged on that point.
I get the feeling Meunier isn’t looking for anything this different from what John Wesley preached. Is he just being nostalgic?
I believe he is sincere when he writes, “I want something real,” but will he fill this yearning with something real or a fantasy, nostalgic or otherwise? Weren’t there mistakes is the past about what is sin? In the early church, chastity was seen as a virtue even inside marriage, as with St. Cecilia. Do you want to preach holiness that includes something like that?
Wesley’s Quadrilateral made sense at the time. At least Wesley could support the authority of the Bible with tradition, reason, and experience. Can a reasonable person do that today, when paleontology flatly contradicts Genesis and other scholarship shows how much Genesis took from other Mesopotamian myths? Who’s the real authority, the Bible or God? What’s the best way to engage that authority? It’s certainly good to look at things from multiple perspectives, but I don’t think the intervening time has been kind to Wesley’s way of saying all ways support the Bible. It’s only going to get worse in the future as the details of human evolution become even more concrete, as does the neurophysiology of sex. When it comes to a biological process that’s as constant and involuntary as breathing, what credibility will the church have in calling that sin? What credibility does Matthew 5: 27-28 have? Was that really Jesus? Doesn’t God know what’s beyond my control? Shouldn’t I follow Him in what I can control and not all these proud humans who pretended to know more than they did?
I feel the assurance of the Spirit among God’s powers working in me. Am I delusional or is John Meunier looking in the wrong direction? One can argue, but I always feel best about speaking to God about such conflicts, which does not result in an argument from me. Why isn’t that enough for everyone? Holiness might have something to do with it. Isn’t it hard to reach God while clutching one’s pride and idolatries tightly? I’ve thought that. I’ve had to pray about giving up completely, giving up everything to get where I am with God today. I don’t think John Wesley is the last word on that. I think anyone who really wants what Meunier describes won’t find it in any idol, be that a holiness movement or even Wesley himself, only from God directly.
I sympathize with many of your comments, and yet it still seems to me that it’s worthwhile to look for something real. We need to put it in the context of our time and place, i.e. what would it mean to pursue holiness now? We need to consider what is eternal and what is not. But we need something deeper than we offer in mainline churches.
I can’t comment for John Meunier. He may be nostalgic or he may be looking for something more. I’m not one to seek the good old days. But there are also some things from the good old days that need to be imported into the present.
All I can say with some certainty is that what we have in the United Methodist Church at this point isn’t sustainable, and probably shouldn’t be. I’m not talking about liberal or conservative here. I’m more talking spiritually dead or alive. Neither liberals nor conservatives have the corner on either dead nor alive–nor do moderates. I think that’s beyond our ideologies, which can be idols.