Ok, so we read another Methodism book in Wesleyan class. I sure hope this counts as credit toward being a Methodist. And that I don't get in trouble for that last sentence. Scott Kisker's Mainline or Methodist? can be summed up, not entirely, but mostly by saying that the United Methodist church has fallen away from it's Methodist roots and may be past the point of hope for change inside of what we know of as today's Mainline denominations. Methodism got comfortable, reacted to certain events in American history and forgot the commitment that Wesley required to be a Methodist to begin with.
In example, the United Methodist church has reacted so much to other denominations not being open that they have become too open. Open hearts, open minds, open doors, open table. Anyone can eat the bread and drink the juice. Anyone is welcome, but not all are encouraged to seek ordination, etc.
All the Wesleyan books have pointed out many of the same concepts. In the development of the Methodist movement, Wesley set up societies to serve as accountability groups for faith followers. The groups served as a means of fellowship, accountability to living a holy life. If you desired to progress from society to society(it was a bit hierarchical), there were requirements.
Here is where it gets interesting to me.
Wesley had his experience at Aldersgate where his heart was strangely warmed and he finally realized that he could not do anything to earn his own salvation. Only the grace of God that is offered through Jesus can provide true salvation. This is often(whether incorrectly or correctly) thought about in terms of legalism.
And this is where we all get confused about Wesley's theology.
We can't earn our own salvation. That's understood in today's Christian culture. But Wesley called on those who desired to live holy lives(as holiness is heart and life was key to salvific living) to demonstrate this by following certain rules. These were strict, and those who did not want to follow them did not have to, but it meant giving up your place is the class, band, or society.
Kisker claims that perhaps Methodism needs to make a reappearance inside of United Methodism. In a sense, one could gather that Kisker desires that we reinstate some of these requirements of being a Methodist in order to begin to build the discipleship of the church again. The argument can be made that this discipleship can then be used as resource for evangelism and actually act in the way that Wesley intended.
My confusion comes when we compare these ideas to Wesley's experience at Aldersgate. I thought that this legalistic idea of salvation was the opposite of Wesley's experience. He finally realized that God alone provided salvation.
I know what you're thinking. Bryant, this is the idea of atonement. Our works and actions can't earn us the atonement. God alone provides that. And the classes, bands, and societies help us to continue and be held accountable in our pursuit of righteous living. They dont equate. I get that. I'm not saying that Wesley was wrong.
But the question I present is regarding the practicality for bringing this to today's culture.
We often equate legalistic ideas (whether they are for atonement, salvation, or just to live a holy life) with those who stand on the street corners and preach damnation and eternal fire. They preach things about not practicing homosexuality, worshipping false idols, and being friends with Muslims.
Rightly, the United Methodist Church saw this and ran. We opened things up so that we didn't get seen as legalistic by any means. And this is what Kisker(and others) says needs to change. We need to require something of our parishioners again. There is a cost and responsibility to discipleship. While this may be true, it is easy to see why Methodists became they way they appear today.
So can Methodism, in the way it appeared in Wesleys day, actually survive in today's world? If we were to enact rules, would people just see us as legalists and write us off as they do many other denominations? I would agree that in theory a righteous lifestyle is the best form of evangelism, but are the accountability rules a practical in today's culture? Would it work?
I'm not so sure.
For more thought, think about what Wesley's open-air preaching might look like today. How would it be perceived?