We're Overlooking Our Most Compelling Covenant



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Two-Handed Approach

I like the Two Handed analogy. Long ago Dr. Will Herberg, a religious sociologist, explained that Eastern Orthodoxy had a similar approach. In village parishes a devout layman might be chosen to become priest and would be sent off to learn how to do the Divine liturgy. The local school master would provide religious education as part of general education given to children, and for spiritual questions or serious pastoral care issues people would seek out a monk or nun with a reputation for holiness of life and wise counsel. No one expected the priest or school master to help with such problems!

While the Baptismal Covenant provides the context, the specific meaning of renouncing sin and embracing a new life in Christ was part of the catechesis that candidates for Baptism were taught and were expected to follow before being baptized. Traditionalists would say that anyone living a homosexual lifestyle should not be baptized until they repented of it. The Wesleys were in fact providing that kind of catechesis in their societies, realizing that a conversion experience in the revival would not last without this continuing pastoral care and spiritual formation. So the Baptismal Covenant is not a stand alone solution to the UMC problem.

This much can be said of the Traditionalist movement...They have come to realize that relying on liberal culture religion is not an adequate basis for living out the Christian life.

Homosexuality is the trigger that forced the issue. But the truth is that it has been a problem long before that issue surfaced. Years ago Martin Marty wrote a book called "The Suburban Captivity of the Church." The title says it all. Protestant Christianity was a prisoner of the culture snd values of white middle class America. There have been attempts to break free of that, but none very successful over the long run.

And the Traditionalists think they are breaking free of culture religion, but in actuality their view of holiness of life is little more than a reincarnation of American social values circa 1950.

I don't expect the Bishops Commission will be able to offer more than an institutional remedy to allow co-existence by way of a structural adjustments to the UMC. That may not be enough to satisfy the true believers seeking a holier or more liberated church. And who is to say that schism at thus point may be the lesser evil? If we cannot live peaceably with our differences then maybe we should try living separately with less rancor and more internal unity than has been the case for the past 40 years. I for one would welcome that change.
– From Rev. Sarah Flynn via email

UM Insight more than 5 years ago

Non-binding covenant?

Cynthia, I don't find your views about the baptism covenant convincing except for people who were baptized as mature adults. I was baptized at age 2, with my parents making the promises supposedly on my behalf. Then I confirmed them when I "joined the church" at age 10. I had no real concept of what they actually meant, whether it matched with what was known from other sources, & so on. All I knew was that making those promises was what I was supposed to do, according to my parents & all the other adults that I thought were valid sources of authority. Consequently, I don't see that "covenant" as something I still must obey, now that I am 72 years older & have given it a lot more thought & investigation.

Barbara Wendland more than 5 years ago

You state the crux of the problem

“Living the Covenant” instructs United Methodists in the profound commitment that we make in our baptismal vows – a commitment that has not been taught with clarity or consistency for at least 150 years.

When it comes to Christianity with a Methodist/Wesleyan accent, nothing much has been taught with clarity or consistency for over a century. That is why we are now dealing with Big Tent Methodism that has disintegrated into competing and conflicting factions. The only thing that keeps me connected to my local UMC every Sunday morning is the fact that I was not only baptized into this church I was born into it. Currently, I am there more as an observer than a participant. Unexpected turns with the local church coupled with the precarious state of the denomination have me wary about getting too cozy. But at the same time, I was baptized into the holy catholic and apostolic Church--something else many United Methodists are not clearly instructed on--and it has been the universal church with its communion of saints past and present who crisscrossed denominational lines and faith traditions that came together in a huge way and gave me what I most desperately needed: a clear and consistent teaching out of the Reformed/Wesleyan tradition of who God is and who I am in relation. I finally know for a fact that, without a doubt, we have the most amazingly unfathomable Best God! That is something the Methodist/United Methodist Church failed to teach me during my first 59 years of life! That was three years ago--I am just now making peace with the fact that my first and favorite teacher and guide is a Presbyterian(USA) pastor with a non-denominational background; he did for me what Wesley did for others that gave birth to Methodism in the first place: helped me to understand God as a person who lives with him! It is no surprise to me that the American branch of the UMC is approaching 50 years of numerical decline! My feeling is, baptismal covenant or no baptismal covenant, It is time for the UMC to downsize its theological tent. My preference is that it happens through a spiritual renewal such as "Living Covenant" seems to be promoting. But if it has to happen by other, more physical means, then so be it! I started monitoring the UMC during GC2012. That is when I realized there was no way for the church to continue in its current iteration--something has to give! John Wesley, who is a very big believer in the catholic spirit, gave the Big Tent approach a try and realized it would not work; that is why he left the Fetter Lane Society and set up a separate society at The Foundry. When we do not know our history, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Take some time and delve into Wesley's sermon, "The Catholic Spirit"--it does not endorse a single faith tradition trying to embrace multiple understandings; it explains why there are so many variations of Christianity.

Betsy more than 5 years ago