Recently, a few people I like and trust have been saying some of the things I’ve been saying or been planning to say. I want to point you to them.
These links are probably of primary interest to pastors and Methodists. If you’re neither of those, you might stop reading here and wait for the post I’m trying to finish on evangelistic interrogation (a rather unpleasant experience).
1 – Jonathan Andersen asks young pastors, “What’s your top income?” As my many posts on the subject have shown, I think this is a good question to ask. A theological question. A justice question.
2 – I’ve mentioned before some of my issues with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Kevin Watson shows how Experience in the So-Called “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” has been misused more often than not.
3 – I’ve also been meaning to spend some time showing just how badly the United Methodist Church has undermined its own theology of ordination and the sacraments. Basically making a mockery of them for the sake of pragmatism, yet attempting some appearance of coherent theological reasoning through it all. Wesley Sanders does a great job of demonstrating some of these problems in “The Orders of Ministry in the UMC.” Wesley is one of the brightest young minds I know of in the UMC, and he just started writing. You’ll learn a lot if you start following him now.
I’m sure they’d love to hear your thoughts about their posts there, and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments here.
10 thoughts on “What I’ve been wanting/trying to say – said very well…”
Thanks for posting the link! I often revisit some of your old posts about clergy compensation when I’m thinking about these things.
Thanks for the link; I appreciate the kind words.
In regard to (2), there is a third alternative: simply throw ‘experience’ out altogether. I’m struggling to locate the purpose of its addition to the ‘triad’. Reason remains the safe-guard from a radical Protestantism (sola Scriptura) and a Catholic extremism (sola Magesterium). I’m not completely sure what ‘experience’ contributes, and I’m perhaps even more uncomfortable relegating it to the doctrine of the assurance of salvation (which is more of a dogma in certain churches) as Outler appears to do. Of course, I don’t like this doctrine regardless, but to intentionally place it within the field of ‘experience’ seems an even greater danger, for this seems to place such a doctrine directly (solely?) within the field of personal experience. There is a reason, of course, that after the evangelical revival in England (of which Wesley was a part), the Oxford Movement came to prominence. It not only critiqued liberals, it critiqued the evangelical movement as well, namely because of the appeal to ‘experience’.
In regard to (3), I’ll merely quote a poem: “How easily are bishops made / By man or woman’s whim! / Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid, / But who laid hands on him?” This is a poem by CHARLES WESLEY who was, of course, absolutely infuriated with John for taking upon himself the order of bishop without apostolic succession. The question, then, at least coming from the perspective of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, is if American Methodism retains any form of episcopal government. It definitely appears Charles Wesley was asking the same question.
I think the key difference between what John Wesley did and what the UMC is doing today is that Wesley was greatly troubled by the theological issues and went to painstaking lengths to be sure he had a theological and biblical justification for what he did, even though Charles was never convinced by John’s arguments. The UMC has never really bothered with a theological justification, we’ve simply done what was convenient and expedient at the time, and occasionally thrown some theological language on the back end – see our service of commissioning in the ordinal for a good example of this: commissioning as a precursor / trial period for ordination has no real historical precedent, but we’ve added a bunch of theological and biblical language to try to justify our practice.
John Wesley, even if you argue it was not a legitimate move, did not do what he did out of simple convenience or expediency. He could have made life a lot easier for the American Methodists by just saying that the unordained preachers could preside, but instead he waited nearly 10 years from the first time American Methodists asked for the sacraments before he made provision for the sacraments through the extraordinary ordination of Coke.
I’m not United Methodist, so I cannot comment on present UMC orders (which your post, by the way, did a great job explaining) or the lack of theological and biblical substantiation for them. I will note tangentially, however, that in your example above, a trial period for ordination does have some historical precedent: the transitional diaconate. Most institutional churches (e.g., Roman Catholic and Anglican) still have this order (which can be compared/contrasted with the permanent deaconate).
In regard to John Wesley, I think Teddy should enter the discussion here. From my understanding (which may be incorrect), most scholars have noted that the ordination of Whatcoat and Vasey by Wesley as well as his consecration of Coke as Bishop (who was already an ordained priest) was done more out of convenience and necessity than theological warrant which appears to be secondary: He was concerned about his American Methodists who were without the sacraments. He did offer somewhat of a theological justification for his actions, but this never seemed to go beyond a simple regurgitation of the theological reasoning of the nonconformists which had been in existence since the time of King Henry VIII, a reasoning which had been consistently repulsed (and condemned) by the Church of England. As an aside, in consecrating Coke, Wesley also broke his own oath of ordination (see Articles XXXIV and XXXVI which all ministers at that time were required to swear to uphold during the service of ordination).
I wonder, then, if the current UMC is merely pushing Wesley’s nonconformist logic to its natural conclusion. If extraordinary circumstances allowed Wesley the authority to ordain and consecrate others (quite apart from the Church and in direct contradiction to church tradition, history, teaching, ecclesiastical polity, and the very oath he had taken as a priest), would not similar extraordinary circumstances (i.e., being concerned about American Methodists who are without sacraments) allow the UMC to make similar exceptions?
And lastly, not to introduce new topics into the field of study: Is anyone else confused by Wesley’s logic here? I mean, if presbyters/priests have authority to consecrate other priests (as Wesley’s logic explicitly states), why does Wesley take the additional audacious step of consecrating a bishop? Why the need? Coke (along with Whatcoat and Vasey) could have ordained whoever they wanted without being consecrated a bishop. Wesley obviously took full advantage of such a right. His actions seem strangely superfluous and nonsensical at this point, and I’m starting to wonder if John Wesley ultimately didn’t buy into his own biblical and theological justifications.
Caleb and Wesley,
To get the two of you in a room for discussion would be a conversation I’d love to witness.
Caleb, I wonder if the simplest answer to many of these seeming incongruences in Wesley’s theology and behavior is that Wesley didn’t actually believe in episcopal church structures. See here for what I think is most clear evidence: https://teddyray.com/2012/07/18/how-would-john-wesley-do-bishops-elections/ This answers some of your questions about Wesley ordaining bishops. He would say he didn’t. He ordained “superintendents.”
I think we can fairly debate whether Wesley’s beliefs about episcopacy were right or wrong, but much of what you see in his practice is, I think, due to the fact that he didn’t believe in episcopacy. It seems that he remained submitted to it in England (with some major strains of rebellion), and genuinely wanted the Methodists to remain in the Church of England, but I can’t see that he thought episcopal structure was actually warranted.
If this is all true, I think we see some more of the problems United Methodists are running into. We’re looking to our history for some help re: how to govern our church, but in doing so, we’re trying to govern an episcopal church by looking to the example of someone who told us to leave the very structure we’re using to the Presbyterians!
I agree, a trial period for ordination is not unusual, but commissioning as we UMCers call it is just a strange way of doing it. We had the transitional diaconate until 1996, and replaced it with commissioning when we created the permanent deacon (For what it’s worth, I think one way to help solve the UMC’s problems would be to have both permanent and transitional deacons). But commissioning is just something we made up because we wanted a transitional period but didn’t want to call them deacons.
On your second point, I’m inclined to disagree with those who see it as a simple impulse from necessity, only because he waited so long to provide it, when if it was an impulse from necessity, there would no reason for the delay. He was certainly heavily influenced by Lord King’s Primitive Church, and his arguments that there’s no ontological distinction between priest and bishop are not new.
As far as breaking his oath, I would guess that he felt he was within his rights as a priest of the Church of England to use different forms of worship for the American Methodists, since they were not under jurisdiction of the Church of England and so not subject to the common order of the Church. Certainly this line of thought can be argued with, as Charles did.
I think the consecration of Thomas Coke was more a sign of Wesley’s approval for Coke to exercise the general superintendency over the American Methodists and to serve as Wesley’s emissary. The American Methodists were still very much beholden to Wesley’s authority. Wesley argued that because he functioned as a scriptural episkopos for the American Methodists, he was able to exercise that function of his office of the priest. So, if Thomas Coke was to exercise the function and power of ordaining, he would need to also be functioning as an episkopos, so he needed Wesley’s imprimatur, which the consecration did. This is mostly speculation on my part, so I may be off. I’ll need to dig out some of my notes to explore further.
I think you’re probably spot on. I think Wesley, at some point, labeled apostolic succession a ‘fable’, and the fact that he divulged the ‘powers’ and ‘privileges’ of bishops, giving them into the hands of common priests seems like a complete abolishment of the office of bishop. In that sense, I completely agree with you. Four extra observations here:
First, this obviously left a practical power vacuum in the Methodist organization which had to be filled by Wesley’s creation of a new religious order – that of superintendent. This order seemed to fulfill the judicial and governmental functions of that of bishop: a bishop in all but name, so to speak. Obviously, Coke and the rest of the American Methodist Church (as well as Charles Wesley) felt Coke was consecrated as bishop, the American Methodists even changing the title within a couple years. I wonder, however, if Wesley wasn’t thinking ‘practically’ here instead of theologically. Consecrating a bishop would be openly disobeying the cannons of the Church of England as well as bringing open schism. There is a very, very good chance Wesley would have been stripped of his ordination if he had done so. I’m wondering how Wesley himself differentiated between the two offices. Would he have consecrated Coke a bishop if he was able?
Second, I’m still seeing problems with Wesley’s rather convoluted and contradictory logic here. For one, Coke was already a superintendent; He surely didn’t need to be consecrated as one. To my knowledge, none of the other Methodist superintendents were. What is the purpose of using the form of the consecration of a bishop to consecrate someone a superintendent who is already a superintendent? And also, if Wesley had the ‘right’ to consecrate superintendents, why was such a right taken away from ordinary priests in America? Coke’s consecration, whatever it was, still seems superfluous here . . . and I might add a rather egotistical power move by Wesley. (This is the only way I can make sense of it.)
Third, his actions do seem to be in open schism with the church. The Anglican Church was still very much alive in the U.S., even after the War. Seabury (another Anglican priest) was consecrated bishop two months after Coke (by the Scottish Episcopal Church), and his consecration took a considerable time in coming. The two churches (Episcopal and Methodist) were never reconciled, and Wesley never encouraged them to be.
Fourth, if Wesley created new religious orders, why are we all upset that the current UMC does the same? And to answer your earlier post concerning the abolition of bishops in the current Methodist Church, I think you should. No Episcopal Church (Anglican, Roman, or Eastern) recognizes the order of bishop in the Methodist Church anyway. 🙂 You might as well get rid of it. – I’m being somewhat snarky here (in case you can’t tell).
I also don’t think Wesley’s actions were from ‘impulse’ or theologically unwarranted. If Wesley hadn’t justified them in his own mind, I doubt he would have followed through on his ordinations and consecrations. I think Teddy’s article above does a great deal in depicting Wesley as a nonconformist at this point – a borderline Anglican to be sure, but far from being theologically confused. I still don’t think this underplays the ‘practical’ and ‘convenient’ nature of the ordinations/consecrations. I agree that Wesley wouldn’t have followed through on these unless he felt they were theologically justified, but similarly, I don’t think he would have “taken these into his own hands” (no pun intended) unless he felt a real necessity and practical urgency to do so. I think it is the practical issues which led to the delay you mention, not necessarily his theological justification (which he seems to have been in place for quite some time). Otherwise, why didn’t he ordain priests in England?
Just one comment. Wesley’s own words were that he “ORDAINED Coke.” Not consecrate. DId Wesley intend a 3rd order? Or just use a poor choice of words?
Thanks for linking to my post and for your kind words, Teddy!