The other day I was in conversation with a member of the church I serve and he told me of a book that he was taught and memorized much of when he was younger, The Westminster Shorter Catechism. He went on to tell me that the first question and answer in this book is:
- Q. What is the chief end of man?
- A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
This was the foundation of his early Christian experience. It was also clear in our conversation that he is in a phase of this formation where he is deconstructing his faith and has more questions than ever before. This is a natural process for so many but the Church has not been very helpful at guiding pilgrims through the deconstruction (death) of their former understanding of faith in order to help usher reconstruction (resurrection). I tried my best to listen to him because he embodies the type of Christian that I desire to be - curious, open and humbling seeking.
After learning about what he was taught was the chief end of man was, it dawned on me that perhaps this is a point of difference in the UMC that I have experienced. That is to say, the United Methodist tradition that I have experienced is one that is concerned less about the "ends" than it is concerned about the "means."
The UMC says that the sacraments of communion are "means of Grace." The UMC has three rules - 1) do no harm, 2) do good and 3) attend to the ordinances of God. That last rule is about upholding the practices that draw us closer to the Spirit of God such as worship, prayer, fasting, study, silence, etc. These three rules all point to a process, a means a way of living. These are not rules to think about but rules do live. These are not so much of positions as they are postures that give flexibility to the Christian to discern how to live these rules out. So within the Church we have conversations about what "doing good" looks like or take actions to repent in the ways we have done harm. Methodists were made fun of in the early days because of their insistence on the "methods" of practicing Christianity. The Methodists were not made fun of because of their positions but because they emphasized the methods/means/practice.
There are some within our denomination that demand we all pick predetermined sides to the hot issues of the time. It is seen as "unfaithful" or "not a winning strategy" to be a voice that calls for incremental change. The Biblically informed Methodism that has shaped me is one that emphasizes the process (method) over the position.
The way we are having conversation these days - blaming others, scapegoating victims, dismissing arguments, creating straw-men and false equivalences, not repenting of our own hypocrisy, etc. - is less Methodist and more reflective of the newest denomination I call Positionists.