Thursday, 18 October 2012
JOHN WESLEY AND THE METHODISTS pt3 By Rev. Dr. L. Rumble, M.S.C.
The following table gives the present (1952) approximate membership of the main divisions of world-wide Methodism, including the recently formed United Church of Canada, and the foreign missions:
I. THE UNITED STATES The Methodist Church . . . . . . . . . . . . 8,430,146
African Methodist Episcopal . . . . . . . . . 868,735 African Methodist Episcopal Zion . . . . . 489,244
Coloured Methodist Episcopal . . . . . . . . 381,000
The Free Methodist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46,783
The Wesleyan Methodist . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29,331
Smaller Methodist Churches (13 Sects) . . .51,657
II. UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA. . . . . . . 716,064
III. BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AND EMPIRE Great Britain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1,264,493 Australasia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189,437 New Zealand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24,813 South Africa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 303,148
IV. Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Japan, etc. . . . . . . . . . .86,169 World Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12,881,020
5b REUNION PROBLEM
In the midst of all their divisions, there has been steadily growing up amongst thoughtful Methodists an awareness that all disunity is a departure from the New Testament conception of the Church. For in the New Testament the Church is always presented as a single visible Society, founded by Christ Himself upon the Apostles, and guaranteed by Him “all days even till the end of the world:” (See Matthew 28:20) The Church itself, therefore, is not a HUMAN CONSTRUCTION, but a DIVINE CREATION. This last point is not yet clear to Methodists. But, impressed by the need of unity, different groups amongst them have sincerely tried to lessen their divisions. In 1925, the Methodist Church of Canada united with the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, and the Union Churches of Western Canada to form the United Church of Canada. In 1932, the various Methodist Churches in Great Britain proclaimed themselves one organization. In 1939, in America, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church, made a reunion compact. No one can view such efforts without profound respect and sympathy. But the great difficulty is that all such moves are based on the concept of the Church as a merely human organization, and on a principle of individualism which leaves things in the same position really as if no efforts at reunion had been made at all. For what is the difference between individuals uniting to form independent Churches of their own construction in the first place, and several of those individual Churches uniting to form a larger but still independent Church of their own construction to replace them? Divisions are lessened. Yes. But their larger Church is still divided from other Christian Churches, and is as far from being the SORT of Church Christ intended as the Churches which have decided to combine in order to form it. In response to the “Lausanne Conference Reports,” the Wesleyan Methodists of England issued the following statement: “The Conference feels called upon to bear its continued and emphatic witness to the reality of immediate intercourse between God and the individual soul, and of the assurance that every man may have of his acceptance in Jesus Christ, and his participation in all the fruits of the Spirit. The Conference would also stress the privilege and duty of corporate fellowship in Christ Jesus of all who are redeemed by Him.” Dr. Hugh Martin, a prominent Baptist who at least begins to see that the Church must be “given by God and gathering men to itself” rather than be the result of any merely human agreement of individual men to associate in an organization of their own making, says of the Wesleyan Methodist Statement, “It sounds like the individual first and the Church second, a long way second; isolated redeemed souls joining together for worship. That there is a truth here I should be the last to deny. . . . But it is surely only half the truth about the Christian Faith.” (Christian Reunion, p. 35.) Far greater insight was shown by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, when preaching on “Catholicism and individualism,” at the consecration of Truro Cathedral, in England. “Men speak,” he said, “as if Christians came first, and the Church after; as if the origin of the Church was in the wills of the individuals who composed it. But, on the contrary, throughout the teaching of the Apostles, we see it is the Church that comes first, and the members of it afterwards. In the New Testament, the Kingdom of Heaven is already in existence, and men are invited into it. The Church takes its origin, not in the will of man, but in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everywhere men are called in; they do not come in and make the Church by coming. They are called into that which already exists; they are recognized as members when they are within; but their membership depends on their admission, and not upon their constituting themselves into a body in the sight of the Lord.” If Archbishop Temple remained in the Church of England despite his clear perception that “the Church takes its origin, not in the will of man, but in the will of the Lord Jesus Christ,” it was only because he was wrongly persuaded that the Church of England had never really departed from Catholic Unity. But history shows that the Anglican Church had its origin as an independent Church in the will of a man; in the will of Henry VIII. The Anglican Church broke away from that Catholic Church to which all Englishmen had previously belonged, every bit as much as the Methodist Church broke away from the Anglican Church after the death of John Wesley. Had Archbishop Temple realized that, he would have had no choice in conscience on his own principles but to return to the Catholic Church of the centuries, which alone can trace its origin back to Christ Himself, and the Apostles. Unfortunately, in their discussions of reunion, all Protestants, Methodists and others, as well as Anglicans, reject any idea of returning to a unity which should never have been abandoned. They declare that, rather, they think of “Union” as an ideal not yet realized. They refuse to look upon unity as a past fact long lost, and to be recovered. They envisage a “Church Universal” in the future, which will make room for the inclusion in the one Church of the most varied differences in belief and worship. Thus, writing on behalf of Methodists, F. B. James says, “We believe we have something to give as well as receive, our own treasure to bring into the great Church that one day shall be:” (How Christians Worship, p. 88.) But one who understands the New Testament insistence on “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5) cannot accept the prospect of the “most varied differences in belief and worship”; nor can he believe in “a great Church that shall one day be,” in the light of Our Lord’s words, “I will build My Church,” (Mt. 16:18) and in the light of His promise, “Behold I am with you all days till the end of the world.” (Mt. 28:20) We must believe in a Church that IS, not in a Church that SHALL BE. The true Church must have been in this world all days since Christ, even as it will continue till the end of time. No imaginary “Church Universal” which has not yet come into existence, but is to begin to be in the future, can possibly fulfil the conditions required by Holy Scripture. And both Scripture and history force us back to the Catholic Church of the ages, united today under the Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter, upon whom as chief amongst the Apostles Christ personally founded His Church. “We are not prepared to repudiate our past, and the truth—or so much of the truth, even though it be a half-truth— which experience has taught us,” writes Prof. W. L. Sperry, in his book Religion in America. But are not the Methodist churches of today based precisely upon a repudiation of the past? Their very development into denominations so different from anything John Wesley ever intended is a repudiation of their own past, even as the Church of England to which he belonged had repudiated its past in abandoning the Catholic Church. They were the Protestant reformers who abandoned the religion of their forefathers. The Protestant today who returns to Catholic unity, returns to that religion which should never have been rejected in the first place. [Note too, that such returning Protestants CAN bring back with them something of their original Catholic heritage which may have received less emphasis than it ought over the passing ages. Thus, for example, love for the Scriptures, which has always marked the good Catholic’s spiritual life, can be re-vivified by those who return to the Catholic fold who have been especially imbued with this grace from God.] Nor can beliefs which “our experience” has taught us, human opinions as fallible and variable as all our subjective impressions and moods, be a worthy substitute for the real truths which the Christ, the Son of God, has taught us; truths preserved by the infallible teaching authority of the Catholic Church He established in order to safe guard His religion against the unreliability of human conjectures and judgements. It is to the Catholic Church we must return, to find the unity Our Divine Lord intended, which He wills today as always, and for which He earnestly prayed.
Throughout this study of Methodism, the merely human factors in its origin and development have surely become abundantly evident. John Wesley himself was indeed a good and earnest man. But good and earnest men can be mistaken. Wesley never grasped the New Testament doctrine of the Church as a visible yet spiritual society, the Kingdom of Christ in this world, endowed with Divine authority, and guaranteed by Him all days till the end of time. It was not his fault that he lacked this perception. He had never known the Catholic Church, having been born into the Church of England, one amongst the many forms of Protestantism dating from the Reformation. Omitting whole regions of Christian thought and practice, therefore, he dwelt disproportionately on a few great truths that seemed important to him, creating the impression that religion was concerned almost solely with the personal relations of the individual soul with God. No one could deny, of course, that personal religion is of the utmost importance. Without it, as we have already said (in our third paragraph) “merely external observances would be but an empty shell.” But why persist in thinking that religion must be either a matter of form, or a matter of fervour? It must be both. We can dispense with neither form nor fervour. And it is certainly a mistake to imagine that Catholicism means “formalism” with little regard for deep, interior, and personal spirituality. The Rev. R. J. Campbell, when Pastor of the City Temple, London, wrote in the Sunday Herald, November 4, 1915, after a visit to France, “Since the war began, I have realized in French churches as I never did before the devotional value, the practical helpfulness, of the reservation of the Sacrament of the Altar. It makes all the difference between a dead building and a place that is a sanctuary indeed, wherein worshippers feel that they are in immediate contact with the supernatural and divine.” “Immediate contact with the supernatural and divine”! Little as many realize it, that is the most important thing in the Catholic religion. The Catholic Church exists to produce that in each and all of her members. To attain to that is more important in her eyes than to attain to any ecclesiastical dignity or authority in her power to bestow. She may clothe her Popes in their white robes, her Cardinals in their scarlet, her Bishops and Monsignori in their purple. But of all that she takes but little notice when death takes her officials from this world. The one and only condition of perpetual memory and esteem in the Catholic Church is that her members should love God, strive for union with Him, make progress in the practice of virtue, and attain to holiness and perfection. Those only who have done this does she canonize, raise to her altars, and offer to the faithful both as models and an inspiration of conduct. “We Methodists,” writes the Rev. Edward Shillito, “stand for the subordination of all organization to the spiritual life, against the paralysing influence of machinery.” The Catholic Church agrees with him that all organization must be subordinated to the spiritual life. Of its very nature, the organization of the Church must be ordained to spiritual values, even in its temporal administration and works of mercy. But Mr. Shillito is mistaken in regarding the “machinery” of Catholic organization as “paralysing:” The German Protestant, Dr. Heiler, Professor of Comparative Religion at Marburg University, showed deeper understanding when he wrote in his book Katholicismus, p. 657, “Catholicism is no mere fabric of dogmas and laws and ceremonies and pious practices; but a living organism in whose inmost part the tenderest and most delicate religious emotions play freely. Roman Catholicism is an endlessly rich and life-strengthening organism.” Never have the Saints of the Catholic Church felt that hierarchical authority and the machinery of organization have come between their souls and God. But they have all realized that it would be an abuse of the spiritual to reject the essential authority of the Catholic Church. Our Lord taught both the religion of the spirit and religion of authority, and each needs the other; that the former may be preserved from self-deception and eccentricity; that the latter may be preserved from the letter which kills once it becomes divorced from the Spirit that is the source of Light and Love and Life. Baron von Hugel, the Catholic layman so beloved of Protestants of all denominations, declares in his book, The Mystical Element of Religion, that a properly developed personal religion must be mystical, intellectual, and institutional, arising from religious experience, dogma, sacraments, and public worship according to liturgical form. These concluding thoughts on “personal religion” have been concerned with the interior holiness and perfection which every sincere Methodist makes his ideal, yet which probably constitutes the greatest source of his misconceptions about the Catholic Church. But fears here are groundless. If ever a man devoted himself heart and soul to the preaching of the necessity of personal religion, and of aiming always at entire sanctification, it was John Wesley. Yet, had he been a Catholic, never would he have dreamed of abandoning the Catholic Church. St. Francis of Assisi did, as a Catholic, what Wesley tried to do as an Anglican. But the Anglican Church did not understand John Wesley, whilst the Catholic Church did understand St. Francis, and would have understood Wesley. The parallel between the two men is most remarkable. Both were moved in the first place by a deep spiritual experience which they described as their “conversion.” Both felt the need of surrendering themselves completely to the Holy Will of God, and making love of Him their dominant inspiration. Both sought perfection themselves, and felt impelled to preach the Gospel to all the world, beyond all parochial limits, and especially to the poor. Both aimed at simple sermons that the least of God’s children could understand. Yet St. Francis, doing all that John Wesley wanted to do, had no need to leave the Catholic Church in order to do so. Safeguarded by the wise direction of Catholic principles and by humble, self-effacing obedience to the authorities of his Church, he remained within its unity; whilst Wesley, with no help from the Anglican Church of his baptism, had to fulfil what he thought to be God’s Will as best he knew how, only to found a movement which drifted from Anglicanism, and from his own teachings, to dissipate its energies in almost endless disintegrations. Had Wesley had the advantages of the Catholic Faith, had he ever really known the Catholic Church, he, with his earnestness and zeal would have felt quite at home within the Catholic fold, and found his apostolate for the good of souls appreciated, promoted, and blessed in the way his generous heart ever hoped that it would be. And today, the Methodist who becomes a Catholic becomes what John Wesley would love to have been, and which, in the light of that fuller knowledge than any he possessed in this world, he now wishes he had been.
Nihil Obstat: WILLIAM M. COLLINS, Diocesan Censor. Imprimatur: DANIEL MANNIX, Archiepiscopus Melbournensis. 1952 * * * * * * * *