How did we end up here? What brought Methodism to the point of possible schism? Everyone has an opinion. Some believe we do not take our Bible’s seriously enough. They say we need more Jonathan Edwards and less Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Others believe we are too strict in our doctrine.
On the other hand, there are events of greater significance which led United Methodism to this point in history. These moments are the wrong turns that have brought us to the edge of schism. Where do we begin?
1. The Battle of Milvian Bridge – On October 28th, 312 CE, Emperor Constantine defeated his chief rival for the Roman throne, Maxentius. Maxentius’ defeat led to the end of the tetrarchy (power divided between four emperors) and Constantine’s consolidation of power as the sole emperor. Christian writers such as Eusebius would later attribute Constantine’s victory to Jesus and mark the battle as the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. When the state became wrapped up with the church, everything went downhill. All of us are still suffering the effects of Constantine’s conversion.
2. The Council of Chalcedon – 451 Almost five hundred years after the death of Christ, a different Emperor decided it would be a good idea to tell everyone what they had to believe. What one believed about the nature of Christ became more critical than understanding who Jesus was, what he said, and what he did. It became easy to focus on minutiae.
3. Henry VIII – When the King of England decided to divorce his Catholic wife (Catherine of Aragon) the Church of England was essentially born. Anglicanism, the mother church of all Wesleyan denominations can claim no holier a beginning than a king who wanted a divorce to marry another woman. When we characterize ourselves as firmly within the apostolic tradition, we’re not. We’re the result of Henry’s impulses and the purest Constantinian ideal of the church and state together.
4. John Wesley – Methodists were founded by a man who held little love for maintaining official denominational connections. No matter how one examines the history, justifies the timing, or his language about being an Anglican; Wesley undermined his religious tradition in order to start a new religious movement. Schism is in our blood. If Wesley were not schismatic, we would all be Anglicans.
We boarded this train in the fourth century. If the passengers look further back, past the cars which attached in 1968 (or even 1781), who knows what might happen?
Richard Lowell Bryant