Friday, October 3, 2014

Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

Question: Methodists vs. Catholics? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two part series answering two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”

Part one can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

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    Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 

The bishop refused.

    Eventually, John Wesley took it upon himself to ordain Thomas Coke as a bishop (even though he technically did not have that authority), who then travelled to the colonies and ordained Francis Asbury.  In this way, the Methodist Church was born.  No one intended for the Methodist movement to become a church, but it did.  As a result, the Methodist Church structure, belief and doctrine are similar to the Church of England (which today is known as the Episcopal Church in the United States).  We are not a congregational organization, but an ecclesiastical one, which means we have a hierarchy where pastors answer to a bishop. 

    Because of the way that our church has separated from the Catholic Church, our structures and beliefs, although quite different, are also sometimes strikingly similar.  Even so, there was a lot of bad blood between the reformers (like Martin Luther) and the Popes.  Remember that in that era, the Pope controlled the Holy Roman Emperor who, in turn, controlled the Army. 

    In those days, there was no separation of church and state.  For generations, anyone who even hinted at problems within the church could be arrested, their property seized, they could be tortured or even put to death for believing anything different than what they were told.  Nations who chose (actually their kings chose) to become Protestant, were attacked by the Empire’s Army.  For hundreds of years, wears were fought between Catholics and Protestants.  In the 30 Years War (1618-1648), part of Germany fought against other parts of Germany with support thrown in from the kings of France and Spain, as well as from the Empire.  During that time, 25-40% of the entire German population was killed.

    There was also much bloodshed in England.  Although Catholics and Protestants often got along with one another, their rulers were not so kind.  As England’s Kings and Queens changed from Catholic to Protestant and back again, everyone, including the priests, were forced to convert.  Those who did not, were forced from their homes or worse.  There was much bloodshed on all sides.

    In any case, by the time of John Wesley, there were bad feelings between the Church of England and the Catholic Church.  This is evident in John Wesley’s writings as well as Catholic writings of the time.  But today, 200 years later, those bad feelings have faded and Catholics and Protestants get along quite well (particularly here in the United States).  Technically, according to some Catholic doctrine, anyone who is not a part of the “official” church of Saint Peter is going to hell.  For our part, we deny several key Catholic doctrines and emphasize that salvation if through grace alone where the Catholic Church believes that both grace and works are required.

    Despite our differences, we there are a great many similarities.  We have a similar structure (although we do not have any “rank” higher than bishop and we do not have a Pope).  We have bishops who are in charge of particular geographical areas, and we have one set of rules that govern all of our churches. 

    Today the “bad blood’ that once existed isn’t what it used to be.  Most of us have both Catholics and Protestants mixed among our families and our friends and many Catholics and Protestants are married to one another.  I had a professor in seminary that did his doctoral studies in a Catholic University.  There have even been times that modern theologians, now having the benefit of being a few hundred years distant, suggest that Protestants might reconsider some of the Catholic teachings that were thrown out during the Reformation.  Recently, the Pope has invited evangelical leaders to be his guests in Rome to discuss how we might work together. 

    During my last pastorate, I became friends with Monsignor Mark Froelich who was the local parish priest.  He and I were the only people in town who were members of both the Kiwanis and the Rotary clubs and so we had lunch together twice each week (and it didn’t hurt that he was a Cleveland Indians fan).  I think we are finding that our differences may now be less than they were when our churches split during the Reformation.

    In the end when we consider what the differences are between the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church, the answer is both, “A lot” and, “Not much.”


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Part One of this series can be found here: Methodist vs. Catholics? (Part 1)

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Methodists vs. Catholics?



Question: Methodists vs. Catholics?

    Today’s question actually grew out of two separate but similar questions, “What is so different about the Catholic Church?” and, “Why is there so much tension between the Methodist and the Catholic Church?”  In order to answer either question we need to go back several hundred years.  Once we understand how we got to where we are, our differences and any tension can be more easily understood.

    Let’s go back to the early 1500’s.  At that time, no one would have referred to the “Catholic” church but just “the church” because there really was only one church.  But that was about to change.  In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther wrote 95 complaints about the way that the church was doing business.  Among these complaints was the way that funds were being raised to build what is known as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  It is a fantastic achievement of art and engineering but it was incredibly expensive.  The man who was tasked with raising the money, John Tetzel, was an unscrupulous man who would do anything for a buck.  In order to raise money, he sold “indulgences” which were forgiveness of sins.  For a price, you could buy forgiveness for relatives who were already dead, or even for sins that had not yet been committed.  If you had enough money, you could buy forgiveness for having a mistress (and keep her), or you could, quite literally, get away with murder. 

    Martin Luther probably did not intend to cause the uproar that he did.  His intent was to post his list of complaints and start a dialog that would reform the abuses of the church.  But as fate would have it, the printing press had recently been invented and instead of merely posting his complaints on the church door, they were printed, translated, and distributed all over Europe.  Eventually, the one church began to splinter into the Catholic Church and various groups of protestors, known as Protest-ants.

    Now jump ahead to 1534.  King Henry VIII is married to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the former King and Queen of Spain.  But Catherine was not giving Henry a male heir and, since England had recently had a civil war over who would succeed the king, having an heir was a big deal.  Originally, Catherine was married to Henry’s brother who had died young and she then married Henry in order to keep Spain happy.  Marrying your brother’s widow required the Pope’s permission but for Kings and Queens, this sort of thing could be managed.  So when Catherine wasn’t having any male children, Henry thought that his marriage ought to be annulled so he could marry someone else.  An annulment required the permission of the Pope but again, this sort of thing was not entirely uncommon for royalty. 

Except for one thing. 

    Catherine of Aragon’s nephew was Charles V, the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Charles commanded an army which was just short distance from Rome.  Charles told the Pope that he would be (hint, hint) very unhappy if Henry received an annulment.  Since the Pope couldn’t keep both Henry and Charles happy, he stalled. 

For several years. 

    Finally, Henry decided to break off from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England, whose head was no longer the Pope, but the King of England.  And so although the Church of England became a Protestant church, it retained many similarities to the Catholic Church.
Skip ahead another two hundred years, and we meet John and Charles Wesley, priests of the Church of England who felt that the church could do better.  In an effort to renew the church, they began a movement that became known as Methodism (because of their ‘method’ of holiness).  The Methodist movement took the church beyond the walls of the church into the countryside and the inner-city.  The Wesleys and the Methodists were concerned that the poor did not have access to the church and the church didn’t care.  That movement grew and spread all over England and into the American colonies. 

But then came the American war for independence in 1776.

    Although the Church of England was the largest in the colonies, nearly all of the priests were British citizens.  When the war broke out, they left their churches and went home.  This left a great many people without access to a priest, or to communion, or to baptism, or a proper burial.  At that time, it was believed that not having access to regular communion, or baptism, was enough to damn you to hell.  Since there were already hundreds of Methodist lay preachers in the colonies, John Wesley begged his bishop to ordain some of them so that the members of the church could have access to communion. 

The bishop refused.

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 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

To have Crossfusion delivered directly to your email, click here.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Youth Questions: Why Doesn’t the Methodist Church Modernize its Thinking?



 Question: Why Doesn’t the Methodist Church Modernize its Thinking?


    I’m not exactly sure what the questioner had in mind when they wrote this, but the short answer is that we do, regularly, change the way that our church works.  The longer answer will take a little while.

    First, there are some things that we can’t change.  If we believe that the Bible is true and was given to us by God, then we must be formed and shaped by what it says and it is not for us to rewrite the Bible so that it says what we think it should.

    Second, as United Methodists, our organization, structure and doctrine all flow out of “The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”  It is not the Bishops who speak for us, nor the Council of Bishops (we don’t have a Pope), but the Book of Discipline.  This book is revised every four years during our General Conference.  The General Conference is a democratic body of delegates who are elected by each geographical area (called Annual Conferences) and each area sends a delegation based on the number of church members in that area, much like we, in the United States, elect members to the House of Representatives.  Because The United Methodist Church is a global church, representatives come from around the globe from every continent except Antarctica. 

    Almost everything is up for grabs when the General Conference meets.  Nearly every page of the Book of Discipline may be amended or even completely replaced with only a small section that is unchanging.  In the beginning of the Discipline is a set of Restrictive Rules that specify those sections that cannot be amended.  These sections include the fundamental doctrine of our church that defines who we are, our basic confession of faith, a few rules regarding bishops, the right of clergy to trial by committee, and how we are able to spend the money earned by through publishing.  In all, from a book with nearly 900 pages, less than twenty are unchanging.  The rest are available for revision every four years.

    Who can suggest or propose a change?  You can.  Any member, or clergyperson, from any United Methodist Church, can write a proposal to the General Conference to amend or replace any section of the Discipline.  And to be sure that your opinion matters, the Discipline requires that the General Conference consider every single proposal that is submitted.  Many of these will be similar or propose changes to the same sections, and these will be read, and incorporated into a single proposal by working groups of conference delegates.  Every delegate belongs to one of these working groups and each group is responsible for a working out the proposed changes to a particular section.  Once the working groups are done, these proposals go before the entire General Conference for a vote.  The exception to this are those changes that are editorial or are so totally uncontroversial, that no one feels the need to vote on them, these are passed, as a group, by the consent of the conference.  But if any delegate feels that any particular proposal should be voted on individually, they can ask that that proposal be moved off of the “consent calendar” and brought to the floor for a vote.

    So, while we maintain core beliefs that are unchanging, there is much of our “thinking” that is being “modernized” on a regular basis.  Among these things that are being revised is the Social Principles, which is a separate publication from the Book of Discipline, but which contains the official position of the church on social issues from abortion and adoption, to the rights of women and youth and everything in between.  It is here, in the Social Principles, that you will find the official church position on divorce, the death penalty, population control, racial and ethnic rights, collective bargaining, sustainable agriculture and a great many other things. 

    Keep in mind that The United Methodist Church is a church made up of individuals that are very different, who come from very different places and different cultures.  Our church has members from nearly every political affiliation you can imagine and we don’t always agree.  Although I admit that politics are sometimes played in the writing of changes to the Discipline and the Social Principles, I appreciate that we are trying to do theology together.   

    We are not a North American church that is writing “rules” that must be followed by people thousands of miles away, but we are one, global, church that is trying to discern, together, what God is saying, and where he is leading us.   

That process can be a little messy, but we are working it out, together.

 Note: I asked our youth to write down any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general.  This is a part of that series.


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Other questions and answers in this series can be found here: Ask the Pastor

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ten (or more) Lessons from Ferguson



    Recently I read an article by Jeremy Smith, in United Methodist Insight, in which he wondered why more  clergy did not speak out on the events of Ferguson, Missouri.  In the article, Smith insists that when we don’t speak out about injustice, we make it seem that we aren’t responsible for things that happen far away from us.  In his words, “When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. “  He’s right of course, but I have a hard time speaking out about events like those in Ferguson because I am so personally ignorant, confused and conflicted by them.

    I’m a white guy and I grew up with the privileges that come with that.  Our family was far from wealthy, but I haven’t suffered from the subtle or overt discrimination that my non-white friends did.  I have not been pulled over by the police for “Driving While Black.”  I have no idea what that must be like. 

    I know that because I am white I do not fully appreciate all of the issues in play in the mess that is Ferguson, MO nor do I feel the impact of those events personally, as people of color undoubtedly do.  I know that anything I say about these events will lack understanding.   But Jeremy Smith is right, keeping silent allows injustice to continue and so I feel like I have to say something. 

    As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to stand against injustice, and there has been plenty on every side.  Not long ago, a colleague of mine posted a link to an article (to which I will not provide a link) that was so filled with hatred of hate and racism that it became hateful and racist itself.  In opposing racism, it named anyone who disagreed, for any reason, or for any principle, as a racist.  That sort of language is unhelpful and it doesn’t help any of us to think clearly.

    So here are ten lessons that we can learn from the mess that is sorting itself out (and will be for years) in Ferguson, MO:


1)      There is never an excuse to hate someone whose skin is a different color, simply because their skin is different color.  It isn’t okay to hate someone because they are black but neither is it okay to hate someone because they are not.

2)      In a town that has a population with a majority of African Americans, it is inconceivable that the police department can’t find African American recruits or that the imbalance should be so substantial.  As I understand it, the federal government is investigating this disparity, and they should.

3)      When there is injustice it should be okay to protest that injustice. Peacefully.

4)       Protests about injustice should not devolve into riots in which property is destroyed and innocents are put in the hospital, and worse.

5)      It’s not okay to use injustice as an excuse to cause injustice.

6)      It’s not okay to hurt someone who is on your side, just because they are the wrong color.
7)      It’s not okay (nor is it helpful) to destroy the businesses that have supported an abused community to make the point that the community has been abused.

8)      To say that it’s NOT okay doesn’t go far enough, it is flat out wrong, offensive, and even criminal, for the police department to try to disperse a riot by showing up dressed and equipped for a war.  Uniforms and weapons of war have no place on our streets.  I have no idea why anyone thought that showing up with M-16’s and armored personnel carriers was going to bring peace.

9)      While it is important, even necessary, for the media to have access to the story and for the story to get a wide distribution, there is a point at which the media becomes the story.  From several stories that I read, from several very different media outlets, a point was reached when most citizens had gone home and rioters appeared, many from out of town, simply because the media was there.  I don’t know how we could, and we probably can’t and shouldn’t place restrictions on media access, but when the media’s presence makes the violence worse, something needs to be done.  Perhaps the media outlets themselves can agree on some sort of code of conduct, or organize a media pool as is often done in wartime, to share stories and prevent an area from being mobbed by reporters.

10)   As to who is guilty in the original event that triggered this mess, I have to admit that the conflicting reports in the media make me unsure.  A young man is dead and shouldn’t be.  I don’t know who is at fault, but I am sure that a careful investigation is needed.  I am also sure that the Ferguson Police are not the ones who should do the investigating.  In Ohio, it is standard procedure for accusations against social workers to be investigated by a neighboring (outside) social service agency.  Perhaps police departments ought to do the same with any officer involved shooting.

    Ultimately, there is plenty of fault to go around.  Ferguson may not be a “Perfect Storm” where everything went wrong, but a whole lot still went wrong.  The police got it wrong, the protestors got it wrong, the media got it wrong, and probably a few others as well.  But in every case, we, the people of God, the church, need to find a way to fight against injustice. 

All injustice. 

    We need to speak up against institutional racism.  We need to speak out against a police force that is preparing and equipping to fight a war against its own citizens.  We need to speak out against rioters who overshadow legitimate protestors and also against a media machine that makes problems worse instead of better.

    As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be salt and light to the world.  We are called to stand against injustice.  We are supposed to be doing all we can to make things better.

    The events of Ferguson, MO make it clear that no matter where we live, regardless of our race, we have a LOT of work to do.





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