Anglicans Ingest Meths

Well the headline got your attention didn’t it? I’m afraid by ‘Meths’ I’m referring to Methodists, not a street drug. According to this report in The Daily Telegraph the Methodist Church in England is planning to join up with the Church of England. The Wesleys (who founded the Methodist Church) were Anglicans, and it was only after their death that the Methodist Church split away from the Church of England.

I think this is a pretty good idea. We’re in a time when a re-alignment is taking place in Christianity. As the Catholic element either leaves the Church of England or becomes increasingly confined to a ghetto within the CofE, the Liberal Protestant identity of the mainstream Church of England will come more into focus. The interesting effect of this is that while it will seem like the Methodists are being absorbed by the much larger Church of England, in fact what we are seeing is the triumpth of the Methodists.

The reason the Methodist/Anglican re-union scheme failed in the 1970s was that the Church of England was still too ‘Catholic’. The Anglo Catholics didn’t like women ministers (which the Methodist Church already had) nor did it like the fact that Methodist ministers did not have valid orders, nor did the Anglo Catholics like that the Methodists did not have bishops. Now the Church of England has women ministers, will soon have women bishops and no one in the Liberal Anglican mainstream cares about such arcane matters as ‘validity of orders’. The Methodists won’t mind having bishops–especially if some of their leaders get to be one.

As the Catholic element pulls out or is marginalized, the Church of England will only have two strong elements–the Liberal Protestants and the Evangelicals. Both of these groups are quite amenable to Methodism. Liberal Protestant Anglicans and Liberal Protestant Methodists are pretty much birds of a feather already. They share the same predictable ‘progressive’ agenda. No problem there. The more conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England are also indistinguishable from Methodists already. They’re very low church, follow a ‘get saved’ Evangelical theology and have a warm, people-centered style.

The only real thing that separates Liberal Protestant Anglicans, Evangelical Anglicans and their Methodist counterparts is class. The Church of England tends to be more middle-upper class. The Methodists have more often been working class. But I’m sure that won’t be too much of a problem. The Methodists will take very easily to the odd glass of sherry and church fetes on the vicarage lawn with cucumber sandwiches, and present day Anglicans are quite good at affecting working class behaviors to appear more ‘ordinary’.

So my own humble opinion is “Go for it!” I just wonder what this new ecclesial beast will be called. Maybe they’ll scrap all the traditional and dull formulations like ‘The United Methodist Anglican Church’ and call it something exciting and relevant like, “Fresh Expressions.”

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  • Jenny

    Well, we here in the South USA had it first! as catchy a name as yours however, Father…

  • Brian Walden

    Maybe the CofE should also open it's arms to Catholics who constantly condemn the Catholic Church for not being progressive enough. I sometimes get the impression that for many the only reason they're Catholic is it that it gives them something to complain about.I think having a real concrete offer to convert will do a lot of people a lot of good. From my own experience, it was considering switching to my wife's more progressive denomination (not the CofE) after years of not practicing my Catholic faith that brought me back into the Church. It required me to examine my beliefs and the beliefs of both groups. It made me first realize that not only did I not know everything, but that I in fact knew next to nothing. Then I had to study both the beliefs of the Church and the denomination I was considering converting to and for the first time I learned what the Church really teaches. If I had never considered formally leaving the Church, I would not be a practicing Catholic today.

  • Rachel Gray

    It'll be pretty darn impressive if these two groups can actually come to an accord and merge. It's impressive if any two groups manage that!

  • RC

    Is the established status of the CofE acceptable to the Methodists, or would a merger lead to a push for disestablishment?

  • Fr Longenecker

    Good point RC. The trend is towards disestablishment anyway, so it will probably accelerate that tendency

  • David Lindsay

    "Laying two or three corpses side by side does not turn them into a living body." So said one of the Church of England's most prominent Conservative Evangelicals to me a few years ago on the subject of reunion with the Methodists and the URC.By incorporating this country's mainstream Methodist body, as such, what would be gained by the Church of England, as such? Methodism's traditions of Biblical preaching and sacramental spirituality, of missionary zeal and musical excellence, of scholarly rigor and high moral standards, of practical social concern and radical political action, all held to derive from the righteousness of Jesus Christ imparted, and not only imputed, by means of Word and Sacraments? Would the people running the Church of England even want these things? This scheme looks like a device for kicking out those, on either present side, who adhere to anything much like them and who therefore will not subscribe to whatever document the committee system churns out as a basis for unity.In point of fact, the Anglican Communion has received at least one such suffusion, in South Africa, when those of precisely such Methodist missionary provenance, spurred thereby to a high ecclesiology and sacramental theology, organised themselves into the Order of Ethiopia and then sought Anglican Orders, though always with a parallel structure. At least two thirds of them, including Thabo Mbeki, are now in the Traditional Anglican Communion, and they, with the Torres Strait Islanders and with the Indian heirs of opposition to schemes just like the present English one, are set fair to become the three thriving Personal Ordinariates. Their missionaries, like those from the Catholic Church throughout the developing world (and from Eastern Europe), cannot possibly arrive too soon on these shores.Biblical preaching and sacramental spirituality, missionary zeal and musical excellence, scholarly rigor and high moral standards, practical social concern and radical political action: these do indeed derive from the righteousness of Jesus Christ imparted, and not only imputed, by means of Word and Sacraments. They therefore find their plenitide only in the full visible communion of the Petrine See of Rome.Moreover, in the impending realignment of British politics, the re-emergent heirs of the mostly Methodist Labour MPs who fought tooth and nail against deregulated drinking and gambling belong with the re-emergent heirs of the mostly Catholic Labour MPs who fought tooth and nail against abortion and easier divorce, not least including both Thatcher's introduction of abortion up to birth and Major's introduction of divorce legally easier than release from a car hire contract, as well as defending Catholic schools, and thus all church schools, over successive decades. Admittedly aided by mostly Anglican rebels who were Tories in the full sense, such a coalition organised against Thatcher's and Major's attempts to destroy the special character of Sunday and of Christmas Day, delivering the only Commons defeat of Thatcher's Premiership. Not for nothing did and do trade union banners depict Biblical scenes and characters, behind which people have marched and do march to defend the secure, high-wage, high-skilled, high-status basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community, a basis always guaranteed and frequently delivered by the State.

  • Shaughn

    It's important for readers to note that the English Methodist church is nothing like the United Methodist Church here in the states, especially in the South. Methodists down here have been described as "Baptists who can read." That's not what we're dealing with in the UK Methodist Church.They're much more like Low Church, liturgically — surplice, cassock, &c.; By now, that looks Catholic to many folks. But it isn't, of course.I suspect Wesley himself would be a bit horrified at the whole thing.

  • john

    This is interesting. But from my experience with Anglican Evangelicals this will not work out too good. Why? Most if not all the Anglican Evangelicals I have met are "Reformed" or "Calvinistic". Methodists are "Arminian". If you know anything about the issue then you realise that "Reformed" and "Arminian" are like mixing Gasoline with water.If you mean "liberal" Anglicans and "liberal" Methodists then there isn't a Dimes worth of difference between the two.

  • sol

    John, I wouldn't imagine that Calvinist vs. Arminian issue will cause too much of a problem amongst evangelical Anglicans and Methodists. Both are much more engaged in fighting the liberalism around them. They might have engaging debates in private, but in public I anticipate they would present a common front.

  • Mike M

    How do you think the high church Anglicans who remain in the CoE will take to this? Will those that remain leave for "traditional anglican" breakaway churches and for Rome?

  • David Lindsay

    john is right, and articles to that effect are already appearing."Fighting the liberalism around them", Sol? You could not be more liberal than the Methodist Church of Great Britain, at least at an institutional level. Like the C of E, in fact.That was why the people running the C of E wanted union with it in the Sixties. And that is why they want it now, with far fewer Anglo-Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals to block it as they did twice in the past.If you leave aside the class thing (which has party-political implications) and the State connection, either of which might yet scupper the whole thing from the Methodist side, then "The C of E without the Anglo-Catholics and the Conservative Evangelicals" would be a pretty good description of Methodism over here.

  • sol

    David, I defer to you as I do not have a dog in this fight. I also haven't read any articles outlining the incompatibility of Calvinist Anglican Evangelicals and Arminian Methodist Evangelicals. I don't deny (from my outside observation that) that institutionally the C of E and the Methodist Church of Great Britain are quite compatible.I know a few evangelical British Methodists (including my wife's grandparents) but I haven't queried how they feel about evangelical Anglicans, nor have I asked the same thing of my evangelical Anglican friends about evangelical Methodists. However, knowing people from both groups, my instincts were that they would care more about the liberals as a whole than about each other's view on predestination. Also having been at one time a Calvinist evangelical Anglican (of the "continuing", non-C of E, non-ECUSA variety), and putting myself back in those shoes, I think I would get along much better with evangelical Arminians (having done so in a variety of capacities) than with liberals.But as I said, until I make my own direct enquiries and read the extant literature, I defer to your knowledge of the same.

  • David Lindsay

    sol, there aren't really all that many Evangelicals in the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Cultural Charismatics to some extent or another, yes, although they are decidedly a minority. But serious Evangelicals are far more numerous in the C of E, if rather cut off from the running of it.I'm not sure where Fr gets the idea that there is a trend towards disestablishment. It is simply not on anyone's agenda at all. And that may very well turn out to be what scuppers this deal, from the Methodist side.As for disaffected groups coming over to Rome, that dog never barks in this country, and I don't believe that it ever will.

  • The young fogey

    Good point, Father. The mainline merger into mush can proceed without let or hindrance. (With more attrition and sliding into irrelevance.) Let's hope and pray as many did for a week last month for a Catholic union based upon substance.

  • RC

    Rachel wrote: "It'll be pretty darn impressive if these two groups can actually come to an accord and merge. It's impressive if any two groups manage that!"Here in the US, you could guarantee that if groups A and B merge, the result will be three denominations: the merged AB, and two splinter groups A' and B' rejecting the merger.

  • veritas

    Years ago the majority of Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians joined together in Australia to form the Uniting Church.Its statement of faith was and is a joke. It has become an utterly liberal permissive church in which anything goes – providing it is left wing and non orthodox.It has lost numbers annually by the bucketload and is rapidly ceasing to have any meaning at all.I have no doubt that the next step will be for it to unite with the Anglicans.Soon we will have a "super" (in number of combined denominations NOT in terms of membership) liberal trendy church where all the non believers who call themselves Christians can join together in a happy club.Interestingly this hideous mess has been rapidly passed in membership by the growing variety of American style so called Bible believing churhces of peculiar names (Christian City Church, Hillsong, Living Fire etc etc etc).The Catholic Church is holding its own in this contest but has lost many members since Vatican II.The present Pope's re-emphasis on beautiful worship and correct teaching of the faith is a definite step in the right direction.

  • The young fogey

    The Canadian mainliners except the Anglicans did that too: the United Church of Canada. I understand the Anglicans will be extinct there in about 50 years.

  • Hugo Mendez

    Yeah, the Arminian/Calvinist divide will not be an issue. Numerous "United/Uniting" churches unite the same theological traditions. For instance, the Church of North India is a member of both the Anglican Communion, the World Methodist Council AND the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. There is every precedent for this arrangement; it works (albeit through doctrinal relativism or minimalism).