Friday, February 08, 2002

Methodist History Hour- James Rueben Haney asks "I'd be curious if anyone who knows the history of the Methodist church would be able to identify when it started to decline," bouncing off a Cal Thomas piece on the 1954 law keeping tax-deductible churches away from electoral politics. My best guess is that it pre-dated the 1954 law. I stopped going to my Methodist church as a teenager (high school sophomore?) when those "vacuous nothings" did nothing for me. This may be some evangelical bias here, but mainline Methodist theology doesn't want to offend the parishioner with the idea that they're a sinner and need Jesus. My take as a kid was that their sermons were looking to create good citizens, and it wasn't adding much to a fairly "old-school" kid's development. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in the mid-late 1700s, was definitely an on-fire evangelical, albeit with a Arminian (God give the option of salvation to all, it's up to us to RSVP) theological perspective. A quarter-millennia of inertia have cooled the fires. While there are evangelical pockets within the Methodist church, especially in the South, there has been a watering-down of theology for better part of a century. My Dictionary of Christianity in America's [InterVarsity Press, 1990] section on Methodism noted that when the Northern and Southern branches of Methodists rejoined in 1939, a minority of the Southern churches "refused to realign... because of the apostasy they perceived in that denomination." Either those southerners were real hard-core or the decay predates WWII.

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