There was an interesting comment on my earlier post, “Have you considered…the UMC?” from a person identifying himself as Jeff.
Now I was doing a little tongue-in-cheek recruiting of Lutherans who are thinking of leaving the ELCA since their decision of last week to allow practicing gays and lesbians to be rostered as ELCA ministers. I was trying to tell them how comfortable they might be in the UMC if they just tried us. Jeff took exception to what I was writing and wrote out a list of twelve things why Lutherans would have a hard time going to a United Methodist church. I would like to answer his list point-by-point, not to refute them but to give a Methodist point of view on them. My answers will be in italics after each point.
Why confessional Lutherans would have trouble attending a UMC church:
1. The UMC does not confess the actual presence of Christ in, with and under the elements.
Answer: That’s correct. That is a Lutheran belief. There has been much discussion in the UMC about what we believe about communion. A consensus has been reached and has been published in “This Holy Mystery”, but the conversation continues.
2. The UMC uses grape juice.
Answer: That is correct, we use the pure and unfermented juice of the grape.
3. Wesley followed along the Reformed view that the communicant is lifted to heaven where Christ is.
Answer: I’ve never heard of that. It could be, but it’s not a strong point of Wesleyan theology. I’ve never heard it preached in my lifetime.
4. Confessional Lutherans believe Christ in his two natures cannot be seperated and thus is present at the Eucharist.
Answer: I’ve never heard of that either. It sounds to me like you are limiting Christ, and I think He is capable of so much more – He’s far greater than such a limitation.
5. While “This Holy Mystery” the UMC document outlines “real presence” at the local parish level most UMC churches propose a Zwinglian memorial.
Answer: That is probably accurate, though it is very common for the pastor to speak of the real presence of Christ with us as we commune. We do believe that it is more than a memorial, though how much more is a subject for debate.
6. Most UMC parishes celebrate Communion once a month.
7. Confessional Lutheran churches celebrate Word and Sacrament each and every Sunday.
Answer: OK. John Wesley believed in “constant communion” and often took communion every day. He believed in communion every Sunday. But in the early years of the United States the Methodist churches did not have a regular ordained pastor, but there was a circuit rider who may have only reached a particular church about four times a year. So for many years Methodist churches only had communion quarterly, and that tradition continued as late as the 1960s, and some churches still only do communion quarterly. WE think we’re doing OK at once a month. Besides, there’s something to be said for each frequency I’ve mentioned.
8. United Methodists don’t really profess baptismal regeneration. In fact the EUB service of infant “dedication” is still in use and authorized.
Answer: That is accurate, as far as baptismal regeneration is concerned. I don’t know about the EUB service of infant “dedication”, but you could be right.
9. Lutherans baptize their babies and trust it as God’s claim on us.
Answer: We do baptize infants. It is generally agreed that the infant is joined with the Body of Christ, the Church, through that baptism. It is viewed as an initiation into the church family.
10. Methodists believe they can “sin away” the grace of their baptism, thereby necesisitating a “born again” experience.
Answer: In a way, you’re correct. The official teaching of the UMC is that a person can turn his back on the Lord and walk away from his salvation. Open rebellion against God is clearly taught in the Bible as sin resulting in destruction, although it is a sin of which a person can repent and be restored to fellowship, if one does not die before that repentance. (Personally, I lean towards a greater assurance of salvation than that.)
11. Lutherans choose and call their pastors. Methodists send whoever they like.
Answer: I don’t know Lutheran practices in this area. Methodist pastors are itinerant and are assigned by the Bishop, although the individual churches do have some say in who they get.
12. Lutherans should stay away from Methodist tables because presiding at them in many cases is a lay person called a “local pastor.” These people are not ordained and yet preside at many tables throughout the UMC conferences.
Answer: It’s true that there are many local pastors. But it’s a matter of your own theology. If you believe that the elements must be magically blessed by an ordained minister in order for them to be real communion, then that’s your decision. There are many Methodists who believe that, too. On the other hand, my personal; belief is that any two or three Christian believers can have such communion between themselves and Christ will be there with them.
If you are an ELCA member stay and confess your faith. Find a parish commited to the Lutheran confessions. The UMC will be of no help here. Stay Lutheran and ignore this guy and AOG guy.
Answer: I can’t speak for the AOG guy, but if you want to continue in the Lutheran faith, I say go to it and may God bless you! On the other hand, I would welcome you with open arms into the UMC.