Friday, April 08, 2005

Fetters of spiritual despotism thrown around human reason - Methodists

In the 1850s a publication of the Genesee Conference, The Buffalo Christian Advocate changed its name to The Advocate.

In 1857 a minister in the conference, the Reverend Benjamin Titus Roberts, published "New School Methodism" in the Northern Independent:

+ We commend the editor for this instance of honesty .... In an article on "Creeds," published in The Advocate ... a prominent New School minister lays it onto "the sects whose watchword is a creed ... No matter how holy and blameless a man's life may be, if he has the temerity to question any tenet of 'orthodoxy,' he is at once, in due ecclesiastical form, consigned to the Devil - as a heretic and an infidel. Thus are the fetters of spiritual despotism thrown around human reason...."
+ But [the New School's] theory of religion is more fully set forth in the leading editorial of The Advocate for May 14th...It says, "Christianity is not, characteristically, a system of devotion. It has none of those features which must distinguish a religion grounded on the idea that to adore the Divine character is the most imperative obligation resting upon human beings...."
+ The above may be sufficient to show what Christianity is not, in the opinion of these New School divines. Let us see what it is. "The characteristic idea of this system is benevolence; and its practical realization is achieved in beneficience. It consecrates the principle of charity....Whatever graces be necessary to constitute the inner Christian life, the chief and principal one of these is love to man."
Whew. And why can't it be "both and"? Neither is complete without the other. 'Creed is deed' isn't enough. And idle worship without action isn't either; it's idol worship. Aside: "To love thy God with all .... and the second is like unto it. To love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hangs all."

Roberts continues, in the same essay: They
+desire to raise money for the benefit of the church, they have recourse to selling pews to the highest bidder; to parties of pleasure, oyster suppers, fairs, grab-bags, festivals, and lotteries....The New School Methodists appear to depend upon the patronage of the worldly, the favor of the proud and aspiring; and the various artifices of worldly policy.
+....unmistakable indications show that prosperity is producing upon us, as a denomination, the same intoxicating effect that it too often does upon individuals and needs no prophet's vision to foresee that Methodism will become a dead and corrupting body.
Source: including the Robert's quotations (with my further editing): The Churching of America by Finke and Stark.

They go on to describe the fate of The Reverend Roberts:
Roberts's article provoked a vindictive reaction from the New School faction, for indeed they were in control of "executive power." Roberts was hailed (sic?) before the conference, declared guilty of unchristian and immoral conduct, and sentenced to be reprimanded by the bishop. Shortly thereafter the article was republished by a layman, which led to the expulsion of Roberts from the conference and from the church.
The fate of Methodism? Roberts was prophetic about its self-executing, if unintended, decline. Finke and Stark's chapter "Methodists transformed, Baptists triumphant" paints this in detailed relief, by the numbers.

Parting thought: Isn't it the essence of irony that an open-membership denomination ejected a member who was advocating tighter conditions of membership?

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