Tradition & Innovation
In John Wesley’s day, spiritual innovation carried serious social and potentially even criminal consequences. Throughout John’s writing and Charles’ hymns, orthodoxy, right belief, was expected of every Methodist. For the Wesleys, innovation was found in how we organize and the depth of commitment we bring to our attempts to love rather than in the content of what we believe as followers of Christ.
In our era, we do not face imposed difficulties for questioning traditional Christian beliefs. In fact, there is a certain social affirmation given to those who take critical or oppositional positions. What a gift it is to live in a community in which we are free, indeed encouraged, to question! But, what if the search for truth which so often requires us to take our own strange paths leads one right back into conversation with orthodoxy. As a United Methodist Pastor, I have agreed to teach the traditional beliefs of the Christian faith, but paradoxically, there were many seasons of my life when I did not believe them! It wasn’t until I became convinced not only of their truth, but also of their ability to help others grow in spiritual maturity that I could promise to teach our beliefs.
Finding the lovable truth in our Christian tradition does not mean minimizing our critique of Christian history or the ways our beliefs have been imposed or used to oppress. Often times the emphasis of orthopraxy, right practice, in Jesus’ teaching (see Matthew 25:31-46, or Mark 10:35-45) leads us into direct conflict with the way Christians have traditionally held and taught about belief. This living tension between the beliefs that generations of followers of Christ have embraced and what makes sense to us today is beautifully expressed in our Discipline.