Thoughts on being a Christian Centerist

I have been a United Methodist since I was born and baptized as an infant in 1978.  The United Methodist Church is my home, it is what I know, and the Wesleyan Theology is my adapted way of understanding God and living my faith.  But something that so many folks who have not necessarily had the opportunity to learn is that Wesleyan Theology, while flexible, is a centerist/ moderate interpretation and application of theology.  

Historically speaking, John Wesley, did not come up with this, but is rather rooted in the Anglican/ Church of England makeup, with the influence of Queen Elizabeth I.  in the Church of England, beginning with King Henry VIII and his separation from the Catholic Church also known as the English Reformation that the Church of England began.  

 King Henry VIII (1491-1547) ruled England for 36 years, presiding over sweeping changes that brought his nation into the Protestant Reformation. He famously married a series of six wives in his search for political alliance, marital bliss and a healthy male heir. His desire to annul his first marriage without papal approval led to the creation of a separate Church of England. Of his marriages, two ended in annulment, two in natural deaths and two with his wives’ beheadings for adultery and treason. His children Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I would each take their turn as England’s monarch. (Credit -

Upon King Henry VIII's death is son Edward VI took over as monarch at 9 years old with very limited authorities as he was appointed a Protector who was  his uncle.  Edward was only king for five years, "during which time the Church of England became more explicitly Protestant as Edward himself was fiercely so. The Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1549, aspects of Roman Catholic practices (including statues and stained glass) were eradicated and the marriage of clergy allowed. The imposition of the Prayer Book (which replaced Latin services with English) led to rebellions..." (Credit -

Upon Edward's death, his half sister Queen Mary took over the monarchy. Mary, whose mother was from French decent and very committed in her devotion to the Catholic Church set to eradicate the blot of Protestant practices from the Church of England and bring it back in line with Catholicism. Under Mary's direction this led to the murder and execution of many priests and Church of England Leaders. This ultimately earned Mary the nickname "Bloody Mary".  Mary's reforms however were short lived, as her reign as the monarch only lasted five years.

Mary's half sister Queen Elizabeth I became queen in 1558.  Elizabeth's goal for the church was to bring a peaceful compromise.  She ended up retaining the protestant status of the Church of England, she continued to utilize the Book of Common Prayer, however she also allowed for some of the meaningful contributions of Catholicism to also remain. While this is an extreme abreviation of church history, Queen Elizabeth along with Theologian Richard Hooker established what would later be known as the "Via Media" or the "Middle Way".  This was a concept also attributed to a movement from Oxford England known as the Oxford Movement.

"Hooker's work concerned the form of Protestant church government as an argument against the extreme advocates of Puritanism, arguing that elements of Church of England practice condemned by the Puritans, in particular the Book of Common Prayer and the institution of bishops, are proper and accord with Scripture. Later theologians analysed Hooker's approach to the particular doctrine of justification by faith as a middle way between the predestinationism of the extreme Calvinists and Lutheran and Arminian doctrines. The Oxford Movement recast this via media as a middle way not within Protestantism but between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism"
(Credit - justification of its idea,John Keble, who was one)

From the emerging theological approaches introduced during this time in the Church of England one of them was also the predcessor to the Wesleyan Quandrilateral, is that first, Scripture is the primary source and standard to establish Christian Doctrine, followed by Tradition and Reason. It was understood that these three principles created a "three legged stool" that would illuminate the core of the Christian faith for the believer.

While John Wesley did not formulate the succinct statement now commonly referred to as the Wesley Quadrilateral. But rather building on his Oxford education and Anglican roots, "[he] added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or "sides" of the quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service." (Source: A Dictionary for United Methodists, Alan K. Waltz, Copyright 1991, Abingdon Press. Used by Permission.)

I rehash this history because as Methodists, we are seeing ourselves today polarized in the church to extreme opposites.  Yet our tradition and history informs us that it is in the middle space between that we find our way forward as a Christian people; a church.
in the middle where the heart of a centerist lives and breathes, is not always an easy place, it is not always comfortable, and we try to be the force that brings together the various understandings of our theology, testing it against scripture, tradition, reason and experience. It is this very place in "The Middle Way" of the church that is being eaten away by the extreme positions to the right or left.  

on the extreme positions, we find exclusion from God's grace for those we disagree with. In the middle is where the hard work is at to seek God's love and grace that embodies the Good News of Jesus Christ for all people. To live in the middle space, we must be willing to be true disciples of Jesus who learn and grow through holy discipline, in the middle space we have to be willing to listen with the emphasis of truly hearing all the sides.  Being in the middle is not about winning an argument, but rather finding the truth that exists that can bring us together rather than divide us.

2022 marks the year that the United Methodist Church begins to formally tear itself apart over some fundamental disagreements. we have become polarized for many reasons, but the saddest part that I am witnessing, is that we have lost the middle space, the home of the moderate (moderate is not to imply one is complacent, but one one who lives in the middle space). it is a loss of the force that works to find the greater truth that can be revealed by listening and hearing both sides.

Wrestling over theological issues can be hard, personally I enjoy the personal challenge of working out my salvation before the Lord by wrestling with the various challenges set before us. Even more I love the growth that can come through discussion set on the foundation of Christian love for one another.  I have considered that perhaps maybe, the two perspectives in the United Methodist Church do not have to be at odds with each other, that maybe, just maybe, there are more t han one expression of the Christian life that can be  recognized, and that these multiple expressions of God's love and grace can reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  

I admit that I do not have all the answers, I have more questions than answers, but I would rather ask more questions, and seek God's grace where I might not have full understanding yet than to commit and lock myself to a position other than to love God and my neighbor fully.  And so I wrestle, I read, I think, and debate in my head, I still talk with others, and I still seek God's will. I only pray others will still be committed to seeking the fullness of God's grace and truth in the middle space and not just putting up gatekeepers and regulations that prohibit and prevent the Love of God to reach those who need divine salvation, and punish those who do not fall into line to a specific set of policies and practices.  likewise I pray that policies and practices are not created just to defend and protect the practices of the institution of church other than that which is ordained and blessed by God for the building up of God's Church.


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