Today we feature another guest blogger, Dr. Robert A. Hunt. Dr. Hunt is the Director of Global Theology Education and Professor of Christian Missions and Interreligious Relations at Perkins School of Theology.
To be a global church what we really need is an ongoing global dialogue
that doesn't rush toward crystallization in structures, creeds, systems,
or principles. It's easier to walk together when we aren't chained
I spent this past week in Skopje and Sturmica, Macedonia, giving
lectures on unity, diversity, and dialogue. I was reminded again of the
extent to which the concept of a Global United Methodist Church
represents a challenge that we haven't begun to really explore.
The United Methodist Church and its antecedents have been in Macedonia
and its antecedents longer than it's been in Texas. But it is still a
small church, too small to have a local superintendent much less a
bishop. So its most senior clergy leader, its superintendent, and its
bishop come from three distinctly different cultures and social
As a church it lives in a social situation, as part of a brand new
country in tension with its immediate neighbors, that is as unique as it
is largely incomprehensible to most UM leaders. Within Macedonia it
lives in considerable tension with the majority Macedonian Orthodoxy
church because their very ways of conceptualizing "church," not to
mention human nature and the gospel, are quite different. Warm personal
relationships between priests and pastors are possible. But how does a
Protestant church build on the concept of individual confessions of
faith (a distinctly modern concept) and live with a Christian neighbor
who claims the population as its own purely by accident of ethnic and
linguistic heritage combined with the artificially created boundaries of
a new state?
Over and over I heard that becoming Christian meant leaving Orthodoxy.
And in one case (from an Orthodox priest) that becoming United Methodist
meant leaving Christianity/Orthodoxy. And when in my lectures I
suggested that Methodists might seek to understand Orthodox spirituality
the older members of the church suggested I wasn't really a Christian.
An Orthodox woman at the same lecture said it was the first time she had
heard a Protestant pastor that didn't denigrate her religion.
Let's not even talk about the impact of half a century of communism on
Macedonians, or before that being part of a Serbian Kingdom and before
that the Ottoman Empire.
And of course in Macedonia we are talking about a largely rural church
of congregations with a dozen to 20 people. A clergy that has only the
most basic training – and for whom no university level seminary degree
is available in their own language. Not even course of study. Half a
dozen UM churches in Dallas alone have more members and clergy than the
whole Macedonian UMC.
Up until now our United Methodist leadership has seen being a "global
church" as a matter of perfecting certain structures and finding
transnational commonalities in Christian expression. The small
Macedonian Church, with its massive complexity and difference from the
majority of UM churches, suggests to me that this isn't the right
approach. The word "culture" as used by our church leaders doesn't begin
to comprehend the differences between Macedonia and the United States.
Ultimately what we have in common as United Methodist churches is
nothing more than a idiosyncratic and sometimes awkward history that
often quite arbitrarily and artificially traces its origins to the
Wesley brothers. To be a global church what we really need is an ongoing
global dialogue that doesn't rush toward crystallization in structures,
creeds, systems, or principles. Its easier to walk together when we
aren't chained together.