The Free Methodist Position on Baptism (Sermon)

I’ve recently been engaging the controversial question of baptism in Wesleyan theology and practice.  The Methodist position has always been somewhat unusual, and it continues to be of interest despite centuries of discussion and debate.  In the past several months, through student papers, conversations with other pastors, and situations in my own church, I’ve been pressed into renewed consideration of the question.

The occasion for the sermon below was two back-to-back baptism services at Wesley Chapel: four adult baptisms on June 3, and an infant baptism on June 10.  While we’ve had both types of baptism regularly, I don’t believe we’ve ever had them so close together. I realized that, in the ten years I’ve been at Wesley Chapel, we’ve never clearly addressed the question of baptism.

So in the sermon below I’ve attempted to give a brief orientation to the position of our denomination, the Free Methodist church. Given the context of this sermon, my goal was not so much to defend the Free Methodist view (though I do try to answer some common objections) as to articulate it. I also tried not to assume much prior knowledge, given the diverse set of people and church backgrounds we have with us on a given Sunday morning. So the sermon has limitations, and necessarily paints with a broad brush, but I hope it is helpful as a general overview.

*A note to my Salvation Army readers: in the first half of the sermon I set out the major positions on baptism from across the ecumenical spectrum; however, due to time constraints and the heavy amount of content that was already included in the sermon, I decided not to try to explain the non-observant stance of the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends. No disrespect was intended…this was entirely a practical decision. I didn’t think I’d have time to address it adequately. When I teach this topic in the seminary classroom, I always include an explanation of the Salvationist viewpoint.

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Audio from the Wesleyan Liturgical Society

As usual, I had a very full and fruitful time at the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  It is a pleasure and privilege to be able to gather with fellow scholars in the Wesleyan family, and every year I come away inspired, encouraged and equipped for my own work.

This year also marked the third annual meeting of the Wesleyan Liturgical Society – a new affiliate society of WTS that I hope will grow and flourish in the years to come.

In response to a request from a member who could not be there, I made audio recordings of the keynote address and panel discussion that followed.

The WLS will meet again next March at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Watch the WTS website for further details in the weeks to come.

Borders and the Body Broken: Liminal Space at the Table, by Brannon Hancock (Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University)

Panel responseHeather Gerbsch Daugherty (Belmont University), Steven Bruns (Central Christian College of Kansas), Brent Peterson (Northwest Nazarene University).

 

 

 

 

Wesleyan Liturgical Society – March 8, 2018

The Wesleyan Liturgical Society will meet on March 8, in conjunction with the joint meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society and Society for Pentecostal Studies.  This year’s meeting takes place at Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, TN.

I’ve really enjoyed the first two WLS meetings, and we’ve got a great program lined up for this year, with a noted focus on the Lord’s Supper.  The schedule is posted below.

You can register through WTS, though note that meals must be purchased through SPS.

Wesleyan Liturgical Society

Third Annual Meeting, March 8, 2018

Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN

 

  • 1:15 Welcome, opening prayer
  • 1:30 Plenary paper, Brannon Hancock, “Borders and the Body Broken: Liminal Space at the Table”
  • 2:00 Plenary panel discussion on the open table
  • 2:30 Break
  • 3:00 parallel session 1
    • Todd Stepp, “Uniting the Pair So Long Disjoined: Tearing Down the Wall Between the Form of Godliness and the Power Thereof”
    • Chris Green, “The Altar and the Table: Reflections on a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper”
  • 3:40 Parallel session 2
    • Larry Wood, “The New Baptismal Liturgy and a Wesleyan theology of Christian Initiation”
    • Steve Bruns: “The Third Race and Closed Worship: How Destroying One Border Created Another”
  • 4:20 Break
  • 4:30 Business meeting
  • 5:00 Evening Prayer

2017 Wesley Symposium and Ministry Conference

ben-witherington-iiiIn just over a week Tyndale will be hosting its ninth annual Wesley Studies Symposium, featuring Dr. Ben Witherington III as the keynote speaker.  It’s a great privilege to have a scholar of Witherington’s caliber and profile at Tyndale.  He is a prolific author and one of those rare examples of a top-rate scholar who can also speak to a broader audience in an engaging way.  You can read more about Witherington here.

Given his combination of gifts, we’ve decided to run our academic symposium back-to-back with a ministry conference, aimed at church leaders.  We’ve had two previous Wesley ministry conferences at Tyndale, with Timothy Tennent in 2010, and Leonard Sweet in 2013.

For the ministry conference on April 24, Witherington has chosen to address the topic of “A Singular Scripture in a Pluralistic Culture.” He’ll be addressing the nature of scriptural authority and illustrating his arguments with reference to important issues facing the church today.

For the Wesley Studies Symposium, Witherington’s keynote topic is “The Ethics of Jesus Revisited.”  We also have an excellent lineup of six other presenters for the symposium.

  • Aimee Patterson, “A New Final Enemy: Reflections on Dying, Suffering and Autonomy”
  • Dan Cooper, “Breakdown in Babylon: an exploration of Psalm 137 through the lens of metal culture”
  • Grant Gordon, “John Newton Encounters John Wesley: The Untold Story”
  • David Graham, “The Chalcedonian Logic of Wesley’s Christology”
  • Gerhard Mielke, “What motivated Wesleyan Holiness Women of the 19th and early 20th century to preach?”
  • Aaron Perry, “Ethics, Theology, and Leadership: A Review of the Current State of Ethical Leadership and Why Theology can Make a Contribution”

We are topping all of this off with a worship event on Sunday evening, April 23, featuring Swee Hong Lim, noted expert in global contemporary worship. Supported by local musicians, we’ll be singing the hymns of Charles Wesley to tunes both old and new.

To register or find more information about any of these events, go to ministryconference.ca

A Window on early Primitive Methodist Meetings

While reading Hugh Bourne’s History of the Primitive Methodists (1823) at the Rylands library last summer I came across this interesting set of “advices” for leading meetings.  The context, as Bourne relates it, was that some in the PMC were allowing preaching to go on too long, thereby not allowing enough time for prayer.

There are several aspects of these outlines that I find interesting. One is how much attention is given to technique, and keeping things moving along. Not only is long preaching excluded, but so are long speeches from members in the class meeting.  I also find it interesting that, although these outlines are 200 years old, one can still recognize some features of these services in the routinized revivalism of many evangelical denominations (the “song sandwich” approach, for example, that many of us grew up with). Another noteworthy feature is the lack of attention to scripture. For several years now I have been quite concerned about the disappearance of the public reading of scripture from evangelical worship services. However, reflecting on these outlines causes me to think that the neglect of scripture readings is very deep-seated in the revivalist stream of evangelical worship.

Advices for Meetings

Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1819

Source: Hugh Bourne, History of the Primitive Methodists Giving an Account of Their Rise and Progress up to the Year 1823. (Bemersley: Printed for the author, at the Office of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by J. Bourne, 1823), 59-60.

Outline of a Preaching Service.

“Let all the exercises, in general, be short. The preaching whenever it can, should be followed by a prayer meeting. From the beginning of the service to the end of the sermon, should up about three quarters of an hour; and the prayer meeting should continue about half an hour; the whole to conclude in about an hour and a quarter. After the conclusion, prayer must be made for mourners; or the society may meet for about twenty minutes. Long preachings generally injure both the preachers’ constitution and the cause of religion.”

Outline of a Prayer Meeting.

  1. Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes.
  2. Spend four, five, or six minutes in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
  3. Sing about two, three or four minutes.
  4. Let the members of the society prayer in quick succession, for two, three, or four minutes each.

When mourners are in distress, or in any other particular cases, the exercises may be lengthened. But, in general, long exercises in public, are improper and injurious; and should be carefully avoided. And if any one trespass by attempting to drag out to an improper length, the next meeting of the society may determine what remedy shall be applied to such impropriety.

  1. Let a little singing be occasionally intermingled to vary the exercises.
  2. If exhortations be given, they may be for two or three, or from that to six or eight minutes. Short exhortations are useful.
  3. Conclude in an hour or an hour and a quarter.
  4. On suitable occasions, prayer may again commence, and especially if there by souls in distress.
  5. This outline may be judiciously varied at any point, as circumstances may require.

Outline of a Class Meeting.

  1. Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes
  2. Let for or five minutes be spent in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
  3. Sing about two, or three minutes.
  4. Leader speak one or two minutes, chiefly to his own experience.
  5. Let fifteen, or from that to twenty minutes, be spent in conversation of the leader with the members.

In speaking to one, the leader, in effect, speaks to all; and it will on some occasions, be found difficult to keep up the attention of the whole meeting for twenty minutes together. But the leader passing from one to another in quick succession will be a great means to keep the attention alive. Also the leader may give out a verse and sing in the midst of the work.

If a class have fifteen or sixteen members, the average time of speaking should be under a minute with each member. If there be twenty or thirty members it should be still less. In particular cases, more time may be spent with any of the members.

If a member have acquired or be acquiring a habit of long speaking, then, the leader, after dropping a few words, must immediately pass on to the next, and begin at once to speak to the next. If this be not attended to the meeting will soon be injured.

  1. When the speaking is concluded, sing for two, three, or four minutes.
  2. Then let the members pray in quick succession, for about two or three minutes each. The leader must take care that none of them trespass upon time.
  3. Intermingle occasionally a little singing to vary the exercise.
  4. Be careful and exact in settling the class paper.
  5. Conclude in an hour, or an hour and a quarter.
  6. This outline may be judiciously varied in any point, as circumstances may require.

Reflections on my time at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre

It was a privilege to spend six weeks at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre as a Visiting Research Fellow for the summer of 2016. My work focused on early Primitive Methodism.

I am interested in the development of Wesleyan ecclesiology, especially as related to issues of renewal, unity and division. The Primitive Methodists are of interest as the first major revivalistic breakaway from Wesleyan Methodism. I focused my time primarily on the unpublished and published writings of Hugh Bourne, co-founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.  While his colleague William Clowes was the more charismatic personality and a more compelling preacher, it was Bourne who did most of the writing for the movement, particularly through his long tenure as editor of the Primitive Methodist Magazine.

Nazarene Theological College

Bourne and the other Primitive Methodists were very keen to clear themselves of the charge of schism. In doing this they stressed both their continuity with early Methodism and the novelty of their movement as a body of newly-evangelized people. In my ongoing work on this subject I am looking at the arguments Bourne used to defend against the charge of schism, and the theology of the church that underlies those arguments.

I am also considering the interesting mix of influences that can be seen in Bourne’s theology. As was the case with many later nineteenth-century Wesleyan revivalists, Bourne was strongly influenced by John Fletcher. But he was also shaped by his contacts with the Quaker Methodists of Warrington, the “Magic Methodists” of Delamere Forest and other Independent Methodists and revivalists such as Lorenzo Dow. His spirituality had a strong pneumatocentric focus, leading to a very participatory and egalitarian view of church and ministry. Bourne is a fascinating and complicated person, who certainly had his faults. Yet he was also ahead of his time on questions of lay representation and women in ministry.

John Rylands LibrarySome of Hugh Bourne’s writings are only available at the John Rylands Library, and those that are available elsewhere are still quite rare and difficult to find. I was very grateful for the opportunity to spend several weeks at the Rylands through the MWRC Visiting Fellow program, as it gave me access to numerous sources that I would not have been able to find at home in Toronto. I also appreciated the many connections I was able to make with other scholars from the UK, as well as those visiting from North America. At the MWRC and Nazarene Theological College I found a welcoming community and ideal base for doing research on the Wesleyan tradition. All in all it was a wonderful experience – I hope I’ll be able to go back and do further research in Manchester in the future.

Media from the Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium

We had a wonderful day at the Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium here at Tyndale on March 22. It was a pleasure to partner with Van Johnson and Master’s Pentecostal Seminary in hosting this event. Donald Dayton was his inimitable self and helped us to understand how significant it was to have a gathering of these two traditions, given our frosty relations in the past.  The other papers from scholars, pastors and graduate students provided a great deal of discussion material for the attendees.  More than one person commented to me about how engaged everyone was in the topic, discussing it over coffee breaks and lunch as well as in the sessions.

One of the benefits of moving to our new campus is that all our classrooms have very recently been outfitted with excellent audio-visual equipment. This made it very simple for us to record the presentations. The three plenary talks were recorded on video, and audio recordings of all the sessions were made as well. I’m grateful that all the presenters agreed to allow their recordings to be shared publicly after the event.

So, please take a moment to visit the symposium media page and make use of this excellent content.  I’ve embedded my own talk on Burns, Horner, and Burwash below.