The mainline churches are dying. They’ve been cannibalizing each others memberships for decades in a futile attempt to survive, hoping to prolong the inevitable. But now they’re trying something new. After a half millenia-long schism, here two dying churches bury the hatchet.
The Methodist Church is prepared to be absorbed by the Church of England if that is the price of unity, Britain’s most senior Methodist said yesterday.
The Rev David Gamble, president of the Methodist Conference, told the General Synod of the Church of England, meeting at Church House, Westminster: “We are prepared to go out of existence, not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for the sake of mission.” Methodists were “prepared to be changed and even to cease having a separate existence as a Church” if that served the needs of the Kingdom of God.
The Church of England and Methodists have been flirting with reconciliation ever since their divorce two centuries ago. Formal talks between the two churches began in the 1960s, but an attempt in 1972 at full unity failed at the last hurdle because Anglo-Catholics were opposed. It took a generation for the Methodists to recover from the humiliation of being rejected after voting for a reunion.
Now, with only 265,000 members and heading towards extinction within a few generations, they are willing to try again. Yet the Church of England is also facing steady decline, having barely 960,000 monthly worshippers, and the Methodists have a strong hand. The Methodist Church owns prime real estate such as Westminster Central Hall.
A condition of unity will be keeping the name Methodist in some form. “It is more of a coming together rather than any suggestion that it would be the Methodist Church being swallowed up or losing its name,” a spokesman for the Methodist Church said. It would not be an Anglican takeover.
Mr Gamble’s address to the synod was the first such since 1993 — and the first time that the Methodist Church has voiced a willingness to cease to exist. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will speak at the Methodists’ conference this summer.
The acquisition of so many thousands of Methodists by the Anglicans would more than compensate for the loss of hundreds of Anglican Catholics opposed to women bishops who are currently considering an offer by the Pope to accommodate them. The Methodist Church in this country has been ordaining women for three decades.
The rest, here.
The Methodist’s “strong hand” in the deal is their “real estate.” Their land and their buildings. And therein lies the problem–building rich, membership poor. Look across their pews and you will behold a sea of white heads. The mainline church’s “last generation.” That is the fate of any church that neglects Christianity’s prime directive– the now politically incorrect Great Commission to make disciples of all nations– to proselytize and gain new adherents, now regarded as “imposing one’s religion.”
Proselytizing is something the mainline churches stopped doing ages ago because they regarded it as beneath them. Only the intolerant evangelical boobs do that sort of thing. “Let them come to us,” is generally the mainline attitude towards the Great Commission. Even their missionaries overseas generally go there to work with local churches or non-religious projects. Nothing in the budget for church plantings, and few if any souls being won over to Christ. That is not to say the overseas mainliners aren’t making new converts, I suspect they are. But not because of any missionary work from the West. Christians in non-Western cultures haven’t been infected with the Liberal PC virus yet. They happily proselytize to their heart’s content, and their churches are prospering. But not here in the PC-diseased West.
The proposed Methodist/Anglican merger in Britain follows closely the agreement by Anglicans to begin absorption into the Catholic Church. We are witnessing history in the making as the Church sets aside its petty squabbles and returns to Rome, battening down the hatches and seeking safety behind the high walls of the Vatican in anticipation of the coming post-christian apocalypse as Western culture implodes and Islam rushes in to fill the void. Where are the evangelicals? They will be making their stand alone, here in Fortress America. My money’s on them. We can only hope the next great merging will not be an “abrahamic” one as Islam absorbs what’s left of Christendom in Europe.