UMC Connectionalism or Corporatism?

     One element within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition that might clarify what it means to be the people of God is the practice or principle of connectionalism.  In the early Methodist movement, connectionalism referred to a basic set of practices and structures that would insure the presence of unity.  While this was true primarily among the preachers, Wesley intended for this unity to extend as well to all members of the Methodist societies in England.  In his last letter to the American Methodists, Wesley urges them to declare clearly that "the Methodists are one people in all the world [and] that it is their full determination so to continue.” It is from this desire that Methodism developed structures and practices to insure this connectedness and unity: the structure of the Conference and the practices of Holy Conferencing.
     Sadly, Methodism has since evolved from being a vibrant missionary “movement” to being an “institution.” The term connectionalism is now used primarily to describe the institutional structures of the United Methodist Church, rather than the interconnected nature of a missionary movement.  This is tragic, if participation in the unity of the church means participation in the unity of the triune God.  The “connection” should not merely be a description of our denominational structures.  Rather, it is the means by which Methodists are a “People” in the world, connected to one another and to God who calls us together in worship and sends us out in mission.  

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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