Hymns reveal roots, message of Methodist Way

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Hymns reveal roots, message of Methodist Way

June 9, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0864}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — In his “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” John Wesley worried not that Methodism would end, but that it would morph into a “dead sect.” He said the remedy could be found in three areas: doctrine, spirit and discipline.

In his time with Florida Conference laity and clergy attending the 2008 Florida Conference session May 29-31, the Rev. Dr. Randy Maddox shared examples of how the five practices of The Methodist Way and Wesleyan theological convictions are conveyed through many hymns found in the United Methodist Hymnal. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0888.

The Rev. Dr. Randy Maddox explored these three areas and how they relate to The Methodist Way with more than 1,600 Florida Conference laity and clergy May 29 during the opening session of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event.

Hymns offer clues to doctrines

Maddox said The Methodist Way and its five practices — passionate worship, radical hospitality, intentional discipling, salty service and extravagant generosity — are derived from “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” a set of theological convictions by Wesley published in 1786 that includes his discussion of doctrine, spirit and discipline.

He defined Wesley’s “doctrine” as “shaping the mind of Christ.” He said early church workers toiled endlessly at cultivating the “mind of Christ,” which is in direct contrast with today’s culture, where the slogan “the one who dies with the most toys wins” is the dominant mentality.

Maddox, professor of theology and Wesleyan studies at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference, said that one of the best ways to achieve “the mind of Christ” was through the singing of hymns, which he said are more easily memorized and “get in our bones.”
Some of those Wesleyan hymns — “Maker in Whom We Live,” “Come O Thou Traveler Unknown,” “Free Grace” — acknowledge God as the God of universal grace and love, Maddox said, and are symbols of The Methodist Way’s practice of radical hospitality.
Maddox said Wesley’s second doctrine, the “spirit,” is a longing for and embracing of the present renewal of self and world. He said it embodies a holistic longing for authentic Methodism.
That kind of authenticity, Maddox said, can be found in “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which grounded Wesley on a new appreciation for the work of the spirit. Maddox said “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling” and “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” illustrate how the spirit’s presence has healing power, not just pardon.
Grace, Wesley’s third area, is “God’s very presence, not just present,” according to Maddox.
Reciting from Wesley’s reflections, Maddox said that means “religion is an inward principle; that it is no other than the mind that is Christ; or, in other words, the renewal of the soul after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.”

Members attending the opening session of the 2008 Florida Conference session talk in small groups about how the Wesleyan way of disciple-making has been most important to individual Christian growth, the area in most need of recovery in today’s churches and the challenges that prevent recovery. The discussions followed the Rev. Dr. Randy Maddox's comments about the theological vision and spiritual meaning of the Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0889.

United Methodists, Maddox said, must “nurture the gift of grace.”

Discipline’s role in mature Christianity
Discipline is often defined as punishment or something that prevents freedom, but the Wesley’s and other early Methodists considered it the true definition of freedom, Maddox said.

“If we face difficulties in expressing adequately in our culture the Wesleyan convictions about the importance of attention to doctrine and the real possibility of spirit-empowered change,” Maddox said, “the difficulties only grow when we turn to the theme of discipline.”
Maddox showed a film clip in which musicians discussed the importance of having discipline in being able to provide music for others to enjoy. Even if there is improvisation, the musicians said, it would not be possible without the discipline of practicing the basics.
Just as discipline is important to musicians, it is equally important to Christians in their spiritual life, Maddox said. Together, spirit and discipline combine to make a Christian, the proof of which, Maddox said, is found in the hymn “Let Us Plead for Faith Alone,” which connects passionate worship and intentional faith development.

Examining the church today

Maddox invited members to talk together in small groups about three factors of church life today: how the Wesleyan way has been most important to individual Christian growth, the area in most need of recovery in today’s churches and the challenges that prevent recovery.
Responding to the question of areas needing recovery, Bill Hall, a member of First United Methodist Church in DeLand, said many churches experience self-segregation, with adults and children worshipping separately. He said members need to worship together as one body.

One woman said there is a lack of Bible reading in services, with the Bible untouched throughout an entire service in some instances.

A conference member attending the opening session of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event shares his thoughts on church trends and practices that may need to be reconsidered based on the Methodist Way of disciple-making. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0890.

Carol Ann Sargeant, a member of First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, said standard hymns are not being sung in many services today. That development, she said, is causing a vacuum because contemporary worship very rarely features standard hymns, which she said are essential to passing on the Christian story. 
Violet Simon said she appreciated Maddox revisiting the early days of Methodism and related deeply to the importance of hymns because she learned “the word” from her mother’s singing of hymns around the house.
Simon, a member of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Lakeland, said those hymns remain important to her.
“I sing them, and they comfort me,” she said. “They speak to me on a deep spiritual level. It’s more than music.”

While people may not remember scriptures, Maddox said, songs — such as the ones he said illustrate The Methodist Way — are often “written on the heart,” and that’s why singing is vital to worship.
Ralph Masker, a member of First United Methodist Church in Melbourne, said he appreciated Maddox’s emphasis on the importance of hymns in worship. He said his church, like many others, have gotten away from traditional hymns. As a lifelong United Methodist, Masker said he was raised on organ music, while many in today’s generation frown upon it.

“Many people today only receive their spirituality through music,” he said. “I have heard a contemporary version of ‘Amazing Grace’ that was very effective. We just need to find a balance.”

More information about the conference session is available at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1339.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.

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