Ex Congregational Methodist

sent in by PastorPrime

I was brought up in a Congregational Methodist family in the Southeast US. Congregational Methodism (http://congregationalmethodist.net/churches.htm) is Wesleyan in theology (John Wesley; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley). In its governance, each church is controlled by its own congregation, not by some bishop apart from the local church, and is in this way unlike United Methodist churches. It differs, also, from most United Methodist churches in its conservatism and biblical literalism.

In my youth (1960s), I learned from my parents that I was to believe in God; I was to read my Bible and pray; I was to learn from preachers and Sunday School teachers. These things I did. I love history and enjoyed Bible stories, especially from the Old Testament. The Bible was the most readily available way for a boy to indulge his natural interest in violence and warfare…and sex! I took it very seriously and learned to be quite dogmatic. And, why not? After all, the “Truth” is the truth!

Church services had a regular format: congregational singing; public lead prayer; offertory (collection of tithes and offerings); special song; preaching; “alter call”; closing prayer. Alter call was the closing exhortation to come forward in church and kneel at the alter rail to pray and ask God for forgiveness or for blessing.

Much of the preaching was an internal argument on interpretation. That is, it was about the “world” within the biblical writings themselves—what the Bible says and means, and how absolutely consistent and infallible it is. Religious belief is an attempt (usually futile) to make biblical writings relevant to the real world. Therefore, my family (and nearly everyone to whom I am related) went to church twice on Sundays. Many went again on Wednesday evenings for the regular Wednesday “prayer meeting.”

Most of the preachers and church leaders in Congregational Methodist churches took their training in a college sponsored by the church. First located in Dallas, Texas, and, later, at Tehuacana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_College%2C_Texas), the college is now in Florence, Mississippi, and renamed Wesley College (www.wesleycollege.com). I pretty much wasted two years of my life at Wesley College. (Note that it is wesleycollege dot COM! Why is it not dot edu? I do not know, but it could be because Wesley College fails to merit that designation.)

The college has never had enough money to operate comfortably. Teacher salaries are sacrificially low. When I was there, the president made a point of turning off the lights in the hallways during class to save money. Quality instruction was inconsistent. The best teachers were in religion. Courses needed to do well at other colleges and in the real world were worse than mediocre.

Wesley College was an indoctrination mill. When I was there in the 1970s, every class tended to be Guilt 101. Original Sin-R-Us. It was constantly drilled that the devil was after us young (virile, passionate, borderline degenerate, carnal) people and your rear-end had better be hiked in the air with your face at the alter at least several times a year during alter call at the twice-weekly chapel services. You had to learn to be emotional and show emotion about your faith. The CM church and the college took a stand against the charismatic movement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Movement) and we did not have to learn to “speak in tongues.”

Those readers who know Wesleyan theology will know that the Congregational Methodist Church teaches the doctrine of “sanctification,” by which a believer who really really really really seeks God’s blessing can receive a “special indwelling of the Holy Spirit” that will cast out the carnal and purify the person. Despite the Guilt 101, rest assured that we learned we could be free from guilt by becoming sanctified holy. But, hey, what’s a holy person to do? Read on.

Wesley College’s mission is to produce Christian “workers” to staff churches and to be missionaries. The highest status workers of these categories are church pastor, evangelist (a kind of super preacher), and missionary to a foreign country. Guilt 101 contained the message that we were not serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ if we were not seeking the “calling” into full-time Christian service. I am sure that most of us secretly dreaded that fate. Many of us heard and heeded the calling, however, and began spending our lives in service to the “God” we had been taught to fear and revere. Sanctification and service…or guilt. What’ll ya have, Bub?

After taking the two-year degree, I struggled valiantly for many years to maintain my faith. A huge part of my identity consisted of my association with like-minded believers. Subsequent real education allowed me to free myself from dependency on belief.

I remember talking with a faculty counselor at the college I attended after Wesley College. The fellow was a Ph.D. graduate of Notre Dame. He looked at my two-year transcript from Wesley and marveled at the number of credit hours I had in religious studies. He said to me, “I wish I had your background.” I was flattered that he had acknowledged evidence of my piety. I puffed myself a bit and told him, “Yes, I have been taught the Bible though the fundamentalist perspective.” I could not see that my mind had been closed; therefore, I was actually proud to be a fundy! I am still embarrassed by my ignorance.

Something that I would really like to know is, are there others who went through Wesley College or its predecessor, Westminster College, who have cast off the chains of religious belief? Maybe some have had their eyes opened, but I bet there are very few if any—so deep was the indoctrination.

I want to include here one thing that should have caused some Wesley College people to think. At Wesley, when I was there, there was an older female teacher of religion, Ms. Mary Alice Langton. A sweet, saintly widow lady, Ms. Langton had earned a master’s degree in theology from Reformed Theological Seminary (http://www2.rts.edu/). She taught a course on the Pauline Epistles and was the resident mother in the girls’ dormitory. Who did I think closer to God? Nobody! Ms. Langton was rewarded for a life of sacrificial service to her precious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by being given a holy dose of cancer. She suffered painfully for a long time and was in utter poverty. Through church and college publications and other means, requests went out for donations to help defray medical expenses as this saint of God, who had testified of longing to go to Jesus in heaven, fought by means of godless science to stay alive! For her faithfulness to the universe-size space alien, she was reduced to a beggar for herself. I cringe.

Many things killed the religious urge in me. For one, the illogicality of spatially anchored spirit that is supposed to live inside us. Another, an understanding of the scientific method of conjecture and refutation (http://www.public.iastate.edu/~cfehr/201%20n%20Popper%202002.htm) that no religion can tolerate. Another, understanding that there are fact-based non-supernatural explanations of our existence, combined with a realization that primitive man turned to the supernatural to explain his ignorance. More, seeing the ridiculosity of Western man embracing a religion with its cultural roots in the craziest part of the world, the Middle East! Learning that Jesus rehashed some philosophical sayings of Rabbi Hillel from several years before him. The centrality of the Apostle Paul, not Jesus, in the creation of Christianity. The admixture of Paul’s mithraism culture from Tarsus (http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/mithraism.html) in his Christianity. The senseless cat-and-mouse game life is if god were to exist (yeah, man is the mouse).

It became clear to me that man had created the Jewish and Christian god in his (man’s) own image. I could afterwards read the Bible and see the god there as a pompous, jealous creation of political leaders inventing their own political support.

I think the proper stance toward religion is to recognize that, for the religious person, “God” is the belief in God. That belief is what zealous fools the world over are fighting about—to protect that precious belief. They are unprepared to live free from their religious chains. For me, atheism is not a belief. I do not “believe that there is no god.” Rather, I have the same belief in any god as I do in any unicorn: simply no belief.

Exchristians well know that Christian prayer (and, I suspect, all prayer) is carefully non-specific, never really wanting to pray God into a corner and have him need either to perform or else be revealed as impotent, unlike Elijah did in 1 Kings 18:21-40 (http://www.gracegems.org/JM/e08.htm). At Wesley College and in other Christian churches, I have heard countless times the old reliable “Be With” prayer. It is perfectly illustrated by the comedian known today as “Larry the Cable Guy” when he prays for forgiveness after telling an especially crude joke. Larry says, “Lord, that therer’n jist wudn’t right. I apologize fer that’un, Lord, and please be with the starving pygmies down in New Guinea.” Perfect! All dear ol’ God has to do is merely “be with” people who might be desperately in real need. Nevertheless, as long as Christians pray “be with” prayers, God is never on the hook to do anything. Smart! Pray all you want and keep that faith!

It is that faith (ultimately, faith that God exists) that is the religionist’s problem. I do not accept that it makes any sense to retain any religious belief in absence of evidence—real, replicable evidence, not words in a book. (Yes, I have read Josh McDowell’s books.) If someone is no longer a “fundamentalist” Christian but claims now to hold some variety of substituted mysticism or religion, he is vainly clinging to faith as a path to knowledge. I utterly reject such thinking as nonsense because it promotes belief in the absence of evidence.

Recommended Reading: http://www.stupidwish.net/religion.html

8 comments:

Ned Chipley said...

Hi friend,
First of all, I'm sorry that you have been so disappointed in your former church affiliations.
I have been a preacer in that denomination for 56years, and in full-time ministry with the CMC since 1954.
It's a shame that you have been unable to look beyond the failures of people you have known and truly come to know the God Who is "the same yesterday, today and forever," and Who is Love.
My best wishes to you.
nedchip@cox.net

Noel Pedro said...

Wow!!! I was part of the CMC for many of my younger years and was a graduate of Westminster College - now in Inter-Denominational Ministry in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee - obviously from your lengthy diatribe against the Congregational Methodist Church you were pretty wounded by some folks during your years in the denomination. People fail, but, y'know what?? God NEVER fails - I think it's kinda sad sometimes that we mere mortals are the most prevalent examples of God here on this earth 'cause we fail miserably every single day, and, like I told my son while he was growing up, the only promise I can make is that if I live long enough, I will mess up AGAIN... 'cause I am human, stuck in this mortal body that doesn't always do what I wish it would do, but God loves me - warts'n all - and one of these days I WILL be perfect!!!

I knew Mary Langdon well. She was my dorm mother in Tehuacana, and I was her "thorn-in-the-flesh" at times. I know she would so hate to know that her illness and the things you spoke of which are the failings of man, not of God, may have been a stumbling block for you. I will guarantee right now that she sits in Heaven and that if God allowed her to see the unhappiness in your life that she would plead the blood of Jesus for you!!!

Remember this, PastorPrime, we Christians are not perfect while on this earth...just FORGIVEN!! And He still loves YOU..and will forgive you and take you back any time you ask!!!!

God Bless!!
Noel Pedro
noeldoesweddings@msn.com

boomSLANG said...

"God NEVER fails"

Right, God never fails......because God doesn't exist. If there's empircal evidence for a "God" that exists anywhere outside of your head, we'd be happy to take a listen. BTW, because human beings are "imperfect" is relevant to nothing concerning the existance of a "God". I could say---"we are not perfect, therefore, Pinnochio exists!", and it would mean nothing to you.

Your whole post is presuppositional.

Michael Elliott said...

It's sad to hear your viewpoint of the CMC and Wesley College. Obviously ALOT has changed since you were in Florence. I am currently a full time student at Wesley College and a pastor of a CMC church. I think Phillip Knight is doing a WONDERFUL job in leading the CMC.
I'm sorry to hear you were hurt. It is amazing at how God has used Wesley College and the CMC in my life/ministry. I served over 3 years in state prison, but the staff at Wesley College welcomed me fresh out of prison. Sorry to hear of your story. It is my hope and prayer that your eyes are enlightened to the truth that God loves you, is willing to forgive you, and desires to walk with you. May His Spirit draw you, lead you, and direct you according to His purpose for your life. That is, "To bring glory to His name." The name above every neme:JESUS:)

Mary Ross said...

Hi, just wanted to clear up something for you. www.wesleycollege.COM was born around 1997 because .edu was registered to another wesley college, I believe in Australia. Now you can access it through www.wesleycollege.edu as well. Just thought I would let you know as I was involved in the search for a web address way back then.

As a previous student for 4 years, graduate and also employee for a period of time, I do not share your acidity toward the college. I have lived, breathed, sacrificed, and worked for Wesley and would not change a thing about the experience and education. I came out with a better education (Bachelors) than any of my classmates in graduate school (Mississippi College). I am now a counselor and have learned to accept other's viewpoints, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with yours, nor your with mine.

Hopefully your self directed search will find you some answers that you can feel real about. Who knows, it may lead you back around. All I know is keep searching, asking questions, and being open to the direction that it leads you.

Ed Smith said...

Hello old friend:
I call you that because I was a student at Wesley College during the late 70's through Spring '81. I watched as the college struggled for its very existence. I watched as the former president of the college turned the lights off...I know well who you refer to. I also knew Mrs. Mary Alice Langton. I'll never forget the day I was working maintenance near her mobile home on campus and heard her voice call my name. It turned out that she was praying for me! She genuinely loved her students, and was interested in our lives. It was not God who caused her suffering, it was the affects of sin that hurt her---just as you are hurt, my friend. I don't know who you are, but I want you to know that I love you with the love of Christ. Yes, the "be with" prayers are sometimes a lazy person's way of praying for someone else, but I simply could not imaging life without God by my side. He is genuinely with me, and He will be beside you again, if you will let Him. I Love You, brother, and I miss your fellowship. I pray you will come home to Him.
Ed Smith
Wesley College, Class of 1981

Anonymous said...

Dear Friend,

My heart goes out to you. I am a graduate of Wesley College. My life has taken me down numerous paths. I am so thankful that I serve a risen Savior! He is truly all the world to me. Believing in God is like believing in the wind. We had this very illustration in Sunday School this past week. You can't see the wind... you can't see God. You can't taste the wind... you can't taste God. However, God is just as real as the wind. It has taken several years of walking with Christ for me to discover how real He is and how much He loves you and me. I have fallen deeply in love with Christ. Not because of what He has done but because of Who He is. It is my prayer that you too will find discover that Christ is all you really need in life. My prayers will continually be with you.

Kayleen Mayo Daughrity

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Sorry to hear about all of your troubles in the CMC Church, but as you know, there are two sides to every story.

Enough about that. Let's just get right down to the question you and I know everyone want's to know.

If you are not afraid or ashamed to tell, who are you? What is your real name? Are you my friend, a relative, what? Don't drop a bombshell like that and not expect someone, anyone to question who you are.

Melissa Free
former missionary in the CMC
now working in the Nazarene church.

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