Friday, April 1, 2011
EUB Tradition: Alive and Well?
I have been enjoying reading a new collection of essays on the Evangelical United Brethren tradition edited by Jason Vickers of Steven O'Malley. The essays bring to light the uniqueness of the EUB heritage and the ways it could inform the present discussions of ministry and theology in the United Methodist Church. As a person whose own family comes out of the EUB and United Brethen in Christ traditions, it has been interesting to note the nuances and contours of these streams of the Evanglical piety.
A very intriguing essay by Tyrone Inbody sets the tone for what has been a big problem in UM theology and practice: ecclesiology. Inbody rightly, in my opion, puts forth how the EUB and Methodist Episcopal churches had two very different ecclesiologies: whereas "for Asbury the church was the conference, the annual quarterly conference, and the General Conference, where preachers were sent to, not called to, the local congregation was an expression of the conference; for Otterbein ministry began with the local congregation and built up from there" (p. 89). Inbody points out how "these recessive genes" in the EUB tradition continue to persist in the contemporary United Methodist Church and how they bring to light a kind of "downside" of this "inheritance": there is simply an "unresolved tension" between the essentially Reformed and Anabaptist ecclesiology and polity of the United Brethren and the Anglican-Episcopal ecclesiology of the The Methodist Episcopal Church" (p. 89).
Later Inbody astutely states that "While the Constitution [of the United Methodist Church] still asserts the annual conference as the basic body of the church, many current practices suggest that the local church is the basic body" (p. 91). This change is certainly a result of American populism, but it is also a strain in the ecclesiology and polity of the United Brethren. The creation of an ordained order without sacramental authority (deacon in full connection) and a nonordained order with sacramental authority (local pastor) are indicative of this shift (p. 91).
Inbody's work, and the whole collection of essays and articles in this volume, looks at how the EUB tradition may still serve as a theological resource in the re-shaping of the United Methodist Church in the 21st century.
I can only wonder what my ancestors would say to such a situation. In 1968 my grandparents did not look favorably upon the "merger"; they felt as if they were being swallowed up. Now, forty years later, the EUB heritage may still have something important to say about who United Methodists are and what they can still be.