John Wesley called for a “catholic spirit,” where Christians with strongly different viewpoints would respect one another’s heart to give their best to God, even if they didn’t agree on what that looked like in the details. But he also clearly defined that this catholic spirit is NOT a glossing over our differences as if they don’t matter.
A latitudinarian is a person who seeks unity by indifference. This is not Wesley’s catholic spirit. The latitudinarian is “of a muddy understanding…your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together” (Catholic Spirit, III.1). With regard to beliefs about God, beliefs about the practice of worship, beliefs about church governance, and beliefs about how we are to treat others, Wesley argues that we should have firm conviction that we are completely following God’s way. Indifference in these matters becomes the real enemy of the Church because (as I think we have clearly seen) over time, lack of passion does nothing but convince the world that Christ doesn’t matter.
I have not planned how I will end this little series on the catholic spirit…I’m waiting to see how our General Conference will play out and how catholic our spirit will be… United Methodism tends to be Centrist, seeking a balance between the Left and Right, all within one denomination. While many of us who are Centrist have a strong conviction that this is the sort of church God has called us to be, there are others who believe it is a great liability. There is an argument within Methodism that our Centrism has made us all latitudinarian, unable to agree on any way forward together, becoming indifferent to any true conviction in order try and keep the Left and the Right in the same denomination, worshipping together in the same pews.
Next week we will explore the “essentials” that Wesley believes we must hold fast to, and the “opinions” that often divide the church. In the meantime, search your own heart…if the pursuit of God is our highest aim, are you pursuing God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength? Are you convinced that your worship, your principles, your church are the truest forms for you to pursue God? Yes, sure there’s loads of other options out there…and a truly catholic spirit appreciates that those options are helping others pursue God to their fullest. Has your faith in God caused you out of indifference and into something that really matters? If not, maybe it’s time to check your rudder.