A recent edition of a leading Methodist journal reports: “Methodist membership is failing even to keep up with the population growth of the United States, and lags far behind the membership gain of the other major Protestant denominations. Methodists are slowly becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the population of the United States.” When one probes the reasons for this condition, he inevitably becomes aware of the widening trend toward ritualism and liturgy within the Methodist Church. The ritualist controversy was one of the major issues at the General Conference in 1952. It may well become so again at the Denver meeting of the 1960 General Conference.
Years ago R. N. Merrill, in the Methodist Review, said of the high church tendencies within Methodism, “We are hardly sure whether we have lulled the Church to sleep or have dressed it for burial.” Even Harry Emerson Fosdick has been quoted as saying, “Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have tried to make their Christianity easy. They have done it by ritualism and sacrament.” Certainly one could draw upon many illustrations to show that when spiritual life and righteousness disintegrate, ritualism is apt to receive more attention. The situation in the Russian Orthodox Church before 1917 was not an accidental development.
Roy L. Smith, long-time editor of the Christian Advocate, in his volume Why I Am a Methodist, lists what he considers the 10 present weaknesses of the Methodist Church. Two of the weaknesses are “ease of attaining membership” and “formality of worship services.” He says, “As Nehemiah went back over the history of Judah he came upon a very interesting discovery that Moses had never ordered the observance of elaborate ...1
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