This post is provided by David Clark. Look for Tim’s additions in the comment section.
Maybe someone on the Evangelical side could do a future post on denominations that might make sense for a Mormon seeking another church closer to the truth without the erroneous Mormon baggage, but doesn’t want to hear anti-Mormon diatribe (just seeks to move on). Personally I can’t handle a liturgical church or anything Fundamentalist (the earth is ancient, evolution doesn’t conflict with the Gospel), but am clueless where to start in Northwest Houston?
After visiting a number of churches and learning about different theologies and doctrines in a wide variety of Christian denominations, I think the best fit for Mormons looking to make a move towards orthodox Christianity, is a church in the Weslyan tradition. The theology/doctrine is going to be the most familiar to Mormons and the worship styles will also probably be a good fit.
First, what do I mean by the Wesleyan tradition? John and Charles Wesley were Anglican preachers in the 18th century, for a short time in America, but mostly in England. They became dissatisfied with some of the practices in the Church of England and helped fuel the revival movement started by George Whitefield. However, unlike Whitefield, the Wesleys were not Calvinists, but rather Arminians. Their preaching emphasized both justification by faith and a call for personal holiness. Neither ever broke with the Church of England and always encouraged their followers to work within the Anglican communion. Thus, they didn’t start a church, but rather they started a movement/tradition. After their deaths, Methodist churches were started by their followers which continued the Wesleyan tradition.
Currenly there are many churches, both denominational and non-denominational, with are in the Wesleyan tradition. The two biggest denominations in the US which are Wesleyan are (I think) the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Church of the Nazarene. The UMC tends to lean more liberal, while the Nazarenes lean more conservative.
Why are Wesleyan churches good fits for Mormons? There are several reasons.
- Arminian Theology – In my experience, rightly or wrongly, most Mormons recoil at a Calvinist theology. They tend to be more comfortable with the Arminian position, that though we are saved by grace, there must be a choice made by the believer for that grace to be effective. The Mormon doctrine on grace, that we are saved by grace after all we can do, is closest to the Arminian position
- Sermons emphasize holiness and works – Weslyanism encourages people to live holy lives and to do a lot. While other traditions also encourage this, they tend to go about it in different ways. Mormons who have been fed a steady diet of lists of things to do will find the Weslyan approach to this familiar.
- More subdued worship services – At my local UMC church, services tend to be more subdued. There are both contemporary and traditional services. However, the contemporary ones still tend to be more subdued, the music has a beat but it’s not a rock concert. The traditional services, other than applause, look and feel very much like a Mormon worship service.
- Similar attitudes towards alcohol consumption- John Wesley encouraged people to stay away from alcohol and Weslyan churches will almost always use grape juice instead of wine for communion (the sacrament). Even the more liberal UMC continues to encourage people to stay away from alcohol, though it’s not a point of emphasis like it is in the Mormon church
- Light use of liturgy – Weslyans come from a liturgical tradition (Anglicans), but they are much more subdued about it than are contemporary Anglicans. At my local UMC church the traditional service tends to be a bit more liturgical, but compared to high Anglican services it’s VERY light. Liturgy is barely present in the contemporary services.
- Music – The music at the traditional service at my UMC congregation is virtually identical to Mormon hymns. As I already said, contemporary services do use electric guitars and drums, but it’s still pretty mellow.
- Involvement – Because of the focus on personal holiness and doing stuff, Wesleyans tend to provide lots of chances for Sunday School, weekday Bible study, fellowship groups, sports groups, scouting, etc. Mormons used to immersing themselves in their churches will find plenty to do.
As for being fundamentalists, the UMC is a pretty moderate church. They are definitely not fundamentalists. They don’t go out of their way to address hot button political issues. My local church tends to focus on Bible study, fellowship, community involvement, and church planting.
There are lots of intangibles in the Weslyan tradition that will seem familiar and comfortable to Mormons. As just one example, I am currently reading a collection of sermons by John and Charles Wesley. When you read it, both the content and the presentation are very much like many passages in the Book of Mormon, such as King Benjamin’s address and Alma 5. Actually, the whole Book of Mormon is vaguely Wesleyan in its outlook. Since the Book of Mormon was what I treasured most when I was a Mormon, finding familiar echoes in the Wesley’s sermons was very nice for me.
Finally, I will say that when I started out to find a new church, I didn’t really expect to join the UMC. I visited a half dozen or so churches over a period of several months in 2010, with the idea that I would join a Lutheran church. I had studied Luther’s ideas and life, and I liked what I heard (I still do). I visited a UMC congregation mainly because my kids went to pre-school there, not expecting to join. However, it felt the most natural and the sermons resonated with me. There wasn’t any real reason why this was the case, something just clicked. Most of the above reasons came about as I thought about why it felt the most natural. That’s probably the best reason I can give for Mormons seeking out something in the Wesleyan tradition, it just feels the most natural.