By Kimberly D. Reisman-
We are part of an amazing global Wesleyan movement – over 80 million strong. There are only two groups of Christians who have a bigger family than we do: the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
Our family of Wesleyan Methodists is a praying family. In over 130 countries your brothers and sisters pray and fast weekly. We begin our fast as Wesley did, on Thursday after dinner, and we continue through late afternoon on Friday. You can be assured that there are people praying all over the world with three concerns for the Wesleyan Covenant Association. First, that we would be in tune with the Holy Spirit. Second, that we would be bold in our witness. Third, that we would confidently claim the riches of our Wesleyan heritage.
Those three supplications are intimately connected. I’ve seen evidence of it all over the world. When the Methodist Wesleyan family is in tune with the Holy Spirit, when we are bold in our witness and dig deep into the distinctives of Wesleyan theology, lives are changed and cultures are transformed.
Sometimes those lives and cultures are transformed by being enriched, other times they are transformed by being upended. But in either case, the change is real and the transformation is powerful.
Our sisters and brothers around the world are praying for us because they understand the importance of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. In many parts of the world the Wesleyan Methodist family is an embattled stronghold for the Gospel. In some areas that battle is a life threatening one. In other areas the danger is subtler, yet the counter-cultural witness of Gospel faithfulness is no less significant.
Time and time again our brothers and sisters express to me that our willingness to hold fast to the Wesleyan way of holiness gives them hope, because it shows that we are finally recognizing that the Methodist movement is greater than The United Methodist Church in the United States.
Our sisters and brothers are hopeful because they believe we finally realize that the strength of our movement is not measured by how relevant or hip we are, or whether we can check all the vital congregation boxes on our charge conference forms, or whether we are following the seven vision pathways or are actively addressing the newest adaptive challenge.
Our brothers and sisters are hopeful because they have caught a glimmer that we are finally realizing something they’ve known all along – that the strength of our movement is directly related to how deeply we rely on God the Father, who sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. I join my sisters and brothers in the worldwide Methodist Wesleyan family in their hopefulness.
Friends, the Holy Spirit is moving and the church is growing all over the world. Not because people are trusting in their own wealth or strength or strategy or structure, but because they are living out a counter-cultural faith rooted in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you two examples.
1. I recently had the privilege of speaking to a gathering of women in Northeast Nigeria – 15,000 of them – not counting the men and children. This United Methodist gathering took place in an area with a predominately Islamic regional government. I had to have an interview with a governmental official who was not very pleased that I was visiting his jurisdiction.
Yet in the midst of that cultural milieu, 15,000 women left their homes – many of them walking for days – to be present for a week of Holy Spirit inspired worship, dancing, and learning, many of them coming to Christ for the first time.
2. My friend Christhard Elle pastors in the northern part of Germany. He sent me a picture of his most recent outdoor worship service. In a culture where churches are viewed more as museums than houses of prayer and worship, the Holy Spirit has moved Christhard to follow the example of Wesley and preach in the fields and village squares.
The gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, the opportunity for healing and the forgiveness of sins, the sharing of Holy Communion, and the call to holiness of heart and life are being publically and visibly made known in a seemingly resistant culture. Hearts are opening, and the seeds of good news are falling on ground that is surprisingly ripe for the fullness of the Gospel message.
Triune shape. When we tap into Holy Spirit power and wisdom, things begin to take on a totally different shape – not a shape formed by the idiosyncrasies of any particular culture, whether that be Western, African, Latino, Asian, or any other. When we tap into Holy Spirit power and wisdom, things begin to lose their cultural shape and take on a Triune shape.
This is a shape where power shows itself in vulnerability. This is a shape that values relationship, reciprocity, and self-giving more than autonomy, isolation, and control. This is a shape that recognizes the need for humility, and a genuine desire to learn from others. This is a shape that appreciates the difference between helping and empowering. This is a shape that offers holy love, accepting us the way we are but thankfully never leaving us that way.
I believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a place where we can be encouraged to follow the lead of those beyond the United States and begin rooting ourselves in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can move beyond self-reliance, and boldly claim, or reclaim, the Trinitarian shape of Wesleyan life and witness.
John’s vision. Early on in my ministry it became clear to me that God has a wicked sense of humor. When I was young, I spent a good deal of time trying to avoid marrying a minister, then God decided to make me one.
Recently I remembered that back in my days at Yale Divinity School, John’s Revelation scared the beejeebers out of me, so I avoided reading it at all costs. Now, it’s one of my favorite parts of Scripture – especially the last two chapters.
I think I’m drawn to those last chapters of Revelation because I see it embodied in our global Methodist family. All the saints, in every place, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation tells us that God is going to make God’s home among the people, and God is going to gather those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ, who in every place call on the name of the Lord. God is going to gather them together. And there is a reason for that gathering, a purpose: for the healing of the nations.
That’s good news isn’t it? Healing salvation in Jesus Christ! For all the nations – every people group. The people group called the United States could use some of that healing don’t you think? When I look out at the brokenness of the United States, I thank God that he is gathering those who are sanctified, in every place, who all call on the name of the Lord for the healing of my nation, and every nation.
God’s love. We know from Jesus’ physical resurrection that God values our bodies. God loves the physical world. God created it good and has chosen it to be the context in which God’s new creation will unfold, the context where the nations will be healed.
We know from Pentecost that God values all our languages and delights in the plethora of cultures and ethnicities that cover the face of the earth.
The United Methodist Church may be only a small fraction of the worldwide Wesleyan Methodist family, but we are a microcosm of that larger family. Did you know that French is the primary language for one out of every 5 United Methodists? And did you know that 25 percent of all United Methodists have a heart language that’s not English? It won’t be long – likely in just 4 years – that there will be more United Methodists outside the United States than in.
We may only be a small portion of the worldwide Wesleyan Methodist family, but we are a microcosm of it, and when we gather, we become a visible witness to the truth that our God delights in our uniqueness, delights in our cultures, delights in our ethnicities and languages.
And even greater still, when we gather, we become more than the sum of our parts because we begin to embody John’s Revelation image, an image that delights in all those cultures, ethnicities and languages, but transcends them at the same time.
A foretaste. When we gather, we become a foretaste of God’s healing salvation, a foretaste of a future when we will be reconciled with God and with each other. When we gather, we become a foretaste of God’s healing salvation offered to all the nations, where no more will there be weeping, or sorrow, or death, and where God will wipe the tears from every eye and make all things new. What a remarkable privilege we have to be that kind of foretaste in our broken, hurting world!
In my work with World Methodist Evangelism, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I have seen the church in many lands and in many places. And when the church is truly a foretaste of God’s future, it is indeed a beautiful thing. That’s the church I want to be a part of, and that’s the kind of church I believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association is encouraging us to be.
I don’t want to be a white church. I don’t want to be a Western church. I don’t want to be an American church. I don’t want to be a rich church.
I want to be a part of God’s church – that gathering of the sanctified, who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That gathering of the sanctified, Trinitarian in form and shaped from first to last by the call to be holy, different, in the world but not of it. That gathering of the sanctified who proclaim and demonstrate that Jesus renews, heals, restores, and transforms every culture, all people, the entire universe, all the dimensions of life.
I want to be part of God’s church. A foretaste of God’s future for all creation.
Kimberly D. Reisman is the World Director of World Methodist Evangelism. She is an approved evangelist and elder in the Indiana Conference. This article is adapted from Dr. Reisman’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.