By Rob Renfroe-
As the Wesleyan Covenant Association, we want to create something that will exist for generations to come and that will grow the Kingdom of God and change the world long after all of us are forgotten. We are a diverse collection of laity and clergy. We are local pastors, elders and deacons, ordained and provisional. We are seminary students and seminary professors. We are pastors and district superintendents and bishops.
Half of us come from churches with less than 250 in worship. And many of us come from the largest churches in the denomination. We come from every annual conference in the United States and from several parts of Africa. And we are people who love our Wesleyan heritage and who believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.
Some of us are in one of the nine annual conferences that have voted to disregard the Book of Discipline. Some of us have bishops who have encouraged disobedience and who have felt dismissed and demeaned, even opposed and attacked by their leadership. To those who feel alone or abandoned, we want you to know that you are not forgotten. Your brothers and sisters understand your pain and we are grateful for your witness and admire your faithfulness.
Hold on. There is a better day coming and we are going to walk into it together.
What unites us is our commitment to the utter uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, the light of the world and the hope for our lost and fallen race. What makes us one is our willingness to proclaim that Jesus Christ is not one of many teachers, one of many guides, one of many saviors, or one of many ways. In fact, Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life. He is utterly unique – one with the Father – and it is his atoning death that has reconciled my sinful soul and yours to a holy God so that we might have abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come.
What unites us is our commitment to the inspiration and the authority of the Bible. We believe the Scriptures are God-breathed, profitable for reproof and correction and doctrine. That means that if the Bible teaches it, it’s not our prerogative to twist it. And if the Bible contains it, it’s not our job to correct it. If parts of the Bible disturb us, we don’t dare discard them because we humbly stand under the authority of the Scriptures not above them.
We believe in the doctrines of the historic church. We affirm what the people of God have believed for the past 2000 years. We believe what the global church believes and we believe what The United Methodist Church says it believes.
We are historic, classical Christians who refuse to be guilty of the chronological snobbery that says pastors, bishops, and theologians who have been influenced by a postmodern, materialistic, hedonist culture know better than those who came before us.
What unites us is our love for the Wesleyan way. This way combines grace and truth. This way affirms instantaneous conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit and life-long transformation through the means of grace. This way emphasizes both personal piety and social holiness and teaches that beliefs matter but what you do with those beliefs matters just as much.
Change is coming. We don’t know what the future will bring. We are not here to promote schism. But we are not here to be naïve either. Change is coming to The United Methodist Church. We all know that. The bishops know that and many have said so publicly. And it is coming fast. Persons have been asked to be on the bishops’ commission. A meeting schedule has been determined. And it appears that a called General Conference is likely in the spring of 2018.
In a year and a half, we will know the future that the commission recommends for the UM Church. And we will know if it’s something we can embrace with integrity or if it will be a recommendation that tells us that we are unimportant and unwanted in the church. What we will need to do will become clear in 18 months or less.
I don’t know what that new day will look like, but if we will focus on what unites us, we can step into that new day strong, smart, strategic, and together.
A line of heroes. We come from a long line of heroes. Our roots go back to One who chose the cross so he could be faithful to the Father. Our lineage includes the apostles who were beheaded and impaled and crucified upside down because they were committed to the truth of the Gospel. There were others, nameless to history but faithful for eternity who were tortured and martyred rather than be untrue to the One who had saved them.
We have a heritage of heroes like John and Charles Wesley and Francis Asbury and Peter Cartwright and Jacob Albright and Philip Otterbein who were misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated in their day when they tried to revive the church. There were heroes like those first circuit riders on the American continent. They lived such hard lives taking the Gospel to the frontier that nearly half of them died before they were 30 years old and two-thirds died before they had served 12 years.
Now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to be faithful, it’s our turn to do something bold, it’s our turn to contend for the Gospel, and to believe that a new day is coming.
A new day. I see a new day coming and I can see a new Methodist movement. Either within The United Methodist Church or, if it must be, outside of it. I can see a movement where we don’t argue over the authority of Scripture or what the Bible teaches about sexuality, but where we focus on ministering to persons who are broken and need healing.
I can see a movement where our seminaries prepare godly men and women to do ministry instead of schools of religion which tenure professors who don’t believe in our doctrines and who teach the latest theological fads that have no power to change the world and that will be forgotten within a generation.
I can see a movement that has freedom to plant evangelical churches on the east and the west coasts and in our urban centers where people will still respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ if it is presented by servant communities with grace and truth.
I can see a Wesleyan movement that cares about the poor and the disenfranchised – cares about them enough to minister to their physical needs and to tell them how their sins can be forgiven and their souls can be saved.
I can see a movement that you and I will be excited and proud to be a part of. I can see a new Wesleyan movement for the 21st century that has not just the form of religion but the power of God filling it and compelling it into a lost world that needs Jesus.
Friends, it’s our turn now, to stand up for the truth and to contend for the Gospel. Do not give up, do not give out, do not get discouraged. There is a new day coming. It begins today and it will continue to save souls, build the church, and change the world, long after every one of us is forgotten. And I am grateful to be stepping into that new day with you.
Rob Renfroe is the pastor of discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church. He is the author of A Way Through the Wilderness and The Trouble with the Truth (Abingdon). This article is adapted from Rev. Renfroe’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.