Harbinger? Asbury, Jesus People, and a Timeline of Crosscurrents

Harbinger? Asbury, Jesus People, and a Timeline of Crosscurrents

Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. February 2023. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Nicholson. 

Screen shot of Ruth Graham’s New York Times story on February 23, 2023.

By Steve Beard —

After two weeks of an extraordinary spiritual stirring on the campus of Asbury University, The New York Times eventually reported in a lengthy story that “more than 50,000 people descended on a small campus chapel to experience the nation’s first major spiritual revival in decades – one driven by Gen Z.” The student-led round-the-clock public meetings came to a crescendo when the live-video simulcast of the Collegiate Day of Prayer on February 23 was broadcast from the campus in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Interestingly enough, the worldwide premiere of Jesus Revolution – a film about a hippie spiritual awakening of the ‘60s and ‘70s – took place on the following day. In the works for six years and told through the eyes of Greg Laurie, the film features charismatic evangelist Lonnie Frisbee and Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel. The Southern California congregation had roughly 30 people in 1966. It grew to 15,000 in less than 10 years. The 200 cribs in the nursery illustrate the age of the new membership wave.

Times change. Culture morphs. But, rolling back the clock, there is a spiritual connection between the Asbury campus in Wilmore and the noteworthy events on the West Coast through the Jesus People.

Fifty-three years ago, also in February, the students at then-Asbury College experienced a similarly lengthy revival in Hughes Auditorium. The 1970 Asbury revival is spoken of in reverent tones for the generation that experienced a “divine moment” that lasted for more than a week. Legions of teams from Asbury testified in churches throughout the country about what had occurred on campus.

“The unusual revival which came to Asbury College early in 1970 and spread to scores of campuses across America is evidence that God is still at work in His world, lifting men and women out of self-centeredness, secularism, and boredom,” observed Billy Graham.

In retrospect, the 1970 Asbury revival was one very unique and distinct aspect of a dizzying array of spiritual touchpoints taking place within a tumultuous era. “With the Lord, it is usually in the worst of times that the best things happen,” observed Graham in the foreword to Robert E. Coleman’s One Divine Moment. “The Protestant Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, and the Great Awakening in America in the nineteenth century are examples.”

In 1970, Asbury was a heartfelt awakening localized on a college campus that can be seen as a vibrant expression of an unmistakably wider simultaneous and distinct spiritual passion brewing in West Coast coffeehouses, communes, and Pacific Ocean mass baptisms 2,100 miles away.

Completely unique and regionally-oriented, both movements made global impacts and were sparked by the spiritual hunger of young people – from straight-laced students to scruffy hippies.

While the 2023 re-percolating of the historic well of revival at Asbury was broadcast internationally via TikTok and other social media platforms, the chronicling of the Jesus People movement five decades ago was done through the medium of national magazines.

In 1966, Time magazine provocatively probed the question “Is God Dead?” for its cover story. Five years later, Time’s psychedelic cover story reported on “The Jesus Revolution.” In that same year, Life magazine wrote about “The Groovy Christians” and Look magazine declared: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.”

Responding to the 1970 experience at Asbury, Graham pondered: “Perhaps the eruptions of revival which swept through a segment of our college youth in the early months of 1970 are harbingers of what the Holy Spirit is ready, able and willing to do, throughout the world, if Christians will dare to pay the price.”

Some modern day church leaders are left wondering the same thing.

When Time reported on the nationwide spiritual movement in the early 1970s, it featured three groups: the Jesus People, the “straights” (non-hippie young people), and charismatic Catholics. “The movement, in fact, is one of considerable flexibility and vitality, drawing from three vigorous spiritual streams that, despite differences in dress, manner and theology, effectively reinforce one another.”

For Good News readers, the following timeline attempts to put broad cultural movements – both good and bad ­– within an ecumenical faith-based context of the era of 1960-1974.


1960 – YWAM (Youth With A Mission) founded by Loren Cunningham (Fall). More than 60 years later, YWAM is considered the largest mission-sending agency in the world.
• John F. Kennedy is the first Roman Catholic elected as President of United States (November). Amongst supporters, his administration was dubbed “Camelot,” a literary reference to the legend of King Arthur and his court.
• Teen Challenge is launched by David Wilkerson. His mother helped found two coffeehouses in Greenwich Village (The Lost Coin and The Living Room).

1961 – Dr. Gabriel Vahanian publishes The Death of God: The Culture of our Post-Christian Era (January)
• Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is launched by Pat Robertson (October)

1962 – Marilyn Monroe dies at age 36 (August)
• The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council is launched to renew and reform Roman Catholicism (October)
• Cuban Missile Crisis (October)
• James Meredith becomes the first Black student to study at the University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss. (October)

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, photo by Steve Beard.

1963 – David Wilkerson writes The Cross and the Switchblade. It sells 11 million copies in the first 10 years. (January)
• In August, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech in front of 200,000 on the Washington Mall (August)
• In September, A Ku Klux Klan bomb kills four African American children at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (September)
• C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity, dies on same day that President Kennedy is assassinated (November)

1964 – The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show in front of 70 million viewers (February)
• Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy is on cover of Time (May)
• Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is signed into law (July)
• John Sherrill, a reporter for Guideposts magazine, publishes They Speak with Other Tongues (August) about the widespread charismatic movement
• Dr. Martin Luther King wins the Nobel Peace Prize (December)

1965 – Dr. Harvey Cox publishes his book The Secular City. “The age of the secular city, the epoch whose ethos is quickly spreading into every corner of the globe, is an age of ‘no religion at all.’ It no longer looks to religious rules and rituals for its morality or its meanings.” (January)
• First American combat troops enter the Vietnam War (March)
• In its article, “The God is Dead Movement,” Time quotes Dr. Thomas Altizer, associate professor of religion at Emory University: “We must realize that the death of God is an historical event, that God has died in our cosmos, in our history, in our existence.”
• The Presbyterian Lay Committee is launched to work for renewal and reform in its denomination.
• Dr. Martin Luther King and Congressman John Lewis, also a clergyman, attend President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. (August)

1966 – John Lennon states: “We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.” (March)
• “Is God Dead?” is the cover of Time on April 8, 1966. The provocative 5,600 word essay was written by Time religion editor John T. Elson. “In search of meaning, some believers have desperately turned to psychiatry, Zen or drugs. Thousands of others have quietly abandoned all but token allegiance to the churches, surrendering themselves to a life of ‘anonymous Christianity’ dedicated to civil rights or the Peace Corps.”
• Anton LaVey launches the Church of Satan. “This is a very selfish religion,” LaVey said in an interview. “We believe in greed. We believe in selfishness and all of the lustful thoughts that motivate man because this is man’s natural feeling.” (April)
• Charles Keysor writes “Methodism’s Silent Minority” in the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy (July). “Within The Methodist Church in the United States is a silent minority group. It is not represented in the higher councils of the church. Its members seem to have little influence in Nashville, Evanston, or on Riverside Drive. … I speak of those Methodists who are variously called ‘evangelicals’ or ‘conservatives’ … A more accurate description is ‘orthodox,’ for these brethren hold a traditional understanding of the Christian faith.”
• World Congress on Evangelism sponsored by Billy Graham and Christianity Today’s Carl F.H. Henry held in Berlin (October)

1967 – Timothy Leary urges 30,000 hippies at the “Human Be-In” held at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out!” (January)
• Elvis Presley releases his album, “How Great Thou Art” (February)
• Catholics from Duquesne University (Pittsburgh) experience a Holy Spirit encounter at a Episcopalian retreat. Subsequently, the “First International Conference” of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. (February)
• Evangelical United Methodists publish the first issue of Good News magazine (March). The lead article by Los Angeles Bishop Gerald Kennedy was titled “The Evangelicals’ Place in The Methodist Church.” The issue also included the sheet music and lyrics to the hymn “God Is Not Dead” by the Rev. M. Homer Cummings.
• The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 26)|
• Six-Day Arab-Israeli War (June 5-10)
• “Summer of Love” draws 100,000 hippies to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury to hear rock music, experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, and hear anti-war and free-love speeches (June)
• At an inter-denominational gathering hosted by Billy Graham and Christianity Today in Washington D.C., three of the Methodist delegates were Charles W. Keysor, editor of Good News; Dr. Frank Stanger, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; and the Rev. Philip Worth, chairman of the board of Good News and Methodist clergy from New Jersey (September)
• The Living Room, a Christian hippie outreach/refuge, is launched in Haight-Ashbury

1968Christian Life magazine’s January cover proclaims: “Psychedelic Christians: Where and How They Live.” The story, “God’s Thing in Hippieville,” is written by Maurice Allan. “They are by all conventional standards, a weird mob. I like to think of them as a kind of evangelical Robin Hood and his merry men. With their different costumes, communal ghetto-style living, and anti-authoritarian ways, they outwardly resemble the mythical English folk-hero. Also, like him, they are essentially on the right side of what is righteous and good. Sideburns, para-military jackets, thigh-high dresses, red Indian motifs –they dig these and/or other tell-tale marks of the interstitial culture of the psychedelic scene. Strongly pacifist, not unduly patriotic, yet they love Jesus Christ, and their allegiance to him is undeniable. They stroll like medieval mendicants along Haight street, strumming autoharps, playing harmonicas and passing out day-old doughnuts.”
• Johnny Cash records “At Folsom Prison” (January)
• Evangelist Oral Roberts becomes a member of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma (March)
• At “His Place,” a coffeehouse rescue mission on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Arthur Blessitt urges addicts and runaways to try “getting high on Jesus.” (March)
• Dr. Martin Luther King is assassinated (April)
• The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merge to form The United Methodist Church (April)
• Senator Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated (June)
• Calvary Chapel pastor Chuck Smith meets “Jesus People” evangelist Lonnie Frisbee in Costa Mesa, California. Together, they launch House of Miracles communal house.
• On Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 read in turn from the Book of Genesis as they orbit the moon (December)

Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee baptize young people in the ocean.

1969 – The Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF) is established by Jesus People in Berkley, California, by former Campus Crusade for Christ staffers (April)
• The Byrds record Art Reynolds’ gospel song “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (June)
Right On, put out by the Christian World Liberation Front, was the first of the underground published Jesus newspapers, appearing in Berkley (July).
• Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee baptize thousands of young Jesus People converts in the Pacific Ocean at Pirates Cove in Newport Beach, California
• The Woodstock music festival attracts more than 400,000 young people to Bethel, New York (August)
• The Hollywood Free Paper is launched in Los Angeles as a Christian response to countercultural underground newspapers. Published from 1969-1978, it had print runs that sometimes exceeded more than one million copies per issue. (October)
• Billy Graham preaches at the 1969 Miami Rock Music Festival from the same concert stage as Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, and Santana. Graham actually donned a disguise to get a feel for the festival the night before he would preach. “My heart went out to them,” he wrote. “Though I was thankful for their youthful exuberance, I was burdened by their spiritual searching and emptiness.” (December)

Students pray at Asbury College in 1970. Screenshot.

1970 – The students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, experience an unusual revival beginning on February 3. Classes were cancelled for a week. “The young people in this movement have been the key,” Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, president of Asbury, wrote in Good News. “Faculty and administrators have been chauffeurs and guides while the Spirit has used the young to open closed doors and storm the enemy’s bastions.” An estimated 2,000 witness teams went out to churches and at least 130 college campuses around the nation.
• Professor Bob Lyons and students from Asbury Theological Seminary (also in Wilmore, Kentucky) host the first Ichthus music festival in May. It would be held in Wilmore from 1970-2015.
• Good News publishes the testimony of a transformed drug addict named Coni, republished from Right On, the Jesus People newspaper in Berkeley. “Jesus, they call you God. They say you can change people’s lives. Right now I can’t dig life. Living in this rotten world is a bummer. All I can think about is nodding out forever. But for some outrageous reason, life wants me anyway. I’ve tried to end it three times, but every time I came through,” confessed the young woman. “I don’t believe in anything and I don’t have anything. And since I am cursed to live, I want a reason to live. I’ve hit bottom and can’t seem to get out.”
• The Cross and the Switchblade film released nationwide starring Erik Estrada and Pat Boone (June)
• Good News hosts the first convocation for evangelical United Methodists in Dallas. Speakers include E. Stanley Jones, Bishop Gerald Kennedy, and Tom Skinner. (August)
• “Some call it an ‘underground’ movement. Others describe it as the closest thing to New Testament Christianity this country has ever seen,” reports Rita Klein in Christianity Today. “But those involved – thousands of bearded, long-haired, rather unkempt former hippies – term it a ‘spiritual revolution.’”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest, publishes Nine O’Clock in the Morning, about experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
• First Baptist Church of Houston sponsors SPIRENO (“Spiritual Revolution Now”) youth rallies featuring evangelist Richard Hogue.
• The Word of God covenant community is launched for charismatic Catholics in Ann Arbor, Michigan
• Judy Collins includes “Amazing Grace” on her “Whales and Nightingales” album
• Rick Griffin, a leading designer of 1960’s psychedelic posters and closely identified with the Grateful Dead, became a born-again Christian.
• Time publishes “Street Christians: Jesus as the Ultimate Trip” in August. “Jesus freaks. Evangelical hippies. Or, as many prefer to be called, street Christians. Under different names – and in rapidly increasing numbers – they are the latest incarnation of that oldest of Christian phenomena: footloose, passionate bearers of the Word, preaching the kingdom of heaven among the dispossessed of the earth.”
• Hal Lindsey publishes end-times best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth
• Inter-Varsity Christian Youth Conference has 12,000 participants at the University of Illinois (December)

Jesus Christ Superstar black light poster.

1971 – Billy Graham uses index-finger gesture while riding in the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day and acknowledges the Jesus People chanting “One Way!” along the parade route
• Look magazine’s February cover proclaims: “Today’s Kids: Turning to Jesus, Turning from Drugs.” In his story, “The Jesus Movement is Upon Us,” Brian Vachon reports: “It’s an old-time, Bible-toting witness-giving kind of revival, and the new evangelists are the young. They give their Christian message with cheerful dedication. Turn on to Jesus. He’s coming. Soon.” The now-defunct Look was a national bi-weekly with a circulation of about six million. “It was unquestionably the most remarkable week of my life,” wrote Vachon. “They had the best sounding music I’ve ever heard. Everyone wanted me to accept Christ, too. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m thinking about it.”
• With a circulation of seven million, Life magazine publishes “The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y.” – a 3,500 word feature by Jane Howard about newly-converted teens and their befuddled parents. “They don’t see their new faith in terms of rebellion, or of fundamentalism, but as the dazzlingly simple cure for a ‘hunger’ for absolute truth – a famine … as acute in Westchester County as anywhere else. … the growing band of new Christians have been looking intently backward, all the way to the first century A.D., and are clearly transfixed by what they find.” (May)
• The musical Godspell is first performed off-Broadway in the East Village of Manhattan (May)
• With a circulation of four million, Time‘s cover proclaimed “The Jesus Revolution.” The provocative 5,600-word essay was written by Time religion editor Mayo Mohs, with reporting from Richard Ostling, Barry Hillenbrand, and Margaret Boeth. “Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name. Their message: the Bible is true, miracles happen, God really did so love the world that he gave it his only begotten son.” (June)
• “Youth are turning to Christ on a scale that perhaps we’ve never known in human history,” Billy Graham tells the crowd gathered at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Christian World Liberation Front arranged for busses from the University of California campus in Berkeley, luring curious onlookers with the bold letter message on the side of the busses: “People’s Committee to Investigate Billy Graham.” (July)
• Donald M. Williams writes “Close-up of the Jesus People” for Christianity Today. “Up until now, youth evangelism has been inaugurated by adults. Now it comes by youth. The same hip teen-ager who last year turned his friends on to drugs may now be turning them on to Jesus.” (August)
• Billy Graham publishes his book, The Jesus Generation. “Tens of thousands of American youth are caught up in it. They are being ‘turned on’ to Jesus.” Other books in the genre published in 1971 included The Jesus Movement in America, by Edward E. Plowman; Jesus People Come Alive, edited by Walker L. Knight; House of Acts, by John A. MacDonald; Turned On to Jesus, by Arthur Blessitt; The Jesus People Are Coming, by Pat King; Jesus People, by Duane Pederson; The Jesus Trip, by Lowell D. Streiker; and The Jesus Kids, by Roger C. Palms.
• Associated Press names “Jesus People” one of its top ten stories of 1971
• People of Praise, an ecumenical intentional community begun by charismatic Catholics, is begun in South Bend, Indiana
• Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” is first performed on Broadway (October)
• Kenneth N. Taylor’s personal paraphrase The Living Bibleis published
• J. Benton White, coordinator of the religious studies program at San Jose State College in California, writes “New Youth Revival Exploits Feelings of Powerlessness” about the Jesus People for the Christian Advocate, the journal for Methodist clergy. “How do we respond? How do we get involved? I’m not certain we need to. Perhaps as some of these youth mature in Christian faith, they will find that the established churches will meet their needs. In the meantime, the professional role should include trying to understand young people while at the same time preserving the essentials of faith as we have experienced it. And we need to ask ourselves why this religious revival had to take place outside the confines of established denominations?” (December)

1972 – Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm announces her run as the first African American woman for the U.S. Presidency from Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn (January).
• The United Methodist Council on Evangelism was held in San Francisco. According to the February 3 issue of the Christian Advocate, there was heckling and debate between a contingent of Jesus People from Berkeley and the controversial pastor of Glide United Methodist Church. The booing occurred after the Rev. Cecil Williams claimed that evangelism was “theologically abstract, irresponsible, and unchristian.” The session was “quickly overshadowed by a verbal confrontation between the Berkeley group, Mr. Williams and his friends.” Speaking at the Council on behalf of the Jesus People was Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front.
• Explo ‘72 was an event organized by Campus Crusade for Christ and held at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas. Tens of thousands of young people attended the event. “The Rev. Billy Graham, the evangelist, says it’s a ‘religious Woodstock,’” reported the New York Times.“In any event, a meeting under way here is the largest religious camp meeting ever to take place in the United States.” Special guests included Roger Staubach, quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, and Johnny Cash. (June)
• Life’s cover story, “The Great Jesus Rally in Dallas,” covered the Campus Crusade event (June)
• Dr. Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front speaks in St. Louis at the Good News Convocation for United Methodists. He shares about his counter culture ministry in Berkeley, California, and challenges the young people in attendance to abandon the hotel and witness for Jesus in a park. According to Christianity Today, the following day, sixty young people and fifteen adults shared their faith with strangers at the St. Louis Zoo. (August)
• A Time to Be Born, a book documenting the Jesus People movement in Southern California, was published by Brian Vachon with pictures by Jack and Betty Cheetham. The three had worked together on the February 9, 1971, feature for Look magazine.
• “Surely we can extent the hope to Jesus People that in spite of our dissimilarity, change can and will take place within the established church,” wrote the Rev. Ralph Bailey in an article titled “Both Generations Needed to Bridge the Spirit Gap” for the Christian Advocate, the magazine for Methodist clergy. “In so doing we would be helping them to see the possibility that they may be able to ‘put it together spiritually’ with that context. We could, but will we? The old questions come back to haunt us. ‘Why bother? Do we want them here?’ How we deal with these questions and their attendant fears may determine whether thousands of Jesus People decide to ‘do their thing’ in or outside the church as we know it. Hopefully we can both reach out across the Spirit gap and then cross over to iron out some of the other kinks in our relationship.”
• The Doobie Brothers release their version of “Jesus is Just Alright with Me” (November)

1973 – Jesus People USA, an intentional Christian community, sets up base of operations in Chicago’s North Side
• Larry Norman releases his album, “Only Visiting This Planet”
• The Rev. Dennis Bennett helps start Episcopal Renewal Ministries, soon renamed Acts 29, to promote the charismatic renewal movement within his denomination.
• Key ‘73 was launched as an ambitious nationwide pan-denominational evangelistic campaign. According to its Congregational Resource Book, the program had the “vision of every unchurched family in North America being visited by someone who comes with loving concern to share his faith in Christ.”
• Johnny Cash releases film Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, a project he and his wife June fully financed. “It’s my life’s proudest work,” Cash told the Nashville Tennessean. “John came up with the idea of doing the crucifixion in lots of places to show that Christ died for people all over the world,” said documentary film director Robert Elfstrom, an agnostic. “We ended up doing it once at Jericho in Israel, on the waterfront in Brooklyn Heights, on the Strip in Las Vegas, at the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, and in Death Valley.” While they were filming in Death Valley, reports Robert Hilburn in Johnny Cash: The Life, “a VW minivan filled with hippies drove up, and they stopped to watch. They got out, smoked some dope, and then returned to the van. As they sped off, the driver yelled, ‘Good luck with the resurrection!’”

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News. 

The Time is Now

The Time is Now

By Rob Renfroe —

Over the last few months I have had the privilege of speaking to more than a dozen churches and conferences in six different states and once to brothers and sisters in Europe, the Middle East, and the Philippines via social media. What I enjoy most are the conversations I have with individuals after my presentation is completed.

Different locations and cultures, but there are similar themes that emerge as we talk. There is always sadness that we are at a place where division is necessary. But there is also great excitement about the future as we look forward to re-envisioning what an orthodox Wesleyan movement can be and do for a lost world. What took me by surprise at first, but now I’ve come to expect, are those persons who believe they should wait before making the decision to stay or go. 

Some tell me that there’s no reason to leave right now because “nothing has changed.” What they usually mean is that our official UM doctrines are still orthodox and biblical. On the face of it, that’s a true statement, but it’s not a good description of reality. We presently have pastors who preach that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead or that the resurrection doesn’t matter and that Jesus did not die for our sins. We have seminaries that teach Jesus is just one of many ways to God and one that has even created curricula for persons wanting to be ordained in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination that denies the Trinity and the deity of Christ. We now have a commissioned candidate for ministry who preaches in drag and is celebrated by centrist pastors as being a gifted communicator of the Gospel. We just elected a second bishop who is married to a spouse of the same sex. No bishop charged with teaching and enforcing our doctrines has ever spoken out publicly against any of these false teachings and practices.

Believing that “nothing has changed” because our written doctrines have not been altered is a strange way of looking at reality. It would be like having a peace treaty with a neighboring country that’s dropping bombs on your territory and saying, “But nothing has changed; they haven’t rescinded the treaty.” It doesn’t matter what’s on paper if it’s not being followed or enforced. Nothing has changed? Everything has changed. Compare where we are to what Wesley preached. To where we were when the UM Church began in 1968. To what the Bible teaches. “Nothing has changed” is the last thing you can say about where the UM Church is now.

Others tell me they can stay because centrist leaders have told them that traditionalists will always be accepted and they will never have to accept a progressive pastor. There’s so much wrong with that statement that it’s hard to know where to start. 

First, centrist leaders on a national level have never kept the agreements they have made with traditionalists. In Portland they agreed with us that the UM Church could not stay together and we needed to work together for a respectful separation. But they came to General Conference 2019 with a plan that went back on that commitment. They agreed that the special called 2019 GC would settle our differences over sexuality once and for all – until they didn’t get their way and then they condemned the UM Church and ignored the decisions of the General Conference. Most recently they have reneged on their commitment to the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation after helping to create it and pledging to support it. For those still unconvinced, the recent actions of the Arkansas Annual Conference should be telling. At a special called conference held November 19, the conference refused to approve the disaffiliation of three churches which had fulfilled every requirement for leaving the denomination. Each of these three churches had made their way through the arduous pathway created by the Arkansas AC and had passed a motion to leave by more than two-thirds. Still centrists and progressives there refused to honor their decision. So, when centrists state that no traditional church will ever be made to do anything they find disagreeable, they already have. There’s little reason any serious person should trust what centrist leaders promise about the future. 

Second, every UM Church will one day have a progressive pastor. In November our five U.S. jurisdictions elected thirteen new bishops. Not one was a traditionalist. The UM Church in the United States will never again elect a traditionalist bishop. And you can be sure few, if any, traditionalists will ever again seek ordination in the UM Church. Why would a young person looking at forty years of ministry join a denomination that despises his or her views – which one of our recently elected bishops described as “a virus which will make the church sick.” You may have a traditional pastor now, but the well is drying up, and the day will come when there will be no one to appoint to your church but a liberal pastor with a progressive theology.

Most importantly, I believe, is not whether traditionalists will be accepted, but what they will have to accept if they remain. In the future, traditionalists will be in a denomination that allows its pastors to preach that Jesus’ death did not make atonement for our sins and that he is just one of many ways to God or that permits its pastors to pray to God as “the Great Queer One,” as future UM pastors did at UM Duke Divinity School recently. If you remain in the UM Church, give your time and your money and lend your name to the UM Church, you will be supporting all of this. You will be aiding a church that promotes sin and allows its leaders to deny our most important Christian beliefs. Will you be accepted as a traditionalist in the UM Church over time? Probably not. But more importantly, you will have to accept a church that undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Still others tell me they are remaining in hopes that something similar to the Protocol will be passed in 2024, something that is more fair and less costly for churches than the present exit path they are being offered by their conference. I can certainly understand this desire. Many bishops are abusing their power and adding exorbitant fees for churches that wish to disaffiliate. But there’s no reason to believe that General Conference 2024 will bring any relief. Literally thousands of traditional churches will have left the denomination by 2024, meaning there will be fewer traditional delegates at the next General Conference to fight for a better deal. Centrists and progressive leaders have stated they will not support the Protocol. Do you believe they will offer a more generous pathway than before for exiting churches now that they have the upper hand? Paragraph 2553 in the Book of Discipline that churches are using now to depart goes away at the end of 2023. There is absolutely no reason to believe that waiting until 2024 will be advantageous for churches wanting to leave in the future.

Finally, some have said they will remain to “be a witness” within the UM Church. If God is calling you to be a Jonah, by all means, be faithful and stay. We traditionalists have tried to be a witness for the past fifty years. Those within the UM Church who have had ears to hear have heard. Those who don’t have not. If God has called you to stay, do so. But please make certain it’s God calling you to do the hard ministry of staying, not your desire to avoid the hard work of leaving.

What I find wherever I speak are good people who love Jesus, who are committed to the Gospel, and who care deeply about their church. It is a privilege to be with them, to listen to their concerns and hear their stories. I also discover that good people can be in different places when it comes to leaving. But I am convinced the UM Church is on a pathway that will take it far from the orthodox Christian faith and from proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Lord of all. If you feel called to remain in such a denomination, then stay. If not, the time to leave is now. Do not remain because leaving is difficult. 

This moment is about the Gospel. This moment is about Jesus, lifting him up and proclaiming his glory. This moment is about doing the hard things required to be faithful. Do not take comfort in misleading promises or false hopes. The time is now.

Reasons for Affiliating with the Global Methodist Church

Reasons for Affiliating with the Global Methodist Church

By Thomas Lambrecht

As churches are disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church over theological and ethical differences with the denomination, they are considering where to affiliate next. There is a small percentage that are choosing to remain as independent congregations, a course of action we believe to be shortsighted. (See last week’s Perspective on this issue.)

As someone who was heavily involved in helping create the Global Methodist Church, I whole-heartedly believe this is the best option for local churches looking for a Wesleyan denomination with which to affiliate. Here are a number of reasons why.

1. Formed by leaders we know and trust

The Global Methodist Church was formed by people who want to see the GM Church committed to making disciples for Jesus Christ. They have served in leadership in the same Renewal and Reform groups that have worked for decades to promote doctrinal integrity and biblical positions in The United Methodist Church. These include The Confessing Movement, Good News, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. They are dedicated to the advancement of a Scripturally-based, historic Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith. They are people of personal integrity and a strong life commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Since these leaders have a track record of faithfulness and integrity, we can confidently follow their leadership in a new denomination.

2. Centered on maintaining Wesleyan doctrine and theology based on Scripture

The GM Church embraces a warm Wesleyan theology and a vibrant spiritual outlook. It has the same doctrinal standardsas the UM Church, with the addition of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Agreement with the doctrinal standards is required of churches aligning with the GM Church. All bishops and clergy will be expected to agree with, preach, and defend these doctrines, with robust accountability to ensure doctrinal faithfulness. The teaching of these doctrines through a new catechism will be a featured part of all GM congregations. At the same time, doctrines not considered part of the theological and ethical core are open for exploration and difference of opinion. As John Wesley said, “as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” The GM Church will have a clear vision about the “root of Christianity” and will make sure it is protected.

3. Prioritizing evangelism and church planting

GM congregations will be challenged to partner together to plant new churches and extend the evangelistic ministry of the church in their communities and in other parts of the nation and world. New churches are already being started under the auspices of the GM Church in the U.S. and in other countries. The GM Church has established a goal of planting thousands of new churches around the world during its first years of existence. We believe our congregations will have a vision for outreach and a global perspective.

4. Leaner, more effective denominational structure

The GM Church at both the general and annual conference level will rely on fewer and smaller organizational units to steer its ministry, rather than building large bureaucracies that require much spending to maintain overhead. The GM Church will partner with existing ministries with demonstrated effectiveness and commitment to Wesleyan theology to extend the church’s work, rather than building new ministries from scratch. This approach will enable much greater flexibility and adaptability to changing ministry circumstances.

5. Prioritizing the work of the local church

The local church is where disciples are made. The GM Church exists to support the ministry of the local church, not vice versa. All denominational decisions will be made within the framework of what will strengthen the ministry of the local church.

6. More resources for local ministry

The GM Church has capped the amount that a local church can be asked to contribute to the denominational structures. A maximum of 1.5 percent of local church operating income will go toward general church expenses. A maximum of 5 percent will go toward annual conference expenses. Initially, only 1 percent will go to each. More resources will stay in the local church to be used for effective ministry there.

7. No trust clause

The local church will own its own property free and clear, with no legal trust or obligation to the GM denomination. A simple, straightforward path of disaffiliation is offered for congregations that no longer find their home in the GM Church.

8. Robust accountability

Bishops, clergy, laity, and congregations will hold one another accountable to maintain Wesleyan doctrine and exhibit continued transformation and growth in discipleship. Bishops will be held accountable by a global committee of laity and clergy, not other bishops. Clergy will be held accountable through a fair and equitable judicial system. Laity will be encouraged to participate in accountable discipleship groups to support their growth in faith and Christian living. In the rare instance that a congregation welcomes teaching contrary to GM doctrinal standards or refuses to support the denomination’s work financially, it may be removed (following a collaborative dialog process).

9. Strong and clear biblical stances on marriage, sexuality, pro-life, and other bedrock issues

The GM Church’s Social Witness statements clearly define marriage as between one man and one woman, while reserving sexual relationships for marriage. Without getting into partisan politics, it states a clear pro-life stance on unborn children, while calling for greater support for women with unanticipated pregnancies. It puts forward clear, non-partisan statements on other bedrock ethical concerns, such as the value and dignity of all persons, opposition to prejudice and discrimination, concern for the poor, care for the earth, the rule of justice and law, and religious freedom. Scriptures are cited in support of each of the GM Church’s Social Witness statements. Readers are encouraged to consult the entire Social Witness section of the Doctrines and Discipline for more details.

10. A truly global church

The GM Church already has members in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is expected that a majority of members might be located outside the U.S. Members from all parts of the globe will be equally and fairly represented at General Conference and in the general work of the church. The denomination will be multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-national, learning from one another and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many different ways.

11. Greater local church involvement in pastoral appointments

While pastoral appointments will still be fixed by the bishop, the local church will have greater input into whom the bishop appoints as pastor. Bishops will work with local churches to ensure their welcome of female and ethnic clergy on an equal basis. Pastoral appointments are intended to last longer, giving greater continuity to ministry.

12. A redefined role and process for bishops

While not included in the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, leaders of the GM Church are committed to a term episcopacy. Bishops are proposed to only serve for a set maximum term, perhaps 12 years, and would not be elected for life. Bishops are envisioned as spiritual and missional leaders, while being relieved of the responsibility to administer the temporal affairs of the church, which can be delegated to lay or clergy staff. Bishops are proposed to be assigned at the call of the annual conference to ensure the best leadership match.

13. Missions through partnership

The GM Church aims to facilitate missions by horizontally linking churches and annual conferences with each other across national boundaries. Financial support for missions will generally travel directly to partners, rather than through a mission bureaucracy. The two-way exchange of volunteers and learning opportunities will foster a mutual equality among mission partners around the world. Local churches and annual conferences will become more invested in cross-cultural missions through increased direct contact with mission partners.

14. Shorter route to ordination for clergy

Rather than the 6-10 years it takes in the UM Church to reach ordained ministry, clergy candidates can expect to be ordained as deacons in 1-3 years. Ordination as elder would take an additional 4-6 years. Half of clergy education would take place after ordination, enabling clergy to integrate classroom learning with current job experience. Various educational routes will enable less expensive and more flexible pathways to ordained ministry. Ongoing clergy mentorship will be an essential part of ministry in the GM Church. Denominational support for clergy education will be a keystone of the connectional financial plan.

15. Greater flexibility in ministry and structure

With unity on essential doctrines, much greater flexibility can be given for how local churches and annual conferences do ministry, based on their ministry context. The GM Church will have minimum requirements for organization of local churches and annual conferences, with maximum flexibility and adaptability for how those structural requirements are met. Best practices will be shared across the church, so that clergy, congregations, and annual conferences can continually learn from each other and implement the most effective methods of winning people to Jesus Christ and discipling them in the faith.

16. Social Witness statements will require greater consensus

To minimize divisions over denominational positions on social issues, all such statements will require a 75 percent supermajority vote to be adopted. The focus of such statements will be more on biblical principles than advocating partisan political solutions.

17. Opportunity to build a new denomination

With the GM Church, we have the opportunity to build a new denomination for the 21st century that maintains the best of our Wesleyan tradition, while adapting our methods to fit ever-evolving circumstances and correcting for the shortcomings experienced in The United Methodist Church. Joining another, pre-existing denomination means agreeing with and conforming to a church culture and manner of operating that has been developed over decades and will not easily change. The GM Church offers a much cleaner slate on which to write the principles of an effective and Christ-centered denomination that is more flexible and adaptable to today’s world.

Churches considering affiliation with the Global Methodist Church should study the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, which outlines how the church will function initially. A convening General Conference will flesh out details, such as the election and assignment of bishops. Churches should also contact the GM Church to invite a representative to speak and answer questions, as well as offer further clarification on what to expect.

Ultimately, the Wesleyan witness for Christ will be stronger if most of the disaffiliating churches align with one denomination, rather than splintering into various independent congregations or aligning with multiple existing Wesleyan denominations. The GM Church offers the best option for keeping the best of Methodism, while having the flexibility to try new ways of organizing for ministry and reaching the world for Jesus Christ.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Photo: Matt Botsford, Unsplash. 

Turmoil in Africa

Turmoil in Africa

By Thomas Lambrecht

Two weeks ago, the African Colleges of Bishops released a statement criticizing the Africa Initiative and the Wesleyan Covenant Association for, in their words, “working to destroy our United Methodist Church.” The statement also accused the Africa Initiative of “working with and supporting the Global Methodist Church, a denomination that has not been recognized by the General Conference.”

As a result of these accusations, the African bishops committed to:

  • “Dissociate from any activities of the Africa Initiative and will not allow any activities of the Africa Initiative in our areas”
  • “Not allow or entertain any activities of the Wesleyan Covenant Association who are wrongly influencing God’s people in our areas”
  • “Not tolerate anyone giving false information about The United Methodist Church in our areas”

Since that September 8 statement, the narrative has sprung up that African United Methodists will not be joining the Global Methodist Church. It is important to clarify what is going on in Africa and what the implications are for the future of Africa in Methodism.

Who signed the bishops’ statement?

The statement is misleading, in that it lists the bishops who were present at the meeting, not those who supported the statement. We have been told by informed sources that at least two of the bishops present opposed the statement and do not agree with it. Seven active bishops were present out of the 13 total active African bishops. Some of those not present also do not agree with it. So this is a statement of some of the African bishops, but not all.

Is the WCA and Africa Initiative “working to destroy our United Methodist Church?”

The bishops supporting the statement apparently believe that any kind of separation would “destroy” the UM Church. The possibility of separation was endorsed by the 2019 General Conference by its enacting the Par. 2553 disaffiliation process. So there is official sanction for discussing disaffiliation. There is no question that the large-scale disaffiliations that are currently going on will usher in change to the UM Church. But even the loss of 20-30 percent of its members would hardly “destroy” the denomination. The bishops are guilty of hyperbole here.

The WCA, Good News, The Confessing Movement, and UMAction, have consistently had only one goal in mind for our working together with the Africa Initiative. That goal is to empower the voice and ministry of African United Methodists. The Africa Initiative reaffirms that goal in their statement of purpose:

  • “To foster partnership, network, and fellowship among leaders of the annual and provisional conferences of Africa
  • “To facilitate training in cross-cultural evangelism and missions, discipleship, leadership development, prayer revivals, and resource mobilization for annual and provisional conferences of Africa
  • “To raise the voice of the African Church within global Methodism, by supporting the practice of biblical orthodoxy, training delegates to General Conference, and speaking out against unbiblical theological persuasions, teachings, and practices that have the propensity to misrepresent and undermine Wesleyan doctrines.”

This is not destroying the church, but building up the church.

Can the bishops effectively prohibit Africa Initiative activities in Africa?

Those bishops who have been opposing the work of the Africa Initiative in the past have already tried to stop its work in their areas. Some pastors and lay leaders have been forbidden to attend meetings or share information. The laity, in particular, have not abided by such prohibitions, believing that bishops cannot prevent people from meeting with whom they want to meet. Some clergy have needed to be more cautious due to the possibility of losing their jobs and livelihood. But the Africa Initiative has found ways to share information that do not open leaders up to the possibility of discipline from their bishops.

The attempt to assert complete control over the life of the church is a very real temptation for some bishops, especially in areas where laity defer to ecclesiastical authority. It is natural that persons who benefit from the status quo would want to preserve it. But African United Methodists will not easily allow their bishops to force them to act contrary to the people’s beliefs and interests. When several of the African bishops attempted to coerce their delegates to vote for the One Church Plan at the 2019 General Conference, the delegates voted their conscience and overwhelmingly supported the Traditional Plan.

The sharing of information and the coordinating of activities will continue in Africa.

The African members of the WCA Global Council have issued the following response:

“As leaders of the WCA in Africa, the statement by our esteemed bishops left us flabbergasted. This militant and combative position by some of these bishops does not proffer the unity and love for which they call. If anything, it opens a massive rift between them and the flock that they are supposed to look after. To openly attack your own flock diminishes the essence of being ‘good shepherds’ that the bishops are supposed to exemplify. In Africa it is generally considered disrespectful to answer back to elders, but we feel pushed into a corner, and unfortunately there is no longer any space behind us.

“The values and mission of the Wesleyan Covenant Association resonate well with what Africans believe and how we live. That makes the partnership of Africans, the WCA, and the rest of the Reform and Renewal Coalition a natural and obvious one. Further, it is most disappointing for us to realize that the Reconciling Ministries Network, which promotes same-gender marriage and the ordination of active gay and lesbian clergy, enjoys free reign in Africa to the extent of building and dedicating churches and our bishops remain very comfortable with it. As leaders of the WCA in Africa we will continue to contend for the undiluted Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The entire response of the Wesleyan Covenant Association to the unfounded charges of some African bishops, including the above words from its African council members, is found here. The entire statement of the Africa Initiative in response to the African bishops is found here.

Rather than issuing statements attempting to stifle and control the actions of renewal-minded African clergy and laity, the African bishops desperately need to get their own house in order. For example, at least one bishop is publicly promoting and supporting the presence of U.S.-based Reconciling Ministries Network in Kenya, which advocates for same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. In addition, the African bishops have thus far refused to call special central conference meetings to elect new bishops and retire existing bishops. Several of them are beyond the mandatory retirement age of 72, yet continue to serve and, by their plan, will continue to serve until at least the end of 2024. Another example of disregarding the Book of Discipline when its provisions are inconvenient. (The Burundi Annual Conference has asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether the African bishops must step down at age 72 and call a special conference to elect their replacements.)

Will the African church remain in The United Methodist Church?

In a report of its May 2022 leadership prayer summit, the Africa Initiative stipulated, “The Africa Initiative shall continue to encourage African churches and conferences to patiently await the 2024 General Conference while advocating for the adoption of the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation, and while acknowledging unique circumstances in some areas of the Continent that may cause members to act before then.” The strong preference of the African church is to consider the possibility of disaffiliation as annual conferences within the context of an approved Protocol that provides a clear process to follow. At the same time, there are a few countries where traditionalist pastors and lay leaders have been unjustly terminated from the church without the due process afforded by the Discipline. In those areas, it makes no sense to wait to form units of the Global Methodist Church because the individuals involved have already been forcibly “disaffiliated” from the church.

There will be some parts of the UM Church in Africa that will remain in the continuing denomination. After all, there are millions of United Methodists on the continent. As to whether the bulk of the African church will remain in the UM Church following the 2024 General Conference, that is another question. The Africa Initiative prayer and leadership summit stated, “The United Methodist Church in Africa shall not be part of a denomination that changes the current language of the Book of Discipline in order to legalize homosexuality, same-sex marriage, or the ordination of practicing LGBTQIA+ people as pastors. This is the ultimate, decisive, and undisputed position of the UMC in Africa.”

The leaders we have spoken with in Africa have no interest in remaining in a denomination that affirms same-sex relationships in contradiction to Scripture.

Is the WCA or the GMC sharing “false information?”

The official communications of Good News, the WCA, and the GMC have been careful to share information that is accurate and sourced. We have made the details of some of the examples given available upon request. So far, all we have heard are general charges of lying or misinformation, without pointing to any specific statements that we have made that are inaccurate.

No one knows for sure how the continuing United Methodist Church will evolve after separation. It is fair for different people to have different opinions, backed up by solid reasoning. Some centrists declare that the UM Church is not going to change and that traditionalists will be welcome in the UM Church. This is based only on their promises of good faith, promises that we are reluctant to trust, given the consistent violation of other promises made to us down through the years.

At the same time, there are many examples of individual clergy being excluded from United Methodism due to their traditional theological views. A number of licensed local pastors have been summarily fired by their bishop or district committee simply for sharing information about the disaffiliation process with their congregation. The majority of delegates at the 2024 General Conference will probably favor the removal of all provisions limiting same-sex marriage or the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians. While probably not requiring pastors or congregations to embrace same-sex weddings or gay pastors, one should not underestimate the power of peer pressure and denominational culture. Nearly all UM seminaries promote the affirmation of same-sex marriage and ordination, meaning that will be the default position held by most UM clergy trained there over the next generation. Absent intentional efforts by progressives and centrists to welcome and support traditionalist views in the denomination, it is unlikely traditionalists will long feel comfortable remaining United Methodist. So far, we have seen little evidence of such intentional efforts at theological inclusion at the denominational level.

Efforts to suppress or punish people for having different opinions by some African bishops does not indicate that traditionalists are welcome in Africa. Good News and our Reform and Renewal partners believe we can trust African people to make their own decisions without being told what to do by their bishop. Our obligation is to make it possible for them to hear our side of the story, which is only fair, since the bishops can share their side of the story unimpeded. By attempting to take coercive and punitive action against their own people, some African bishops are betraying their role as shepherds of the flock. Let us hope they reconsider their position and agree to move forward openly and amicably.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Photo: Greater Nhiwatiwa (in purple dress), wife of Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa (left), explains the history and significance of the Chin’ando prayer mountain to bishops attending the Africa College of Bishops retreat held September 5-8 at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UM News.

Why I am a Wesleyan

Why I am a Wesleyan

By Kevin M. Watson 

Almost all of my writing for the church and the academy has focused in one way or another on the Wesleyan theological tradition. From time to time I am asked: Why are you Wesleyan?

When I was in seminary, I remember experiencing some shock at the wide array of opinions and denominations represented by faculty, students, and the assigned readings. I wrestled with what I was going to do when I graduated and began serving in full-time local church ministry. The models I saw seemed to focus on endlessly exploring ideas across a very broad swath of Christianity. The questions were often good and interesting, but they seemed to always lead to more questions. As someone preparing to pastor a local church, I was pretty sure God was calling me to offer the truth about Jesus Christ and his gospel. I needed to work through the questions to return to truth I could proclaim with confidence to the people God sent me to serve.

I eventually came to a place where I realized the best way I could proclaim the truth was by being deeply anchored in the theological heritage of my particular part of the Body of Christ. 

This conviction came as I was taking United Methodist History and Doctrine with Dr. Doug Strong, who would become one of my most important mentors (and my first boss in the academy when he hired me for my first faculty position at Seattle Pacific University).

Doug’s passion for the Wesleyan theological tradition became my passion. He taught Methodist History and Doctrine by anchoring us in the writings of John Wesley. We read Wesley’s sermons and several other occasional pieces he wrote. We studied the basic practices of Methodism. I learned, among other things, that Wesley’s followers were called Methodists because of the methodical pursuit of a particular way of life.

Two things that happened in that class that are crucial for why I am Wesleyan today.

First, I read John Wesley’s teaching on entire sanctification and Christian perfection. I was captivated by Wesley’s optimism of what God can do in our lives through the power of the resurrection of Jesus. I was excited and energized by Wesley’s focus on the importance of salvation and his emphasis on the way of salvation, a journey with God that one grows in with expectation of seeing God deliver from bondage to sin and bring victory in Jesus’s name.

In short, entire sanctification is the Christian belief that the grace of God saves us to the uttermost, freeing us not only from external sins but bringing holy affections, holy tempers. Entire sanctification is loving God and neighbor to the exclusion of sin. 

As I’ve spent time with this teaching, I’ve become more convinced that entire sanctification is true. It is powerful! When I speak to leaders in Wesleyan communities, I often say something like this: “There should not be a church in any of your communities that has a more bold and audacious optimism of what the grace of God can do in the lives of every single person in your communities than your church.” My intention in saying this is not to stir up unhealthy and unhelpful competition or strife between denominations. Rather, it is to call the followers of John Wesley back to the riches of their own heritage. 

There are two key passages that capture this Wesleyan essential for me. The first is from John Wesley’s sermon, “The Scripture Way of Salvation”:

“But what is that faith whereby we are sanctified, saved from sin and perfected in love? It is a divine evidence and conviction, first, that God hath promised it in the Holy Scripture…. It is a divine evidence and conviction, secondly, that what God hath promised he is able to perform…. It is, thirdly, a divine evidence and conviction that he is able and willing to do it now…. To this confidence, that God is both able and willing to sanctify us now, there needs to be added one thing more, a divine evidence and conviction that he doth it.” 

After defining the faith by which we are entirely sanctified, Wesley then asks, Should we expect to receive entire sanctification gradually or instantaneously? This passage gets me every time!

“Perhaps it may be gradually wrought in some … But it is infinitely desirable … that it should be done instantaneously; that the Lord should destroy sin ‘by the breath of his mouth’ in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And so he generally does, a plain fact of which there is evidence enough to satisfy any unprejudiced person. Thou therefore look for it every moment…. And by this token may you surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first, before you are sanctified. You think, ‘I must first be or do thus or thus.’ Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, you may expect it as you are: and if as you are, then expect it now. It is of importance to observe that there is an inseparable connection between these three points – expect it by faith, expect it as you are, and expect it now!… Christ is ready. And he is all you want. He is waiting for you. He is at the door!” (John Wesley, “Scripture Way of Salvation”).

The second passage is from Scripture itself, and is one of the crucial passages in Scripture regarding entire sanctification:

“This is the will of God, your sanctification… May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3; 5:23-24).

I am a Wesleyan because I believe that God wants to sanctify everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ and not just a little bit, but entirely! This is God’s will. And God, who calls us, is faithful and will do this!

The second thing that happened to me when I was in seminary that is a major reason I am not only Wesleyan, but got a PhD and became passionate about preparing people for leadership in the church, was that I was invited to join a Wesleyan band meeting. When I was invited, I did not know what it was. But I knew I was in seminary because the Lord had called me to give my life to Jesus and his church and I knew I was moving away from that calling and I didn’t know where to turn.

A band meeting is a small group of usually three to five people focused on confession of sin in order to grow in holiness. It is grounded on James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” 

Joining a band meeting was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was also one of the most important things I have ever done. We confessed our sins to one another, not in order to brow beat each other, or to shame one another, but in order to receive forgiveness through the grace of Jesus and in hope and expectation of experiencing healing and transformation. 

The highlight of the group was when someone finished their confession and someone else shared words of forgiveness and pardon over them. We often used the words from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

My life was changed because of my participation in a band meeting. This led me to study the history of the band meeting in early Methodism. It motivated me to write to help contemporary Wesleyans reclaim this practice, as well as the class meeting. The class meeting was a small group of about twelve people that was required of all Methodists throughout John Wesley’s lifetime and for the first several decades Methodism was a formal denomination in the United States (the Methodist Episcopal Church). The class meeting was less intense than the band meeting, focusing on a question like, “How is it with your soul?”

I am a Wesleyan because I have experienced the fruit of the method of Methodism. I am Wesleyan because I am captivated by the hopeful and optimistic theology which believes that the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is greater than sin and even death itself. Even in the times when I have been most discouraged by the state of the contemporary church, I still believe God wants his people to unplug the old wells that were dug by the first Methodists. I am convinced there is still living water there.

One last thing: I am a Wesleyan not because I want to be known as a follower of John Wesley. I do increasingly see John Wesley as the spiritual father of the Wesleyan/Methodist family. But Wesley was not interested in making little John Wesleys. He wanted to help people follow Jesus Christ. I am Wesleyan because it is the best way I know to follow Jesus Christ, to grow in holiness of heart and life.

More than being Wesleyan, I want to be a real Christian. The more I preach the gospel with a recognizable Wesleyan accent, the more effective I believe I will be in following Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. 

Kevin M. Watson is Acting Director of the Wesley House at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is also Associate Pastor of Discipleship at First Methodist Church Waco. Dr. Watson is author of numerous books including The Class Meeting, Pursuing Social Holiness, Old or New School Methodism?, and Perfect Love. Prior to his position at Truett, he served as Associate Professor of Wesley and Methodist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Image:

“John Wesley Preaching at the Market Cross” by Richard Douglas. This is a color version of an earlier illustration by William Hatherell (1855-1928). It is part of the Richard Douglas collection of paintings at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  

East Angola Controversy

East Angola Controversy

By Thomas Lambrecht

Methodism on the continent of Africa continues to flourish – countering the decline in North America. At the same time, traditionalist African leaders report that there have been some incidents of punitive action by hostile bishops.

In a recent troubling situation, yet another African bishop is persecuting pastors and leaders because of their connection with traditionalist views and organizations. This continues a pattern noted in 2020 in Central Congo and North Katanga episcopal areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In those earlier cases, leading pastors were removed from their appointment and in some cases unjustly suspended without any complaints being filed or opportunity to defend themselves with a due process.

Now, on February 24, 2022, Bishop José Quipungo of East Angola expelled the Rev. Bartolomeu Dias Sapalo from The United Methodist Church under the charge of “treason.” (There is no such chargeable offense in the UM Book of Discipline.) In addition, Quipungo removed Sapalo from his position as Dean of Quessua Faculty of Theology and as pastor in charge of Nova Galileia United Methodist Church. He was given ten days to remove all his belongings and vacate the official faculty residence and told to “get out of Quessua Mission immediately.”

Bishop Quipungo gave as the reason for this action that Sapalo was “involved with the Separatist Movement (Global Methodist) under the leadership of Mr. Jerry Kullah (sic) and after having previously been advised not [to] be aligned with them (‘GMC’).” (It should be noted that Sapalo is not aligned with the “GMC” because that denomination is not yet in existence.)

Sapalo reported, “The bishop received the document entitled ‘Africa Initiative’s Position Statement on Holding 2022 General Conference.’ On this document, my name is included as an executive member [of the African Initiative]. There is no stipulation in the Discipline against participation in the Africa Initiative. Yet, this was the sufficient reason, in his opinion, to call me and then send me a letter of expulsion. There was, however, no church trial at all.”

Under the Book of Discipline, before a clergy member can be removed, a formal complaint must be filed. An investigation must take place, along with attempts to resolve the complaint through mutual agreement. If no agreement can be reached, the clergy person is entitled to a trial, at which the church must prove its charges and a jury of other clergy can decide to acquit or convict the defendant. The charged clergy person is also entitled to have an advocate to help defend them in this process. At the trial, it is the jury (not the bishop) that decides what the penalty for a guilty verdict would be. The defendant is further entitled to appeal the verdict if there were errors made in the church trial.

In Sapalo’s case, none of these procedures were followed. He was summarily fired from his church positions and removed from membership in The United Methodist Church by the bishop alone.

When asked about the possibility of an appeal, Sapalo said, “There is no recourse in this matter because at the local level the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy is non-functional. There are [also] conflicts of interest in play. For example, the [chair] of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry is [the bishop’s] nephew. His administrative assistant is another nephew, and other key positions in the church are occupied by his close relatives. There is simply insufficient accountability at the level of the annual conference.”

Another element playing into Sapalo’s dismissal was the jockeying for position in upcoming elections to be the bishop to replace Quipungo. Such elections were originally scheduled for 2020 at the Africa Central Conference. Due to Covid postponements, they are now scheduled for 2024 (unless Judicial Council rules they may be held earlier). Quipungo had reached the mandatory retirement age of 68 in 2016, but avoided retirement through procedural steps. He is now age 75, yet continuing to serve as bishop.

The 2020 East Angola Annual Conference endorsed candidates for the episcopacy. Sapalo was the top candidate endorsed by the conference, and his wife, Rev. Suzana Luisa Lourenҫo Sapalo, was the second endorsed candidate. According to Sapalo, the third and fourth endorsed candidates (who received half the number of votes Sapalo received) are close relatives (a nephew and a grandson) of Bishop Quipungo and members of his same tribe. Expelling Sapalo would make him ineligible to be elected bishop, opening the way for one of Quipungo’s relatives to be elected.

As Sapalo reports, “It is hard for Americans to understand what the systems of authority are like in Africa. For example, pastors or laypersons who try to contradict a bishop can face serious punishment. He threatens them with expulsion. The situation in Angola East is illustrative of a larger problem. District Superintendents are suspended or kicked out, conference staff persons are suspended, pastors are punitively moved from one church to another and sometimes are not given appointments, and cabinet members are not consulted prior to any decision regarding church business. At least five other clergy members have been expelled in East Angola.”

Furthermore, Sapalo alleges Quipungo lacked transparency in administration. “For the past 22 years of his episcopal ministry, we never heard in any ordinary meetings or at Annual Conference session any report on how he uses the funds received from donations, from UMC Agencies, or even from the Government; he has not been accountable.”

For now, Sapalo is unemployed and, as he puts it, “stranded.” “Unfortunately, I cannot attend any United Methodist congregation right now. I now live at my older brother’s house here in Luand, 400 kilometers [250 miles] from where I was engaged in pastoral ministry. I left my wife behind, but she is also pressured to vacate the house, though she is also a pastor. Right now, I am looking for a job as a taxi driver to support my children with school fees and other basic expenses.”

It is difficult to fathom the hardships of ministry and service to the church in Africa to begin with – difficulties in travel, diseases, lack of the best health care, and lack of adequate income. Add to that the dictatorial style of some bishops and their unjust abuse of power against some who are just trying to be a faithful voice for Wesleyan doctrine. Our brothers and sisters are making sacrifices for the cause of Christ that we cannot comprehend.

One of the key premises of the Global Methodist Church is that there must be accountability at all levels of the church, from the lay members all the way to the bishops. We need a radically different approach to power and authority in the church. Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

I can attest that the leaders of the Global Methodist Church exhibit this kind of leadership humility. The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline of the GM Church contains a straightforward accountability process for all, including bishops.  The fair processes of the church must be followed. Without them, there is an abuse of power. Some of our best leaders have suffered such abuse, both in Africa and in parts of the U.S. It is time for the abuse to end.

The current UM system generally does not allow for bishops to be held accountable. Such accountability is at the whim of other bishops. Increasingly, bishops are unwilling to “interfere” with how other bishops administer their own episcopal area. This lack of accountability and the resulting abuse of power is one of the major reasons for separation in the UM Church.

It is time for United Methodist leaders to renounce their punitive and coercive approach to leadership and allow traditionalists a gracious exit, so that we may all serve the cause of Christ without hindrance in the way we are led to do so.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News. Reporting for this article also came through Dr. David Watson, dean of United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. Photo (left) is from Bartolomeu Dias Sapalo and (right) Shutterstock.