by Steve | Jun 9, 2023 | In the News, Perspective / News
What is a Methodist?
By Thomas Lambrecht
I have argued before that a consistent Methodist identity has been blurred and obscured in The United Methodist Church. What it means to be United Methodist varies from church to church and conference to conference. A wide latitude in what we believe, even to the point of accommodating teaching that contradicts our doctrinal standards, makes it difficult to say with any confidence what United Methodists believe. Relegating the Book of Discipline to the status of “guidelines” instead of church law to be followed makes it apparent that United Methodists do not even share common practices in many cases.
The launching of the Global Methodist Church signals a desire to reclaim a consistent Methodist identity. While we may express our ethnically diverse faith in different ways based on individual personality, age, culture, or location, there is a hunger for the common thread or the strong foundation of Methodism.
John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, was faced with the need to define what the Methodist movement was all about. Within four years of his heart-warming experience of assurance on Aldersgate Street, Wesley was beset by criticism and misunderstanding (misinformation?) from the established Church of England. In response, he wrote a short pamphlet, The Character of a Methodist, to answer his critics and define his expectations for what is a Methodist. Revisiting his definition of Methodism can help us recover and clarify our Methodist identity.
Wesley argues that a Methodist is no more and no less than a Christian, one who follows “the common fundamental principles of Christianity.” Wesley saw Methodism as getting back to the basics of Christian faith and life, which had been watered down or forgotten by the Church of England. In our own day, we can do no better than follow Wesley’s example and get back to the basics of what it means to be and live as a Christian in today’s world.
Interestingly, Wesley begins his definition of Methodism by reclaiming the authority of Scripture. Methodists believe “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (quoting 2 Timothy 3:16) and that “the written Word of God [is] the only and the sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice” (emphasis original). Over the decades, the widely-held perception of the Bible has evolved from it being the Word and revelation of God, to that it contains the Word of God, to a document as inspired by God as a pastor’s eloquent Sunday sermon, to being a record of some people’s experiences with God that holds only as much authority as we are willing to give it. Wesley returns us to a high view of Scripture as our only authority for what to believe and how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, giving us sufficient guidance on matters of faith and life that cannot be overridden by any other source of wisdom or knowledge.
Methodists believe “Christ to be the Eternal Supreme God.” This emphatic statement puts the focus on Jesus Christ as the heart of Christianity. In a day when Jesus is seen by some as only a prophet or moral teacher, and as a human being in need of teaching and correcting by others, it is healthy to return to a high view of Jesus Christ as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Depart from this foundational belief and one has left Christian faith.
At the same time, while insisting on uniformity of belief on the major doctrines of Christianity (think the Nicene creed), Methodists allow freedom of thought on disputable matters. “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we ‘think and let think.’” Methodism should therefore avoid endless disputes over lesser theological points. Modern United Methodism has found itself embroiled in vehement arguments over political and social opinions that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture or the creeds. We would do well to find unity in the essentials, while giving each other liberty in non-essential matters. As recent divisions have shown, however, the most important debate may be whether a particular point is an essential tenet of the faith and life of a Christian. (For example, is the definition of marriage and sexual morality essential to being a Christian?)
Wesley made it clear that Methodists are not “attached to any peculiar mode of speaking, any quaint or uncommon set of expressions,” but prefer “the most obvious, easy, common words” to convey our meaning. In a word, everyday language for everyday people. Nor is Methodist identity based on “actions, customs, or usages” that are not commanded in Scripture (e.g., a certain type of apparel, using a certain posture of the body in worship, abstaining from marriage or from certain foods or drink). Our identity is not found in some idiosyncratic way of speaking or acting, but in our common humanity as adopted children of God.
Methodists seek balance in doctrine, rather than “laying the whole stress … on any single part” of faith. We seek to develop a fuller understanding of all aspects of theology, rather than emphasizing some parts and ignoring others. Here, the United Methodist emphasis on social witness seems a bit unbalanced. Social witness accomplishes little apart from personal conversion and transformative discipleship. Social witness does not change individual spiritual lives – only the power of God can do that. Unfortunately, United Methodism has often forsaken seeking God’s power for seeking worldly or political power. The lack of fruitfulness bears witness to the futility of that course of action.
Methodists believe salvation consists of “holiness of heart and life.” It is not just saying the sinner’s prayer but embarking on a life of growing discipleship. This holiness springs from faith alone, not from following a long list of rules. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more like him we become, and it shows in the way we live. Obedience to God’s commandments springs from faith and love, not from human effort. The greater our faith and love for God, the greater our obedience will be.
The Christian life is characterized by love, joy, and hope. We experience the love of God and return our love to God. We experience the joy of knowing our sins are forgiven and we are adopted into God’s family as his child. We belong to God through Jesus Christ. We are hopeful for the future, based on trust in God’s providence. We entrust our life and circumstances into the hands of a loving Father, knowing he will work all things together for good.
The Christian life is a life of unceasing prayer. Not that we are constantly uttering words of prayer to God, but that we are continually “lifting up the heart to God,” with or without words. It is an attitude and alignment of our spirit toward God constantly in all that we are thinking and doing.
The Christian life is a life of active love. Based on God’s love, we in turn love every person with whom we come into contact, even our enemies. “As we have opportunity [Wesley – ‘as time allows’], doing good to all people” (Gal. 6:10).
The Christian life is a lifelong process of spiritual maturing. Through this process, we are continually being purified by God’s love from every unloving desire and every worldly way of seeing or thinking.
The Christian life means being committed to doing God’s will and keeping his commandments, devoting ourselves to God’s glory, not our own, in whatever activity or business in which we engage. At the same time, it is guarding against accepting or approving something that is wrong just because it has become fashionable in the world around us and allowing the “crowd” to determine how we ought to live. This last point is actually our battle in 21st century America. Too often, the church has allowed the ways of the world to influence how we live as Christians, instead of standing apart and allowing our unique way of living to transform the world.
One of our great failures as the Church of Jesus Christ is to allow ourselves to be persuaded by the “sexual revolution” to abandon Christian morality when it comes to sex and relationships. The current controversy over LGBT practices is just the tip of the iceberg. We have allowed infidelity, adultery, pre-marital sex, pornography, and sexual abuse to take up residence in the Christian life. We have failed to winsomely teach not only the “what” of Christian morality, but the “why.” We have failed to hold our leaders accountable to live up to Christian standards. At the same time, we have failed to offer the forgiveness and healing of Jesus for all those caught in sexual sin and brokenness. Surely as Methodists we can and will do better!
Wesley’s purpose was not to distinguish Methodists from other Christians, but to distinguish Methodists from the world. He promoted what he called “primitive religion,” a return to the foundational principles of faith and life found in the Bible and the early Church. Wesley’s dream was to reform and renew the Church of England to live up to its potential as a true and living part of the worldwide Body of Christ. When that proved impossible due to the resistance of the Church of England, Methodists struck out on their own direction to fulfill God’s calling.
In the same way, traditionalist Methodists today hoped and dreamed to see United Methodism spiritually renewed and reformed to live up to Wesley’s idea of what we believe the Body of Christ should be. Now that that hope and dream have proved impossible, many are striking out on their own to form a new part of the Body of Christ – with optimistic humility – where they can live out their understanding of what it means to be a Methodist Christian.
In Wesley’s words, “By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labour to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world, from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all. … ‘Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mat. 12:50, emphasis original).
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News.
by Steve | Jun 2, 2023 | In the News, Perspective / News
Of Borrowed Lawnmowers and United Methodist Clergy Status
By Bob Phillips
A man went to his neighbor’s house and asked to borrow his lawnmower. The neighbor said no. The man politely asked why, since it was sitting unused in the garage. The neighbor replied, “Well, I have to shave.” Puzzled, the man asked, “Do you shave with your lawnmower?” The neighbor replied, “Friend, if I don’t want to loan you my lawnmower, one reason is as good as another.”
It appears the owner of the lawnmower has moved into a leadership position in the United Methodist Church. Honorably retired UM clergy who have served in supportive pastoral roles (such as pastoral visitation) in disaffiliating churches are being told bluntly to quit such positions on pain of charges filed to strip them of conference membership and ordination, i.e., the ecclesial version of the death penalty. No dialogue, no mercy, no kidding. The only pastor I have known personally who had previously been so treated was a clergyman from another conference, who faced such threats and language after court conviction for the murder of his wife.
The reason offered for this blunt force trauma approach to collegiality apparently arises from a tactic embraced by the Council of Bishops. Only when/if General Conference 2024 declares the Global Methodist Church a religio licita (legal religion, to borrow the Roman Empire’s official 1st century phrasing) can UM clergy serve in a GMC setting. Until then, the GMC remains literally “anathema,” a religio illicita, a label by which the Roman Empire justified rejection and legal pressure against the infant Christian church and now defines UM clergy who achieve traitor status. Failure to distance oneself completely from any GMC congregation risks the cancellation of decades of honorable service and the loss of vital pension benefits attached to a local conference program but limited to retirees “in good standing.” Retired and extension ministry clergy who happened to be part of or employed by a church that has disaffiliated must quit their employment – or be canceled.
For decades, retired clergy have served honorably in numerous denominations never “officially recognized” by any General Conference. No charges were filed, ever. No public uproar was kindled, ever. No one, regardless of theological leaning left or right, ever dreamed that pastoral presence in such churches in need (ranging in my personal knowledge from Mennonite to American Baptist to Presbyterian to UCC and even in one case Unitarian-Universalist) were grounds to be defrocked and booted.
Two esteemed colleagues in my conference served, in retirement, a Mennonite Church, one of whom retains a webpage title of “Pastor Emeritus.” The Mennonite church, with 1/4th the number of congregations as the GMC, shares the identical status of no recognition by any General Conference of a type now required of the GMC. No one forced those two pastors into exile. In contrast, deep satisfaction is kindled as retired clergy continue to offer ministry with compassion and conviction, fulfilling the preaching-teaching-pastoral care vision that is part of the lifelong vocational calling of ordained ministry.
The GMC has been recognized as a legitimate faith group by secular entities such as the Department of Defense, the Veteran’s Administration, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Internal Revenue Service. Faith groups have recognized and/or worked affirmatively with the GMC. These include (in part) The Association of Professional Chaplains, the National Association of Evangelicals (representing the Wesleyan Church, Free Methodists, Primitive Methodist, Salvation Army, Nazarene, and other Pentecostal cousins), the Anglican Church of North America, and the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana.
Asbury Theological Seminary graduates more UM clergy than 12 of the 13 official seminaries of the UM Church, and official UM school United Theological Seminary is joined with Asbury in official partnership with the GMC. Warm and collegial relations have been formed with numerous Christian denominations that the open hearts and open minds of professional United Methodism refuse to accept with a closed doors policy.
Rationalizations complaining about the GMC premature launching, or the lack of an official Discipline are straight from the lips of the lawnmower neighbor. If such as the Department of Defense, after rigorous and non-partisan vetting, finds the GMC to be a legitimate faith group to endorse ministry chaplains, legitimacy before unbiased eyes is beyond doubt. UM leadership is modeling its attitude toward retiree pastoral connection with the GMC as akin to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice snorting, “It is not so stated in the bond.”
Prior to the voting process for one annual conference for disaffiliation, the Dean of the Cabinet made specific comments that all churches and clergy involved are and would remain “siblings in Christ,” and all are part of “the Church universal.” Subsequent legal threats more accurately reflect the “siblings” called Abel and Cain than they do brothers and sisters in our common Lord Jesus Christ. Appeals that leadership only is being obedient to the Book of Discipline fall flat with the publicly unchallenged precedent of selective obedience to that same Discipline and General Conference actions by several members of the Council of Bishops.
What to do? Yes, retired clergy caught in this bind can follow conscience and incur charges and a church trial. It is true that a few hundred such trials would gain national attention, but that mostly would bring laughable discredit on Methodism in general among the larger secular population. One of the main reasons many traditional folks are leaving the legacy church, despite a clear “win” at General Conference 2019, is distaste for fighting. People do not pick a church or go to Annual or General Conference to fight. Major swaths of United Methodism in the United States either openly disobey church teaching without consequences or expend serious energy bending the rules. Thus, many evangelicals have just gotten tired and wish to reboot.
All sides realize the real challenges are those of demographics of age, church geographic mis-locations, trust deficits, fractured theology, inability to agree on basic definitions (such as “make disciples” or “resurrection of Jesus”) and denial of all the above – plus a host of other issues. These are pulling churches down regardless of their views on sexuality, with a nearly 70 percent decline in UM presence in the US population since 1968. One option, to paraphrase Chairman Mao, is to let a thousand church trials bloom, but to whose good? Not the witness of the church to the world.
Another option is for the retired pastor to do ministry under the radar. Since the typical district superintendent is not secret police material, a gentle non-statement of activity often suffices. To those who may thunder that retired clergy should “confess” their sin of pastoral visitation or preaching at a forbidden church, one could morally consider a sweet change of subject. Call it redemptive “misinformation.” Think of it as better to seek forgiveness than permission. If one’s conscience in Christ is informed and clear (Acts 24:16) simply do what Bishop Melvin Talbert did in Cal-Nevada around 1998 when he defended dismissing complaints against clergy who conducted “Holy Unions” in violation of official church teaching. View the law through the lens of a clear conscience. Don’t follow his subsequent actions of flipping into a “Champion of Discipline strict obedience” when he forced 13 evangelical pastors and over 4,000 conference members out of the denomination when some suggested putting part of their apportionments into escrow as a protest of their conscience.
In the long view one finds hope. The Mission Society for United Methodists formed in the early 1980s as an evangelical alternative to the Board of Global Ministries with its largely (but not exclusively) left-of-center approach in theology and practice. Bishops circled the wagons and (with a few exceptions) refused to appoint any UM clergy to serve as missionaries under the Mission Society flag. Appointment as chaplain to “Snap-On Tools” or to totally secular teaching positions in public settings remained fine, but not service as a missionary of Christ under a foreign Wesleyan banner. Today the current expression of the Mission Society, called TMS Global, has 170 full-time missionaries in the field, compared to 240 with the Board of Global Ministries, with hostilities and public spats laid aside in the common Kingdom interest. That is 410 Wesleyan witnesses, not a zero-sum grudge match. People (on all sides) can “get over it,” and must.
If, as I believe, God is kindling a Methodist renewal moment, the hissing and sniping one sees in numerous settings will give way to a larger win-win vision – and right as well as left both need moments of confession. Imagine a UM General Conference with zero attention given to fighting over sexuality. Imagine center-left and center-right expressions of Wesleyan Christianity, each reaching wide segments of US and global society that the other group cannot effectively reach. Imagine a rebooted UM church and a reinvented GMC both lean and focused on what matters most. Most of all, imagine a respectful collaboration in numerous areas for gospel purposes. Imagine an approach to one another where gospel seed for the harvest, not salt on the wound, is sown in the fields of our siblings in Christ. Just imagine – and let the Spirit make it so.
Bob Phillips is Chair of the WCA, Illinois Great Rivers Conference, and Captain, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy (retired). He has degrees from University of Illinois, Asbury and Princeton Seminaries, and the University of St. Andrews. Phillips is also a graduate of the Senior Executive Seminar on Morality, Ethics and Public Policy at the Brookings Institution. See Bob’s work on Methodist Mitosis in Methodist Review. This article was originally published on peopleneedjesus.net and is republished by permission.
by Steve | Jun 1, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
Dust on the Emmaus Road
By B.J. Funk
Two followers of Jesus are walking from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, engrossed in conversation (Luke 24). Jesus has been resurrected just this morning. He walks up behind them and initiates the conversation. “What are you discussing?”
Can you see the faces of the two? They stop walking and stand still. They are incredulous, apparently resenting the stranger’s curious question when surely everyone should know! Scripture describes them as being downcast.
“Are you the only person who doesn’t know about the things that have happened?” Though looking straight at him, they do not recognize him. Jesus continues, “What things?”
I can hear the exasperation in the voice of the one named Cleopas. “The things about Jesus of Nazareth! He was a prophet mighty in deed and word. Our chief priests turned Him over to be crucified.” And then this huge unexpected reason comes forth, the reason for their sadness. “And we thought he would redeem Israel. We had hoped he was the one.”
Seriously? This is your big take away? This is why you are upset? Even after the events of this morning, you don’t understand? You two are disappointed because he didn’t rid Israel of Rome’s oppression? You are stuck inside the smaller story.
Cleopas continues. “Today is the third day. Some women saw a vision of angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our friends went to the tomb this morning and found it was just as the women had said. But they did not see Jesus.”
I have two questions. Why does Cleopas refer to Jesus as a prophet? Has he not caught on to this unfathomable mystery? What about Savior, Redeemer, Lord, or the Promised one?
And then there’s this total misinterpretation of what the women encountered. A vision of angels? No. Not a vision. There were angels. Actual angels. Luke 24: 4 reads, “…suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.”
As with any huge newsworthy item, facts become compromised as each hour of the day moves on. It was time for Jesus to kick up some dust on the Emmaus Road and bring these two into the bigger story. He begins by calling them “foolish.” Then he adds, “You don’t believe the prophets? Don’t you realize that Messiah had to go through suffering in order to go into glory? In fact, his suffering was necessary.” They get quiet and listen.
As they continued walking, Jesus interprets every Scripture that refers to him. They don’t ask questions. They don’t interrupt. They experience only one thing. They burn inside with the living presence of Jesus. Darkness descends. “Stay with us,” they ask. So, he does. Time to eat. He takes bread, breaks it, blesses the bread and then hands the bread to the two men. A spectacular moment occurs! Their eyes open. They recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. And just like that, he disappears.
This news is too good to keep to themselves. They start running the seven mile trip back to Jerusalem. There, they join other followers who are exclaiming with great joy. “The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Peter!” Then the two told how their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread.
I stand in the margins of this Scripture, my heart pierced by the dynamic moment when Jesus is recognized. I am like these two men. Sometimes, while looking straight at Jesus, I don’t recognize him. Sometimes I miss the big story he is bringing me because I sit inside of the little one. Often, I am disappointed because he didn’t answer my hopes and dreams the way I wanted.
I walk the Emmaus Road every Sunday when I hear a sermon, and I allow doubt to override truth; when my heart attitude is as the dirt under my feet, tightly compressed with no room to expand; when my sad countenance carries with it the overriding possibility of losing a beautiful, spectacular moment with the living Christ.
Lord, forgive. Remove my safe walk to Emmaus. Kick up some dust on my Emmaus Road. Amen.
B.J. Funk is Good News’ long-time devotional columnist and author of It’s A Good Day for Grace, available on Amazon.
by Steve | Jun 1, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
The Hope of Reconciliation
TMS Global Interview featuring Bishop Eduard Khegay
February 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Bishop Eduard Khegay is the resident bishop of the Eurasia Episcopal Area in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference of The United Methodist Church. He lives in Moscow and serves churches in several countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. Until last spring, his area also covered Ukraine. Ukraine is now with the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal region.
Bishop Khegay recently spoke with TMS Global about what it’s been like to serve the Body of Christ in a time of deep division.
What has it been like to serve the Body of Christ in these places that are currently at war with each other?
This war is probably the worst nightmare of my life. People are dying in Ukraine. I’m a Russian citizen and I’m ashamed of this war, but most Russian citizens do support the Russian operation. It’s a complex situation. Even people in my churches in Russia are divided. The majority support the operation and some people don’t.
Some churches have a hard time staying together and reconciling. People just don’t talk to each other about this topic. It is painful. And it is painful to watch the relationship between Russian and Ukrainian Christians on social media, the way they keep blaming each other and attacking each other instead of helping each other. I’ve never seen that before.
How can Christians model unity in the Church while living in a world with conflict?
I read the gospel and see teachings of Jesus about humility and solidarity and love and forgiveness. This is the time when we can put those teachings into practice in a very real way. If I don’t have humility, I think I’m right and everybody else is wrong. But if I practice humility, then we can sit at the table and learn from each other.
As a result of the war, churches in Russia and Ukraine have become more nationalistic.
And I don’t believe in the national church. I believe in a Christian Church, universal. That’s in the Apostles’ Creed. But it feels painful to practice being a unified Church now. Sooner or later, we need to send our friends and sisters and brothers to visit each other and try to build bridges. It’s going to be painful. But the Body of Christ must work together.
I feel very blessed to be connected to the worldwide Church. I receive a lot of messages and have a lot of conversations with people around the world who pray for us and show their compassion in other ways. That’s encouraging for us as Christians in Russia and I’m sure in Ukraine. People do want to send offerings, raise funds, and do works of mercy and help people with food or clothes and whatever needs they have. There are refugees from Ukraine and Russia in many different countries now. They are all in need. I’m glad we have churches in those places where people can find love and support and encouragement.
Why is it important to listen to those with different perspectives?
If you look at the media now, there is propaganda everywhere. The different sides show only the negative stuff about each other. And I think that’s the danger of the modern world and social media and mass media. If you live in Russia and watch TV for a year, you will hate everybody in the West. And I think if you live in America and watch TV, you will hate everybody in Russia.
That’s a very sad situation. I think that’s why we as Christians need to keep in touch with each other and tell each other our stories. That way, we will understand that it’s not all just black and white. It’s a very mixed bag of nuances and geopolitics. And we are, first of all, Christians and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And I think in Christ we have more of a chance to build a foundation and common ground. If we can do that, I think there is much more hope for the world. If Christians can talk with each other with attitudes of humility, solidarity, love, and forgiveness there is a chance that we can practice unity.
What spiritual practices have become more important to you during this time?
The common prayer has been important for me. We pray individually, but praying together has been important. I think during this year especially, there were more online meetings with pastors and lay leaders praying and fasting together. We encourage people to practice fasting. In the Bible, there are many situations when the people of God were stuck, or in a difficult situation, and they were fasting and praying and crying out to God to help. It’s encouraging to not just fast by yourself, but to do it together with sisters and brothers in your country or in your area. That’s Christian solidarity, which is very important.
What are you hopeful for?
I keep preaching on hope, even though I myself need more hope. But what gives me hope is that I try to imagine the future. I imagine myself advocating for, and maybe facilitating, peace dialogs between Ukrainian and Russian people, between Russian and Russian people, between Russian and American people, where we can share our stories and our pains. These talks can allow us to open up and disassemble our stereotypes. We can see each other’s blind spots and forgive each other at the foot of the cross of Christ. We can help each other to accept one another for who we are. I think that work is needed.
Even today in my churches in Russia, some people say, “Bishop, let’s not touch this topic of war. No more about the conflict with Ukraine.” And I say, “No, we need to talk about it, and we need to reconcile with each other, first in our churches.”
If we as Christians cannot do that, then what’s the hope for the world? So my hope is to facilitate those peaceful dialogs. It would be risky and painful. But my hope is that they could bring healing and reconciliation and clarity about where we stand and what we believe in. In other words, dialogs like these could also help us to think more intentionally about what it means to be a Christian today. That’s my hope. I’m also hoping I can be a good shepherd for my people.
We are people of hope and faith. We go by faith. We may not see, but we believe.
I also have hopes that we would devote ourselves to works of mercy. We have refugees in Europe from Ukraine. We have refugees from Ukraine in Russia. And they need help. Instead of just staying in a state of depression and hopelessness, I think it’s important for us to direct our energy and attention to others who are in need. We suffer maybe spiritually and morally, but physically we don’t have any problems living in Russia now, so we must help those in need. And I think when we serve others Christ transforms our hearts and lives.
What does a unified Church in a divided world look like to you?
It’s like a big, extended family. I have 20 cousins in Kazakhstan, and we gather together at certain family events. And like in big relative circles, there are always one or two who you are not comfortable staying with. But the important thing is to keep the conversation going. We may not resolve all the issues between us. In a family, we realize this person may or may not change. We don’t know. The same is true in the Church.
But as Christians we are called to love, and love can unify us. We may strongly disagree theologically. We may be separating structurally. We may be on different sides politically. But can we all have Christian love? I think that’s how the Bible says others will know that we are Christians.
I think 2022 was probably the most challenging year, at least in my life, where the practice of Christian love was tested. When the world sees how we treat each other on social media, do they see love or not? Where Russian and Ukrainians and Americans meet together, do other people see Christian love or not? I think that’s the basis of our unity. Again, It’s like a family. We may not agree on all points. But if we have love, we can continue to stay together and grow together.
Bishop Khegay is on the board of directors for TMS Global.
by Steve | May 30, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
First Wave of GMC Conferences Launched
By Chassity Neckers
Bishop Mark Webb of the newly-formed Global Methodist Church recently wrote about being in an airport and seeing a book entitled The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing. He didn’t buy the book (so it’s not a recommendation), but he did take note of a thesis summary:
“Moments of breakthrough are not where life’s greatest transformation happens; the stuff that God uses to shape us often lies in the in-between. It is the bus stops and layovers and DMV lines and moments of unintentional pause that force us to become better people. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of epiphany. There are. It’s just that most of us find ourselves living somewhere in the in-between,” the summary stated. “Learning to live in this tension, to be content in these moments of waiting, may be our greatest struggle – and our greatest opportunity to grow.”
In what may prove to be a lengthy and drawn-out process for some United Methodist congregations in some annual conferences, this is an “in-between” season of time. Congregations and clergy have been working through the discernment process regarding disaffiliating from the denomination.
More than 2,000 local churches have either begun or completed the process of disaffiliation. Of that number, more than three-quarters of those congregations have aligned with the Global Methodist Church. Hundreds more are in the process.
Bishop Webb points out that the Bible has a lot to say about living in the “in-between.” Found in its pages are the stories of “God’s people experiencing seasons of wandering, waiting, and wondering. Sometimes these in-between times led to confusion, fear, wallowing in self-pity, and murmuring against God, while other times they created a spirit of expectation and a season of preparation,” he wrote. “No matter the response, every in-between time led to a new movement of God in the lives of those willing to surrender in faith and follow.” Counted within the “new movement of God” are those local congregations that have moved from the in-between.
Convening Conferences Launched. The first wave of convening conferences of the fledgling Global Methodist Church took place in three locations in Texas in January and February. They paved the way for many others to follow them. Provisional annual conferences are being created during this transitional period before the new denomination’s convening General Conference to organize its work globally.
“As Global Methodists, it is our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, the Transitional Connectional Coordinating Officer of the Global Methodist Church. “Our annual conferences are designed to be an extension of that mission. In the GM Church, the real work of the annual conference begins when we come together for worship and prayer – crying out for revival and seeking God’s healing in our lives and commitment to our shared ministry.”
According to the GM Church’s Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline, these convening conferences are created “for the purposes of coordinating and conducting the mission of the Church around the world.” Those purposes include the ordination of clergy and discerning God’s will together through conversation and the casting of votes that help unite the connection.
“Personal faith formation, shaped in accountable disciple groups, is essential to authentic connection,” observed Bishop Scott Jones of the Global Methodist Church. “It is in moments of prayer, worship, and Bible study where the church is strengthened for its outward mission. When hundreds of Global Methodists joined together in January and early February these were the core convictions of their gatherings.”
The Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference’s first gathering was held in Waco, Texas. Conference leaders devoted the majority of the time at the two-day gathering to preaching, teaching, and prayer. They dedicated only one hour to approve budgets and various annual conference positions.
The historic conference celebrated the 90 congregations located in its region and ordained 28 men and women for service in the church. “We had such high expectations – and God exceeded everything we had thought could possibly happen,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, leader of the Mid-Texas Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. “To God be all glory for the great things he has done and he is doing.”
The West Plains Provisional Annual Conference held its convening conference in Lubbock, Texas. “We love Jesus, we love his church, and we believe that God isn’t done with the people called Methodist and that the best years of the Christian movement begun by the Wesley [brothers] are still, in fact, ahead of us,” the Rev. Dr. Jessica LaGrone told the assembly. LaGrone is Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and a member of the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council.
The East Texas Provisional Annual Conference was held in College Station, Texas. The new provisional annual conference ordained 90 clergypersons and welcomed 254 Global Methodist congregations in its region. Like the other convening conferences, the East Texas Annual Conference held a limited business session, providing additional time throughout the two-day gathering for worship, prayer, and connection.
The East Texas Provisional Annual Conference also made space for learning with a variety of workshops. The workshops included sessions on evangelism, small group discipleship, the new GM Church catechism, social witness, and worship.
While the Global Methodist Church is deeply rooted in the history of Methodism, the provisional annual conferences have embraced the Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly. GMC leaders pledged that denominational structures support congregations as they reach the world for Jesus.
From the testimony of those who participated, the convening of GM Church provisional annual conferences was a joyous and historical moment for the fledgling denomination. For the first time, people in these areas gathered to celebrate and begin a journey together as Global Methodists. The three Texas provisional annual conferences join two others in the United States – North Carolina and South Georgia – and four provisional bodies outside the United States in Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Slovakia.
Chassity Neckers is a freelance writer who lives in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. She is also a member of the Global Methodist Church’s Indiana Transitional Conference Advisory Team.
Prayers offered over the leaders of the new church start congregations in Eastern Texas Conference of the Global Methodist Church. Its Convening Conference was held at Christ Church in College Station, Texas. Photo courtesy of Camile Fenner and the Global Methodist Church.
by Steve | May 30, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
Looking Back, Moving Forward
By K. Lynn Lewis
Revival. Awakening. Outpouring. Manifestation of God’s presence. Gentleness. Glory. Peace.
There are many descriptors spawned from the chapel service that began on February 8, 2023, in Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Thousands have shared their testimonies and opinions on media platforms far and wide.
Although these recent events are new, others have similarly met the Almighty in the past. How did they respond?
In the Bible. When God told Noah to “Build,” Noah did everything just as God commanded. Through his faithful actions, a remnant survived and the earth itself was blessed.
When God told Abram to “Go,” the seventy-five-year-old set out with his family on a new adventure to a new place that resulted in new names, new opportunities, and new challenges. Following that invitational encounter, Abram was never the same, and neither was the world.
When God appeared to Moses in bushy flames of fire, the 80-year-old first responded with questions, feeble faith, and less than wholehearted obedience. But, as their relationship developed and their shared experiences multiplied, Moses grew in faith, boldness, and holiness and led a movement that helped save a people, shape a culture, and build a nation.
When David experienced the unexpected anointing of the Good Shepherd through the obedient hand of a faithful prophet, he submitted himself to public service, to training (even under an oppressive mentor), and to active engagement in strategic military, political, and religious leadership in association with other key leaders. Though flawed, the godly spirit of his discipleship shaped the template of a kingdom for centuries, and that kingdom helped shape the world as we know it.
When the eventual Apostles first met Jesus Christ, they were ordinary men. But their encounters with the Messiah changed all but one of them into world changers whose lives planted seeds of faith and hope that continue to produce the Gospel harvest today.
When Saul met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he was blindly headed in the wrong direction for the wrong reason and with evil intent. He responded by repenting, believing, and dedicating himself to learning and living a life of wholehearted service to the Lord and others. His glorious encounter redirected his life toward traveling in the right direction with right reasons and godly intent. His passionate writings intended for training believers in doctrine, faith, holiness, and righteousness continue to shape individuals and movements of Christian faith throughout the Church today.
In Wesleyan History. On May 24, 1738, John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. Known as his Aldersgate experience, he felt he did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation, and an assurance was given him that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death.
Prior to that pivotal and life-changing event, however, Wesley had embarked on an unsuccessful religious venture and dating disaster in the pioneering coastal colony of Savannah, Georgia. Threatened with imprisonment and plagued by mounting legal proceedings against him, Wesley wrote of his hasty nighttime escape, “I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving this place: and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o’clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet and left Georgia, after having preached the gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months.”
Among his reflections about his own lack of faith at the time, he lamented, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me?”
For anyone familiar with disappointment, failure, and wondering, two incidents during Wesley’s unfortunate foray offer potential insight.
Following his 16-week voyage from England to America in 1736, Wesley met a German pastor, Mr. Spangenberg, and solicited his opinion regarding Wesley’s own behavior.
“My brother,” Mr. Spangenberg responded, “I must first ask you one of two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”
Surprised, Wesley admitted he did not know what to answer. Spangenberg observed his response and further inquired, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”
Wesley answered, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”
“True,” Spangenberg replied, “But do you know he has saved you?”
Wesley answered, “I hope he has died to save me,” to which
Spangenberg added, “Do you know yourself?”
Wesley answered, “I do,” but admitted privately that he feared they were vain words.
Now, as then, it is probable that seekers will make inquiries of believers, especially those who drink from the wells of revival. Probing questions can often serve as productive prompts in people’s journeys of faith. Spangenberg – and others with whom Wesley conversed during his journey – was most likely nowhere near Aldersgate Street a little over two years later when Wesley finally came to faith. But the seeds of inquiry, reflection, and faith he planted in Wesley grew, matured, and eventually produced an abundant harvest that shaped and continues to shape people and nations worldwide.
Jesus often answered questions by asking deeper questions. Paul encouraged making the most of every opportunity with conversations “full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6). Peter encouraged vigilance to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).
Found in his journal, Wesley had enlightening conversations with a ninety-plus-year-old Indian named Tomo Chachi (or Tomo-chi-chi), who had previously traveled to England with the Savannah’s founder, James Oglethorpe. On February 14, 1736 (a week after Wesley met Spangenberg), the old chief told Wesley through an interpreter, “I am glad you are come. When I was in England, I desired that some would speak the great word to me and my nation then desired to hear it; but now we are all in confusion. Yet, I am glad you are come. I will go up and speak to the wise men of our nation; and I hope they will hear. But we would not be made Christians as the Spaniards make Christians: we would be taught, before we are baptized.”
Later, when Mr. Wesley urged Tomo-chi-chi to act on becoming a Christian, the observational chief replied scornfully, “Why these are Christians at Savannah! Those are Christians at Frederica! Christians drunk! Christians beat men! Christians tell lies! Me no Christian” (found in Charles Colcock Jones’ Historical Sketch of Tomo-chi-chi, 1868).
Herein we see that even “heathens” understand the need for teaching, as well as expect godly examples of that which is taught. We recall the startling comment centuries later made by Mahatima Gandhi to missionaries, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
May we drink deeply from the well of experience, dive deeply into studying God’s Word, and live lives that evidence conversion and sanctification so that no one can say of us, “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).
Recent revival history. The aftermath of the famous 1970s Asbury Revival offers additional insights. My wife and I had the opportunity to live and work at Asbury College while I attended Asbury Seminary for three years. She served as Resident Director for the 250 female students of Glide-Crawford dormitory, located at the entrance to the drive that passes in front of Hughes Auditorium. We will never forget our first night on campus when students arriving for the fall 1986 semester gathered spontaneously in our dormitory’s huge parlor for an informal time of worship and prayer. We were blown away by the godly spirit of beauty, harmony, holiness, and joy abundantly evident among our students that evening. And we enjoyed similar experiences at the college and seminary over multiple years in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the staff, faculty, students, alumni, and families that we met who were associated with one or both Asbury institutions were influenced by the 1970s revival and others, and their lives reflected the glory of God over the following decades and continue today worldwide.
I later served as pastor of a church that hosted a group of Asbury students back in the early 1970s. My congregants shared with me the powerful impact of their visit, including numerous members of their church (mostly younger adults and older teenagers) who believed in Jesus and accepted him as their Lord and Savior. Eventually, some in the congregation started a new church, a dynamic K-12 Christian school, and various other non-profit ministries. In my experience, the fruit of the 1970s Asbury revival in that town included the revitalization, creation, and growth of multiple ministries and hundreds of individuals living admirable lives of strong faith in their circles of business, education, healthcare, ministry, politics, and more.
My own journey, influenced and nurtured by the same spirit of the Lord abundant at Asbury, has included an amazing array of opportunities and adventures around the world. Like many Christians, I have sought to live out my faith in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit in my careers and avocations, the latest including helping start and serve as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas.
Recent revival history indicates that the fruit of what has taken place at Asbury will seed, grow, and produce abundant harvest over decades and probably centuries. At the same time, Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) will characterize this one as it has others throughout history. In the meantime, we rejoice that God is exalted among the nations.
Responding to revival. In response to a move of God, our local congregations need to be mindful to do five things.
1. Create opportunities for people to worship, including space and time to be still, so that more will come to know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Through our preaching and teaching we can nurture faith and belief in the name of God’s one and only Son so that people will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
2. Offer Christ. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:19-23).
3. Study God’s word. “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
4. Teach about holiness. “As obedient children do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:14-15).
5. Love wholeheartedly. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
When the human heart is touched by revival, we are wise to follow the teachings of the Apostle Paul. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).
K. Lynn Lewis is an ordained clergy member of the Global Methodist Church and serves under appointment as president of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas. Dr. Lewis may be reached at Lynn.Lewis@TheBibleSeminary.edu.
Thousands showed up in Wilmore, Kentucky, to be part of the revival in February. Photo by Suzanne Nicholson.