Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

By Angela Pleasants

I grew up in a small rural church in Guilford County. Worship was a mixture of what we would call Methocostal. It was a blend of Methodist with a bit of flavor of Pentecostal thrown in for good measure. The music was lively with hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and a holy dance we called “shouting.” 

The proclamation of the word was an art form. If you will permit me to use my classical music terms, it started with pianissimo to a mezzo forte to forte. The preacher would crescendo to that fever pitch where the dance between the congregation and pastor began. 

I am using the musical terms because this was a combination art form between dancing and music. The pastor would give a preaching style called “whooping” in the black church tradition. The history of whooping began with enslaved Africans who brought the tradition to the Americas, and free black pastors picked up the tradition. It was a way of informing the heart and mind. 

While the pastor was at the height of his (we only had male pastors during this time) whoop, the congregation would respond in cadence. I recall one of the familiar responses was, “Say so, pastor,” or “You better say so.” 

When I was young, I did not know what my elders meant when they said, “Say so.” There was even a prayer with the words sung, “Let the redeemed of the Lord, say so.” It became an amen in our church tradition. 

When I was older, I understood what my elders meant when they said, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” These saints came through the tribulation of segregation, discrimination, hatred, and unrest. They fought long and hard and saw victories along the way. They related their plight to the Israelite’s journey from the bondage of Egypt to the Promised Land. What were they saying? They were saying how God is gracious and merciful, powerful and mighty. They were giving their thanksgiving and praise to the God who keeps covenant relationship. 

I recall the lyrics to one song of deliverance: 

“How I got over?/ How I got over?/ My soul looked back and wondered/ How I got over?/ Just as soon as I see Jesus./ The man who made me free./ It was the man who bled and suffered./ You know he died for you and me./ I wanna thank him because he brought me./ I want to thank him because he taught me./ I wanna thank him because he kept me./ I gonna thank him because he never left me./ I wanna sing hallelujah./ I might shout this evening trouble over./ I gonna thank Jesus for all he’s done for me.”

So, when these saints (my parents included) said, “let the redeemed of the Lord say so,” they were not only talking about their victory from the bondage of oppression, depression, suppression as a black ethnicity but also from the bondage of sin and death. Salvation in Jesus alone has “brought them from a mighty long way” (saying the words of the elder saints in my home church).

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalms 107:1-9). 

If you read this entire Psalm, it reads like the cadence of the “whooping” style of black preaching. The people are in peril, and they cry out to God, and God answers. 

1. People cry who are lost and perishing – God rescues. 

2. People are imprisoned – God sets them free.

3. People are mortally ill and in peril at sea – God hears and responds.

They are lost and found, captive and redeemed, sick and healed. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

And what is the response of those redeemed? Their response is thanksgiving and praise. You must read the entire Psalm to capture the full richness that no matter the extreme calamity, God is able to break through to help, especially those who cry out to him.

In Psalm 107, we see the plight of those who are lost, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. It’s thought the Psalmist was referring to the celebration of the end of exile. These were the Israelites in exile, but it also is typical of any one of us who has not found the satisfaction that comes from knowing God.

What caused Israel to be in exile? God chose Israel not because they were more numerous than any other people. God chose them because he loved them and kept his oath to their ancestors. God brought them out with a mighty hand and redeemed them from the house of slavery when they were in Egypt. 

God is good and faithful and maintains his covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments. 

So, what happened to Israel? How did they end up in exile? Israel forgot her first love. God referred to Israel as his vineyard. In Isaiah 5, he called them his “beloved vineyard on a fruitful hill.” 

God planted Israel as a choice vine and expected it to bear good grapes. But something happened. Instead of good grapes, it brought forth wild grapes. Instead of guarding their hearts with the words of the Lord, they permitted:

1. Greed

2. Self-indulgence. Instead of paying attention to God and his work, they were giving full attention to material things that were passing away. 

3. Cynicism and testing God.

4. Moral perversion. They declared what is right, wrong and what is wrong right. They made up their own morality.

Israel was supposed to demonstrate to the world what a covenant relationship with God looked like, but they did not produce ripe fruit. Overall, the sin was their failure to admit there is someone outside of themselves who has the right to establish the parameters of our existence.

And so, they ended up in a foreign land, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” By the rivers of Babylon, Israel hung up their harps, sat down, and cried. Their cry became a lament to the God they once turned from, and he heard their cry.

Likewise, today, God also hears our cries. My cry may be different from yours, but it is a cry nevertheless, and God hears our cries. Some of us are crying over what we once knew of a denomination, but God hears our cry. Some of us are grieving over a significant loss; God hears our cry. What is your lament today? Take heart because God hears our cry. Our lament has become a form of intercession, and God hears. 

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

“For thus say the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for your harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:10-11). 

God has a plan for us. God has a plan for the Global Methodist Church. He is planting us as a choice vine, but we cannot forget our first love. Let us not become so consumed in leaving a current denomination to start a new denomination without first coming before God in complete repentance and consecrating ourselves for what lies before us. 

Whenever the Israelites were preparing to be led out by God, they went through a period of consecration. Consecration is separating ourselves from what is impure and unclean to prepare ourselves to deepen our relationship with God. After their period of consecration, God said he would do amazing things before them. God was gracious to them, and he will be toward us. 

God’s mercy has no beginning and no end. It endures forever. Our sin required his good mercy, and therefore, we praise him from the depth of our being. 

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so. 

When we think of deliverance, sometimes our mind first goes to deliverance from illness, deliverance from suffering, or deliverance from oppression in society. But the greatest deliverance of all happened for us on Calvary. 

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Jesus said:

1. “I am the way” – meaning he is the access to the Father’s presence in heaven.

2. “I am truth” – meaning the authoritative representative revealer of God. He discloses God exhaustively.

3. “I am the life” – meaning he is the mediator, creating the avenue to God. 

We were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

We were in sinfulness and bondage, but the price paid was the atoning death of Jesus Christ, who delivered us from sin and death. From our former life, believers have been redeemed, purchased with a price, the blood of Jesus. And now that we are saved, delivered and restored in our relationship with God, we are grateful people, living a life of thanksgiving to God for our new family and now living in awe and wonder and faithfulness before him. We have not just survived. We have thrived and conquered. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who first loved us and continues to shower us with His love.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.

Angela Pleasants is Vice President for Clergy and Church Relations for the Wesleyan Covenant Association. She is a clergywoman in the Global Methodist Church, having served as an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference where she served as a district superintendent, chairwoman of the conference’s board of elders, and was twice elected as a delegate to General Conference. This article is adapted from her address to the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Gathering in Indianapolis in May. 

Redefining Glory

Redefining Glory

By Rob Renfroe 

In 1875 a remarkable woman was born. Her name was Mary Bethune. Both her parents had been slaves. At the age of 5 she began working in the fields. But she took an interest in her own education. And she found a way to attended a small, one room, segregated school in South Carolina. 

From there she went to study at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute. That was a big step, huge, almost unheard of for a young black woman at that time. After graduating, she returned to the south and began to teach. But she didn’t stop there. She had a dream. She felt called to start a college for black students. She wanted young African Americans in the south to get a quality education and to step into extraordinary lives.

She didn’t let the cost stop her. She didn’t let what others said stop her. She didn’t let the fact that she was young or black or a woman stop her. She had a vision. And she discovered that the spirit within her was not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power.

In 1904 in Daytona Beach, Florida, at the age of 29, Mary Bethune founded what would become Bethune-Cookman University. For twenty years as a college president, Mary Bethune made the most of her remarkable ability to inspire young people to dream their own dreams, overcome their own obstacles, and win their own battles. 

At the graduation exercises each year she would charge her students: “Faith ought not be a puny thing. If you believe, have faith like a giant. And may God grant you not peace, but glory.” 

I love that last line. It was Bethune’s way of saying that the battles that matter and the causes that are worthy of our lives are rarely accomplished without difficulty, courage and sacrifice. She was telling her students: You can live a comfortable life or you can live a great life. You can live an easy life or you can live a glorious life. Now, which do you think you were created for? Peace or glory?

And I will ask you the same question: What do you think God created you for? Peace and comfort? Or greatness and glory? Our theme at this conference is living as more than conquerors. Following Jesus in such a way that what we do is triumphant and victorious, great and glorious. What does that mean? To live that way? Fortunately, that’s not hard to determine because Jesus told us what that looks like. 

Shortly before his death Jesus told his disciples. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12).

Jesus says: The hour has come for me to be glorified. And immediately he begins to talk about what? Not his power. Not his miracles. Not even his resurrection. He talks about his death.

You want to see glory? You want to see triumph? You want to see what it looks like to conquer in the Kingdom of God? It looks like a man hanging on a cross. It looks like a man with his back scourged and torn apart. It looks like a man giving his life for others. It looks like a man who would rather die than be unfaithful to his Father. It looks like a man enduring the most shameful and painful death the Roman Empire can devise so the unworthy and the undeserving can know they are loved, have their sins forgiven, and be born again to a new and transformed life.

You want to see glory? That’s what it looks like. You want to be victorious, you desire to be more than conquerors, that’s what’s required. Paying a price, giving your life so others may be saved.

Friends, we had hoped to be at a different place. We had hoped that the Protocol would be passed. We had hoped that a fair and just separation would be ratified. We had hoped that those in power who have long lectured us about having a heart of peace would not now be demanding a piece of flesh so we can step into the future God has called us to. 

But that’s not how we overcome. That’s not how we conquer and become victorious. We conquer by paying a price to be faithful. We overcome when we stop worrying about our churches and stay committed to serving a lost world with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. We are glorious when we follow our Lord to a cross and we are willing to bleed for those who need the hope that is found only in Jesus.

The Roman Empire worshipped power and despised weakness. Human life was cheap. Children born deformed or infirmed or even simply female could be discarded in Roman society, left exposed to the elements to die of starvation or mauled and eaten by wild beasts, and there was no shame for the parents who did so. Gladiators fought to the death, the crowds clamoring for more blood and savagery. Slavery was commonplace. The early Christians stepped into this culture and proclaimed a crucified Messiah, who had died in weakness and shame on a Roman cross. They boldly declared Jesus Christ, not Caesar, was Lord. And for the next two and a half centuries they were persecuted, ridiculed, and despised. 

And yet, three centuries after it began as a Jewish sect in faraway Palestine, the Roman Emperor Constantine announced his conversion. And before the year 400, Christianity had become the official religion of the Empire, embraced, some estimates state, by nearly half of its inhabitants.

How had a despised sect, with no political power, that appealed at first primarily to the poor and the uneducated, born far from the center of power and culture, that was persecuted severely, and that worshipped a crucified Messiah so change the hearts and minds and eventually the culture of people who were as cynical, hedonistic, crass and crude as the people of our culture?

Simply put, they lived the way Jesus lived, they loved the way Jesus loved, they served the way Jesus served. And when persecuted, they died the way Jesus died, praying for the forgiveness and the salvation of those who had ordered their deaths.

And over time the Romans came to see that the way of life of the early Christians wasn’t just different, it was better – and they saw that it could make them better. They came to believe that the most outlandish thing was true – God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, offering life to all who would repent and believe. 

How did the early Christians love and serve? The deformed and unwanted babies, left to die; female babies unwanted and discarded because of their gender so much so that there were 50 percent more boys than girls in Roman families, Christians would go into the woods and find those abandoned children, take them into their homes and raise them as their own.

In times of plague, the Romans commonly abandoned their relatives at the first sign of illness, even pushing them into the streets before they died, in hopes of escaping the disease themselves. Not so the Christians, who not only cared for their own, but also took in unbelieving neighbors and strangers, caring for them, even though many early believers in the process contracted the disease and died themselves.

They provided food and assistance to the poor regardless of their faith, and to both sexes, though Roman welfare was given only to males. They were faithful in their marriages and kind to their children. And in the midst of the decadence and the cynicism and the hedonism of Rome, and the emptiness and the loneliness it leaves within the human heart, the Christian way, the way of compassion and purity and service looked like life – real life, a superior kind of life.

And the glory of Rome paled in comparison to the glory of a man hanging on a cross and those who followed him. What was once despised became treasured. And the One crucified in weakness and shame became adored as Lord of all, God in the flesh. And a culture was changed. That’s how the early Christians became and lived as more than conquerors.

I’m convinced the only way we will impact our culture significantly is to believe that when people see a better way of life, when people see Christians whose lives are about love and compassion and service, people will be willing to listen to us. When the one thing that a secular society knows about Christians is not that we are judgmental, or angry, or condemning or arrogant and self-righteous, or that we vote a certain way, but that we are a community of compassion, and that we care more and love more and serve more and sacrifice more than anyone else on the planet, people will come to believe in the one we proclaim, and just maybe then we will have done something glorious with our lives.

I am grateful that I serve on the Wesleyan Covenant Association council. Many of those on the council I have known for years. Others that I didn’t know I have heard their hearts and listened to their visions. What I have seen and what I have heard in them is what I know lives in you. A desire for all to be saved. A yearning to be part of a Spirit-led servant community that is willing to pour its life out for the salvation of the lost and the spread of scriptural holiness. An openness to all people. And a willingness to do hard things,   pay a high price and make a great sacrifice if need be so people can see who Jesus is and come into the life that he has for them. A longing to be part of a movement that God will use to change our world the way he used the early Christians to change theirs. 

That’s our purpose. That’s who we are. That’s how we conquer. And that is our future. Many of you have a rough road ahead, making your way into the Global Methodist Church. For many of you, it will be unfair and costly. 

But never forget, you can have an easy life or you can have a great life. You can have a comfortable life or you can have a glorious life. And you, my friend, were created not for peace but for the glory of God.

Rob Renfroe is the president and publisher of Good News. He has been the preaching pastor at The Woodlands Methodist Church for over 25 years where he has led Quest Men’s Fellowship. He is the author of several books, most recently, Unfailing: Standing Strong on God’s Promises in the Uncertainties of Life. This article is adapted from his address to the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Gathering in Indianapolis in May

Moving Forward

Moving Forward

By Keith Boyette 

In his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider makes the case that Christians dramatically impacted the Roman Empire through their persistent, faithful living out of the lifestyle God calls them to in Jesus Christ. The world was not transformed by their persuasive words, their slick productions, or their carefully constructed evangelistic campaigns. Rather, they lived authentic, transparent lives that were transformed by the life of Christ. Their neighbors saw in them an integrity that communicated a hope and a future radically different than the culture that surrounded them. 

God had promised he would act in the world, and they patiently waited for God to do what God alone would be able to do. In the words of Scripture, they stood. They were present as a witness – not so much by the words they spoke as the lives they lived. And over the course of four centuries, this movement that began with Jesus and a small band of disciples, women and men, overtook the world – they were more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who loved them.

I would hardly compare the journey we have been on as the Wesleyan Covenant Association to the journey of Christ followers in the first four centuries, but I think there are significant parallels. Five-and-one-half years ago, many of us gathered in a convention center near Chicago O’Hare Airport captivated by a vision of what God could do through his church if we lived as Jesus called us to live. Tired of being part of an institution that seemed to thrive on its internal conflicts, we longed for a better way. We dared to believe that Jesus could still be Lord of a movement birthed through the life of John Wesley and so many others. 

We unabashedly believed in the singular message the early church proclaimed – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the cross. We affirmed that everything necessary for salvation is contained in the pages of the Scriptures – the Old and New Testaments. We humbly confessed that those who had journeyed in this way before us – our mothers and fathers in the faith – had captured the beauty and vitality of the Christian faith in the great confessions of the church universal – in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. We ordered our lives around the unique distinctives that have characterized Methodism since the days of Wesley as expressed in the Articles of Religion and the Confessions of Faith.

We have stood. We praised God that he enabled our movement to prevail in upholding the classical, historic tenets of our faith once again when we gathered as the church to conference together in 2019. We recognized that two irreconcilable visions of the church were seeking to co-exist in one body – each at odds with the other. We loved the bride of Christ – the Church – too much to be part of spoiling its witness to a world desperately in need of its message by extending that conflict indefinitely. Though our vision of the church prevailed, we recognized that the conflict within the church was still seething. With humility, we saw the need to step away from the endless cycle of conflict – to envision an expression of Methodism that would embody the best of the ancient Christian faith, boldly proclaiming its truths and unequivocally striving to live out its tenets.

We committed to dialogue with those who held a different vision of the church to see if, despite our significant differences, we could stop harming one another and part ways amicably and peacefully. And so we did the hard work of peacemaking with the hope that God would do a new thing. We dared to believe that we could be a witness to the world of how those who had profound differences could bless and send each other their separate ways. And so, the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation emerged – envisioning the restructuring of our denomination through the creation of two or three new Methodist expressions. We committed to giving sacrificially of ourselves so that such a separation would be amicable. We did not want to see the witness of the church of which we have been a part be that of tearing and rending.

Together with others who shared our vision and commitments, we began the hard work of building a new Methodist church. Just days ago, that new expression became a reality with the launch of the Global Methodist Church. Hundreds of people have invested thousands of hours over the past two years in unseen ways to make that vision a reality. Because of your investment – your prayers – your labors, we now have an alternative – the opportunity to be part of a church that is: 

• unreservedly committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ who are salt and light in the world;

• passionate in its worship – that authentically lives out its beliefs in every nook and cranny of the world – that takes its faith into the fields that are ripe for harvest;

• in love with Jesus and loves its neighbors extravagantly – striving to share generously the blessings of God in lives that reach the full potential God intended; and

• bold in its witness to the truths of Christianity – unashamed of the faith delivered to us by the saints – that demonstrates in word and deed the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

Today, the Wesleyan Covenant Association pivots. We have completed one part of our vision and mission – to ensure that there is a faithful place for those captivated by the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ and committed to proclaiming the great truths of Scripture so we might encourage one another and serve God and our neighbors.

Our mission continues to include a bold and winsome witness to the Christian faith – contending for the classic, historic confessions of what it means to be marked by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We continue to long for renewal and revival so that the abundant life of Jesus is present in all we do. We continue to encourage and inspire those who hold to the vision of the church God has given us, and to connect them in vital community. 

We now will focus on helping individuals and local churches navigate in this season of uncertainty. We will use our influence in the church to enable God’s new wine to fill the new wineskin he has created. Separation is no longer in the future. Separation has occurred. Significant work remains to be done to fulfill the call of God. 

I am grateful for our regional chapter presidents, regional chapter councils, members and supporters, as well as those who have served with me on the staff and the WCA Council. No one will fully understand the depth and extent of your labors on behalf of so many. 

God’s patient ferment continues. He continues to use ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things. Our journey is not without cost, but we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us. God has shepherded us through a wilderness season. He continues to go before us. A new day has dawned for the people called Methodist. May we be found faithful and may Jesus be glorified and honored in all we do.

“Now may the God of peace – who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood – may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NLT). 

Keith Boyette has served as the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association since its inception and has just become the senior executive and administrative officer for the Global Methodist Church. This article is adapted from his address to the WCA Global Gathering in Indianapolis in May. 

Following Christ, The Lead Conductor

Following Christ, The Lead Conductor

By Suzanne Nicholson

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:5-11

The church has been described in a variety of ways, but I particularly like the imagery of an orchestra, where many different instruments play different harmonies, creating one beautiful piece of music. Of course, in the last few decades of The United Methodist Church, someone has dropped their tuba, the clarinets are squeaking, the drummers are all playing different competing rhythms, and who knows what the trumpets are doing! The many gifts and diverse contexts of the church only create beautiful music when we work off the same sheet music, when we are unified (as the apostle Paul says) by having the same mind that is in Christ Jesus.

The Philippians text, known as the Christ hymn, offers a pattern for believers to follow. It is a pattern that reveals the paradox of the cross: true power is not found in climbing to the top and grabbing power for oneself, but in our willingness to serve others with the heart of Christ. When John Wesley read Paul’s description in Philippians of Christ’s emptying himself, taking the form of a servant, and being obedient to death on a cross, Wesley declared that this is “the noblest theme of all the children of God on earth.” In fact, Wesley loved this passage so much that verse 5 – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” – is Wesley’s most-quoted Scripture passage in all of his sermons: 52 times Wesley calls us to have the mind of Christ.

As the apostle Paul writes this letter to the Philippians, their church is experiencing opposition from nonbelievers in their city, as well as dissension within their own church. (Does that sound familiar?!) If you were a Christian walking through the streets of Philippi in the first century, you would not only walk past temples to various Greco-Roman gods and goddesses, but also two temples dedicated to worshipping Caesar and his family as divine. Many of the colonists in the city were from Rome, and many of these were retired military personnel. To be a Christian in this city and declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord” meant that you were making the political statement, “Caesar is not!” You would not make a lot of friends with the Roman colonists this way. 

Paul certainly understands this kind of opposition. He’s sitting chained to a soldier in Rome when he writes this letter to the Philippians. If anyone has a right to be angry at the sting of injustice, to be horrified by his mistreatment, or to become frozen by his inability to itinerate where he can flourish, it’s him. Yet for Paul, the way to deal with those who oppose his gospel is not through griping or anger or retribution or becoming a troll on Twitter. He considers it a privilege to suffer for the cause of Christ (1:29). I don’t know about you, but that’s not my knee-jerk reaction when I experience suffering! Yet when Paul writes to these Philippian believers, he is full of joy, and he repeatedly encourages his brothers and sisters in Christ to rejoice as well. 

Paul instructs these believers who have been wronged to “let your gentleness be known to everyone” (4:5). His overarching concern for this community – one that he repeats 17 times in this short letter – is that they have the proper mindset; that is, their thinking, and the actions that flow from right thinking, must reflect their participation in Christ. If you are playing in the symphony, you’ve got to follow the conductor.

When Paul starts chapter 2, he reminds his brothers and sisters that they have received encouragement in Christ. They have received the consolation of love from God the Father. They have shared in the Spirit. They have received compassion and sympathy from one another as a result. Since they have received these things, Paul urges the Philippians to make his joy complete by having the same mind together as a community. 

New Testament scholar Lynn Cohick asks, “What does ministry look like if one’s goal is joy? It means, at least, that numbers don’t matter. It means that ‘the other’ is always in view. It means that achievements have to be understood in light of the congregation’s maturing in Christ. It means that the focus of ministry, the orientation of one’s goals, actions, and purposes, is to increasingly rejoice.” That, my friends, is a beautiful picture of the ministry of the body of Christ! 

Paul further explains what this unity of mind and purpose must be focused on: doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility valuing others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others. This is not only a hard word in our day, but it was especially hard in Paul’s day. 

Humility was not a virtue in the Greco-Roman honor-shame culture. Your role in that culture was to increase your honor and the honor of your family and kin. Honor was competitive. If someone else was gaining honor, that meant you were losing honor. You look out for yourself and your own. You’ve got to have a better job than your neighbor. You’ve got to have a bigger house. You’ve got to throw better dinner parties, have a nicer car, get a better appointment to a bigger church, gain more “Likes” on social media than the pastor down the street. But Paul’s view of the cross-shaped life turns all of these priorities upside down. Instead of a protective, “get what’s mine” attitude, Paul says our attitude must be, “how can I help you get what you need, even if it comes at my own expense?” And this is all based on the model of Christ Jesus.

In what may well be one of the earliest hymns of the Christian church – whether written by Paul or used by Paul because it so well addresses what he wishes to say to the Philippians – we hear a magnificent description of Christ’s preexistence, incarnation, and glorification. Paul makes it clear that Jesus was in very nature God – he was in the form of God, the same essence or substance as God – but he did not “grasp” or cling to his equality. The NIV provides a good translation of what this means: Jesus did not consider his divinity as something “to be used to his own advantage.” He could have used his high status to act like an influential millionaire or a celebrity actor who expects everyone around him to wait on him hand and foot, doting on his every need, whether practical or moral or not. Recent stories of celebrities paying huge bribes to get their kids into top-level universities demonstrates this kind of power that “grasps” after any privilege it can find.

But instead of clinging to his status, Jesus “emptied himself” and took the form of a slave. Many theological arguments have occurred over this statement – in what way did Jesus “empty” himself? Let’s be clear: he did not in any way empty himself of his divinity. Jesus was fully divine, and then he became fully human in addition to being fully divine. This involves a change in status, not a decrease in divine essence. Even though Jesus rightly deserved to be worshipped 24/7 in heaven, he set aside that right so that he could become human, submitting himself to a frail body that could succumb to hunger, thirst, flogging, nail piercings, and death. Even so, he never stopped being divine. 

Consider it like when your family gathers for Christmas – brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and extended family members – and you have to set up a table for the adults and a table for the children. If there are too many adults, you might step down from the adult table to make room for Grandma Martha, and you eat with the kids. This doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly changed your essence from adult to child – but it does mean you give up the adult conversation and instead you may end up talking about Blues Clues or Paw Patrol. Yet in stepping down to the kids’ table to make room for Grandma, the whole family learns something about you. You’re that relative who is kind and generous and thinks about others before thinking about themselves.

That’s what Christ does. In stooping down to become human, Christ shows us what true divinity is all about. The Lord of the universe demonstrates the depths of his love by becoming one of us, to redeem us, to restore our relationship with him. Or, as Charles Wesley so aptly put it, 

He left His Father’s throne above–
So free, so infinite His grace–
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race…

Amazing love, indeed! Jesus’s obedience, all the way to the cross, shows us the depth of God’s love for us. Rather than turning his back on those who betrayed him with their sins, the Lord of Life experienced the cruelest form of torture and death. The Roman punishment was so awful that Roman citizens were almost never crucified. It was reserved for people of low status – for criminals and slaves. And so Jesus – the one in the form of a slave – suffered a slave’s death, despite being the master of all.

God the Father responded to Christ’s loving obedience by raising Jesus to the highest place, giving him the name above all names – that is, Jesus is indeed “Lord.” This does not mean that Jesus wasn’t Lord prior to his exaltation – he is not receiving a new status. Rather, this exaltation means that Jesus is now publicly recognized as Lord. The ones listening in Philippi to Paul’s letter being read who were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures would hear in this section echoes of Isaiah 45:23. There the Lord Yahweh declares that to him “every knee will bow and every tongue confess.” How remarkable that this statement about Yahweh is now applied to Jesus, a first-century Jew who walked the dusty roads of Galilee! 

The language of “trinity” may not have been fully formed until the later church councils, but the theology is clearly present here in the earliest days of the church. Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And Paul makes it exceedingly clear that there is no realm where Jesus is not Lord. Whether among the spiritual beings in the heavens, among humans upon earth, or even among the dead “under the earth,” Jesus Christ is Lord. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess, whether willingly or unwillingly. No creature will be able to deny the Lordship of Christ, and all will be held accountable to that lordship.

And yet. This Lordship, this authority, this kingly reign, all demonstrated a very different way of ruling. New Testament scholar Dean Flemming describes it this way: “That the one who was humiliated and crucified by Roman power is declared universally sovereign directly challenges the empire’s version of how to achieve world rule.” 

Brothers and sisters, those who are in Christ must not give in to the worldly temptation of ruling by grasping for power. By hanging on to what’s “theirs.” By using budgets and bylaws to place a stranglehold on vibrant ministries. By twisting rules and trust clauses to maintain dying institutions. As we recognize the Spirit’s movement in the birth of the Global Methodist Church, we must take care not to grasp after money or position or influence. Because Paul’s declaration that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” applies to us, too. 

One day, we will give an account to our Lord of how we have treated one another. Have we been grasping and clawing after power and recognition, or have we rejoiced in our suffering for the sake of Christ and set our minds upon serving one another?

The beautiful Christology of the Christ hymn is not merely a piece of theology. Paul directs the Philippians to this doctrinal description because the Philippians must live out this theology. They are to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. 

Make no mistake – our theology is always practical. We cannot ever divorce head and heart. Too often we talk about seminary education as if it is merely a mental exercise. Too often we talk about ministry as only boots-on-the-ground, practical activity. But our practice is shaped by our theology. And our theology is dead if it is not lived out. We need strong, orthodox seminaries training strong Christian thinkers in the church to guide our footsteps and make sure that the boots on the ground are not walking in the wrong direction!

And so Paul writes this theology to urge the Philippians to walk in the direction of humility. We are more than conquerors through the cross of Christ which brings atonement for our sins. But this redemption, this reconciliation with God that comes through the cross of Christ, is only the beginning. Christ justifies us so that he might sanctify us. And when we are transformed, we are transformed from power-hungry, self-seeking manipulators into Christ-followers who lay down their lives to serve others. If we follow Paul’s leading, then we must cultivate an attitude that sees the needs of others as greater than our own. 

In a global church, the way we live out this attitude will look different in different contexts. In Philippi, this meant that believers like Euodia and Syntyche needed to stop quarreling with one another. In Corinth, this meant not clinging to one’s right to eat idol meats when such practices might cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble. In Thessalonica, it meant a willingness to suffer persecution for preaching the Gospel. In the United States, it means we must generously share our financial resources by building schools in inner-city Detroit and digging wells in Kenya, as well as listening to the Holy-Spirit-inspired leadership of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. In Liberia it means rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying by providing tuition for school children, care for the poor and jobless, and fighting corruption in government. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it means speaking the truth, sharing justice with all, and putting the poor at the center of ministry efforts. In Russia, it means opening new ministries such as soup kitchens and shelters, as well as defending the victims of war despite the dangers of an oppressive authoritarian government. The challenges may be different across the globe, but the call is the same: we must have the mind of Christ.

A global church that has the mind of Christ serves as a witness to the world that true strength does not come through domination. True lordship does not come by stepping on others. Rather, the Lord of the universe is the Lord of love who came to seek and save the lost, to heal the wounded, to feed the poor and free the oppressed. When the world looks at us, will they see Christ? Our job as the church, as Dr. Cohick puts it, is to serve as “an echo of Christ’s work; the echo imitates the original sound but is always secondary to it.” 

May the other-centered, love-filled symphony of the new Methodist movement echo through the back alleys, the tenement halls, the hospitals, the schools, the rehab centers, the prisons, and the government corridors of the globe so that all the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Suzanne Nicholson is professor of New Testament at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. She is a deacon in The United Methodist Church and serves on the Global Council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Dr. Nicholson is author of two books, her latest being Women in the New Testament, and is the assistant lead editor of the online magazine, Firebrand. This article is adapted from her address to the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Gathering in Indianapolis in May. 

Judicial Council Closes Exit Door

Judicial Council Closes Exit Door

News analysis by Thomas Lambrecht

In a highly anticipated decision, the Judicial Council has ruled that annual conferences in the U.S. cannot unilaterally withdraw from The United Methodist Church. The Council of Bishops had asked for a declaratory decision on six questions related to that issue.

In Decision 1366 (pages 43-44), issued in the run-up to the 2019 General Conference, the Judicial Council had ruled that annual conferences could withdraw from the denomination. “An annual conference has the right to vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church. This reserved right, however, is not absolute but must be counterbalanced by the General Conference’s power to ‘define and fix the powers and duties of annual conferences’ in ¶16.3.”

Traditionalists had argued that a right reserved to the annual conference could not be nullified by the fact that General Conference had failed to act. Just because General Conference had previously declined to adopt a process for annual conferences to withdraw did not mean that such withdrawal could not take place. 

The recently-issued Decision 1444 now clarifies that “the General Conference must first enact enabling legislation to establish the right to withdraw.” The decision goes on to say, “An annual conference has the right to vote. However, the right to vote is constitutionally distinct from the right to withdraw – the former being a ‘reserved right’ under ¶33 and the latter a right granted and regulated exclusively by the General Conference through exercise of its ‘full legislative powers’ under ¶16.3” (emphasis original).

This reasoning is basically a way for the Judicial Council to walk back its plain statement in Decision 1366 about an annual conference’s right to withdraw without saying that it had changed its mind. Decision 1366 says, “An annual conference has the right to vote to withdraw.” The purpose of the vote is withdrawal. The idea of voting is meaningless without the effect of the vote being withdrawal. To separate the two and say an annual conference has the right to vote but not to withdraw is pure sophistry.

The Judicial Council has essentially changed its mind and now believes that the matter of annual conference withdrawal is a “distinctively connectional matter” (¶16) and therefore needs General Conference action before it can take place.

In a side note, the decision implies that annual conferences outside the U.S. must follow the process outlined in ¶572 to become “autonomous Methodist churches.” “Autonomy – that is separation – of an annual conference outside the United States can be granted and effectuated only through enabling legislation passed by the General Conference” (emphasis original). Even though annual conferences outside the U.S. would not become autonomous, but would join the Global Methodist Church, Decision 1444 implies that separation is the same as autonomy, and annual conferences would be expected to use the ¶572 process.

The Bulgaria-Romania Annual Conference has already withdrawn and changed its legal standing, so Decision 1444 will not affect them. Other annual conferences, however, will need to secure the approval of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, their particular central conference, a two-thirds vote by the annual conference members in their central conference, and the General Conference before separation can be achieved.

The fact that General Conference approval is required for annual conference withdrawal both within and outside the U.S. demonstrates how egregious the decision was to postpone General Conference for a third time until 2024. Again, the church is hamstrung and unable to act to end decades of conflict over theological and ethical issues. 

Impact of the Decision. What will this decision mean for the church going forward? It will force some traditionalist churches to remain in the denomination that would otherwise prefer to withdraw and join the Global Methodist Church – at least in the short term. Some churches that had a majority in favor of withdrawal but could not reach the two-thirds vote required under ¶2553 were hoping that they could exit as a part of their annual conference withdrawing. Those “stuck” churches will be reluctant participants in United Methodism going forward. They might even reduce or eliminate their financial support of the denomination through apportionments.

Many will pin their hopes on passing the Protocol or something like it in 2024 that would include a process for annual conferences to withdraw and ease the requirements for local churches under ¶2553. Such a strategy pins hope on the support of some centrist and progressive delegates to enact it, as traditionalists may not hold a majority of delegates at the 2024 General Conference. 

A few annual conferences in states with favorable trust law may look at the possibility of ignoring the Judicial Council decision and moving ahead with disaffiliation through the legal process. There have been instances in some states where whole Episcopal dioceses (the equivalent of our annual conference) were able to withdraw from that denomination under neutral principles of trust law. Of course, that moves us into a more adversarial strategy, which we were hoping to avoid. But the punitive response of some UM bishops and annual conferences in stoutly refusing to allow local church disaffiliation under any kind of reasonable terms has already brought us into a confrontational situation.

It would have been a cleaner and more amicable process of separation if annual conferences had been allowed to withdraw. Absent that possibility, we find ourselves in an increasingly adversarial environment. Our hopes for a mutual “bless and send” approach to separation in some places is being replaced by a “tear and rend” approach that will only do harm to local congregations and backfire against the United Methodist desire for a “big tent” welcoming posture and a positive future.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.