TMS Global Celebrates 40 Years

TMS Global Celebrates 40 Years

TMS Global Celebrates 40 Years

By Jenifer Jones

In November 1983, the Christian missions organization began when 34 United Methodist pastors and mission-minded individuals gathered in St. Louis. They had watched the decline in the number of United Methodist missionaries over the years. Their hearts’ cry was to see more cross-cultural workers sent who would proclaim the message and love of Christ even to the least-reached places of the world. After much prayer, they committed to start a new global missions agency. What would be named The Mission Society for United Methodists was officially incorporated on January 6th, 1984.

The 40th anniversary celebration year kicked off at a January 5-7 event in Atlanta. About 230 guests and staff and 46 children attended the busiest day of the event.

“It was clear to everyone that God has been with TMS Global for the entire 40 years,” said the Rev. Max Wilkins, TMS Global President. “He has been working in and through us in power, protection, provision, and perhaps most of all, in presence. There was a sense that God was the one being praised and glorified in this celebration.”

Special guests included the adult children of the founding president and his wife, the late H.T. and Alice Maclin. Also in attendance were two of TMS Global’s former presidents, the Revs. Al Vom Steeg and Dick McClain.

McClain said it was a blessing to see 40 years of God’s faithfulness unfold during the event. “As you actually live it out,” he said, “you see little moments of God doing something remarkable, but that is just one moment. When you look at the scope of 40 years of faithfulness, boy, what a blessing that is.”

For Vom Steeg, the constant equipping of workers by TMS Global stands out. “It’s not train them once. It’s a continued nature of renewal,” he says.

Kids attended their own special programming during the 40th anniversary event. “Our goals were to have fun, create community, and help the children see ways they can be part of God’s big story of reaching the world,” said Kerry Davidson, coordinator of TCK (third-culture kid) care at TMS Global.

Participants in the children’s program heard from TCKs around the world, ate snacks from those places, and prayed for the TCKs they met. “We thought it was important to offer a children’s program because children are important to TMS Global,” Davidson said. “Having whole families participate together in celebrating the 40th anniversary creates deeper community and gives a shared language and vision for partnering with Jesus in His mission.”

As TMS Global moves into its next decade of ministry, President-elect Dr. Jim Ramsay is looking toward global partnerships. He said, “I am hopeful that the depth and breadth of our international partnerships will grow so that we can play an important role in helping local churches in the United States connect in effective and healthy ways with the global church for the sake of the mission of God.”

Jenifer Jones is a communicator for TMS Global (

About TMS Global: TMS Global originally launched as The Mission Society for United Methodists. Now interdenominational (and subsequently renamed), TMS Global sends people around the world to spread the love and message of Jesus. Since 1984, it has trained, mobilized, and served hundreds of cross-cultural witnesses. Currently, 143 serve in 29 countries around the world. Thousands of people have been introduced to Jesus and discipled in their faith. Churches in the US and abroad have embraced God’s plan for their congregations and reached out to their communities, nation, and the world with the hope of Christ.  

TMS Global Celebrates 40 Years

Let’s Do Better

By Rob Renfroe —

When it comes to how to handle our time together leading up to General Conference, we United Methodists need to do better. As those presently remaining in the UM Church research which option forward suits them best, our conversations seem to be led by persons who are committed to accusations and outrage. Some are committed to portraying those on the other side as possessing the worst possible motives. Others are always deeply offended, actually indignant, because someone has dared to criticize the denomination they have chosen for themselves. It has been wisely stated, “No one can think clearly with their fists clenched.” And right now, we have a lot of clenched fists in the UM Church.

How might we do better? First, let’s focus on what the leaders of the various movements say and write. Everyone in the UM Church may and should have a voice about the future of the church. But it’s foolish and counterproductive to be outraged about something said by a person who is not particularly knowledgeable about the issues and who has very little influence with others.

I often read that traditionalists have said that the UM Church will change its core doctrines. Maybe some have, but not any traditional leader I have spoken with or whose writings I have read. To attack traditionalists for statements made by persons who are not in places of leadership, who are not thought leaders in our movement, or for that matter not even privy to our thinking – well, that is a waste of time.

I have come across statements made by some “uber-progressive” United Methodists who seemingly want to gain notoriety by being provocative on Twitter or Facebook. If after being in literally scores of meetings with progressive and centrist leaders over the last two decades, I don’t know this person’s name and a little research does not reveal that he or she has any following or influence, rather than being outraged with what he or she has written, I move on and think, “Well, the remaining UM Church is going to have fun with that one.” Every voice has every right to speak. But not every voice needs to be engaged, “exposed,” or criticized. We would do better to see the views of the leading thinkers of each movement within the UM Church as being representative of that movement. And we would do better interacting with those views. It’s likely to be a more civil, thoughtful, and healthy conversation.

Another way we can do better is to lessen the usage of the term “misinformation.” At present, labeling something as “misinformation” is often nothing more than a lazy way of not engaging with someone who thinks differently than we do. And to be clear, an opinion that differs from ours is not misinformation. It’s a different belief, a different way of seeing reality than we do. Those who throw that term around would do well first to think, “Hmm, there just might be another side to this issue. And, horrors, I could be wrong.”

I have been accused of misinforming many times. When I ask for specifics, few are forthcoming. Or after the offense has been spelled out, it’s simply that I believe differently about an issue than my accuser does. Once I was charged with giving out misinformation because I said I believed the decline in the membership and attendance of the UM Church would be even more rapid after it decides to marry and ordain partnered gay persons. That’s not misinformation. I may be right, or I may be wrong. But it’s an opinion based on the pattern we see in every other mainline church that has made that change. The right response would be to make a case for why the UM Church will be different than the Episcopalians (ECUSA), Presbyterians (PCUSA), the Lutherans (ELCA), or the United Church of Christ (UCC). That would have been a worthwhile conversation and my accuser might have convinced me that I’m wrong. Instead, because he went to the misinformation trope, I went away thinking he wasn’t a serious person and he cared much less about the future of the UM Church than he claimed. I think the same thing when bishops and others dismiss everyone who criticizes their actions as being the purveyors of misinformation.

Traditionalists should be just as careful to engage with what they believe are false statements made by progressives and centrists. Blanket dismissals and catch phrases such as “misinformation” do not help us understand those with whom we disagree or motivate us to correct what we believe they have misrepresented. United Methodists of all theological persuasions are sufficiently intelligent to follow thoughtful debates and determine for themselves what is their best course forward. Those of us in positions of leadership owe it to them to do better than dismiss each other’s views as “misinformation.”

Here’s something else we need to do better. Church. The UM Church has declined every year since its origin in 1968. There are some bright spots, but most serious United Methodists, regardless of theology, agree that the UM Church is top-heavy, institutional, and stymied by bureaucrats who do not want the budgets of their favorite board or agency to be cut. The UM Church needs to do church better.

But so does the Global Methodist Church. The GMC simply cannot be UMC 2.0. It cannot do ministry the way the UM Church has done it and believe the results will be different simply because we have the right theology. Too many of our heroes from the past two generations have fought, suffered, and been vilified to provide us with the opportunity the GMC now possesses. We must seek God, pray for the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit, and commit ourselves to existing for those who do not yet know Christ. Getting out of the UM Church was never the point. Being in a place where we can fully devote ourselves to spreading the Gospel was always the goal.

I am happy that early indications are that the GMC will be different. The first three convening annual conferences of the GMC were held in January and February, and none of them felt like “business as usual.”

The Mid-Texas Annual Conference held the GMC’s first-ever convening conference. Was it different, even better, from a typical United Methodist annual conference? You decide. It had one business meeting lasting an hour and a half. The rest of the time was spent in worship, preaching, and Bible study. The altar was opened, and people flooded to pray for the GMC and to pray over each other. Tears were common and the power of the Holy Spirit was present. The Conference ordained 28 persons. The first person ordained in the GMC was an African American woman. The second was a Hispanic man. The third was a 20-something mother of a newborn. At the same time, a youth convocation was held where dozens of young people gave their lives to Christ. You can decide if that’s better than the typical UM annual conference. But it’s a great start for those who want to do church differently.

The following week the West Plains Annual Conference gathered to celebrate its new beginning in the GMC. Nearly 75 percent of the churches in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference have disaffiliated and most have joined the West Plains Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. Business as usual? No, there was little “business” at all – about an hour’s worth. The remainder of the conference was spent in worship, Bible study,  and vision casting, highlighted by a final commissioning service that sent pastors and laypersons into the mission field that is the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

The next week the East Texas Annual Conference held its convening conference. Two hours were utilized for business. The rest of the time was spent in worship and in workshops that focused on doctrine, evangelism, discipleship, worship, and effective social witness. Ninety persons were ordained either as deacons or elders. And seven new, start-up churches were received into the fellowship of the Global Methodist Church. Again, not bad for Methodists who want a different way of doing church together.

I am encouraged by what I see in these first three convening annual conferences. This is not business as usual. I want to believe that God has given GMC leaders a vision for a different way of being church. That is what I and many others for decades have worked for and prayed for – a Christ-centered church that is awakened to the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the needs of a lost world.

We can do better. All of us. In how we end our time together and in how we live into the future. We must do better.

Rob Renfroe is the president of Good News.

Growth of Global Methodists

Growth of Global Methodists

By Keith Boyette —

The process of church disaffiliation has completed its second wave, with churches disaffiliating through special sessions of their annual conferences in the fall. This piecemeal process of disaffiliation is not what we had hoped for when I joined other traditionalist, centrist, and progressive leaders to announce the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation agreement three years ago. If General Conference had met in 2020 or even in 2022, there would have been a uniform process for disaffiliation that would have allowed annual conferences and local churches to make an informed, prayerful, conscience-driven decision on where their congregation could best serve the Kingdom of God.

Unfortunately, we have a dysfunctional situation that is causing increased conflict and power plays to block disaffiliation in some places. Despite the challenges, over 2,000 churches have already disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church (UM Church) and many more are in the process to do so during this year.

Now that two waves of disaffiliation have been completed, people wonder what progress the Global Methodist Church is making in its formation.

The GM Church began operations on May 1, 2022. In its brief life, it has welcomed more than 1,200 persons as clergy members and officially welcomed 1,100 local churches that applied to align with it. The GM Church is already larger than the Congregational Methodist and Free Methodist Churches and should soon pass the Wesleyan Church in size. These clergy and churches are from Angola, Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, England, Panama, the Philippines, Slovakia, and the United States.

And hundreds of additional clergy and local churches are on the cusp of completing the process of disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church in order to align with the GM Church. Also, more than 50 new GM congregations have been launched globally with more being added each month. And the truth is, many more would have already joined the GM Church, or be well on the way to doing so, were it not for the obstacles UM Church bishops and conferences have placed in their way.

The GM Church’s primary focus is on its mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly. It is a Church that intentionally empowers local congregations to have maximum discretion in the way they organize and deploy resources for ministry. The denomination maintains a small institutional footprint to ensure local churches have the resources to support the ministry to which they are called. The GM Church exists to empower local churches; to serve, not to be served.

Considerable time has been devoted to organizing for ministry in the various regions of the world. The GM Church currently has nine provisional annual conferences and districts around the world. These conferences and districts have presidents pro tempore and presiding elders appointed to serve. Some have already held convening conferences. Others are holding such conferences soon. It also has ten transitional conference advisory teams preparing for the launch of additional provisional conferences and districts in the coming months with more being organized monthly.

The process of organizing the church internationally involves registering the GM Church with the government of each country. It has completed this process in Bulgaria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, and Slovakia. Registration is underway in a number of other countries around the world. Ultimately, the GM Church will be registered in nearly all of the countries of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. The denomination is also in discussions with non-UM clergy and churches around the world, many of whom are steeped in Methodist heritage and traditions. For them, the GM Church offers an opportunity to join a new, vibrant movement grounded in the warm hearted Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith.

Navigating such a dynamic environment requires exceptional sensitivity to, and dependence on, the work of the Holy Spirit. The GM Church’s Transitional Leadership Council (TLC) is diverse, globally representative, and composed of exceptional leaders. Recently, Bishops Mark Webb and Scott Jones have joined the TLC, along with new members Rev. Arturo Cadar (Eastern Texas, Deacon), Rev. Bartolomeu Dias Sapalo (Angola, Elder), Rev. Dr. David Watson (Allegheny West, Elder), and Rev. Bazel Yoila Yayuba (Nigeria, Elder). The TLC will continue to guide the GM Church through its critical transitional period, even as it joyfully looks forward to the new denomination’s convening General Conference.

Of course, starting a new denomination requires significant financial resources. Thanks to hundreds of gifts from faithful Methodists from all around the world, at its inception, the GM Church received over $1 million as a substantial seed money grant from the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Next Methodism Fund, which had been specifically raised for that purpose. In addition to this gift, individuals, local churches, and other entities have continued to generously support the Church in its transitional season. Through December 31, 2022, it has received $210,000 in direct contributions, enabling it to fulfill its calling in its early days.

As local churches join the denomination, they are now supporting the ministries of their provisional annual conferences and the general church through connectional funding. The TLC, when requested, has granted relief from connectional funding for congregations that have incurred substantial financial burdens as part of withdrawing from the UM Church.

The GM Church is also equipping and encouraging congregations to fulfill its calling to be a global missional partner with Christian movements around the world. It is a platinum sponsor of the Beyond These Walls conference that will be held at The Woodlands (TX) Methodist Church from April 27-29, 2023. It will gather Christian leaders from around the world, many of whom will be GMC clergy and laity, and will challenge us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all people.

In this space, I can only focus on a few highlights, but all the people of the GM Church celebrate the way in which God is at work in our midst. We have much for which we give thanks. We have only just begun. We will keep our focus primarily upon our mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly. God expects great things from us. By God’s Spirit, we strive to accomplish great things for God, all so that Jesus will be glorified.

The Rev. Keith Boyette is the Transitional Connectional Officer of the Global Methodist Church, its chief executive and administrative officer. A version of this article appeared in the GM Church’s Outlook (

Surprise at the Tomb

Surprise at the Tomb

By Kimberly Constant —

Every spring as nature awakens from its winter slumber and life bursts forth anew, the church revisits the heart of the gospel message. An old rugged cross. The discovery of an empty tomb. The wonder of a risen Lord. The promise of an eternal kingdom in which all will be made whole. Peace will reign. Love will flourish. Year after year we engage in our rituals of remembrance. Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday. Easter Sunday. We wash one another’s feet, we mourn at the foot of the cross, we rejoice in the good news of the risen Christ. All to evoke the germination of a real, miraculous hope.

But, year after year there is one element of the Easter story that fades as our familiarity with it grows. The element of surprise. Lost amongst the realities of life and a world that often seems unmoved by the events of that glorious morning, perhaps, like me, you long to reclaim the life-changing surprise of the empty tomb.

The truth is that the very first Easter provided not just one surprise, but a series of them. Stumbled upon by the most unexpected of people. Women. Women, who in Roman times, did not hold much agency or status, who often occupied the margins of society. Women who, against all odds, had been invited into the ministry of Jesus. Accompanying him on his mission to make God’s kingdom known. Staying near to him even unto the cross to bear witness to his suffering and death. Pushing through their grief and despair in the early morning hours after Sabbath to attend to him, one last time. We imagine they could not have fathomed the surprise that awaited them. Mired in grief, their minds churned over the most practical of details, perhaps as a means of maintaining sanity amidst the unrelenting pain. How, they wondered, could they care for Jesus’ body when there was a giant stone blocking the entrance to the tomb? It was a worry that was dismissed fairly quickly because where they expected to find a hindrance to their Lord, instead the women discovered the first surprise. The stone had been rolled away.

Their next surprise varies from gospel to gospel. No doubt the breathless shock of the morning generated some difficulty in clearly recounting the events that ensued. Whereas Mark recorded the women meeting a young man in white sitting inside of the tomb, Matthew mentioned an angel sitting on top of that rolled away stone. Luke, on the other hand, noted the presence of two young men who glowed. John wrote of two angels in white. This being (or beings) confirmed what the women saw with their own eyes. Jesus was not there. Luke, and potentially Mark if we follow the earliest manuscripts, provided this as the only encounter the women experienced that morning. In those gospels, the women returned from that bodyless tomb to give the news to the disciples. According to Luke and John, it was information that prompted Peter, and per John another disciple, to run and see for themselves the discarded strips of linen that had once encircled the body of their friend.

But Matthew and John (and later Markan manuscripts) made note of a more intimate encounter. Jesus, in all of his resurrection glory, appearing to Mary Magdalene (and perhaps to one of her other female companions). Matthew did not provide much detail aside from noting the amazement and reverence of the women as they fell at Jesus’ feet. However, John relayed an interaction between Mary Magdalene and Jesus that spoke to the tenderness of that staggering encounter.

In his version, Mary’s discovery brought forth a flood of tears. The terrible thought that Jesus’ body had been stolen. Perhaps vandalized. Turning from the tomb she noticed a man whom she mistook as the gardener. Not yet ready to surrender to hope, she asked aloud, was he the one who had taken away the body of the Lord? No. This was no gardener. This man was the Lord. A realization that dawned when he spoke her name, “Mary.” A name that means “obstinate” or “rebellious,” and also by some accounts, “love.” A name that encapsulates that most profound of meetings. The stubborn rebelliousness of humanity greeted with the unconditional, unending, undefeatable love of God.

What a thrilling surprise. Not just for Mary. Not just for the disciples who would hear about these events and later be met themselves by the risen Lord. But for us all. What an unexpected revelation. The triumph of Jesus over sin and evil and death announced not via a host of angels singing songs of praise in the early morning sky. Not via a sudden appearance in Pontius Pilate’s bedchamber or in the courtroom of the Sanhedrin. Guess what guys? You got it all wrong. Not even via an inbreaking into the room where Jesus’ nearest and dearest had gathered to mourn. Not yet anyway.

The first revelation of the resurrection occurred there, in that garden which was created to house the vestiges of death. To a woman who had once been inhabited by evil itself, Jesus revealed his triumph. His glory. His power. His love. All encapsulated in the beautiful pronouncement of her name. No trace of bitterness detected. No anger or disappointment or even sorrow on display. Just our Lord and Savior making his presence known. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection as humble and miraculous and surprising as his birth. As his ministry of reconciliation. As the company he kept. As the teachings he espoused. It was a moment which brought restoration to all of humanity. But also, in a particular way, to women, who for thousands of years had carried the weight of Eve’s actions, the first to fall prey to the temptation of the tree and the lies of the enemy in another garden long ago.

In this new garden, Jesus gifted a woman with the mission to be the first to tell the good news, the glorious news of his resurrection. The message of hope issued from the most unlikely of preachers. How remarkable!

What emerges from the somewhat varied tales of utter shock and awe that morning fundamentally finds consistency in its centering of the core truth of our Christian faith. Jesus is risen. That tomb was not his end. Nor is it ours. Sin and evil and death no longer have an unyielding hold on the human race. God has invited all of us to enter into God’s eternal kingdom. His grace has enabled a community in which all of us are rendered pure. Holy. Men and women from all different cultures and backgrounds made equal under the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ. Our unique gifts and attributes finding their best expression in concert with one another as we continue to spread the greatest news of human history. Jesus is risen. Indeed. The rest, as they say, is just details.

But maybe, like me, you wonder. Is it possible to recapture that element of surprise, that uncontainable joy of witnessing resurrection power, when sometimes it feels as if nothing has really changed? When sometimes we wonder if the surprise at the tomb still reverberates in a society that eschews surprise and mystery altogether, sacrificing them at the altars of human knowledge and scientific discovery. Incessant accomplishment. Never-ending work. How do we hold onto the wonder of the resurrection when sometimes it feels like we are living in a time in which hope grows more and more dim? By surrendering. Like Jesus, who did not succumb to death, but instead chose, willingly, to give up his spirit. Along with, according to Mark, a loud cry. A battle cry of victory expressing the surprising and glorious truth that Jesus willingly died on that cross for the sake of us all. Jesus chose to surrender so that in our own acts of surrender we too might overcome, as he did.

The surprise of Easter morning wasn’t something hidden away, only able to be discovered by the power of human knowledge or ingenuity. That surprise was waiting to be found by those willing to surrender. The ones humble enough to be surprised. Women who surrendered to the pull to make that early morning journey to attend to the body of one who was so dear. Men who were willing to touch Jesus’ side and surrender their doubts and fears and worship their friend as their Lord. Brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the years who each, in their own way, have humbled themselves and surrendered to the truth that human beings do not, cannot, have all the answers.

The surprise of that empty tomb still waits to be discovered by those of us willing to surrender to the truth that not all mysteries can be explained. Those of us willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, peace is not secured by fighting every foe. Wisdom is not earned by constant striving for more and more knowledge. Success is not won by the accumulation of accomplishments and things. But all of these and more are found in surrendering to the one who already has gained victory over anything in this world that stands against us. By surrendering to the one who already has accomplished for us that which we could never earn for ourselves.

Jesus tells us that he stands at the door, knocking. A surprise waiting to be discovered by everyone willing to surrender their way to his will. Not just once in a lifetime. Not just once a year at Easter. But every day. From moment to moment. In hospital beds and rush hour traffic and family reunions and voting booths and work cubicles and online forums. We can discover anew the wonder of his grace. The surprise of his mercy. The depth of his provision. In surrender. In humility. Allowing ourselves to remain open to the continual surprises of faith that lie before us. Reminding ourselves that, truly, there is nothing that God cannot overcome. There is nothing that can contain the glory of our God. Even a society that denies him is no match.

The surprise of the empty tomb and a resurrected Lord still wait to be stumbled upon in the most unexpected ways. By the most unexpected of people. In the most unexpected places. In rest. In relationship. In quiet trust.

As we journey together once more this Easter to the foot of the cross and the open doorway of an empty tomb, may we surrender. May we embrace the unexpected surprises that lie in wait. May we receive with fresh wonder the glorious truths. We are loved. We are forgiven. We are redeemed. We are recipients of a kingdom that will, without a doubt, defy our wildest expectations and offer up an eternity of wonderful surprises. All stemming from the best surprise of all. He. Is. Risen. He is risen, indeed.

Kimberly Constant is a Bible teacher, author, and ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. You can find out more about Rev. Constant at

Charles Wesley and the Poetry of Revival

Charles Wesley and the Poetry of Revival

By Ryan Danker —

We all know the words of his hymns. For anyone in the Wesleyan movement and many beyond, his words speak to our experience of conversion, assurance, and even sanctification. Of course, I’m not talking about John Wesley. I’m talking about his younger brother, Charles.

Charles Wesley’s words quickly became the poetic vehicle of the Wesleyan revival. They linger in the mind, and even in the heart. They include: “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Soldiers of Christ Arise,” and so many others. He wrote nearly 9000 poetic works.

As the message of the Wesley brothers and so many other leaders during the Evangelical Revival spread across the Atlantic and even farther, it was the hymns that carried the message with ease. The early Wesleyans carried their experiences, of course. They knew the dramatic experience of the new birth. Their hearts had been warmed by God’s assurance. Many could testify to the cleansing of Christian perfection. But even if they couldn’t quote one word from John, they could sing about their experience and of the love of God by heart using the words of Charles. In many places around the world today, many Christians can do the very same.

Yet apart from being the younger brother and a hymn writer, the average Wesleyan believer today knows very little about Charles Wesley the man. It often comes as a surprise that he wasn’t a good singer. Or that he never wrote a line of music. Even less is known about his family life and his adamant attachment to the Church of England, something his brother also maintained but with less regularity. If John was the cool organizer, Charles was the emotional artist. Apart from God, John’s first love was the Methodist movement. Apart from God, Charles’ first love was his wife and children, followed very closely by the Church. The brothers often bickered even if they often collaborated. Charles was like his father, and John like his mother. It’s a very complex story. And Charles can also be seen without his brother.

Like so many Wesley children, Charles was born in Epworth, the small Lincolnshire town where his father served as the incumbent of the parish church, St. Andrew’s. It’s thought that he was named after King Charles I, the great high church martyr. The execution, or martyrdom, of the King haunted the political and social imagination of the England that Charles Wesley knew throughout his life.

Charles was the third and youngest boy born to Samuel and Susanna Wesley who lived to adulthood. Nine of the children lived. Many died. This was common in the eighteenth century, but its commonality did not lessen the heartbreak felt by parents and families. Charles and his wife, Sarah, would experience the same grief many times in their own life together.

But the story is told that Charles was born sickly, or at least that he needed to be wrapped in blankets and kept by the fire to stay warm. He was born in December, after all. Charles did have some health problems throughout his life, but even these have been overblown simply because he had less energy than his overly-energetic brother. We do know of a toothache that he suffered in Boston in the late 1730s. The prescribed treatment was tobacco, which he tried. It made him sick to his stomach and may have distracted him for a bit, but obviously it didn’t work. He never tried tobacco again.

Charles grew up in a home filled with women. His oldest brother, Samuel, Jr., was out of the house by the time he was born. John went to Charterhouse School in London when Charles was six. So he and his father lived in Epworth with his mother, Susanna, and the six Wesley daughters. When he did go off to school, he went to Westminster. It was there – in the shadow of that great Abbey church, the site of coronations and the graves of the monarchs all around him – that he studied and where he became particularly close to Samuel Wesley, Jr. and his wife Ursula. Samuel worked at the school. Given the age difference between the two brothers, their relationship at this point was more like parent and child. The letters between Charles and his brother and his wife are very sweet. He refers to them as “my best friends.”

Like his father and his older brothers, Charles “went up” to Oxford and studied at Christ Church. It is here that the close association between Charles and John begins to form, although at first it wasn’t mutually desirable. John was a fellow, a tutor, at Lincoln. And at this time, tutors at Oxford were more than simply educators, they often encouraged the spiritual as well as educational development of their students. John tried to play this role with Charles, who did not eagerly welcome it.

All of the Wesley children were raised in the Christian faith. With John and Charles in particular, though, they experience what might be called key spiritual awakenings that continue to shape them throughout their lives. For Charles, the first was a turn toward a more serious Christian commitment in the face of a deist scare in Oxford that flared up in 1729. Two students were eventually expelled from Magdalen the next year, but the university – perhaps over-reacting – went into a full-blown defense of orthodoxy, with statements from deans, sermons, and a commitment to rid the university of the heresy. Charles Wesley was caught up in all of this fervor and dedicated himself to a stricter religious life in its wake. It is out of this that he joins with other students, and eventually his brother, and creates what will become the Holy Club, or the first rise of Methodism.

John had taken a “turn toward seriousness” earlier with his study of the Church Fathers and the Caroline Divines. Now the brothers were equally serious about their faith and it blossoms as they begin their life-long project to restore “primitive Christianity.” This is key to understanding the Wesley brothers and their efforts. Even when they disagreed, they were aiming at this standard and its restoration. Their efforts were not meant to create anything new, but to restore the old. This is what they thought they were doing when they travelled to Georgia to serve as clergy in the new colony.

At the beginning of the Revival, Charles is a different figure than he would be later. There seems to have been something of a tug-of-war between his emotional side with its desire for experiential Christianity and the traditions and ecclesiastical world of Anglicanism in which he was formed. The mature Wesley would come to see that his experiences needed to be grounded in tradition in order to avoid self-centeredness and being blown around by every wind of doctrine. But in the late 1730s – and not because of that tobacco in Boston – he was caught up in the emotive experience of the trans-Atlantic revival. This was yet another spiritual turning point for Charles.

Being caught up in the great sweep of the Spirit happened to many of the key figures that we know in Evangelicalism today. First, it struck George Whitefield in 1735. Later, it would catch up the Wesley brothers, Selina Huntingdon, John Newton, William Romaine, Francis Asbury, Charles Simeon, and so many others.

I think it’s a misinterpretation to say that Charles Wesley became a Christian when he had what he called his “Pentecost” experience in May of 1738. The journal account of his evangelical experience reads much more like an experience of assurance. He knew in his bones that he was a child of God. Strangely enough it came by way of Charles’ confusion when he was sick. He heard the voice of God when in fact it was the maid. Regardless, it changed him. It didn’t make him a hymn writer or poet, but after this experience his poetry carries both his experience and his theology to the masses. And the hymns pour out of him. Marking the year’s anniversary of his Pentecost experience, Wesley wrote “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” including the words:

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone,
And fill’d it with repose.

Following his experience he also began to follow his brother in the creation of the Methodist system of societies, classes, and bands, all with the intention of reviving the Church and spreading scriptural holiness. He even itinerated during this period, traveling and preaching. And writing hymns.

During the middle part of the century, Charles produced a number of hymn collections. In 1739, he published the

first edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems, a collection that he would revise and expand many times over. In 1745, he published Hymns on the Lord’s Supper, which is perhaps the greatest Wesleyan contribution to Eucharistic theology. The collection strongly points to the reality of Christ’s presence in the bread and the wine. At times, Charles is quite blunt about it while maintaining the mystery of it, a mystery he wrote that not even the angels could comprehend.

O the depth of love Divine,
Th’ unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys!
How the bread His flesh impart,
How the wine transmits His blood,
Fills His faithful people’s hearts
With all the life of God!

Additional collections would continue to be published including among others: Nativity Hymns (1745), Resurrection Hymns (1746), Ascension Hymns (1746), Hymns for Children (1763) and his ultimate collection, A Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodist (1780). However, not all of his poetic output was intended for singing. When he and Sarah lost a child, Charles communicated his grief through poetry in his Funeral Hymns (1759). One stanza will provide a glimpse of his emotion, that of a father in grief at the loss of his son:

Mine earthly happiness is fled,
His mother’s joy, his father’s hope:
O had I died in Isaac’s stead!
He should have lived, my age’s prop,
He should have closed his father’s eyes,
And follow’d me to paradise.

The poetry that he wrote as a father is heart wrenching at times. At others, it’s quite practical and quotidian, such as his hymn “For a Child Cutting His Teeth” in Hymns for a Family (1767), which although about teething is also highly theological.

Love for the poor, especially those who are in prison, comes out in his hymns. Charles believed very firmly in prison reform. And so in many respects, we can read the line from “And Can It Be” as referring to both a spiritual freedom, but also a tangible one when we sing “my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee.” This love for the least was also seen in his work with those who were condemned to the death penalty. Like other Methodist leaders at the time, he often preached to them even as they rode to their execution. Given his love for the poor, later critiques of Charles claiming that he lived too well seem odd. He did, however, have a comfortable income from the sale of hymn collections – something necessary to gain permission to marry his beloved Sarah – and he was comfortable amongst the wealthy, particularly Lady Huntingdon.

He wrote polemical poetry against Calvinists, the second Jacobite rebellion, and even against his brother, John, when he thought that he was leaning toward separation from the Church in 1755 with his widely published Epistle to Mr. John Wesley including a reminder to his brother that the Methodists are just a part of the Church, not the whole: “The Church of Christ and England – is But One!”

So why did he stop itinerating? Many modern evangelical thinkers have said that he did this because he got married and settled down. Literally. But this, too, is a misinterpretation of the story. It played a part, but imposing contemporary evangelical concepts of family life on the eighteenth century isn’t a good idea. Instead, Charles probably stopped itinerating a few years after his marriage because he saw the separatist trajectory of Methodism and that much of it would eventually depart from the Church of England. He couldn’t participate in that separation with integrity. Methodist interpreters often struggle to understand this aspect of Wesley’s thought, both then and now. Charles was the conservative at the center of the Wesleyan wing of the Evangelical Revival.

His marriage to his wife Sarah and the birth of their children was the greatest joy of his life. The letters between he and Sarah are warm and loving. They read like the letters between John and Abigail Adams, also of the same period. Much of their married life was spent in Bristol in a four-story townhome near the center of town. In a letter from 1760, Charles wrote to his wife recalling both his Pentecost experience and his marriage. Writing of their life together he states, “Eleven years ago He gave me another token of His love, in my beloved friend.”

This was in stark contrast to John’s romantic life. But Charles didn’t always help his brother in this regard. He married off John’s likely fiancé when John was off on a preaching tour of Ireland because he didn’t think they were of similar social standing. The letters between the brothers in the aftermath of this episode are some of the most emotional we have between them. John would enter an unfortunate marriage in 1751.

Differences over the trajectory of Methodism would strain the brothers’ relationship. And in the autumn of 1784 it was challenged more than anything up to that point when John declared himself “a New Testament bishop” and ordained Thomas Coke as superintendent and Thomas Vasey and Richard Whatcoat as presbyters for the Methodists in America. Charles was in Bristol when the ordinations took place. John knew better than to even tell him about them. Some of the poetic lines that Charles wrote in the aftermath are a combination of wit, frustration, and anger:

So easily are Bishops made
By man’s, or woman’s whim?
W[esley] his hands on C[oke] hath laid,
But who laid hands on Him?

Charles had particular venom for Coke, whom he was convinced had duped his brother into this action. Amazingly, John’s ordinations did not sever him from the Church. He died in good standing as a presbyter within it. However, the relationship with his brother was never the same.

For many decades, Charles had a difficult relationship with many of the lay preachers of Methodism as they clamored for ordination outside of the Church. Some he was able to recommend for holy orders. Many bishops were hesitant to ordain Methodists. In Samuel Seabury, however, the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, Charles found a true colleague.

Toward the end of his life, Charles committed himself to seeing Methodist preachers in the newly independent United States ordained in the emerging Episcopal Church. In fact, he wrote the required recommendation letters for ordination on behalf of Joseph Pilmore in 1785, one of the earliest leaders of American Methodism. Pilmore was ordained by Seabury and planted evangelical Episcopal parishes in and around Philadelphia.

Charles and Sarah moved to London later in life. And it was there that he died in 1788 at the age of 8o. As he and Sarah lived in the London parish of Marylebone, he insisted that he be buried in the consecrated cemetery of his local parish. His body was to be carried to its final resting place by six priests of the Church of England. To his dying breath, he believed in the historic witness and structures of the Church and that they give space to experience, ensuring that it is guided by the Christ who is found in Scripture and the bishops and priests appointed to his church.

Looking at Charles Wesley’s long and productive life, three things are noteworthy within the space we have here. First, he was a man who loved many, particularly his wife and children, particularly his family, and even his brother with whom he had the greatest impact and the most passionate disagreement. The story is told of John after Charles’ death falling into tears at a Methodist meeting at the words of the hymn: “My company before is gone, and I am left alone with Thee.” The affection between the brothers was real. Secondly, and related to it, is Charles’ gift for friendship. This was what his wife Sarah said was his greatest gift. Charles was a friend to many, even across differences. Finally, but definitely not the least, is the passion that Charles had for God, for the message of salvation, and for his Savior. We see this so clearly and so beautifully in his hymns. This love drove his poetic work. And we are the benefactors of that gift. With saints below and saints above, because of Charles Wesley we can sing the praises of God in words both profound and sublime. We can sing of that transforming love that makes us whole, even in the words of one of his greatest offerings:

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure, and spotless, let us be,
Let us see Thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in Thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!

Ryan Nicholas Danker is the Director of the John Wesley Institute in Washington, DC, as well as the president of the Charles Wesley Society. Dr. Danker is the author of Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism and co-editor of The Next Methodism and Assistant Lead Editor of Firebrand Magazine.

After Disaffiliation

After Disaffiliation

By Jason Vickers —

For God so loved the world. So begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God does not need the world. God in no way depends upon the world. The world’s existence is sheer grace. It is a fitting expression of God’s loving nature. God loves the world – so much so that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, shining light in the enveloping darkness (John 1:1-5).

But the Gospel is not finished. It also declares that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God does not love the world because we are righteous. God loves the world despite our sin and unrighteousness – so much so that Christ suffered and died in order to reconcile us to God and make us ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Central as it is in the drama of redemption, the cross is not the final word of the Gospel. God’s love for the world is further displayed in Christ’s resurrection, signaling as it does God’s power over death and God’s resolve to renew God’s good creation. But God does not raise Jesus in order to take him away, leaving us powerless in the face of sin and death. Even now, the risen Lord is present in the sacramental life of the church, forgiving, comforting, and sanctifying us. God loves us and has mercy upon us – so much so that God provides us with means of grace by which the Holy Spirit joins us to the crucified and risen Lord. Incorporated into Christ’s body, the power and promise of the resurrection enable us to weather the storms of life and to live together as a sign of God’s love for the world (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Gloriously good news that it is, even Christ’s resurrection does not exhaust the Gospel. Tragically, sin and death continue to have their way in the world. Brokenness and hostility are everywhere. The righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper (Psalm 73:12-14). Warring and violence persist. Amid the flickering light, a deep and encircling darkness remains, just as the Lord promised (Matthew 24:6). Fortunately, the Gospel declares that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). God’s love for the world will have the last word – a word of welcome for those who persevere, and a word of condemnation for those who oppose the cause of Christ. And his kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:33).

All of this is the Gospel; it is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). With the help of the Holy Spirit, we cling to this good news in faith, hope, and love. But we are also called to proclaim it throughout the world. We are called to proclaim that God is love (1 John 4:8b); that God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4); and that God will sanctify us and preserve us blameless at the coming of our Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). We are called to proclaim that, with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). We are called to proclaim that Christ has disarmed the authorities and powers, including death itself, and that we therefore have nothing to fear (Colossians 2:15).

The world desperately needs to hear the Gospel. The world needs to hear that God is love and that God has not abandoned God’s good creation. The world needs to hear that, because of Jesus Christ, we do not have to be slaves to sin (Romans 6:20-22). We do not have to despise our neighbors or horde our resources. We do not have to be captive to anger and bitterness and shame. Nor are we doomed to cynicism and despair. But for the world to hear the Gospel, someone must proclaim it.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15).

The proclamation of the Gospel is central to the church’s mission. It is what we are called to do. We come together for worship and fellowship, but we are ultimately sent out to bear witness to the Gospel in our neighborhoods and workplaces and to the imprisoned and the infirmed. We receive the body and blood of Christ so that we might be Christ’s body and blood for the sake of the world. And this is why disagreement and disunity among Christians is so deadly. In our disunity, we risk losing sight of the high calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1). Caught up in our disputes with one another, we lose sight of the very world that God so loves. In turn, the world sees our disunity, shakes its head in disbelief, and sinks ever deeper into the darkness.

Disagreement and disunity are realities of church life. Across the centuries, the church has endured many seasons of separation and schism, most notably, the Great Schism of 1054 and the Protestant Reformation. Methodism itself is the result of a separation from the Church of England. Wesleyan-holiness churches separated from Methodism. And so on. Of course, the fact that there have been many divisions and schisms across the centuries does not justify disunity. Unity in the body of Christ is something we should all earnestly seek for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus himself prayed that we would all be one, even as he and the Father are one (John 17:21). In the meantime, which is to say in the midst of the painful reality of disunity, we must do all that we can not to lose sight of the world that God loves – a world inhabited by drug dealers and sex traffickers and by people whose lives have been broken by addiction and abuse. 

In the months and years ahead, Methodist clergy and laity will continue to make decisions about their futures. Many will remain in The United Methodist Church. Many will join the newly founded Global Methodist Church. Some will join other existing denominations. Others will choose to become independent. Once decisions are made, the only question that will remain is whether we will allow ourselves forever to be defined by our disagreements with one another. To the extent that we do, the cause of the Gospel will suffer, and with it the world that God so loves.

If we are to be salt and light in the world, then we must both understand the Gospel and be able to communicate it effectively to a world that views the Gospel as so much folly. These are monumental tasks – understanding the Gospel and communicating it effectively. Each requires the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. We all need the Spirit’s help more fully to understand the mysteries into which we have been baptized. And we all need the Spirit’s help to communicate the Gospel in such a way that the world can hear it as good news and respond to it in faith.

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit has not left us bereft of resources to help with these tasks. On the contrary, the Spirit is a generous giver of gifts to aid the church in both understanding and communicating the Gospel for the sake of the world. For starters, there is the gift of Holy Scripture, the foundation of all true teaching concerning God and all things in relation to God. But that is not all. The Spirit also gives the gift of worship and sacraments, by which we glorify God, die and rise with Christ, and experience sanctifying communion with our Lord. Beyond all of this, the Spirit gives us the gift of doctrine and theology, as well as the gift of great teachers who can help us to contemplate the mysteries contained therein. There are also the gifts of leadership and the offices of ministry, including bishops, elders, and deacons – offices essential for the maintenance of the sacramental life of the church, for ordination, and for discipline. The Spirit also gives innumerable gifts to the laity, such as hospitality, prayer, care-giving, and service. There are also gifts of language and music, poetry and art.

In the Christian East, icons and iconography are received as gifts of the Spirit – the Gospel written in gold. All these things, and more besides, are best understood as means of grace by which we come to know and love God and communicate God’s love for the world.

Understanding the Gospel and being transformed by it, let alone communicating it effectively to the world, requires a deep immersion in all the means of grace. We need to know the Scriptures inside and out. We need to internalize the Creed, and we need a deep knowledge of our essential doctrines. We must also be able to convey the vision of God and salvation embedded in Scripture, Creed, and doctrine in a wise and winsome way. We must know when to reach for the Gospel of John and when to deploy the book of Job. We must preach with prophetic passion, calling both the church and the world to repentance, and we must help people experience the healing power of Holy Communion.

Tragically, disunity and schism threaten to rob us of the very means of grace on which our life with God depends. They do so in two ways. First, in the midst of division and disunity, we can turn gifts of the Holy Spirit meant for our sanctification and to aid in the proclamation of the Gospel into weapons with which we pummel our enemies’ positions. This is a danger that people on all sides of the current disagreements in Methodism must be on guard against. When we turn to Scripture and doctrine primarily to fund our arguments with one another – whatever those arguments might be about – we risk losing sight of the world that God so loves. The primary purpose of the means of grace that the Spirit gives to the church is to rouse the world to faith and to enable all to live in hope and love rather than vengeance and fear. 

The second way that division and schism can rob us of the means of grace so crucial for our sanctification and for the effective proclamation of the Gospel may be even more dangerous than the first. In any schism, those who disaffiliate from an established church will be tempted to set aside gifts of the Spirit that, in the midst of division, they have come to see as problematic or harmful. For example, in the Protestant Reformation, many were quick to discard gifts of the Spirit that their ancestors in the faith had experienced as means of grace for sanctification and proclaiming the Gospel. The list of sacraments was reduced to two, often with little thought as to what the long-haul consequences of such a reduction might be. In addition, visual representation of the Gospel in sacred art and images was rejected, leading to a devastating wave of iconoclasm across Protestant Europe, and an utter disregard for the ways in which visual images can aid people in coming to faith, in the journey of sanctification, and in the communication of the Gospel to the world.

In any division that ends in separation, those who disaffiliate from an established church will have to make crucial decisions about what resources are essential for helping people come to faith, for sanctification, and for the effective proclamation of the Gospel. In the current division within Methodism, both those who affiliate with the Global Methodist Church and those who become independent will have to make such decisions. As they do, it would be wise to remember that all the gifts of the Spirit to the church have at one time or another been subject to misuse and abuse. However, the fact that something has been misappropriated does not mean it is not a gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. For instance, many Methodists believe that the episcopacy and theological education have been subject to corruption and abuse in recent years. This does not mean that episcopacy and theology are not gifts of the Holy Spirit that, when rightly received and deployed, are crucial for understanding, receiving, and proclaiming the Gospel. On the contrary, what is now needed is a deliberate re-connecting of all the means of grace, including episcopacy and theology, to these ends.

In the meantime, the world is waiting.

Jason Vickers is Professor of Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and the incoming William J. Abraham Chair in Wesleyan Studies at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Dr. Vickers is the editor of the Wesleyan Theological Journal and the author or editor of ten books, including A Wesleyan Theology of the Eucharist and the Cambridge Companion to American Methodism.