Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter
By Chris Ritter-
In times of confusion, a clarion call is both needful and life-giving. Martin Luther’s confession before the Diet of Worms is sometimes summarized in this way: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” In Scripture, the elderly patriarch Joshua gathered an indecisive nation of Israel to Shechem and said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). We recognize that we have arrived at a kairos moment for United Methodists. It is important that we speak with a unified voice to our beloved church, naming the crucial juncture at which we now stand.
The Chicago Statement of the Wesleyan Covenant Association that follows insists upon the twin virtues of accountability and integrity. If the commission cannot point us toward a path to unity that restores order to our church, then they should develop a way to release those who cannot live by our covenant to a separate future of their own choosing. If we are one church we need to stop acting like two churches. If we are two churches, we need to stop pretending to be one.
I say these things as someone who has worked passionately for the cause of church unity over the past few years. I love The United Methodist Church and I know you do, too. It is precisely because we love the church that we cannot allow it to stay where it is. Our mission is too urgent. The times in which we live call out desperately for a faithful church. We want a house that is in order so we can focus on the work Jesus called us to do.
We invite the bishops to call a special General Conference in 2018. We commit to pray for the bishops and the commission they have formed. We call for a decisive plan that will settle the matters of biblical authority and human sexuality that are currently in dispute. We join with the College Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction in viewing recent acts of covenant breaking as “disruptive and divisive.” Perhaps most importantly, we signal that there is a significant new movement of faithful clergy and laity that will not settle for the church being less than the church.
Chris Ritter is directing pastor of a multi-site ministry in Illinois that includes Geneseo First United Methodist Church, Cambridge UM Church, and Roots QC. He is a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association council. This article is adapted from Dr. Ritter’s remarks at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.
The Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter addresses the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago. Photo by Steve Beard.
Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on Friday, October 7, 2016, over 1,700 participants at the launch event of the Wesleyan Covenant Association affirmed the following statement:
The association is a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from across The United Methodist Church, committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the uncertain future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.
We have heard from many concerned United Methodists who believe that the church’s current situation is untenable. Some of our members are leaving their local churches or suspending their giving. Some local churches are suspending or redirecting the payment of apportionments, while other congregations are preparing to leave the denomination. Therefore, we call upon the Council of Bishops to:
• Swiftly name the members of the commission and expedite their gathering to begin working together, and
• Approve the call for a special General Conference in early 2018 to enable resolution of the conflict that divides us before further harm is done to United Methodist members, congregations, conferences, and ministries.
As faithful United Methodists, we will fervently pray for the bishops’ Commission on A Way Forward. And while we patiently wait for it to complete its work, we call upon its members to:
• Work deliberately and expeditiously as it prepares a recommendation for a called General Conference scheduled for early 2018;
• Regularly update the people of the church regarding its progress, or lack thereof, and,
• Bring forth a recommendation that would definitively resolve our debate over The United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics and its understanding of marriage.
We deeply regret the acts of covenant breaking that have accelerated in frequency and in seriousness since the 2016 General Conference. Therefore, we join with the Southeastern College of Bishops in viewing such actions as “divisive and disruptive.”
• The proposed “pause for prayer and discernment” from the Council of Bishops that was adopted by the General Conference has been ignored by many progressives, leaving us to wonder if we have good faith partners who are willing to work toward a common future for The United Methodist Church.
• Despite the pledge of the Council of Bishops to uphold and enforce the Book of Discipline, some bishops are now routinely settling complaints against clergy who violate the Discipline with no consequences. This gives us reason to believe they will continue to break faith with the general church, despite what the special commission proposes.
• At least nine boards of ordained ministry or annual conferences and two jurisdictional conferences have pledged not to conform or comply with the requirements of the Discipline. Despite some rulings nullifying those actions, we have no confidence that a covenant that depends upon voluntary compliance can hold in the face of such defiance.
• The election of a person in a same-sex marriage to the office of bishop, in blatant contradiction to the requirements of the Discipline, has undermined the very structure of our global church to the point that its future survival is in question.
We believe it is imperative for the commission to propose a plan that calls for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restores the good order of our church’s polity. If the commission determines no such a plan is possible, then we believe it should prepare a plan of separation that honors the consciences of all the people of the church and allows them to go forward in peace and good will. A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association wants what is best for United Methodist laity and clergy, and we are convinced a speedy resolution of our present crisis is now essential and imperative for the church’s future viability.
May God bless our bishops as they select the members of the commission, and may He lead and guide those who are chosen for this important task.
Heather Evans leads the Eat, Pray, Love fresh expression for Grace United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Grace UM Church.
By Jorge Acevedo-
Leadership guru Jim Collins teaches that smart and successful companies practice the genius of the “and” instead of the tyranny of the “or.” He believes that in choosing between seemingly contradictory concepts – focusing on this or that – leads to missed opportunities.
Should the product be low cost or high quality? Should a company be bold or conservative? Collins and his team at Stanford discovered that the best companies find a way to embrace the positive aspects of both sides of a dichotomy, and instead of choosing, they find a way to have both.
As followers of Jesus in the Wesleyan way, we practice this principle of the genius of the “and” in our understanding and living out of the life of faith. Think about some of the apparent choices some in Christianity might want us to make: Is it grace or is it truth? Is it faith or is it works? Is it radical welcome or is it radical Gospel? Is it orthodoxy or is it orthopraxy? Is it love of God or love of neighbor?
When we in the Wesleyan stream get it right, we refuse to be sequestered to one corner or another, but instead choose the robust middle way, which we understand as the way of Jesus.
We Methodists believe in holding in tension both works of piety and works of mercy. Faith expressed without a robust expression of both in the life of an individual follower of Jesus or a local church is incomplete and unbiblical in our understanding of what it means to live in Christ. For us faith is lived best when as a follower of Jesus. I work on my prayer life and work to end human trafficking. My local church is being faithful to the way of Jesus when our hands are lifted high in transcending worship and our hands are reaching low to work with the poor.
This was part of the genius of the Wesleys and the early Methodists. Early Methodists searched for innovative places and ways to find “ports of entry” where the Holy Spirit went before them to share the Good News of Jesus. Some of the early Methodist “ports of entry” included an amazing diversity of fresh expressions such as field preaching, literacy efforts, medical care for the sick, homes for orphans and widows, care for the physically handicapped and chronically ill, opposition to slavery, inexpensive mass publications, and economic development projects for the poor.
Wesley and the early Methodists resisted making the Gospel and salvation simply a ticket out of hell. “By salvation I mean, not barely, according to the vulgar notion, deliverance from hell, or going to heaven,” wrote John Wesley, “but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy and truth” (The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 8, page 47).
For Wesley and his spiritual progeny, salvation cannot be limited to deliverance from the penalty of sin, but also includes deliverance from the power of sin. At Grace Church where I am privileged to serve, we tell our people that Jesus not only wants to rescue you from the hell you are headed to, but also the hell you are living in.
As a pastor in one local United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida for 20 years, I have had the awesome privilege of watching a hard-working, blue-collar congregation live richly and deeply into this lush Wesleyan DNA.
Ministry with the Poor. One of the hallmarks of the early Methodists was the way they invested their limited resources in creating places for people on the margins of society to receive the ministry of Jesus. The Industrial Revolution in England moved masses of people into living conditions that were catastrophic for that time. The invention of the steam engine and other laborsaving devices only heightened unemployment. The English attitude toward poverty was that it was the fault of the poor and carried a stigma of divine punishment.
Into this cultural milieu, listen to what John Wesley wrote about his ministry with and for the poor some 20 years after Aldersgate (Journal, November 17, 1759): “It is well a few of the rich and noble are called. Oh, that God would increase their number! But I should rejoice (were it the will of God) if it were done by the ministry of others. If I must choose, I should still (as I have done hitherto) preach the gospel to the poor.”
At Grace Church, Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan has helped us think about two kinds of ministry with and for the poor. You’ll remember that in Jesus’ story, the half-breed Samaritan saw the beaten Jew and was moved with compassion. So much so that he bandaged him up, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn. This was a first century Palestinian ambulance and hospital! The Samaritan met the poor man’s immediate need. He offered the man “aid.”
At Grace Church, we believe that Jesus meant it when he said, “When I was hungry, you fed me.” We have many immediate aid ministries like food, clothing, pet, and medical ministries. These ministries bandage the wounded of our county and garner us relational capital to share the Gospel.
But Jesus’ story doesn’t end there because the Samaritan’s compassion for this man was not fully expressed. The kind man returned and promised to pay for his expenses until the man could get back up on his feet. The Good Samaritan was committed to the beaten Jew’s on-going “advancement.”
For us, advancement ministries are those ministries that move people from dependence and reliance to independence and freedom. Ministries like GED, recovery ministries and Jobs for Life, a ministry that assists the un-employed and under-employed to become more employable help people advance.
Our most recent and exciting ministry for and with the poor is the adopting of the largest pocket of poverty in our county, the Suncoast community. It’s the second largest trailer park in America with an under-performing school in it. A few years ago, we began an after school children’s program. Last year, we sent 50 reading mentors to the school in this community. This past month, we launched a fresh expression of incarnational dinner church that we call “Eat, Love, and Pray” on Thursday nights. In its first month, we saw 339 participants (136 different people) and two first-time commitments to Jesus. This is a working poor community that is experiencing the love of Jesus through the Body of Christ in their neighborhood, not at our church facility.
Ministry with the Addicted. Another of the geniuses of the early Methodist movement was how its interconnected groups served as a tool to grow people
The Rev. Jorge Acevedo addresses the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Photo by Steve Beard.
in grace. The group model of the early Methodists included:
• United Societies: large groups for instruction and worship
• Class meetings: 10-12 people for spiritual growth
• Bands: same gender groups of about 6 persons who were committed grow in love, holiness and purity of intention
There was also a fourth group called the “penitent bands.” In his book John Wesley’s Class Meeting, Dr. D. Michael Henderson writes the following about penitent bands: “This final group of Wesley’s system was specifically designed for those who lacked the will power or personal discipline to live up to the behavioral demands of the class meeting but still had a desire to overcome personal problems. The target population of the entire Methodist system was ‘the dregs of English society,’ some of whom had serious social dysfunctions. The primary goal of the penitent band was to restore its members to the mainstream of society and its regular channels of growth. The penitent bands met on Saturday nights, designed to keep them out of their ‘old haunts.’ The minister in charge was assigned the responsibility to help them deal with their problems, especially alcoholism. The group was rigorous in format and stringent in means of personal reform; similar to today’s Alcoholics Anonymous.”
In my estimation, many United Methodist churches are guilty of what I call “spiritual malpractice.” That is, they offer Jesus the Healer without offering the people, places, and processes for people to heal. My seminary professor, Dr. Fred Van Tatenhove, told his students, “Don’t take the lid off the trashcan if you are not willing to help people clean it out!” Churches can be faithful to the evangelistic call to know Jesus as the Forgiver, Healer, and Leader of their lives, but then stop short of helping that new relationship take root inside the battered life of the fledging Christ-follower.
A few years ago, I was part of a team that addressed a conference at Asbury Theological Seminary on Addictions, Recovery, and Holiness. Dr. Dale Ryan, director of the Institute for Recovery Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, argued that addictions are the number one cause of death globally according to the World Health Organizations statistics on mortality. Hidden behind much suicide, heart disease, and accidental deaths are precious persons who were lost in a life of addictions.
Every one of us knows multiple people – maybe close family – who are struggling and even dying of addictions. My wife Cheryl and I have lived through a hellish decade with our son Nathan’s struggle with addictions and mental illness.
Grace Church has a profound commitment to healing people in our community who are addicted through our recovery ministries. On any given week, we host 25 traditional recovery groups, two full-scale Celebrate Recovery ministries, and an evening of same gender six-month-long step studies. In total on any given week at all our campuses, we will have 600 people or more in recovery meetings. Additionally, we take a meeting into a detox center every Thursday.
After 17 years of this kind of “penitent band” ministry, I can unequivocally say that it has changed my life, my family, our church, and our community. Just a few weeks ago, I hugged three different people after speaking at a Celebrate Recovery service. John who is a drug addict had received his one-year chip. A year ago, he was in jail and dying. Today, he is reunited with his wife and beginning to step into some simple leadership in our ministry. I also got to hug Patti after receiving her eight-year chip. Eight years ago, Patti sold her body for crack cocaine. That night, she was a stunning trophy of God’s healing and redeeming grace. The last person I hugged was Amanda. She was 90 days sober and 20 years ago, I baptized her as a baby at the same altar where that night I was embracing her. Only God!
Frankly, this is my new addiction – watching Jesus put lives back together. I can’t get enough of it.
Ministry with the Marginalized. One of the early Methodist bases for works of piety and works mercy was the Foundry in London. The main room of the building was large enough to seat 1500 people. At one time, the Foundry had been a place for casting cannons. After a serious explosion in 1716, the weapons operation moved to Woolwich. The Foundry remained damaged and unused until 1738 when John Wesley either rented or purchased it and organized the Methodist Society there.
In addition to worship services, other ministries occurred on the premises such as a school for marginalized children and the dispensing of money from a loan fund for poor people to help prevent them from paying exorbitant interest to others (think microloans). This is what early Methodists did.
Several years ago, God opened a door for our church to minister to persons with special needs and their families – a marginalized and “unreached people group” in our community. We discovered that the divorce rate among families with special needs children is significantly higher than the national average. Mothers with children with special needs typically die earlier. We also learned that there are limited community resources in Florida after a person with special needs turns 22 years old.
In response, we first began a Sunday morning “buddy” program that integrated younger children with special needs into our children’s ministry. Then we began a monthly 3-hour respite program for families with children of special needs. But the most exciting ministry we began was a ministry called Exceptional Entrepreneurs (EE). This ministry had a vision to create employment and training opportunities for young adults. And it has exploded.
This ministry is a safe place where persons with special needs learn to make products that are sold. Several of the students receive a paycheck. Bible studies are a regular part of this fresh expression of church. About two years ago one of the volunteers was led to Christ and baptized on a Sunday morning. Several of our EE students began to ask questions about being baptized themselves. One evening I met with the students and their families to talk about being baptized and following Jesus and later that month, we baptized four of them.
As I drove home that morning after their baptisms, I told the Lord, “Take me because it can’t get any better than this!”
This passion for the poor, addicted, and marginalized is who we are as Methodists. This is our spiritual DNA. It’s in our blood. This is who we are and what we do as the people called Methodists.
Jorge Acevedo is the lead pastor at Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation in Southwest Florida with six campuses. Grace Chuirch is recognized as having one of the largest and most effective recovery ministries in America. This article is adapted from Rev. Acevedo’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.
The Rev. Christhard Elle leads an outdoor worship service in northern Germany. Photo courtesy of World Methodist Council.
By Kimberly D. Reisman-
We are part of an amazing global Wesleyan movement – over 80 million strong. There are only two groups of Christians who have a bigger family than we do: the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
Our family of Wesleyan Methodists is a praying family. In over 130 countries your brothers and sisters pray and fast weekly. We begin our fast as Wesley did, on Thursday after dinner, and we continue through late afternoon on Friday. You can be assured that there are people praying all over the world with three concerns for the Wesleyan Covenant Association. First, that we would be in tune with the Holy Spirit. Second, that we would be bold in our witness. Third, that we would confidently claim the riches of our Wesleyan heritage.
Those three supplications are intimately connected. I’ve seen evidence of it all over the world. When the Methodist Wesleyan family is in tune with the Holy Spirit, when we are bold in our witness and dig deep into the distinctives of Wesleyan theology, lives are changed and cultures are transformed.
Sometimes those lives and cultures are transformed by being enriched, other times they are transformed by being upended. But in either case, the change is real and the transformation is powerful.
Our sisters and brothers around the world are praying for us because they understand the importance of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. In many parts of the world the Wesleyan Methodist family is an embattled stronghold for the Gospel. In some areas that battle is a life threatening one. In other areas the danger is subtler, yet the counter-cultural witness of Gospel faithfulness is no less significant.
Time and time again our brothers and sisters express to me that our willingness to hold fast to the Wesleyan way of holiness gives them hope, because it shows that we are finally recognizing that the Methodist movement is greater than The United Methodist Church in the United States.
Our sisters and brothers are hopeful because they believe we finally realize that the strength of our movement is not measured by how relevant or hip we are, or whether we can check all the vital congregation boxes on our charge conference forms, or whether we are following the seven vision pathways or are actively addressing the newest adaptive challenge.
Our brothers and sisters are hopeful because they have caught a glimmer that we are finally realizing something they’ve known all along – that the strength of our movement is directly related to how deeply we rely on God the Father, who sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. I join my sisters and brothers in the worldwide Methodist Wesleyan family in their hopefulness.
Friends, the Holy Spirit is moving and the church is growing all over the world. Not because people are trusting in their own wealth or strength or strategy or structure, but because they are living out a counter-cultural faith rooted in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. Let me give you two examples.
1. I recently had the privilege of speaking to a gathering of women in Northeast Nigeria – 15,000 of them – not counting the men and children. This United Methodist gathering took place in an area with a predominately Islamic regional government. I had to have an interview with a governmental official who was not very pleased that I was visiting his jurisdiction.
Yet in the midst of that cultural milieu, 15,000 women left their homes – many of them walking for days – to be present for a week of Holy Spirit inspired worship, dancing, and learning, many of them coming to Christ for the first time.
2. My friend Christhard Elle pastors in the northern part of Germany. He sent me a picture of his most recent outdoor worship service. In a culture where churches are viewed more as museums than houses of prayer and worship, the Holy Spirit has moved Christhard to follow the example of Wesley and preach in the fields and village squares.
The gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ, the opportunity for healing and the forgiveness of sins, the sharing of Holy Communion, and the call to holiness of heart and life are being publically and visibly made known in a seemingly resistant culture. Hearts are opening, and the seeds of good news are falling on ground that is surprisingly ripe for the fullness of the Gospel message.
Triune shape. When we tap into Holy Spirit power and wisdom, things begin to take on a totally different shape – not a shape formed by the idiosyncrasies of any particular culture, whether that be Western, African, Latino, Asian, or any other. When we tap into Holy Spirit power and wisdom, things begin to lose their cultural shape and take on a Triune shape.
This is a shape where power shows itself in vulnerability. This is a shape that values relationship, reciprocity, and self-giving more than autonomy, isolation, and control. This is a shape that recognizes the need for humility, and a genuine desire to learn from others. This is a shape that appreciates the difference between helping and empowering. This is a shape that offers holy love, accepting us the way we are but thankfully never leaving us that way.
I believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a place where we can be encouraged to follow the lead of those beyond the United States and begin rooting ourselves in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can move beyond self-reliance, and boldly claim, or reclaim, the Trinitarian shape of Wesleyan life and witness.
John’s vision. Early on in my ministry it became clear to me that God has a wicked sense of humor. When I was young, I spent a good deal of time trying to avoid marrying a minister, then God decided to make me one.
Recently I remembered that back in my days at Yale Divinity School, John’s Revelation scared the beejeebers out of me, so I avoided reading it at all costs. Now, it’s one of my favorite parts of Scripture – especially the last two chapters.
I think I’m drawn to those last chapters of Revelation because I see it embodied in our global Methodist family. All the saints, in every place, calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation tells us that God is going to make God’s home among the people, and God is going to gather those who are sanctified in Jesus Christ, who in every place call on the name of the Lord. God is going to gather them together. And there is a reason for that gathering, a purpose: for the healing of the nations.
That’s good news isn’t it? Healing salvation in Jesus Christ! For all the nations – every people group. The people group called the United States could use some of that healing don’t you think? When I look out at the brokenness of the United States, I thank God that he is gathering those who are sanctified, in every place, who all call on the name of the Lord for the healing of my nation, and every nation.
God’s love. We know from Jesus’ physical resurrection that God values our bodies. God loves the physical world. God created it good and has chosen it to be the context in which God’s new creation will unfold, the context where the nations will be healed.
We know from Pentecost that God values all our languages and delights in the plethora of cultures and ethnicities that cover the face of the earth.
The United Methodist Church may be only a small fraction of the worldwide Wesleyan Methodist family, but we are a microcosm of that larger family. Did you know that French is the primary language for one out of every 5 United Methodists? And did you know that 25 percent of all United Methodists have a heart language that’s not English? It won’t be long – likely in just 4 years – that there will be more United Methodists outside the United States than in.
We may only be a small portion of the worldwide Wesleyan Methodist family, but we are a microcosm of it, and when we gather, we become a visible witness to the truth that our God delights in our uniqueness, delights in our cultures, delights in our ethnicities and languages.
And even greater still, when we gather, we become more than the sum of our parts because we begin to embody John’s Revelation image, an image that delights in all those cultures, ethnicities and languages, but transcends them at the same time.
A foretaste. When we gather, we become a foretaste of God’s healing salvation, a foretaste of a future when we will be reconciled with God and with each other. When we gather, we become a foretaste of God’s healing salvation offered to all the nations, where no more will there be weeping, or sorrow, or death, and where God will wipe the tears from every eye and make all things new. What a remarkable privilege we have to be that kind of foretaste in our broken, hurting world!
In my work with World Methodist Evangelism, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world. I have seen the church in many lands and in many places. And when the church is truly a foretaste of God’s future, it is indeed a beautiful thing. That’s the church I want to be a part of, and that’s the kind of church I believe the Wesleyan Covenant Association is encouraging us to be.
I don’t want to be a white church. I don’t want to be a Western church. I don’t want to be an American church. I don’t want to be a rich church.
I want to be a part of God’s church – that gathering of the sanctified, who in every place call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That gathering of the sanctified, Trinitarian in form and shaped from first to last by the call to be holy, different, in the world but not of it. That gathering of the sanctified who proclaim and demonstrate that Jesus renews, heals, restores, and transforms every culture, all people, the entire universe, all the dimensions of life.
I want to be part of God’s church. A foretaste of God’s future for all creation.
Kimberly D. Reisman is the World Director of World Methodist Evangelism. She is an approved evangelist and elder in the Indiana Conference. This article is adapted from Dr. Reisman’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.
Rev. Bill Arnold
By Bill Arnold-
In these tumultuous times, it is important to ask “what do United Methodists believe?” The four Doctrinal Standards of our beloved denomination are the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, Standard Sermons of John Wesley, and Wesley’s Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament.
In addition to our four standards, the Wesleyan Covenant Association also adopts the Nicene Creed as a doctrinal standard, indeed, as the standard from which the others flow.
United Methodism is often called a via media expression of faith, or a middle way between two extremes, sometimes called the Methodist Middle or Methodist Centrism. I agree with this characterization of our history. However, this via media centrism is also widely misused today to portray our church as something it was never intended to be.
Wesley’s predecessors in the faith, the English Reformers of the 1500s, were like other Protestant Reformers who rejected the Roman Catholicism of their day. On the other hand, they were also not at home in the Calvinism and Lutheranism that was emerging at the same time. Our predecessors therefore became instruments of God in creating a middle course – something entirely different, affirming the best of Catholicism and the best of Protestantism in a new expression of orthodoxy. We believe Wesley’s predecessors two centuries before him, men like Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, were instruments of God’s grace in creating what eventually emerged as the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Two centuries later, the leaders of the Wesleyan revival of the 1700s were heirs of this Anglican middle way. John Wesley himself has rightly been credited with bringing together the best of East and West, combined with the Pietism of his day, into a third way between Pelagian optimism and Augustinian pessimism. Wesley was a conjunctive theologian. He left us a treasure of theological reflections, in which he developed his “practical divinity” balancing holiness and grace in a way that we believe captures the heart of biblical faith.
Standing today in this Wesleyanism, birthed in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the middle way, we believe The United Methodist Church’s Doctrinal Standards beautifully articulate “the living core of the Christian faith” (2012 Book of Discipline, paragraph 105, page 80) as revealed in Scripture. While we embrace our tradition as finding a middle way, we also affirm that our Doctrinal Standards nevertheless anchor us in traditional, orthodox Christianity. Finding the Methodist sweet spot is not then simply finding a middle compromise between any two conflicting opinions.
Besides being a middle way movement, some have said, incorrectly, that The United Methodist Church “is not a creedal church.” In response, we should ask exactly what is a non-creedal church? What kind of ecclesia has no creed? We believe such a statement is self-contradictory.
Denying that the orthodox creeds of Christianity are at the core of early Methodism flies in the face of the fact that the Wesley brothers were themselves Anglican clergymen, who certainly presupposed the authority of the Nicene Creed, not to mention the reality that the main points of the creeds are already present in our Doctrinal Standards. These standards and this creed are more than mere historical relics of our past. These are the living core of our faith, rooted firmly, we believe, in the revelation contained in the Old and New Testaments.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association embraces the Creed without crossing our fingers behind our backs.
At this critical moment in our church’s history, we in the Wesleyan Covenant Association believe it is time to reclaim and restore the ancient Nicene Creed in a new expression of classical Wesleyanism. We hereby proclaim our assent to, and confession of, the Creed, for the sake of the future of our Methodist movement, and as a bridge to our ecumenical partners in orthodox Christianity around the world.
We believe we are reconnecting our movement to our roots in the Anglo-Catholic stream of Christian orthodoxy found in classical Wesleyanism. This is Wesleyan centrism, the Methodist sweet spot, the living core of the Gospel, which the world so desperately needs today. We in the Wesleyan Covenant Association affirm as central to our faith this single most important ecumenical creed in the history of the Church Universal – the Nicene Creed.
THE NICENE CREED
We believe in one God,
The Father, the Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from True God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through Him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen
– As printed in the United Methodist Hymnal
Bill Arnold is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and professor of Old Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Bill has been a delegate to three General Conferences and is the author of numerous books including Introduction to the Old Testament (Cambridge University Press) and Seeing Black & White in a Gray World (Seedbed). This article is adapted from his remarks at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.
Chapel in Brenham, Texas. Photo by Steve Beard.
By Rob Renfroe-
As the Wesleyan Covenant Association, we want to create something that will exist for generations to come and that will grow the Kingdom of God and change the world long after all of us are forgotten. We are a diverse collection of laity and clergy. We are local pastors, elders and deacons, ordained and provisional. We are seminary students and seminary professors. We are pastors and district superintendents and bishops.
Half of us come from churches with less than 250 in worship. And many of us come from the largest churches in the denomination. We come from every annual conference in the United States and from several parts of Africa. And we are people who love our Wesleyan heritage and who believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.
Some of us are in one of the nine annual conferences that have voted to disregard the Book of Discipline. Some of us have bishops who have encouraged disobedience and who have felt dismissed and demeaned, even opposed and attacked by their leadership. To those who feel alone or abandoned, we want you to know that you are not forgotten. Your brothers and sisters understand your pain and we are grateful for your witness and admire your faithfulness.
Hold on. There is a better day coming and we are going to walk into it together.
What unites us is our commitment to the utter uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, the light of the world and the hope for our lost and fallen race. What makes us one is our willingness to proclaim that Jesus Christ is not one of many teachers, one of many guides, one of many saviors, or one of many ways. In fact, Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life. He is utterly unique – one with the Father – and it is his atoning death that has reconciled my sinful soul and yours to a holy God so that we might have abundant life in this world and eternal life in the world to come.
What unites us is our commitment to the inspiration and the authority of the Bible. We believe the Scriptures are God-breathed, profitable for reproof and correction and doctrine. That means that if the Bible teaches it, it’s not our prerogative to twist it. And if the Bible contains it, it’s not our job to correct it. If parts of the Bible disturb us, we don’t dare discard them because we humbly stand under the authority of the Scriptures not above them.
We believe in the doctrines of the historic church. We affirm what the people of God have believed for the past 2000 years. We believe what the global church believes and we believe what The United Methodist Church says it believes.
We are historic, classical Christians who refuse to be guilty of the chronological snobbery that says pastors, bishops, and theologians who have been influenced by a postmodern, materialistic, hedonist culture know better than those who came before us.
What unites us is our love for the Wesleyan way. This way combines grace and truth. This way affirms instantaneous conversion by the power of the Holy Spirit and life-long transformation through the means of grace. This way emphasizes both personal piety and social holiness and teaches that beliefs matter but what you do with those beliefs matters just as much.
Change is coming. We don’t know what the future will bring. We are not here to promote schism. But we are not here to be naïve either. Change is coming to The United Methodist Church. We all know that. The bishops know that and many have said so publicly. And it is coming fast. Persons have been asked to be on the bishops’ commission. A meeting schedule has been determined. And it appears that a called General Conference is likely in the spring of 2018.
In a year and a half, we will know the future that the commission recommends for the UM Church. And we will know if it’s something we can embrace with integrity or if it will be a recommendation that tells us that we are unimportant and unwanted in the church. What we will need to do will become clear in 18 months or less.
I don’t know what that new day will look like, but if we will focus on what unites us, we can step into that new day strong, smart, strategic, and together.
A line of heroes. We come from a long line of heroes. Our roots go back to One who chose the cross so he could be faithful to the Father. Our lineage includes the apostles who were beheaded and impaled and crucified upside down because they were committed to the truth of the Gospel. There were others, nameless to history but faithful for eternity who were tortured and martyred rather than be untrue to the One who had saved them.
We have a heritage of heroes like John and Charles Wesley and Francis Asbury and Peter Cartwright and Jacob Albright and Philip Otterbein who were misunderstood, maligned, and mistreated in their day when they tried to revive the church. There were heroes like those first circuit riders on the American continent. They lived such hard lives taking the Gospel to the frontier that nearly half of them died before they were 30 years old and two-thirds died before they had served 12 years.
Now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to be faithful, it’s our turn to do something bold, it’s our turn to contend for the Gospel, and to believe that a new day is coming.
A new day. I see a new day coming and I can see a new Methodist movement. Either within The United Methodist Church or, if it must be, outside of it. I can see a movement where we don’t argue over the authority of Scripture or what the Bible teaches about sexuality, but where we focus on ministering to persons who are broken and need healing.
I can see a movement where our seminaries prepare godly men and women to do ministry instead of schools of religion which tenure professors who don’t believe in our doctrines and who teach the latest theological fads that have no power to change the world and that will be forgotten within a generation.
I can see a movement that has freedom to plant evangelical churches on the east and the west coasts and in our urban centers where people will still respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ if it is presented by servant communities with grace and truth.
I can see a Wesleyan movement that cares about the poor and the disenfranchised – cares about them enough to minister to their physical needs and to tell them how their sins can be forgiven and their souls can be saved.
I can see a movement that you and I will be excited and proud to be a part of. I can see a new Wesleyan movement for the 21st century that has not just the form of religion but the power of God filling it and compelling it into a lost world that needs Jesus.
Friends, it’s our turn now, to stand up for the truth and to contend for the Gospel. Do not give up, do not give out, do not get discouraged. There is a new day coming. It begins today and it will continue to save souls, build the church, and change the world, long after every one of us is forgotten. And I am grateful to be stepping into that new day with you.
Rob Renfroe is the pastor of discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church. He is the author of A Way Through the Wilderness and The Trouble with the Truth (Abingdon). This article is adapted from Rev. Renfroe’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.