By Jeff Greenway-
God is doing a new thing among those of us who claim the historic, orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan expression of our faith. With the Wesleyan Covenant Association, we are planting seeds today — that when full grown — will bear the fruit of a vital Wesleyan witness and a dynamic Spirit-filled Methodism across the globe.
The various renewal groups within United Methodism have served an important purpose in the history of our denomination — a purpose they will continue to perform as we journey through this season of uncertainty toward what’s next. They placed a stake in the ground that has kept orthodoxy rooted in our tradition. It has not always been easy and not everyone has appreciated their role and function. However, they have done us a great service.
Most of us hold onto the stake that has been placed in the ground at the center of historic, orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan Christianity. We share a similar view of the nature and role of Scripture as has been embraced by the mainstream of Christianity for 2,000 years. We embrace a Wesleyan understanding of salvation that begins to work itself out in holiness of heart and life — and social justice that is connected to personal holiness.
If you were to stretch out a rubber band from orthodoxy’s center point, it would help visualize a stressed and stretched band of relationship called United Methodism — and our connection to another group of folks with whom we share increasingly little in common. We read the same Bible, we pledge to support the same Discipline, and we quote from the same Wesley sermons but we are talking about very different expressions of faith.
Some of us have had it and are ready to bolt. This group sees large segments of our denomination that are living in deliberate breach of covenant and open rebellion against our polity. We are confused about why we are not separating ourselves from those who have broken covenant. Trust has been irreparably breached and we are ready to move on because we see no integrity across the whole of the Connection.
Others have also had it, but also understand that orthodox, traditionalist, Wesleyans are in a positon to help shape what comes next. This group believes that the rubber band has not been stretched so far that the core of the UM Church cannot be pulled back to the center point. We want to give our denomination one last opportunity to right itself — and are prayerfully waiting for the bishops’ Commission to do its work.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have convictions. 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. Any plan that requires traditionalist, orthodox, Wesleyan United Methodists to compromise our principles and understanding of Scripture — or that allows for differences in our practices, including any “local option” around ordination and marriage — will not be acceptable to most evangelicals.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is trying to appeal to both of those perspectives and others in between. While we may be of varying opinions about strategy, I believe we are one in heart, one in love for Jesus Christ, one in commitment to the essential, orthodox doctrines and foundational moral teachings of the Christian faith, and one in our passion to proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ and spread Scriptural holiness across the world.
Change is coming. While we all have opinions, none of us really knows what it will look like. Nevertheless, we can agree that the church that brought us here is not the church that will take us into the future.
This is a crucial time for the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. We need to hang together during this “in between” season as we live into what’s next.
We are a gathering of like-minded, warm-hearted, Jesus-loving, Spirit-filled, Wesleyan, evangelical, orthodox, covenant-keeping Christians who love the church and are committing to be connected together in mission. We are an association of churches, clergy, and laity committed to advancing vibrant, scriptural Christianity within Methodism. We are coming together to support, network, and encourage each other as we live into the Next for our movement.
Jeff Greenway is the lead pastor of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church and chairperson of the Wesleyan Covenant Association council. This article is adapted from Dr. Greenway’s remarks at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.