By Keith Boyette
In his book The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Alan Kreider makes the case that Christians dramatically impacted the Roman Empire through their persistent, faithful living out of the lifestyle God calls them to in Jesus Christ. The world was not transformed by their persuasive words, their slick productions, or their carefully constructed evangelistic campaigns. Rather, they lived authentic, transparent lives that were transformed by the life of Christ. Their neighbors saw in them an integrity that communicated a hope and a future radically different than the culture that surrounded them.
God had promised he would act in the world, and they patiently waited for God to do what God alone would be able to do. In the words of Scripture, they stood. They were present as a witness – not so much by the words they spoke as the lives they lived. And over the course of four centuries, this movement that began with Jesus and a small band of disciples, women and men, overtook the world – they were more than conquerors through Jesus Christ who loved them.
I would hardly compare the journey we have been on as the Wesleyan Covenant Association to the journey of Christ followers in the first four centuries, but I think there are significant parallels. Five-and-one-half years ago, many of us gathered in a convention center near Chicago O’Hare Airport captivated by a vision of what God could do through his church if we lived as Jesus called us to live. Tired of being part of an institution that seemed to thrive on its internal conflicts, we longed for a better way. We dared to believe that Jesus could still be Lord of a movement birthed through the life of John Wesley and so many others.
We unabashedly believed in the singular message the early church proclaimed – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the cross. We affirmed that everything necessary for salvation is contained in the pages of the Scriptures – the Old and New Testaments. We humbly confessed that those who had journeyed in this way before us – our mothers and fathers in the faith – had captured the beauty and vitality of the Christian faith in the great confessions of the church universal – in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. We ordered our lives around the unique distinctives that have characterized Methodism since the days of Wesley as expressed in the Articles of Religion and the Confessions of Faith.
We have stood. We praised God that he enabled our movement to prevail in upholding the classical, historic tenets of our faith once again when we gathered as the church to conference together in 2019. We recognized that two irreconcilable visions of the church were seeking to co-exist in one body – each at odds with the other. We loved the bride of Christ – the Church – too much to be part of spoiling its witness to a world desperately in need of its message by extending that conflict indefinitely. Though our vision of the church prevailed, we recognized that the conflict within the church was still seething. With humility, we saw the need to step away from the endless cycle of conflict – to envision an expression of Methodism that would embody the best of the ancient Christian faith, boldly proclaiming its truths and unequivocally striving to live out its tenets.
We committed to dialogue with those who held a different vision of the church to see if, despite our significant differences, we could stop harming one another and part ways amicably and peacefully. And so we did the hard work of peacemaking with the hope that God would do a new thing. We dared to believe that we could be a witness to the world of how those who had profound differences could bless and send each other their separate ways. And so, the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation emerged – envisioning the restructuring of our denomination through the creation of two or three new Methodist expressions. We committed to giving sacrificially of ourselves so that such a separation would be amicable. We did not want to see the witness of the church of which we have been a part be that of tearing and rending.
Together with others who shared our vision and commitments, we began the hard work of building a new Methodist church. Just days ago, that new expression became a reality with the launch of the Global Methodist Church. Hundreds of people have invested thousands of hours over the past two years in unseen ways to make that vision a reality. Because of your investment – your prayers – your labors, we now have an alternative – the opportunity to be part of a church that is:
• unreservedly committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ who are salt and light in the world;
• passionate in its worship – that authentically lives out its beliefs in every nook and cranny of the world – that takes its faith into the fields that are ripe for harvest;
• in love with Jesus and loves its neighbors extravagantly – striving to share generously the blessings of God in lives that reach the full potential God intended; and
• bold in its witness to the truths of Christianity – unashamed of the faith delivered to us by the saints – that demonstrates in word and deed the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
Today, the Wesleyan Covenant Association pivots. We have completed one part of our vision and mission – to ensure that there is a faithful place for those captivated by the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ and committed to proclaiming the great truths of Scripture so we might encourage one another and serve God and our neighbors.
Our mission continues to include a bold and winsome witness to the Christian faith – contending for the classic, historic confessions of what it means to be marked by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We continue to long for renewal and revival so that the abundant life of Jesus is present in all we do. We continue to encourage and inspire those who hold to the vision of the church God has given us, and to connect them in vital community.
We now will focus on helping individuals and local churches navigate in this season of uncertainty. We will use our influence in the church to enable God’s new wine to fill the new wineskin he has created. Separation is no longer in the future. Separation has occurred. Significant work remains to be done to fulfill the call of God.
I am grateful for our regional chapter presidents, regional chapter councils, members and supporters, as well as those who have served with me on the staff and the WCA Council. No one will fully understand the depth and extent of your labors on behalf of so many.
God’s patient ferment continues. He continues to use ordinary people like you and me to do extraordinary things. Our journey is not without cost, but we are more than conquerors through Jesus who loves us. God has shepherded us through a wilderness season. He continues to go before us. A new day has dawned for the people called Methodist. May we be found faithful and may Jesus be glorified and honored in all we do.
“Now may the God of peace – who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood – may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21, NLT).
Keith Boyette has served as the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association since its inception and has just become the senior executive and administrative officer for the Global Methodist Church. This article is adapted from his address to the WCA Global Gathering in Indianapolis in May.