Archive: Fresh Anointing for Methodism

Archive: Fresh Anointing for Methodism

Archive: Fresh Anointing for Methodism

By H. Eddie Fox
Good News
January/February 2000

As we celebrate 2,000 years since the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it seems a most appropriate time for us to reflect upon the vitality of the worldwide Methodist movement. After all, a dynamic future is rooted in a vibrant past, and the present is vital only when the future is open.

My own personal faith journey is deeply rooted in this movement. My family was Methodist in 1787 in the Appalachian Mountains, in what are now called the Great Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee. For eight generations the “people called Methodist” have nurtured my family in the Christian faith.

Only one year earlier, August 4, 1786, an elderly John Wesley wrote an article entitled, “Thoughts about Methodism.” He wrote, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

John Wesley feared that this movement, as it developed, would fall prey to disease that would render it a dead sect. Diseases such as Doctrinal Amnesia, Spiritual Apathy, and Spiritual Atrophy do indeed render a movement powerless. Is Wesley’s fear a cause for alarm? What is the condition of this movement at the beginning of a new millennium?

Let me be clear. We are not a part of a dying movement. The Methodist movement around the world is growing. World Methodism has grown at the rate of one million per year for the past decade. The worldwide parish has grown to include over 110 countries.

Yet there is reality in Wesley’s fear that this movement in many places could exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. Our dynamic future in Methodism, including the United Methodist Church (which represents about one-third of World Methodism), is directly related to how we “hold fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline” of our roots. Let us look closer at each aspect.

1. The prescription for doctrinal amnesia is sound teaching and doctrine. To persons outside our church we often appear to them as a collection of various opinions where a person is free to believe almost anything that person chooses. In our church, we have made doctrine a negative word, often equating it to doctrinaire. We need a renewed emphasis on the core essence of our faith. I am not a fundamentalist, a conservative, or a liberal, but I am an essentialist.

There are essentials of the faith that require our fidelity. Wesley said, “The Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.” Today, an encouraging sign is the increasing number of persons in our church who are serious about studying the Bible.

The center of our doctrine is that Christ Jesus is Lord and Savior for all persons. This dynamic conviction that God’s grace is for all was at the heart of the Wesleyan revival, and it must be at the very center of our movement. Albert Outler reminded us that for more than five decades in a “hundred different ways, on thousands of different occasions … [John Wesley’s] message was Jesus Christ and him crucified – Christus crucifixus, Christus redemptor, and Christus victor.”

In Methodist youth meetings I remember singing, “Everybody ought to know, everybody ought to know who Jesus is.” Is this still held as a deep and abiding conviction? Today, two billion people around the world confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Another two billion know the name of Jesus but do not confess him as Lord. And another two billion persons have yet to hear the name of Jesus Christ. This world desperately needs Jesus Christ. I agree with E. Stanley Jones when he writes, “I know of no one who is getting along well without Christ. Christ, being Life, is a necessity of Life.” This world desperately needs salvation, healing and hope, which Jesus Christ alone can give.

The Methodist movement is rooted in the conviction that this world needs salvation. For Wesley, salvation is no shallow self-help or self-discovery scheme. He wrote, “By salvation I mean 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” (Works of Wesley, vol. 8, 47).

For me the essentials of this movement are expressed in this manner:

  • Formed in the image of God
  • Deformed by sin
  • Transformed by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ
  • Reformed by the grace of God
  • And conformed to the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we are to be a dynamic movement, we must hold fast to the doctrine with which we first embarked. Unless our theological center is renewed, our future is bleak indeed.

2. The Holy Spirit is the critical component of our holding fast. As I visit, work, and worship with the Methodist movement around the world I have experienced this very compelling reality. Wherever Methodists are open to the power, presence, and anointing of the Holy Spirit, the movement is alive, vibrant, and growing. However, if persons in our movement are closed to the life-giving Holy Spirit, the movement is a dead sect.

Our movement’s greatest need is a fresh anointing of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This dynamic was confirmed during a recent visit with Christians in China. We were visiting in a church that had been closed by the Communist Government in the decade of the 1970s. When the church was re-opened, there were three older women in the entire congregation. Today, there are 5,000 people in this church! When we asked the elderly pastor to tell us the story of this remarkably dynamic church, she replied with a quiet confidence, “God is alive. The Holy Spirit was at work when we could not even see the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is at work today.”

I have experienced this same reality in many parts of the world. One example is Methodism in Brazil. The Holy Spirit is moving there to form a “missionary church.” There is a genuine openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit and the church is spreading the gospel in word, deed, and sign with vigor.

Let me be perfectly clear regarding this central conviction: No Holy Spirit – no living church. No Holy Spirit – a dead sect!

One of our greatest needs as a church is a renewed commitment to prayer and fasting. For the past decade, World Methodist Evangelism has invited and challenged persons in this movement to follow the Wesleyan pattern of prayer and fasting. Wesley’s pattern was a weekly one. Following the evening meal on Thursday until mid-afternoon on Friday he would take no solid food. He would spend the time in prayer and fasting. If this movement is to be dynamic, there must be a renewed commitment to prayer.

3. We must hold fast to the discipline with which we first set out in order to be a living movement. This discipline relates to our individual and corporate life as a church. This discipline is experienced in the community of the believers where each person is held accountable for Christian discipleship. The goal of Methodism (The 1996 General Conference of the UM Church confirmed it!) is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

A major issue in our denomination is how our church should be structured as we enter the new millennium. One thing is clear, it is time that we get rid of a structure adopted in 1972 that has proven to be far more maintenance-oriented than mission-oriented. It is a structure which requires great energy and resources to simply function together, while greatly neglecting its responsibility of enabling the local congregation to fulfill its mission in the world. We need to look more toward the Bible for our model than the corporate world.

The classical functions of the church in the New Testament are mission, evangelism, education, worship, and stewardship. Let us restructure our general agencies in keeping with these essential functions of the  church. Let us have General Boards of Evangelism, Mission, Education, Worship, and Stewardship which will enable congregations to fulfill their mandate of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The United Methodist Church is part of a worldwide Methodist movement. It must not arrogantly position or believe itself to be the “global Methodist Church.” Methodism is found all over the globe. Therefore, let us clearly see ourselves as United Methodists, only a part of the Methodist movement, which must meet its responsibility in spreading the gospel around the world.

As in Wesley’s day, the church today finds itself in a missionary situation. Therefore, we must be structured primarily for the spreading of the gospel in word, deed, and sign in a world that desperately needs healing, hope, and salvation. Such a vision for the future is indeed faithful to our past.

When this article was published, H. Eddie Fox was the World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council. He preached and lectured on evangelism in more than 65 countries and was a regular faculty member of the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism. Dr. Fox has authored several books for equipping and encouraging pastors toward evangelistic outreach.