What follows is excerpted from Bishop Gerald Kennedy’s Episcopal Address to the 1964 General Conference of The Methodist Church.
As Methodists, we are now confronted by three crucial demands.
First: the coming of the Holy Spirit in power demands human preparation. To say that we cannot save the world by organization is not to say that we can save it without organization. As a man’s body is to his soul, so is the visible Church to the spirit of Christ. We must use our polity with all the intelligent skill we can muster, remembering that our organization is the means by which we combine our strength, focus our power, and overcome our weakness. In our Methodist polity, we have a mighty weapon to present to our Lord for his use and direction.
Second: the time has come for us to ask ourselves what precisely we believe. We have drifted too long in the shadowy world of obscure theological generalities and we have taken refuge in our vaunted heritage of freedom from creeds. There is spiritual power only in theological conviction. Do we believe that the Gospel is God’s Word to this generation? Do we believe that Christians are commissioned to bring salvation to society? Do we believe that God, through a preacher’s preaching or a layman’s witnessing, can restore a lost soul now? Do we believe that all power has been given unto us? Will we wait together in this General Conference for the rush of the mighty wind and the appearance of the tongues of fire? If we do not leave this place with a new dedication to the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ for our living and our work, most of what we do here will be of little value. O God, help our unbelief! We do believe that God is able and He has chosen us to bring salvation to each man and His saving health to every nation.
Third: the spirit of expectancy must possess us anew. When men come seeking, they always find. So much of this depends on the preacher that it is hardly too much to say that a worship service is a reflection of his spirit. But the layman has a responsibility too, and if he enters God’s house expectantly, he will hardly ever be disappointed. Methodist churches must be centers of spiritual excitement and hope. We must be rescued from our dullness. We need to learn to sing again the great Wesley hymns and meet together to study the Bible. We need to testify to what God in Christ has done for us and tell our neighbors how Christ has changed our lives and given them eternal meaning.
God called the Wesleys and now He calls their spiritual sons and daughters to a world-wide evangelistic crusade. This evangelism must have the two authentic marks of our tradition, which are the experience of the heart strangely warmed and a deep social concern. It must be broad enough to include all Christians who will join hands with us. Let the Methodist Church around the world unite its power in faith and claim every part of every society for Christ. Let us offer God our organization in the spirit of that ancient cry: “I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man” (Theologia Germanica). We can save our life as a Church only by losing it. Let the Methodists of this world plan a mighty mission to the nations so splendid that future generations will marvel at our courage. Let us pray for a new expectancy that we shall behold God’s mighty acts now.
On February 26, 1791, four days before he died, John Wesley in his last letter to William Wilberforce, the great crusader against slavery, wrote: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But, ‘If God be for you, who can be against you’?” On March 2, 1791, Wesley died after speaking his last words in a clear voice: “The best of all is, God is with us.” After lying in state while some ten thousand people passed by him weeping, he was buried at 5 a.m. to escape the confusion of a huge crowd. According to his instructions, he was carried to his grave by six poor men, who were to receive one pound each. All he left behind him, as someone has said, were a badly abused reputation, a worn-out pulpit gown, and the Methodist Church.
We are that Methodist Church, claiming its heritage proudly and facing its future confidently through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and our Redeemer.