A word from Mr. Wesley as we come to General Conference…
In the quad at Asbury Seminary, we have a statue of John Wesley preaching in the public market. There is a plaque on the statue with some words of Wesley. I had these words put there because I wanted our students to be constantly reminded of the peril in which we stand in the United Methodist Church. I encouraged our students read that plaque and pause often there in the presence of Mr. Wesley, and pay attention to what he said:
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 the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
These words have special meaning as we participate in the upcoming United Methodist General Conference (April 24-May 3). It is clear that we are not holding fast the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which the Methodist movement first set out.
Another word from Mr. Wesley is our challenge:
If you preach doctrine only, the people will become antinomians; and if you preach experience only, they will become enthusiasts; and if you preach practice only, they will become Pharisees. But if you preach all these and do not enforce discipline, Methodism will become like a highly cultivated garden without a fence, exposed to the ravages of the wild boar of the forest.
We are seeing it happen. The wild boar of the forest has been loosed not only in the highly cultivated garden of the Wesleyan movement, but in all mainline churches. So there is,
- experimenting with pagan ritual and practice
- consuming the world’s goods without regard for the poor
- accommodating the prevailing patterns of sexual promiscuity, serial marriage, and divorce
- resigning ourselves to the injustices of racial and gender prejudice
- condoning homosexual practice
- ignoring the historic Church’s long-standing protection of the unborn and the mother… nearly 50 million abortions in the last 3 decades
God called Israel to be “God’s own people…a holy nation.” The church, as the “new Israel,” is to function in the same fashion. So God’s call to us is, “Be holy as I am holy.” While we will spend a great deal of time dealing with structural issues, which is essential, my prayer is that we will not compromise on the critical social issues: care for the unborn, attention to the “strangers in our midst” (immigration), the practice of homosexuality (same sex unions, ordination of avowed homosexual persons), what merits a supposed Christian nation to initiate war, and peace in Jerusalem and care for Palestinians – particularly recognizing how we have given far more attention to Jews than to our Christian brothers and sisters in that “Holy Land.”
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we would discipline ourselves to spend as much time strategizing on how to live out our mission – “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” – as we do on how we will structure the governance of the church?