Reblogged: I want to be a Methodist

In honor of my seminary hiring Scott Kisker, I am reblogging a post I wrote nearly two years ago after reading his book:

From Mainline or Methodist? by Scott Kisker:

I do not find the current “vision” for the United Methodist Church to be an improvement on our given vision of reforming “the continent by spreading Scriptural holiness over these lands.” Committing to our historic vision has the potential to bring actual change, abandoning the standards of success (size, wealth, popularity, power) by which we have been measuring ourselves for generations. The language of “scriptural holiness” will also change the categories of our disagreements. It clarifies whose version of a transformed world we are aiming at.

What I like about Kisker’s book is that I feel a real engagement with the impulse that gave rise to Methodism as I read it. It is not hero worship. It is rather a shared appreciation with Wesley for the plain faith of holiness of heart and life.

What troubles me about Kisker’s book is the same thing that troubles me when I read Wesley. To really stand where Wesley stood and do as he did, I do not see how the United Methodist Church could survive such a revival.

To preach holiness, sanctification, justification by faith, and new birth would empty our sanctuaries even more quickly than the grim reaper has been doing for 50 years.

To treat the General Rules like an actual rule of life would melt the phone lines between the homes of the congregation and the bishop’s office.

To act as if the gospel is not something we have to slip into people’s bags while they are not looking – so they take it home along with the stuff they actually came for – would offend.

I do not know how the institutional church could possibly take as its mission the original mission of the Methodist movement. Spreading scriptural holiness is much too demanding, and it is too easy to tell when we fail.

“Making disciples for the transformation of the world” is so vague that even august bodies like the Call to Action steering committee can’t tell us what it means in plain terms. We can do just about anything and claim to be working toward our mission.

I know most of my fellow United Methodists are not interested in being Methodist as Kisker describes it. For huge numbers the word has no meaning and the tradition that used to bear its name is unknown.

I don’t want something more than they do. “More” is not the right word. I want something real. I want to be part of the movement that started in a fishing village in Galilee and was rekindled in a coal field in England. I want the assurance of the Holy Spirit. I want the power of grace working in me to restore the image of God and the mind that was in Christ. I want to be one of the people called Methodist.

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15 thoughts on “Reblogged: I want to be a Methodist

  1. I can’t remember where I heard it, and it may be one of those quotes that float around so much the original source has been lost, but I remember someone saying, “One of the greatest hindrances to growth [in the church] is the fear of losing members.” I believe he is right. We would lose a lot of clergy, denominational officials and members. We might have to close some churches. Nonetheless, I believe it is still true that (I quote Wesley loosely here), “If a man is fire for God, people will come to watch him burn.” It’s time to bring it on! (again).

  2. I so want to be a Methodist also. Can we be one within the institutional United Methodist Church? Must we reject Wesley’s “fundamentalist” understanding of scripture?

    1. John, I’m not sure Wesley had a ‘”fundamentalist” understanding of Scripture.”

      Further, I’m not sure John would want us to be “Methodist.”

      I do think, however, we must take a turn to the rear before we can get going again.

      1. I’m don’t know enough about the technical definition of “fundamentalist” to say for sure whether he was one. Historically, of course, he wasn’t. But based on what I read and hear, I think he’d be accused of being a fundamentalist if he were alive and saying the same things he said back then.

        I don’t think he wanted us to be Methodists, but, of course, his definition of “Christian” ended up being Methodist.

        1. Given what Wesley said about “private interpretation” and his often reliance on Tradition, I doubt even today most would allow him to be either Evangelical or Fundamentalist. He can be called what people will, but that doesn’t make it true.

          I mean, he did believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, had a rosary, and other things many would consider vices suspected of Catholicism.

  3. I love this. I agree that JW would want us to be Christian before Methodist, but when people are Methodist as defined here, they become one and the same.

    I have become convinced lately that given the state of things in our churches JW’s original mission statement should be revised for us today to read, “Spreading scriptural holiness through the *churches*”

    1. E Stanley Jones commented after a months long tour of American churches that at least half of the people were unconverted. When I read Wesley and the New Testament I’d be inclined to agree today.

  4. Let me push back, John. I do think people would embrace a move to a more defined, clear, and challenging mission. I’ve been seeing that here at my church since we went to a required 10 week Wesleyan catechesis for new members (and existing ones at present) based on the General Rules, the expectation that all of our leaders and teachers will be involved in a discipling relationship with a group, and a culture that defines the Christian life via the Rule of Discipleship (Worship, Devotion, Justice, and Compassion). I put this in place with the blessing of my senior church leaders (we didn’t have a church vote on it) and while there was some initial resistance, we have had 130 people go through the ten week class since last September, we’ve sprouted 8 new covenant groups that came out of the class, and we have had no trouble getting leaders and teachers who are called and motivated because they have expectations. I knew that going this route would either result in what we have now, a church that is building a discipling culture, or it would result in me being re-appointed. I think people want to have the bar raised, to be part of something that matters, to put muscle and sinew on their faith. Most clergy, however, lack the will to put up with the initial pushback of the least committed Christians in the church. I believe a Wesleyan-style revival is possible because I’m seeing it happen here day by day. At a recent church visioning meeting, I asked the group what were the best strengths of the church. Their answer? We are focused on shaping people’s lives for the kingdom. We just have to overcome our fear and do it!

  5. I would say to one that preaches, that wants to preach just the good and sweet parts of the Bible so as not to offend a congregation to quit. If you have a true calling and God has called you to preach you have no business changing the interpretation to protect some prisoners feelings. Friends tell friends what they need to hear not what they want to hear because they are friends. So therefore, preach the word as it is and do not insult God by sugar coating it. I read only from a hard covered Bible. The reason being is I want my life to shape around the Bible and I do not want God to think that I want the Bible to shape around me. Picture the soft covered Bible bending around your arm because the cover is soft and your arm is firm. the Ten Commandments were written in stone. They would not bend around your arm but perhaps break your arm to show you that God is the power and the strength that we all need. Wesley was correct in the way he choose to preach and those of the younger generation that want to soften the picture so more will come to church will fail. So for those whom would leave the church because you have a Bible preaching preacher, I would say read the book Fan or Follower and you will find that you are a fan and not a follower of God. Do not blame preachers that preach the Word of God as it is written in the Bible for your search in finding an interpretation that your sins may not be sins and let you go through life thinking that you are clean when you are dirty and have sinned without repenting. Seek the true Word of God and whatever you do do not think that the movie that just came out titled the Bible is accurate. the writers must have a hidden agenda because it is not at all accurate with the true Word of God that is written in the Bible.

    1. I’ve never heard anyone make the distinction between a hard covered and soft covered Bible that way. Interesting metaphor.

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