A long time ago, I wrote a blog post asking whether we still have room for John Wesley in The United Methodist Church.
Here is a part of that post:
People tell me or write to me that the gospel of individual salvation from sin and hell is “not big enough.” But, in subtle and not so subtle ways, what I am often offered in its place is a gospel with no room for John and Charles Wesley. That’s okay for the Lutherans and Presbyterians, I suppose. But I cannot understand Methodists who are embarrassed by John Wesley or dismiss the thousands of lives who were changed by God through his ministry. I cannot understand Methodists who look at the world today and ridicule or dismiss the ministry of those who preach today the gospel Wesley preached.
A lot has happened in my personal life since I wrote those words. This blog has fallen largely silent in the last couple of years because of those personal issues, but the question that animated that blog post seven years ago is — if anything — more pressing today.
As The United Methodist Church creaks and cracks under the strain of dissolution and a global pandemic, the question of who we are presses upon us.
Has the movement within the church catholic that the Holy Spirit raised up in the coal fields and market squares of 18th century England run its course? Has the unique calling of Methodists within the broader church fallen silent? Are We Yet Alive?
One of my favorite passages from Scripture comes from the Book of Job. It comes from a place of deep lament and despair as Job is suffering for reasons he cannot fathom.
For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. (Job 14:7-9, NRSV)
It is hard to look at the broken state of Methodism in the United States and not see a tree that has been cut down, a stump dying in the ground, roots grown old and dry in the earth.
I won’t pretend to be able to say exactly how we got here. I’m just a small church pastor in a small town in Indiana. I don’t have the vision to see in whole what led us here. I’m certain any attempt I made to tell the story of how we got here would be riddled with errors and oversights.
But here is what I do know.
In the early days of my attempts to discern this call I felt on my life into ordained ministry, a wise and kind pastor leading my little class at license to preach school told us that our call story needed to be more than just a statement that we feel called. He said we need to be able to describe what God is calling us to do. Our description of our call does not stop with God calling “Moses, Moses” from the burning bush. It includes God saying “Go to Egypt and lead my people to the mountain.” Our call, he said, is more than just a “hey, you.” It is is a “go do.”
It took me time, prayer, and study to come up with a sense of my “go do,” but here is what I came to at last.
My call is to be a Methodist within the church catholic. My call is to preach, teach, and order the life of the church in the tradition and line of John Wesley, to preach the gospel of grace in my day in ways that are faithful to movement that the Holy Spirit stirred up through the ministry of John and Charles Wesley.
I do not know if the Holy Spirit will fall like water on the dry stump of Methodism in the United States. I don’t know if the scent of water is what is stirring into life this new shoot of Methodism that is struggling to be born as the pandemic delays a formal plan of separation for The United Methodist Church. I hope that is what I am seeing, but I want to remain humble about what I know and cannot know. I hope, but I do not claim to know.
Whatever the path ahead, I remain certain only of my call. God has called me to be a preacher and pastor among the people called Methodist. May there be hope for us yet.