The Wesleyan Renewal Movement is growing and spreading in significant ways and I am very excited to be a part of that movement. There is an escalating and growing awareness of the need to reclaim our doctrinal heritage not only just here in North Georgia but all across the US and in several areas of the world where the United Methodist Church is growing by leaps and bounds.
In the early 80’s I was impassioned to learn all I could about the Wesley’s and with great fascination I discovered how they moved from the fortress mindset of the Anglican church to a movement of force by taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people at their point of need. The very roots of our heritage are both evangelistic and social in terms of a real connect that produces real transformation in the hearts, lives, and circumstances of people as they grow in a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ through worship and all the spiritual disciplines given us for unbroken fellowship with God.
I have long since been troubled by John Wesley’s stated fear of the future, “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.” Troubled simply because in my almost 30 years of living by faith in Christ and living in answer to God’s call of the ordained ministry I have felt like I was swimming upstream at times in terms of the cultural interpretation of orthodoxy and sensing somehow a devaluation of doctrine in the life of both the disciple and in the collective church.
Paul instructed Timothy well and often in the absolute necessity of building the ministry of Christ from the ground up utilizing sound doctrine as the bedrock of the work of the church in the world (1 Timothy 4, 6; 2 Timothy 4:3-4), and we are no doubt grateful to all who have stayed that course despite the temptation to join a wave of cultural pluralism and individualism that has redefined experience in such a way that personal experience and preference is used as a lens to interpret scripture, life, and most anything else needing customization to better fit the emerging lifestyle.
However, lately I have seen the beginnings of a move of God that goes way beyond a human renewal movement in its breadth and depth taking shape in Methodism. Last August I spent several weeks in Nigeria and taught at the West Africa Theological Seminary in Lagos and then travelled on to Jalingo for the training of 60 UMC pastors in the three annual conferences under the direction of Bishop Arthur Kulah and what I witnesses there was amazing. A church that has grown from 16,000 members to 800,000 members in 10 years simply by preaching, teaching, and living sound doctrine and doing the work of the church in name of Christ and with the power of Scriptural Authority.
What’s more is that we are hearing of the same kind of move of God and growth in all of West Africa, in Central and South America, and even in Europe and the Middle East of all places!!! O God, that the fires of renewal and revival that are sweeping there would ignite the churches in America to blaze again for you!
Maybe I am too optimistic too early, but I can’t help but sense that this is the kind of move many of us have been praying for all of our life and ministry and we need to load wood to this fire that is grounded in Christian Orthodoxy. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Wendy Deichman who is the President of United Theological Seminary in Ohio, and Dr. Jason Vickers (who grew up right here in North Georgia) who is a Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies as well as the Director for the Center for EUB Heritage and was astounded to hear from them what is happening in terms of a grassroots movement in academic circles.
They shared that the entire faculty of United had felt compelled to come together and together embrace the Nicene Creed as their collective and common statement of faith on which all of the rest of the academic work and teaching would be built upon. To verify that I understood correctly I asked if everyone had signed on to such a covenant and they replied yes and it had ignited their entire faculty! Wow! In fact, Dr. Vickers went on to share that there is a movement among many of our younger Wesleyan Theologians (including several who did their PHD work under the guidance of Dr. Bill Abraham who were excited and working together to continue to flesh out what this embrace of our most basic and trusted creedal confession of the Christian Faith could spawn in excellent and well thought out papers and publications.
I am more excited about what is happening by God’s hand in Methodism than I have ever been despite the fact that we are in our 45th consecutive year of membership decline. Thanks for being a part of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement and thanks for staying the course to the biblical charge of teaching and preaching sound doctrine! Look forward to seeing you at Annual Conference and being in conversation together with Bishop Scott Jones as we holy conference and do our best to join God where God is moving as we seek with passion the renewal of our great church.
Blessings and Peace,