“There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
In commenting on this passage, John Wesley would say the following: “There is one body – The universal church, all believers throughout the world. One Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father – The ever – blessed Trinity. One hope – Of heaven. One outward baptism. One God and Father of all – That believe. Who is above all – Presiding over all his children, operating through them all by Christ, and dwelling in all by his Spirit.” Adam Clarke would say: “There is one body – Viz. of Christ, which is his Church. One Spirit – The Holy Ghost, who animates this body. One hope – Of everlasting glory, to which glory ye have been called by the preaching of the Gospel; through which ye have become the body of Christ, instinct with the energy of the Holy Ghost. Thomas Clarke would echo the same sentiments, though with many more words as was his habit. What then does all of this mean for the next Methodism? It means that the next Methodism will be one. Using the above few verses as a guide, we can then glean what that means and might look like.
To begin the next Methodism will be a part of the one body of believers. I think that this translates practically into the next Methodists being a part of many different faith traditions and expressions, as well as being a denominational expression. Methodism began as a reform movement in the Anglican church, and the next Methodism must begin and flourish as a reform movement across the one body of all believers. This does not mean that we are suddenly going to try and force each tradition to adopt the Articles, or to embrace Wesley’s sermons, but rather that we are to bring the distinctive focuses, that have made Methodism successful, to all. Much of the church has become inward focused. Such churches tend their flock incredibly well, but do not really do a whole lot to increase that flock. Much of the church has become outward focused bringing in converts, but only providing a faith that is a shallow stream subject to a change of direction all to easily. Much of the church has become focused on helping those in need, and while this is good, it does not cultivate discipleship, nor does it, in and of itself, make converts. Much of the church has focused on a hyper or cheap grace, or has become embroiled in works o as to elevate them to the means of salvation instead of grace through faith. The tradition of Wesleyanism is unique in that it can, and does, combine all of these things into a unified expression of a complete faith instead of a fragmented expression of parts of the faith. The next Methodism will cultivate, as a reform movement within denominations, as well as a denominational expression, create a deep and vibrant Christian expression that both converts the unbelievers, and cultivates a deep faith. It will have a compassionate outreach to those in need that will feed the body with food, and the soul with faith, it will clothe both with garments and with righteousness. The next Methodism will be holistic (characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole) faith that reforms and spreads throughout the one body of believers.
There is one Spirit, one Lord, and one God who is father over all. The next Methodism must then be deeply devoted to, and steeped in, the one blessed trinity. The question begs to be asked then, what is this trinity? To be honest, any and all explanations fall short to varying degrees. It i the trinity that the church catholic has historically understood (to the best of her ability). It is not poetry, it is not myth, it is not a fidget spinner. It is one of the great mysteries of faith that we delight in even as we do not completely understand it. The next Methodism will embrace the mystery of the trinity even as it seek to more fully understand it. It will not reduce it to a mere literary device, but celebrate it as an expression of a God whom we can never fully understand, yet always seek to understand. The next Methodism will not be afraid of the mysteries of faith, but will embrace them. To borrow from the Catholic catechism, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”.” The next Methodism will embrace this.
The next Methodism will embrace the one baptism. It will not only embrace baptism, it will understand the intrinsic link between baptism and membership in the local church, a denomination and in the church catholic. We will also understand that, through baptism, and our initiation into the church catholic, we become members of the church militant, but also are connected to the church triumphant. The one baptism not only connects us to God, ad the living church, but to the church throughout all time. Just as the kingdom of God has come, is here, and will come in it’s fullness, baptism connects us to the church which has come, is here, and will be realized in it’ fullness. by firmly rooting us in the past (church triumphant), the present (church militant), and the future when we are promised Christ will claim His bride presenting her as blameless and pure.
The next Methodism will be one in the sense that Ephesians presents it. It must be, or the next Methodism won’t be a church at all.