With the reality of the UMC splitting now an inevitability, the least bad option for those who are theologically conservative is the emerging Global Methodist Church. (see here) There is a lot of excitement, and rightly so, about a new Methodist expression, and I share some of that excitement in principle, but with that there are also concerns about the future sustainability of the endeavor. I will speak to a few of those here.
I am convinced that this new expression must be based heavily in accountable discipleship. I do not know the best way that should take form to be perfectly honest. It has been suggested by some that perhaps membership in such a group be required for membership. I freely admit to being resistant to this initially, but the idea is growing on me. I will take it one step further and suggest that there be a service for members where those who are both Christian and Wesleyan Methodist can come together and worship and some type of an introductory fellowship where those who may seek to join can come and encounter Jesus as well as learn what a traditional Methodist faith looks like. I understand that the initial knee jerk reaction might be that the church is for everyone (it is) and that services should not be exclusive, but this is actually a return to the model of church that the apostle John seems to oversee in his epistles. The faithful gathered together to worship, but evangelism was not at all the goal there. A model such as this puts the responsibility of evangelism squarely outside the doors of the church where it always should have been in the first place.
What is the purpose of this you might ask. Allow me to share. Being a Methodist should first, and foremost mean of course that one is a Christian adhering to the historic faith once and for all delivered. If it is to distinctive however, it must mean more than that. Our Anglican brothers and sisters are Christian, so are our Catholic, Baptist, and so on. Each faith tradition has something that is distinctive about it. For Methodists, that distinctive is indeed ‘the method’. (see here) By reclaiming this practice, we actually can start to be Methodist again. There would of course need to be a transitional period where people unfamiliar with the practices can be introduced to them and make the informed decision if they actually want to be Methodist. I would suggest that for the first year of it’s existence that Global Methodist church should not have actual membership roles while this process plays out in the adults in the congregation. By the time that this is done, each congregation is familiar with the method and can then replicate it. To go along with this, the confirmation process must be reinvented. We desperately need a catechism so that we know what to teach the confirmands about what we believe, and to go along with that, we need to develop the understanding of the method in our confirmands so that they can make an informed choice. In doing this, we provide the internal way in which we can replicate disciples.
Related to this, we desperately need to understand the difference between evangelism and discipleship again. Evangelism is, in a nut shell, the process by which we introduce people to the justifying grace of God through Christ by way of the prevenient grace that God has sent before all of us. This is necessary for the growth of the Christian faith in general, but also vital to The Global Methodist Church. I like to think of this faith as a fast moving stream. It is pure, but easily polluted and can easily be diverted. Discipleship, which for Methodists is ‘the method’, is that which leads the fast moving stream of justification into the ocean of the historic faith and entire sanctification. To often we talk about making disciples but mean we will maybe try to every now and then admit that we believe in Jesus where others can hear. As Methodists we should believe that ‘the method’, while not the only way to make disciples, is the best way to make them. It isn’t wrong to make disciples anther way, it just isn’t Methodist. To put it simply, evangelism is what we use to welcome someone into the family of Christians. Discipleship, specifically ‘the method’ is what we use to welcome someone into the family called Methodist.
The question of why this is important should rightly be asked of course. There are two reasons. The first is simple. It works and it can be replicated. The second is a bit more complicated. ‘The method’ is what gives us our distinctiveness. For to long we have acted as if anything that allows us to maintain a distinct identity is a bad thing. We have allowed the speculative latitudinarianism that Methodism was to act as a hedge against and made it our calling card for everything. We have become indifferent to doctrine, to evangelism, to discipleship, to basically everything. Our only distinctive is that there is nothing that distinguishes us from the rest of the world, let alone other faith traditions. Our tradition is based upon ‘the method’ and in fact “Methodist” was a pejorative description. How far we have fallen away from the time when Methodist meant something. If The Global Methodist church can not restore our distinctiveness, then the truth is that we may as well continue on the path we are now because very little will have changed on a practical level. The best, and maybe only, hope for the Global Methodist Church is to make Methodist an insult again.