We use these words “will be” and “won’t be” freely, but understand me. I mean them as an emphasis of the things I would like to see. This is not a return to some fabled time of perfect Wesleyanism, but is meant to take what Wesley did – which was to take the Patristics — and fashion for us something grounded in the Ancient but suitable for a post-Christian society. Wesley made mistakes, with his sometimes headstrong ways, but his inheritance is rich in the way forward.
One of the hallmarks of Wesley’s thought is his drive towards Christian unity. This is not the unity so-called currently bandied about by those who desire little more than the statu$ quo, but a unity built on a few things, notably the unalterable truths of Christianity. As Wesley points out to the Calvinist, this is not predestination. He would, however, point out to the unitarian, that it is the Trinity. Unity does not have to consider of structure or style, but of the heart and hand — hands that can reach across different theologies and prejudices of the day.
To this end, part of Wesley’s revival included the famed United Societies. These small bands were not Anglican-only, but incorporated other English Christians of a variety of stripes. They would meant to support on another in the perfection of holiness, marking sins, praying, and so on. They would not demand priestly loyalty, but would encourage regular church attendance. Wesley’s error, however, was in not withdrawing Methodist ministers from congregations where pastors were awakened to the true Christianity. This did not promote unity.
What I hope to see in the Next Methodism is not an overarching denominational structure that seeks to contain all of the People Called Methodists, but something different. There will need to be a Church, with episcopal leaders, particular doctrines and understandings of the Church’s discipline. But, I want to see something else — something akin to what Wesley and his followers did in the congregations of England… to what the Apostles did in the synagogues.
While there will be a fraction of the Next Methodists in the new denomination, the grand majority of Next Methodists will exist in other communions and denominations, so that there will be not only a revival of Christian authority and power in dead churches, but so too a push towards Christian unity — wherein differences are as important as commonalities — and all based on the eternal truths of the Christian Church. When these methodists have helped to enliven a church, perhaps bringing them back to sound teaching or have shown them the error of cessationism, they should withdraw.
Let there be bands, or weekly meetings, meant to take the Christians of a particular town — without a care to particular differences — and unite them in seeking holiness. The Next Methodist denomination would supply the seminaries, the materials, and help in other ways. But only as a way to enliven the cold congregation. There is no need to force denominations together or the “sheep steal.”
I will always be Wesleyan, even as I seek a home among English Christians, not because of my polity, but because of the Wesleyan distinctives and means of theology. There is no need to dismiss 500 years of the Reformation, as sometimes these differences actually matter. But there is a need to join together to live as God intended.
Perhaps we should harken to Wesley’s original words, that it was not God’s design to have a separate body for the People Called Methodists:
What then could God have done more for this his vineyard, which he hath not done in it, with regard to spiritual helps? He has hardly dealt so with any other people in the Christian world. If it be said, “He could have made them a separate people, like the Moravian Brethren;” I answer, This would have been a direct contradiction to his whole design in raising them up; namely, to spread scriptural religion throughout the land, among people of every denomination, leaving every one to hold his own opinions, and to follow his own mode of worship. This could only be done effectually, by leaving these things as they were, and endeavouring to leaven the whole nation with that “faith that worketh by love.” – On God’s Vineyard