I had been inspired by David Watson and his posting to share my own thoughts on the next Methodism and figured that I was done. Then came posts from Evan, Stephen, Cliff, Drew, Joel, and then the Watson Twin powers activated for more good thoughts. (David and Kevin Watson are not twins, nor are they related, but I am a super hero nerd and have been waiting a long time to say that, so I took the opportunity to do so here. Their serious scholarship should not be diminished by my silliness.) I found myself thinking again about the next Methodism, and I realized that it needs to me. By this I mean the next Methodism, is it’s laity. I am going to use four quotes by four well known Methodists to demonstrate what the laity in the next Methodism must be ready to do.
“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” John Wesley
The operative part here for us laity types is “I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen”. Did you catch that? Without a doubt, there are faithful pastors in the UMC, and without a doubt, there will be faithful pastors in the next Methodism, but that is beyond our control. What is in our control is being willing and able to be one of he above preachers. If you have been a Christian for more than two months, you honestly should be able to preach salvation if nothing else. The old maxim is to be ready to preach, pray, or die, and we have traditionally assigned that maxim to pastors, but it is far past time that the laity be ready and willing. If the congregation of the faithful is a hundred people and the pastor comes down ill, there should be a hundred willing volunteers to see the word preached. There is of course a second part to this as well. We must fear sin and desire nothing but God. That is likely where the big problem comes in to play. To often we reduce sin to some sort of conceptual idea instead of a personal reality. We buy into some sort of modernist view of sin as separation. While it is true that sin separates us from God, that is it’s result, not it’s description. Wesley described sin as “By sin, I here understand outward sin, according to the plain, common acceptation of the word; an actual voluntary transgression of the law; of the revealed, written law of God; of any commandment of God, acknowledged to be such at the time it is transgressed.” That is the sin we need to fear. If the next Methodism is to have hope, the laity will have preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God. Those preachers will include us. The next Methodism will depend on it.
“The term ‘quadrilateral’ does not occur in the Wesley corpus – and more than once, I have regretted having coined it for contemporary use, since it has been so widely misconstrued” Albert Outler
The laity in the next Methodism need to listen to the gentleman who coined the quadrilateral. In truth, they probably need to listen to him about more than that, but this would be good enough. Very few things in modern Methodism have been so poorly used as the quadrilateral. Laity, please bid it a fond farewell. If you need some tools to help understand scripture, I would suggest Richard Hooker. The quadralateral was developed in good faith, and it was not a terrible idea, but it has become so diluted and misused, that it is no longer a valid approach. Outler has so many good things to offer the next Methodism, that I promise it is not only acceptable to be rid of the quadralateral, it is necessary. The next Methodism needs better than an improperly used tool for biblical understanding, in fact, the next Methodism will depend on the laity using tools that work, not tools that are damaged beyond repair.
“To God your every Want In instant Prayer display, Pray always; Pray, and never faint; Pray, without ceasing, Pray.” Charles Wesley
It sounds simple enough right? Let me ask then, how is your prayer life? The laity must pray, and pray, and then pray some more. I am not talking about in church, but at home as well. Pray over your job. Pray over your shopping list. Pray over your car, your home, anything and everything that you can think of, wrap in prayer. Pray with others for the same goals. Pray over the seats in your church. Pray. If you think that you are praying enough, pray about that as well. Many of us have terrible prayer lives, and many are unsure how to even pray. It is a discipline that we have given up on, much to our detriment. It does not matter if everything else is right. The best pastors, with the best message, at the best facilities, under the best polity, if the laity is not a praying laity, it will not last for long. In Luke 9:54, two disciples ask Jesus if they should call down the holy fire to burn up some Samaritans. Jesus rightly rebukes them for such a thought as this, but realize what happened here. Yes, the disciples were wrong for considering this, but they believed that they could! They believed that should they pray for it, God would send the fire! We often have a hard time believing that God will heal a minor illness, let alone something so debilitating as cancer, or other horrible disease. Elijah, Elisha, Peter, and Paul prayer before God and raised the dead. Is there any doubt that there is power in prayer? If faithful men in scripture believed they could call the fire as Elijah, and raise the dead, how much more can a community of the faithful accomplish with fervent prayer? Pray as a discipline, always and often, over everything and everyone. The next Methodism will depend heavily on the laity.
“My desire is to live more to God today than yesterday, and to be more holy this day than the last.” Francis Asbury
The laity in the next Methodism must be moving forward in sanctification. Many current Methodists don’t even seem to understand what that means today. We, the laity, must be moving on to perfection. Just as a body of water without motion becomes stagnant and dies, so does the Christian. As we move, so too will the next Methodism move. If we are moving on to perfection, then so is the church. We have developed this idea that carrying our protest signs and raising awareness of the next great social ill is somehow moving on in sanctification, when the reality is that all to often it is an excuse to stay exactly where we are. Moving on in perfection is not something that we do, it is something that God does in us, and all to often we find so many activities to get in the way of that. We go and stage whatever event we are involved in for the sake of justice, but all to often do so in place of holiness, that is in place of our continued sanctification. We do as we feel is right calling it justice, in place of allowing God to change us in the very real process of sanctification. We think our actions make us holy, and thus prevent God, the source of what is holy, from working within us. Our deepest desire has to be to live more to God, and to work more toward being holy each day, and less about the individual actions that we try to equate to holiness. The next Methodism depends on it.
There you have it, four famous Methodists, four quotations, and four goals for the laity of the next Methodism. To often we laity types are to quick to criticize our pastors, and not quick enough to see where we fall short ourselves. To often we think that the pastors have a greater responsibility, but this is not true. While they do have a different responsibility, ours is no less significant, and might indeed be more significant. We will propel the next Methodism forward, or we will hinder it from realizing it’s potential, but in many ways, it is on our shoulders. As time has gone on, less and less has been expected of the laity, and the next Methodism will need to not only expect more, but to expect greater things. The next Methodism will have it’s leaders and quotable phrases, but when this time comes again in the future, those who are writing what the laity must do should be quoting us, and not the leaders of the movement. We need to be the example of what the faithful can accomplish. We will rightly expect our leaders to live up to their responsibilities and to lead, but we must live up to ours also, and follow. The next Methodism depends on it.