Not to long ago, I, and others, wrote about hopes for the next methodism. There are several links in this that are well worth your time. Since then however, I can not help but consider what will end up being the last Methodism. Wesley, seeing this possibility, warned us.
“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.” John Wesley (THOUGHTS UPON METHODISM)
The last methodism cares far more about pensions than it does parishioners. It is concerned, overmuch, about continuing in the same way as before without the same resources as before. The general and global boards must go on after all. Add to this basic human selfishness, and there is a recipe for worrying more about the institution than the people in it. A tendency to proclaim that the local church is the most important thing (and in many ways it is), but then use that as a justification to forget that the world is our parish. A tendency to try and keep more and more resources for the local mission at the expense of where the church is actually growing. We are concerned about the institution, but let us not forget what happened in the early days.
” But when a large number of people was joined, the great difficulty was, to keep them together. For they were continually scattering hither and thither, and we knew no way to help it. But God provided for this also, when we thought not of it. A year or two after, Mr. Wesley met the chief of the society in Bristol, and inquired, “How shall we pay the debt upon the preaching-house?” Captain Foy stood up and said, “Let every one in the society give a penny a week, and it will easily be done.” “But many of them,” said one, “have not a penny to give.” “True,” said the Captain; “then put ten or twelve of them to me. Let each of these give what they can weekly, and I will supply what is wanting.” Many others made the same offer. So Mr. Wesley divided the societies among them; assigning a class of about twelve persons to each of these, who were termed Leaders.” John Wesley (THOUGHTS UPON METHODISM)
What a different faith this would be if we did the same. What a different faith this would be if we were primarily composed of those who had not a penny to give mixed with those who would stand and say they would make up the difference without motivation other than to God? Instead we are looking at the world wide church and saying we can’t do it because we have boards, pensions, six figure salaries, travel allowance, etc. The UMC has a 604 million dollar budget. What would Wesley say? Maybe this: ” It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” John Wesley (THOUGHTS UPON METHODISM)
But what of this doctrine Wesley spoke of?
“What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice. Hence they learned,
- That religion is an inward principle; that it is no other than the mind that was in Christ; or, in other words, the renewal of the soul after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness.
- That this can never be wrought in us, but by the power of the Holy Ghost.
- That we receive this, and every other blessing, merely for the sake of Christ: And,
- That whosoever hath the mind that was in Christ, the same is our brother, and sister, and mother.” John Wesley (THOUGHTS UPON METHODISM
Of course this was at a time when there was not huge disagreement upon what scripture meant, at the very least in the Methodist societies. We were not questioning the historic understanding of the church on things such as sexual morality, the inspiration of scripture, the proper place of the church in life, what is holiness anyway. We have all those issues now, and in reality we have no solutions to them. What then is left? Again, Wesley answers. “From this short sketch of Methodism, (so called,) any man of understanding may easily discern, that it is only plain, scriptural religion, guarded by a few prudential regulations. The essence of it is holiness of heart and life; the circumstantials all point to this. And as long as they are joined together in the people called Methodists, no weapon formed against them shall prosper. But if even the circumstantial parts are despised, the essential will soon be lost. And if ever the essential parts should evaporate, what remains will be dung and dross.” John Wesley (THOUGHTS UPON METHODISM)
On a very real and simple level, Wesley had the idea of what Methodism could accomplish. “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 This is what Methodism is at it’s best. What we have now though is little more than dung and dross. The very real question is are we closer to one hundred that fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, or are we closer to all that remains being dung and dross. I pray the UMC is closer to the first, but I fear that the last methodism is already here.