A couple of years ago, an internet commenter referred to me as a “formerly Methodist pastor.”
Then this past week, I read the regrettable story of a Kansas pastor who turned in his ordination credentials on the floor of Annual Conference when a contentious vote didn’t go his way. (That may have happened before, but I’ve never heard of it.)
Yet in spite of that cyber accusation in 2013 and despite that sad happening in the heartland last week, I am still a United Methodist.
Now: I am a Christian first of all.
But within that larger confession of faith, I have identified with the particular expression known as Methodism for the last 33 years.
And since I will spend time later this summer at a uniquely Methodist gathering — the Western North Carolina Annual Conference meeting – it got me wondering: why have I identified with this particular expression of the Christian faith? I could have located with the Baptists or the Presbyterians or, more likely, some version of the charismatics.
Why did I land in Methodism and why have I stayed?
So here goes:
1. Free Will. In contrast to our friends in the Reformed/Calvinist tradition, Methodists take I Timothy 2:3-4 at face value: God “desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” In other words, we do not believe that God predestines some to salvation and predestines more to damnation and we essentially live out the script already prepared for us. My very first church experience was in a strongly Calvinistic church and although the people there were smart, loving, and faithful, it nevertheless sent me on a journey in search of people who were also smart, loving, and faithful . . . and believed in free will. John Wesley and the Methodists were and are those people.
2. Prevenient Grace. “Prevenient” is an 18th Century word meaning “to go before.” Wesley — who lived 1703-1791 — applied the word to the working of God’s grace in our lives. We teach it this way at Good Shepherd: God is working on you before you are ever looking for him. According to Wesley and the Methodists, God’s grace operates in our lives when we are not aware of it. He is “going before” us, drawing us back to him. I see it in Luke 15, I’ve experienced it in my own life, and believe it to be biblical truth.
3. Faith AND Works. At its best, Methodism has had a good balance between “faith” and “works.” So a saving relationship with Jesus always expresses itself in works of mercy and kindness in the Methodist tradition. Sadly, some within Methodism have so emphasized good works that they neglect to talk about or call for personal conversion. At Good Shepherd, we try to maintain the proper balance.
4. Holy Spirit. Though most people are not aware of it, early American Methodism was among the first of the “holiness” churches. Our Methodist ancestors on this continent had a passion for the power of the Spirit and for holy living. Unfortunately, as the church became more mainstream & mainline in the 20th Century, such enthusiasm was frowned upon. We at Good Shepherd hope to be agents in the re-filling of the Holy Spirit in the Methodist movement. Our history is why being Methodist and charismatic makes perfect sense to me . . . and why Good Shepherd is a UM church with a good many charismatic expressions in it.
5. Relationships. If you work in the same half of the state for 25 years, you develop a network of relationships. Frankly, I like being a Methodist preacher because I have a whole lot of Methodist preacher friends. We don’t always agree and we may have vastly different temperaments, but we have a professional and spiritual connection that binds us together. And in this gratifying season of my own life, I have an entire new slate of friends from Abingdon Press who are helping the “inviting all people” ministry of Good Shepherd extend far beyond the corner of Moss Rd. and South Tryon Street.