Scott J. Jones
I recently tweeted a version of the opening lines from John Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Methodism.” He wrote, “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.”
Wesley’s ministry was to reform his Church and his nation by spreading scriptural holiness. He did that by preaching outdoors, forming societies, forming classes, caring for the poor, advocating to end slavery and for economic justice, and traveling widely.
These are challenging times for the United Methodist Church and in the words of our founder, unless we hold fast to doctrine, spirit and discipline, we may cease to exist except as a dead sect. Let’s unpackage what John Wesley says and how these words are still applicable to us today as we face the future. There are three things on my heart as I write this column today.
Accountability to one another – Wesley set up weekly class meetings, so his followers could be accountable to one another in scripture, actions and daily life. We too, need this accountably with one another. Wesley knew that the culture would eventually pull his followers away from the Bible and having that accountability with one another each week was important. Every Christian should belong to an accountability group that asks us “How is it with your soul” on a regular (hopefully weekly!) basis. Clergy need accountability to their conference. This is Methodist discipline.
Fidelity to the gospel—Wesley’s understanding of the Bible focused on its main theme—the way of salvation. He preached about the transforming power of grace through faith. Too often people talk about grace as if it was only prevenient and thereby affirming of us. In Wesley’s understanding, grace also convicts us of our sin and then leads us on to sanctification. Grace sometimes makes us uncomfortable! This is Methodist doctrine.
Evangelism—Wesley rode thousands of miles and sought out people who were not actively engaged in the means of grace through a local church. He wanted everyone to hear the good news about Jesus and become a real Christian. This commitment to mission is Methodist spirit.
Our future as more than a “dead sect” depends on doctrine, spirit and discipline.