Monday, April 30, 2012

Vital Methodists

General Conference delegates are being asked to discern which proposal for church renewal would be the best course of action to follow for the next four years during a worldwide economic recession.  How shall we organize our ministry in the midst of a shrinking middle class, the abandonment of inner cities and rural villages, and the pressure to maximize profits at any cost?  As part of the discernment process, it may be of help to review Wesley's "Thoughts Upon Methodism," which contains his evaluation of the state of Methodism and his proposal for maintaining its vitality.

The degeneration of the Methodist revival into a dead sect was a real possibility the founder warned, because the Methodists were becoming wealthy.  As their standard of living increased, Wesley noted a proportional increase in anger, "the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16).

The solution to the problem of affluence is a repetition of the advice that Wesley had already delivered in the doctrinal sermon #50 “The Use of Money,”— earn all you can, save all you can, give away all you can.  This stewardship formula for finances was a means of grace that would promote growth and prevent backsliding.

If they held on to the Methodist repentance-faith-holiness Doctrine, the Methodist going-on-to-perfection Spirit, and the Methodist accountability-groups Discipline, then his followers would continue to flourish, Wesley assured his readers.  I see in this combination of Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline a theological framework for understanding earning-saving-giving as a means of grace. 

Wesley's evaluation points to over-consumption as the root cause of Methodist decline.  Therefore a key characteristic of a Wesleyan proposal for denominational vitality would be a balanced plan to promote the message of the Gospel AND to rebuke the message of the marketplace.

Will any of the current General Conference proposals help local church leaders persuade congregants to earn-save-give as a method for seeking God's grace, maturing in faith, and preventing backsliding?

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