Why I am (Still) a Methodist

methodist connectionA recent article in Relevant Magazine, Why I am (Still) a Christian, and a recent blog post by Chad Brooks, Why I became Methodist, have inspired me.

The Relevant Magazine article is beautiful. It speaks well for my experience. Go read it before you finish this.

Chad’s post about Methodism is right on, too. These are things I love about the Methodist tradition.

The two articles got me wondering why I’m still a Methodist.

I love Methodist theology – at least the true, Wesleyan core of it.

But that’s not why I’m still a Methodist. I could keep my most important beliefs in several other (non)-denominations. In fact, I don’t know that the UMC’s theology is my best fit, as it has softened or entirely caved on some pieces of real Wesleyan belief.

I love Methodist history. I think the early Methodist movement was one of the greatest movements of evangelism and outreach since the primitive church.

But that’s not why I’m still a Methodist. Some have even suggested that other churches are learning from our history while we have forgotten it. I could embrace the early Methodist missional impulse just as well in another (non)-denomination.

I don’t love Methodist polity. You’ve probably picked up on that by now. But I will approve, support, and maintain it unless I have proper opportunity to encourage some changes. And I do believe there are some good things about it. A pastor can make difficult decisions or preach a hard, prophetic word, and the congregation can’t hold a vote afterward to send him/her packing.

But that’s not why I’m still a Methodist.

There are 3 major reasons I’m still a Methodist…

1. The Methodist Connection and Pastoral Ministry

I received a call a few months ago from a mother in another state. She goes to 1st UMC where she lives. I serve at 1st UMC Lexington. Her son had just been imprisoned, and she was hoping someone could visit him. I was able to visit him that week.

I was also able to call a friend at the family’s home church and tell him what was going on. The family had been inactive for a while, and my friend was able to visit with them that same week. They have since re-engaged in the church.

A month later, the young man I had met in jail was released. He moved back to his home state, but to a different town. A relatively small, rural one. He called and asked if I knew any good pastors in the area. He didn’t just want to walk in cold without an introduction. In 30 minutes’ time, I was able to give him the name of the local Methodist pastor, while a friend who knew the pastor called the church to tell them about this young man seeking a church.

The Methodist connection amazes me. Someone can move into a rural town in another state, and I can make a personal introduction to a recommended pastor within 30 minutes. A family that has disappeared from the church can have a crisis, and within hours, I can have a trusted friend on their doorstep. I’ve seen that Methodist system work time after time, and I’m continually amazed by it. As I have understood it, few others have this sort of connection.

2. The Methodist Connection and Revival

I agree with my friend Bill Arnold, who says, “If revival is going to come in America, the Methodists have the best shot.” Because when we catch fire in one place, our connection makes it possible for that fire to spread well.

I don’t know if that will truly happen. The most visible point of our connection – General Conference – sure didn’t give anyone hope for revival this year. But we have a better shot at fire spreading than those who are unconnected have.

3. UMCOR

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is a shining star within the major Methodist bureaucracy. When disaster strikes anywhere around the globe, they are among the first responders. Charitywatch.org gives them an A rating for their use of funds. And they provide opportunity for me to be on the ground, or get others on the ground, for long-term relief and development work as soon as it would be helpful and appropriate.

For all the reasons I love the Methodist Church, and for all the frustrations I have with it, I think these are the biggest reasons I am still a Methodist.

For those of you who are Methodists, why are you still a Methodist?

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Lauren says:

some good info from Catholic Answers on sanctification:
http://www.catholic.com/tracts/grace-what-it-is-and-what-it-does

Aaron Mansfield says:

I think you’d have a really hard time with the extra-biblical stuff in RC.

I suppose that even though you are right that even tho very few UM pastors preach seriously on sanctification (I like to think I do), at least it is there, enshrined, waiting to be realized! I meant it when I answered yes that I was going on to perfection and expected to be made perfect in this life…

Teddy Ray says:

Aaron, I have no doubt that you’re preaching seriously on perfection. If the whole UMC’s beliefs reflected what you’re preaching, it would be much easier for me to say that our theology was keeping me Methodist.

Aaron Mansfield says:

Teddy is Catholic, but not Roman Catholic! I don’t think these reasons can keep you Methodist, and as I told you made me think hard. For me the answer comes down to holiness. I became a Methodist even tho I was converted under the ministry of Baptist and Reformed because of the Methodist emphasis on sanctification.

Teddy Ray says:

Aaron and Lauren, thanks for these thoughts and questions. Why am I still not Roman Catholic? I admit that my theology just doesn’t line up as well with the RC as it does with the UMC. So Aaron makes a good point. The Methodist/Wesleyan emphasis on sanctification has been important in keeping me from becoming a Roman Catholic or a Baptist.

At the same time, I can’t answer that the UMC’s beliefs on sanctification are keeping me Methodist, like Aaron suggests. That’s because I’ve had a hard time believing that the UMC still really believes in the kind of holiness and Christian perfection that Wesley preached. Try preaching “The Almost Christian” or “The Great Privilege of Those That are Born of God” (Google those and read them if you haven’t) in a UMC. I wonder how many UM pastors would be willing to preach them. I suspect that only a minority would even agree with those sermons.

So I can’t say I’m still a Methodist because of holiness. I’m afraid we’ve lost too much of it. The Nazarenes or Wesleyans have probably held onto those better. But I can say that I probably won’t become RC or Baptist because they have even less than the Methodists of this beautiful doctrine.

Lauren says:

Teddy, if these are the reasons (all admirable, but also found in varied form in other (pre-) Denomination(s) :)…why, again, are you still Methodist?……suggestion for next post: “Why I am ‘still’ not Catholic”…I jest:) Thom and Lauren;)

Chad, excellent point. My priest quoted St. Francis saying “sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” It has to be a “if my people” type revival. Dr. Arnold and Teddy, love what you have to say about Methodism. As an Anglican, i hope we can broaden the point to “Wesleyan theology and praxis” as the best shot at revival, not just United Methodism. Im actually thinking of calling myself a Methodist Anglican ala Robert Coleman’s challenge in “Nothing to do but save souls.” :)

Teddy Ray says:

Josh, I like “Methodist Anglican.” If I weren’t a Methodist, I’m becoming more convinced that I’d be an Anglican. Press on!

chadbrooks says:

Thanks for the Shout Out Teddy. The connection is something I am just able to start exploring and I have to say it is an amazing piece of our Church.

Teddy,
Thanks, for the shout out in #2. I would only add that I believe (United) Methodism is not only the “best shot” at revival in the US, for the reasons you mention here, but perhaps the “only shot.” Here’s why I say that.
Revivalism for the sake of winning souls is one thing, but revivalism that wins souls and grows the Church (with capital “C”; i.e., the Kingdom of God) and reforms the culture is another thing entirely. Other Christian traditions are perfectly capable of leading the US in revival, but Methodism has the theology and history to affect real reform in our culture. That’s partly because of our history; early Methodists reformed 18th century England and avoided a bloody revolution there. But we sometimes boast too much of that history. It’s in the past, after all. Instead, I believe it’s mostly because of our well-orbed and grounded theology, with its emphasis on full salvation and the “manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10) in prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying wholeness. I don’t find this in any other system, and believe it is the hope of our generation.

Incidentally, I am not as negative about our polity as you are, but then again, you already know that. When you critique “polity” you often cite our understanding of ordination. We will continue to study and change it, as our seemingly endless ministry studies show. But I don’t think we’re that far off of the biblical principles on that point. On the other hand, your very legitimate criticisms seem mostly to focus on “discipline” rather than “polity” and I agree completely. We have substantive problems here, which threaten to tear the UMC apart.

We have inherited problems at the General Church level because of our parliamentary procedure and inability to move past our debates on social issues. The need for change is obvious after GC2012. But our theology, polity, and Social Principles as articulated in our Book of Discipline continue to inspire me to be a better Christian. I hope and pray our General Church can some day move past our problems, and live into our wonderful theology.
Thanks for a thought-provoking article. / Bill

chadbrooks says:

Last night I read this sentence in Tozer’s pursuit of God that had me thinking about General Conference.
“Social religion is perfected when private religion in purified”

Teddy Ray says:

Tozer’s book is amazing (as long as you disregard the last chapter). Probably didn’t miss my top 10 classics list by much. This is a great quote, Chad.

What do you think would happen if we turned it on its head? “Private religion is perfected when social religion is purified.”