General Conference starts today. The weeks leading up to this meeting of the legislative body that speaks for our United Methodist Church, have brought extensive focus on those aspects of our communion that need to be rethought and reformed. This is as it should be, for we are a denomination in crisis. But as General Conference convenes today, I hope we will remember our strengths as we seek to address our weaknesses. There are many reasons to commend and love the United Methodist Church. Here are but a few.
Grace that transforms
I recall reading John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection for the first time. I remember that I was blown away by Wesley’s vision of magnanimity of God’s grace. For the first time, I got a glimpse of the power of grace to transform in ways deeper than I’ve ever imagined. Wesley helped me to see that grace is not merely about forgiveness; it is about holiness. It is about the work of God to reproduce his own character within his people in order that we might bear his restored image to the world. This is our heritage as Methodists. I long and pray for the day when the United Methodist Church is, like Wesley was, full of passion for that grace that transforms rebel sinners into the sanctified people of a holy God.
Faith that works
Methodists affirm that salvation is by faith alone, but we also believe that true faith is itself never alone. It is always accompanied by works of mercy, charity, and justice. God saves us by faith not so that we can sit idly by and watch the world crumble under the curse of the fall. He saves us by faith so that we can be about the work of shining the light of his new creation into a world feeling the deep pain of sin and death. And as we set about our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, the world will be transformed because those who obey all that Jesus commanded will increase in number throughout the nations. And they will put their faith to work. I love the United Methodist Church because, when we are at our best, we are passionate about this outworking of our faith.
Truth that is experienced
Experience has always been a big part of the Methodist movement. We believe that the truth of scripture is brought to life in personal experience. A good example of this would be Wesley’s emphasis on the doctrine of Assurance. Scripture tells us that our sins are forgiven and that we are right with God. But the witness of God’s Spirit with our own spirit makes this more than words on page; the personal presence of the Spirit of God allows us to experience the peace and joy of the assurance of reconciliation with God. Truth is authenticated in our personal experience.
These are just a few features of our Methodist heritage that are worth celebrating. As our General Conference delegates deliberate over the future of our denomination and the changes that will best address our weaknesses, perhaps we can also remember, celebrate, and build on the good things that God offers the world through the people called Methodists.