New Sermon Podcast: "See Holy, Be Holy" #umc #wesleyanaccent

I’m excited to announce that I’ve just begun a new appointment to St. Mark United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. It’s a great church, and I’m honored to be the pastor. Yesterday was my first Sunday in the pulpit. I had a great time and am grateful for a very warm welcome. The church will be podcasting my sermons each week. You can easily subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, put the feed in your reader, or check out the player widget in the column to your right. Sermons will also be archived on the church website
My first installment is called “See Holy, Be Holy” and digs into Isaiah 6:1-8 and the prophet’s vision of God’s holiness that led to his being completely set apart for a holy mission. I always enjoy hearing from readers and listeners. So, feel free to share your thoughts.  

Free Wesleyan-Holiness Resources! @OfficialSeedbed #andcanitbe

Seedbed has just announced a new partnership with First Fruits Publishing to release a number of classic Wesleyan-holiness works and other resources in electronic format for free. Did you catch that? Free books! The First Fruits collection can be found here. The collection includes the second edition of Kenneth J. Collins’ now well-known Wesley Bibliography and a number of works by Henry Clay Morrison, Robert Coleman, and Howard Snyder. One of Seedbed’s goals is to cultivate renewal in Wesleyan-holiness theology, and if you want resources on the holiness movement in America, Seedbed is quickly becoming the go-to place for both previously hard-to-find historic materials and new resources in a variety of media formats. It looks like there are more resources to come as a result of this partnership including some academic journals and audio recordings. You can read the full details in the Seedbed press release

Aldersgate and Wesley’s Strangely Warmed Heart #UMC

If United Methodists observed feast days, today would be the Feast of the Warm Heart. It’s May 24, which is the anniversary of John Wesley’s evangelical conversion and his initial experience of Christian assurance. Here’s that most famous of his journal entries from this day in his 1738:

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror

Much could be said about this (and indeed much has!), but I’ll only here point to two aspects of Wesley’s entry that I find particularly striking. First, Wesley’s experience is altogether focused on Christ. His faith is in Christ alone. It is Christ who takes away his sins and Christ who saved him from the law of sin and death. Salvation, for Wesley, is nothing less than an experience of the living Christ. Second, The first thing Wesley did after his heart was strangely warmed was to pray for his enemies, which is an entirely unnatural thing to do and is, in most cases, evidence of the presence and work of the Spirit of God.

Happy Aldersgate Day!

From Methodist to Mainline: The Untold Story by @GeorgeGHunter

How did Methodists become mainline? In his book, The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement, George Hunter argues that it was no accident. He writes:

At one point in history, following the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church that became The United Methodist Church, Methodism was substantially, and quietly, steered toward a generic mainline destination. What I am about to report was never prominent in the public discussions before, or after, the merger (emphasis added). In those years, I was on the staff at the Board of Evangelism, and then on the Perkins faculty, and then on the staff of the Board of Discipleship. In those years, some senior denominational executives were informing staff people that what the merger was really about was becoming a “New Church.” These leaders were good people who meant well; like leader-groups in most generations, they convinced themselves that they knew best. So becoming a New Church would involve one major shift: our church would become much less Methodist and much more mainline – like the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and so on. 

We had already drifted in that direction; now we were being navigated in that direction. Ironically, much of Methodism’s theological academy was becoming more Methodist; scholars like Albert Outler, William R. Cannon, and Frank Baker produced the greatest generation of Wesleyan scholarship. But a constellation of denominational executives agreed that they knew better than the early Methodists and their own scholars. The accelerated shift from a Methodist to a mainline identity did not just happen. We were pushed.

Indeed, in those years, the 1970s and 1980s, we managed to become more mainline than our partners. Today, Lutherans are more consciously and recognizably Lutheran, Presbyterians-Presbyterian, and Episcopalians-Anglican, than United Methodists are consciously and recognizably Methodist. We gave up much more than our partners did in the hope that they would welcome us into the mainline club of denominations (9-10). 

So, the move from Methodist to mainline was not simply a natural shift, though it may have been initially; we were strategically directed and brought down this path. But what are the repercussions of this move for the people called Methodist? Hunter identifies three. 

  1. While most mainline churches moved from Europe to North America as institutionalized national churches, Methodism did not. We were a renewal movement within the Church of England. In institutionalizing as a mainline church, we left our identity as a vibrant movement behind.
  2. Drawing on the work of Scott Kisker, Hunter suggests that the shift to mainline “sucked much of the identity, vitality, and reproductive power out of our once-great movement” (10). Hunter provides two quotes from Kisker that are worth repeating here. First, “When we became mainline, we stopped actually being Methodists  in all but name.” Second, “For us in so-called mainline Methodism, our ‘mainline’ identity is killing us and we must surgically remove it if we are ever to regain our health” (Hunter, 10).
  3. Another consequence identified by Hunter might be called our Methodist identity crisis. He suggests that most Methodists have no idea what it means to actually be Methodist. What do we believe that sets us apart and gives us a reason to exist? It has long been cliché that one can be a Methodist and believe whatever she wants. But this poses a variety of problems, not least with regard to evangelism and church preservation (not to mention growth), because “we cannot observe, anywhere, a long line of people eager to join a church that does not know what it believes, or who it is, or so easily changes its mind” (10). 
What do you think about Hunter’s assessment of the shift from Methodist to mainline? Have you observed consequences of this shift other than those observed above? What are the best resources for getting a better handle on this shift? Is renewal possible? Is there a way of regaining our movemental Methodist identity and vitality? 

Who are you in the heavenly realm? (@ministrymatters)

I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the most recent edition of the Converge Podcast at Ministry Matters with Shane Raynor, Grace Biskie, and David Dorn. The podcast is a companion resource to Shane’s four week Bible study on Who You Are in Christ, which is part of the Converge Bible Studies series. Here’s the video in which we discuss a variety of topics including grace, access to God, and the blood of Christ.

Key United Methodist Beliefs by Abraham and Watson (#andcanitbe)

It has sometimes been suggested that “Methodist beliefs” is an oxymoron. Fortunately, an increasing number of voices are working to dispel this false notion. Aside from the simple sociological reality that a group with no common and definitive beliefs is no group at all, United Methodism falls within the broad stream of Protestant orthodoxy, as even a quick look at our Articles of Religion will easily demonstrate. Key United Methodist Beliefs is a new book from William J. Abraham and David F. Watson that clearly sets forth those doctrines that are most basic and central to our Wesleyan heritage and is a must-read for anyone interested in what it means to be a United Methodist. 
Practical Orthodoxy
Methodists have long recognized the importance of Christian experience. Sometimes, however, doctrinal integrity has been sacrificed at the altar of personal experience. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is the way Abraham and Watson consistently hold doctrine and experience together. Each of the first nine chapters begin with a section called “A Wesleyan Faith”, in which the basic belief that is the topic of the chapter is explained with particular regard to the life and thought of John Wesley. The initial section is then followed by another called “A Lived Faith”, which discusses practical implications of the doctrine, and then there is a section on “A Deeper Faith”, which takes up some of the more challenging aspects of the belief under consideration. The authors then summarize the topic through a series of catechetical  questions and answers before concluding each chapter with a series of questions designed to aid the reader in working through the issues in their own words. This intentional movement from orthodoxy to orthopraxy – right belief to right practice – will challenge the reader to experience doctrinal contemplation as a formative spiritual discipline rather than a detached intellectual exercise. 
Distinctly Methodist
While the authors show how Methodist theology falls squarely within the the boundaries of historic Protestantism, they also do a great job of pointing us to that which distinguishes the Methodist voice from others. This is seen especially in their discussion of sanctification in chapter 6, which takes up the question: “What is Salvation?” Wesley is known for his doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, which Abraham and Watson explain with clarity:

With God’s help, however, we can reach a point whereby we do live without sinning. At least, we do not sin intentionally. Wesley called this Christian perfection or entire sanctification. Wesley did not mean that we become perfect in the sense that we are free from error, mental or physical disabilities, or temptation. Rather, he simply meant that the Holy Spirit can work within us to such an extent that we no longer willfully sin (78, italics original). 

This aspect of our Wesleyan heritage has been neglected in much recent and contemporary Methodism. Hopefully, Abraham and Watson will help us to recapture this doctrine for which Wesley himself believed God raised up the people called Methodists with the specific purpose of proclaiming. 
This little book will be useful in a variety of settings and will be suitable in a local church adult education course, a new member class, or even as a textbook in a seminary course on United Methodist doctrine. Whether you are a lifelong Methodist or new to our denomination, Key United Methodist Beliefs will illumine and sharpen your understanding of what it means to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition. It will be the first resource I turn to in order to help others gain a better understanding of the transformative power of Wesleyan doctrine. I hope others will do the same.