Tag Archives: Methodism

Unexpectedly: The Holy Spirit around the Globe

I received what was called a local preacher’s license in 1952, when I was only 17 years old. That means I have been at this business of preaching for 68 years. I have been the pastor of nine local churches and the organizing pastor of three of those nine. You may wonder why I’m sharing that…and you may consider it a bit boastful. Not so, not so at all. I share it as a part of a confession. The question really is, what sort of church did I plant?

Our scripture lesson – Acts 2:1-14, 42-47–tells the story of the first church plant in Christian history.  At first blush, that certainly was not a good way to start a church. There was the disturbance of a roaring wind that would drown out any speaking. Then uneducated people speaking in languages they had never heard. And not only a roaring wind, and strange speaking, but what was described as “tongues of fire” resting on each of them.

Unbridled excitement and strange acting. What a way to start a church! The question has to be, what was happening here, anyway?  And that is what my sermon is all about: what was happening here?Let’s think about it.

The first is this: God came unexpectedly, which of course is nothing new. God seems to make it a habit of sneaking up on the human race. Appearing unrepentantly, when no one is looking or knows what is going on, God is in their midst.

The kind of thing that happened at Pentecost had happened before. Moses was out in the field alone, taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. And there it was – a burning bush, and a voice coming out of the bush, and Moses was called to lead God’s children out of Egyptian bondage.

And now, here at Pentecost, is this little band of frightened disciples whose leader has gone off and left them; they are stunned, confused, and unable to figure out what to do. The only instruction they had was, “stay, just stay in Jerusalem, until you receive the gift the Father has promised.” What gift, they must have wondered! Then along comes God unexpectedly when they were not even looking.

Friends, I remind you: that kind of God action has not ceased. I have seen dramatic witnesses of it.  One of the joys of my life was to chair the Evangelism Committee of the World Methodist Council for 20 years. This gave me opportunity to travel the world and meet extraordinary Christians. Two of those were Nelson Mandela and Stanley Mogoba. You know about Mandela, the man whose life and witness led to breaking the back of that awful oppressive system of apartheid. But you probably have not heard of Stanley Mogoba. He was the first Black person to be the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa.

About the time Nelson Mandela was sent to prison, Stanley met with a group of angry students and sought to dissuade them from violent demonstration. Just for that – trying to avert violence – he was arrested and imprisoned for six years on the notorious Robben Island.  Mandela was already in prison there. He and Mogoba became friends there in prison.

One day someone pushed a religious tract under Mogoba’s cell door. Parenthetically, don’t ever forget: most people become Christian not by big events, but by relationship and simple actions like a person putting a tract beneath a prison cell door. By reading that little tract and responding to the Holy Spirit, Mogoba became a Christian. He quoted the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn to describe his experience:

“Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off; my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.”

God showed up, in a prison and in a simple gospel tract, and something unexpected happened. A person who was to lead the Methodist movement in South Africa was converted.

Are you listening? God who came unexpectedly at Pentecost continues to show up today…in prisons, on the streets, in person, in the Church.

Yes, in the Church. And that leads to the second thing I would say. Pentecost was a missionary event. Jesus made it clear that he would send the Holy Spirit to empower us for ministry. Listen to Acts l:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It shouldn’t surprise us, friends, when the Holy Spirit comes roaring through our lives and our communities; change will happen, people will be called to minister. People who have never known Jesus before will come to the altar to praise him.

How and why? Because God is a missionary God, and the Holy Spirit is the chief evangelist. Hold that tightly in your mind. The Holy Spirit has the power to create joy in the midst of sorrow and dancing in place of mourning. The Holy Spirit has the power to bring healing for our anguish and rescue life from the jaws of death. The Holy Spirit of God signals a time of restoration, awakening, and revival.

Pentecost was a missionary event. Remember, I asked you to hold tightly in your mind. The Holy Spirit is the chief evangelist. I believe revival is coming, because I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and active in our day, and we are moving toward a global Methodist church, an orthodox, evangelical, Wesleyan, Methodist Church.

We have been in a tumultuous time, contending with a mysterious virus; then came massive and widespread demonstrations calling us to racial justice. Our nation is politically divided, and hatred is blatantly present across the land. At the same time, we are also struggling with a painful divide in our United Methodist Church. It is a tough, heavy time.  Discussion of separation is rampant, and I do believe separation is coming. Please hear me now. Separation doesn’t have to be bitter and angry. It can be redemptive. In fact, I believe it is going to be redemptive. That was signaled in a Holy Spirit event on December 17, 2019.  Leaders from different perspectives of the church – from the most liberal to the most conservative – signed a “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.” I believe that if we had not had to cancel the General Conference that was to happen in May, that protocol would have passed and we would be on our way to a new global Methodist church.

People who know me and my history in the United Methodist Church are sometimes surprised about my position on some issues and my confidence that revival is coming. Some are surprised that I now believe separation is essential and can be redemptive. For decades, I have worked as hard as any lay person, minister, bishop or other leader in the church to preserve unity as we have struggled. So, let me share how I have come through the struggle to the place I am now in. The bishops called a special session of the General Conference in 2019 because the denomination was on the verge of implosion. We traditionalists prevailed at that General Conference in preserving the authority of Scripture. However, when we had done that by standard procedural vote, the conference deteriorated into a shouting match of anger, hateful accusations, and debate. I left the conference feeling with the psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?”

That was my state, when two weeks later I went to Cuba. I had visited Cuba twice before, and I knew revival was taking place, but I was not prepared for the robust power of the Holy Spirit being demonstrated in the church there. My time there was redemptive. It was a spiritual time of recovery in the wake of the General Conference experience.

The Church in Cuba is not affiliated with the UMC, it is the Methodist Church of Cuba. Bishop Pereira is a dynamic, Spirit-filled, Spirited-guided leader. Normally he would have attended our special General Conference, but he was needed at home. The communist government was seeking to change the legal definition of marriage. The government wanted to change that to simply a union between two persons. The bishop of the Methodist Church of Cuba had stayed in his country to lead his church in opposing what the government was proposing.  I had come from a meeting in which I and others opposed a part of our church, including many bishops, seeking to do what would have resulted in the same thing the Cuban government was seeking to do. It was the church in Cuba, not the government, that prevailed.

Our missionary God has sent his primary evangelist, the Holy Spirit whose power cannot be denied. I’m going back to Cuba as soon as Covid will allow. I want to be encouraged by the hundreds of little bands of Christians that are being formed every year. The government will not allow the building of churches. So these little groups meet in homes, house churches being established all over. And one day, that government will discover that Holy Spirit power is more dynamic than anything they can design and impose on the people.

In Havana, there is a statue of the Risen Christ towering over the city, almost as high as the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Not far from that statue is Che Guevara’s house, the companion of Castro as he seized leadership of Cuba in 1959.

Our small group shared communion at the feet of Christ, literally, as we gathered at the base of the statue on the morning we were leaving Cuba. There we were at the feet of Jesus, with his shadow falling over the city. When we took the bread and wine, we knew and proclaimed who is Lord, and that one day, he will claim the kingdoms of this world as his own.

More than ever, I believe that Holy Spirit revival is coming, and I pray regularly the prayer we pray during our Walk to Emmaus weekends:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and You shalt renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Featured image courtesy Hasan Almasi for Unsplash.

El Carácter de un Wesleyano

En estos días se está hablando mucho en mi (ciertamente muy limitado) sector del mundo sobre lo que significa ser wesleyano. En este caso, “wesleyano” no se refiere a una denominación en particular, sino a una corriente teológica más amplia que nació a través de un movimiento del siglo XVIII y que se definió en gran medida por los comentarios y sermones de John Wesley.

El propio Wesley escribió una vez un tratado llamado “El Carácter de un Metodista.” Según su definición, un metodista es feliz, lleno de amor, orante, puro de corazón, de espíritu de servicio, conocido por su fruto.

En esta época, parece importante articular más los distintivos que nos hacen metodistas. En mi propio estudio, descubrí esta fuerte reflexión sobre el carácter de un wesleyano escrita hace más de una década por Kent Hill, entonces presidente de Eastern Nazarene College. Sus pensamientos resuenan, así que los comparto como un punto de partida para su propia formación de una definición de lo que significa ser wesleyano.

¿Qué significa ser wesleyano?

Primero, ser wesleyano significa reconocer la primacía de la autoridad bíblica. John Wesley nunca dejó ninguna duda en cuanto a sus convicciones en esta área. En una carta de 1739, declaró inequívocamente: “No permito otra regla, ya sea de fe o de práctica, que las Sagradas Escrituras …” Wesley se tomó tan en serio que las Escrituras desempeñaran el papel principal en lo que pensaba y en cómo vivía, que sus sermones y cartas están impregnados de frases bíblicas. Se convirtió en parte de su propio lenguaje.

En segundo lugar, ser wesleyano significa ser consciente y orgullosamente parte de la amplia y antigua tradición de la fe cristiana. No pertenecemos a una secta religiosa que nació a mediados del siglo XVIII. En 1777, en la fundación de City Road Chapel en Londres, Wesley describió el movimiento del metodismo de esta manera: “El metodismo, así llamado, es la religión antigua, la religión de la Biblia, la religión de la Iglesia primitiva, la religión del Iglesia de Inglaterra. Esta vieja religión … no es otra que el amor, el amor de Dios y de toda la humanidad.” Si somos fieles a nuestra herencia wesleyana, no solo podemos, sino que estamos obligados a, basarnos ampliamente en la tradición cristiana.

En tercer lugar, ser wesleyano no solo permite, sino que requiere que seamos ecuménicos. Aunque John Wesley creía firmemente en sus convicciones teológicas, nunca perdió de vista el hecho de que el Cuerpo de Cristo es mucho más grande que cualquier tradición o perspectiva teológica. No barrió bajo la alfombra las importantes divisiones teológicas que existían, ni permitió que esas diferencias nublaran la realidad más amplia de que lo que tenemos en común a través de los credos es de primordial importancia. En el ecumenismo de Wesley, hubo un compromiso con una humanidad común en Cristo.

Cuarto, ser wesleyano significa afirmar la doctrina cardinal de la justificación por gracia a través de la fe. La salvación se basa en los méritos de la justicia de Cristo y se apropia por la fe, que es un don de la gracia de Dios. Wesley insistió en que debemos responder al regalo de Dios mediante actos de obediencia que fluyen de la fe. Wesley creía que los humanos nunca pueden hacer lo suficiente para merecer la salvación; sin embargo, enseñó que Dios en su soberanía nos concede una medida de libertad para responder a su gracia transformadora, y si nos negamos a responder, entonces no seremos salvos ni transformados.

En quinto lugar, ser wesleyano significa reconocer que la gracia de Dios es “transformadora” y “perdonadora.” Esto se encuentra en el meollo de lo que se puede llamar el distintivo teológico central del pensamiento de John Wesley: la búsqueda, por la gracia de Dios, de la santidad o santificación. La gracia es más que la “gracia creadora” que ha formado todas las cosas. Es incluso más que la gracia “perdonadora” que nos perdona nuestros pecados. Es la gracia “transformadora” que, por obra del Espíritu Santo, nos permite conformarnos cada vez más a la imagen de Jesucristo.

En sexto lugar, ser wesleyano significa ser apologistas efectivos de la fe cristiana. La vida y el ministerio de John Wesley reflejan una respuesta convincente al mandamiento registrado en 1 Pedro 3: 15-16: “Al contrario, honren en su corazón a Cristo, como Señor, y manténganse siempre listos para defenderse, con mansedumbre y respeto, ante aquellos que les pidan explicarles la esperanza que hay en ustedes. Tengan una buena conciencia, para que sean avergonzados aquellos que murmuran y dicen que ustedes son malhechores, y los calumnian por su buena conducta en Cristo.” (RVC) Si reflejamos una perspectiva wesleyana, cultivaremos oportunidades para usar las Escrituras, la amplia tradición cristiana, la razón y la experiencia en defensa de la fe. Y lo haremos de una manera que muestre moderación y amor frente a las críticas.

Séptimo, para ser wesleyano se requiere un compromiso con el discipulado y la responsabilidad. Específicamente, requiere de nosotros un compromiso con la importancia del discipulado cristiano estructurado. En junio de 1779, Wesley escribió en su diario: “Este mismo día escuché muchas verdades excelentes pronunciadas en la kirk (iglesia). Pero, como no había ninguna aplicación, era probable que hiciera tanto bien como el canto de una alondra.” Además de la participación en pequeños grupos de rendición de cuentas, Wesley insistió en la importancia de las devociones privadas, la participación en reuniones más grandes de la iglesia, la toma de los sacramentos, y los actos de misericordia.

Octavo, ser wesleyano significa estar involucrado en ministerios compasivos. John Wesley siempre creyó que era imperativo que un seguidor de Jesucristo estuviera simultáneamente comprometido con la relación vertical esencial con su Creador y con la relación necesaria y redentora con el resto de la Creación de Dios. Si este último no está presente, Wesley insistió en que hay algo fundamentalmente incorrecto en el primero. Ninguna posición podría estar más claramente arraigada en Cristo, quien declaró en Mateo 25 que “todo lo que hiciste por uno de estos hermanos míos más pequeños, lo hiciste por mí.”

Ojalá que en nuestros días veamos un renacimiento del metodismo con tal fuerza y ​​carácter que recupere su capacidad de acoger y hacer avanzar el Reino de Dios.

La traducción por Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan/Translation by Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan.

Featured image courtesy Mateus Campos Felipe for Unsplash.

Julia Foote and the Geography of Witness

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? History buffs might enjoy its distinct Y-shaped bridge or explore its history as part of the Underground Railroad or recall it for its well-known river and locks. If a spiritual pilgrimage were traced across the tilts and rolls of Ohio’s farms, rivers, and valleys, Methodists might mark a gentle circle around Zanesville. It’s not unique for towns that sprang up across the Midwest to have Methodist fellowships woven through their roots; but those Methodist fellowships in the mid-1800s were not without profound flaws. In the autobiography of Julia Foote – happily available for download through First Fruits Press – readers are confronted with this reality. On joining the local Methodist Episcopal church (in the state of New York), her parents, both former slaves, were relegated to seating in one part of the balcony of the local church and could not partake of Holy Communion until the white church members, including the lower class ones, had gone first.

Julia A. J. Foote (Public domain)

Eventually, Julia Foote would become the first woman ordained a deacon in the AME Zion church, the second woman ordained an elder. Before that, she was an evangelist, traveling and preaching in a number of places, starting before the Civil War. At times, congregational conflict emerged when she visited a town, sometimes because Foote was Black, sometimes because she was a woman. But the testimony of her visit to Zanesville is different.

Before arriving in Zanesville in the early 1850’s, Foote had been in Cincinnati and Columbus, then visited a town called Chillicothe. Her time in Chillicothe was fruitful but not without controversy. (The following excerpts retain Foote’s own original language, a reflection of the time in which she lived.) She wrote,

In April, 1851, we visited Chillicothe, and had some glorious meetings there. Great crowds attended every night, and the altar was crowded with anxious inquirers. Some of the deacons of the white people’s Baptist church invited me to preach in their church, but I declined to do so, on account of the opposition of the pastor, who was very much set against women’s preaching. He said so much against it, and against the members who wished me to preach, that they called a church meeting, and I heard that they finally dismissed him. The white Methodists invited me to speak for them, but did not want the colored people to attend the meeting. I would not agree to any such arrangement, and, therefore, I did not speak for them. Prejudice had closed the door of their sanctuary against the colored people of the place, virtually saying: “The Gospel shall not be free to all.” Our benign Master and Saviour said: “Go, preach my Gospel to all.” (Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked from the Fire: An Autobiographical Sketch, First Fruits Press: 102-103)

Whether or not the good Baptists of Chillicothe today know that their forebears ousted a pastor who objected to a woman evangelist, the Methodists may be unaware that their forebears invited a Black woman to preach – but only if people of color were excluded from the meeting. And yet, in spite of these local controversies, Julia Foote wrote that in that town, “we had some glorious meetings,” and “the altar was crowded.” Like John Wesley, Foote sowed grace outside church buildings, even if she could not sow grace inside church buildings. Like the Apostle Paul, she proclaimed the Gospel to those who would welcome her.

But then, she went to Zanesville. And here, readers see a different move of the Holy Spirit. What was the difference? Foote wrote,

We visited Zanesville, Ohio, laboring for white and colored people. The white Methodists opened their house for the admission of colored people for the first time. Hundreds were turned away at each meeting, unable to get in; and, although the house was so crowded, perfect order prevailed. We also held meetings on the other side of the river. God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings. I was the recipient of many mercies, and passed through various exercises. In all of them I could trace the hand of God and claim divine assistance whenever I most needed it. Whatever I needed, by faith I had. Glory! glory!! While God lives, and Jesus sits on his right hand, nothing shall be impossible unto me, if I hold fast faith with a pure conscience. (A Brand Plucked, 103)

Foote labored for any and all for the sake of the Kingdom when she arrived in Zanesville. While there, for the first time, Methodist worship was integrated. So many people came, hundreds had to be turned away. Despite the crowds, there was no controversy or dispute. And – “God the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest in all these meetings.” There was no segregated worship; the Holy Ghost was powerfully manifest.

This is powerful testimony reverberating down through the soil, through the generations, through the Kingdom. Sitting today in a different part of the state over 150 years later, I read the words of Julia Foote and see the rolling hills of Ohio differently. I’ve been in Cincinnati, and Columbus, and Chillicothe. I’ve read those names on road signs. I’ve seen church buildings in those places. Through her words, I hear the voice of a mother of American Methodism, particularly the holiness movement, calling across the rivers, the years. She was pressed, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Her eyes too saw this rural landscape in the springtime; heading from Zanesville on to Detroit, she also likely saw Mennonite and Amish farmers along the road. She sowed grace into this landscape before my great-grandmother was born. Before the Wright brothers followed the birds skimming along air currents, Julia Foote learned how to glide on the wind of the Spirit: “whatever I needed, by faith I had.”

Today, in the yard outside my window, irises are blooming that I did not plant; someone else planted, another watered, and I enjoy the deep purple unfurling from the bud. Reading of Foote’s ministry, I am given a window onto the grace planted by faith, the results of which would have shaped the spiritual life of a community for decades. But it does not let me rest on what came before; her labor calls out across the rivers, the years, questioning: how are you tending to what others planted through the Spirit? She endured great hardship to proclaim the Word of God in this landscape. I would not rip out or mow over the irises carefully planted by another; how might I help to care for what she was bold enough to sow? Decades later – and yet not so very long at all – where is the Spirit brooding, full, like a thundercloud full with rain, ready to burst?

Sister Julia issued this challenge: Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the Lord or using the gifts you have for the good of others. How much easier to bear the reproach of men than to live at a distance from God. Be not kept in bondage by those who say, “We suffer not a woman to teach,” thus quoting Paul’s words, but not rightly applying them. What though we are called to pass through deep waters, so our anchor is cast within the veil, both sure and steadfast? (A Brand Plucked, 112)

The gifts you have, for the good of others.

It is the Holy Spirit who transforms history into testimony, the same Spirit who was “powerfully manifest” now bearing down, laboring again. In the original introduction to her work, Thomas K. Doty wrote, “Those of us who heard her preach, last year, at Lodi, where she held the almost breathless attention of five thousand people, by the eloquence of the Holy Ghost, know well where is the hiding of her power.” (A Brand Plucked, 7)

What do you know of Zanesville, Ohio? That Julia Foote preached there in the 1850s, sowing grace? That Methodists there rejected segregated worship, joining together, and the Holy Spirit was “powerfully manifest”?

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, today? What do you know of those who planted and watered while God gave the increase, long before you saw the buds?

Sisters and brothers, we do not walk into ministry alone today. Wherever you are, someone has gone ahead, sowing grace ahead of you. If the rivers could speak, they might gossip to you about the ones who went before; who crossed rivers when no plane had yet crossed the sky.

What do you know of Zanesville, Holy Spirit? Hearts there once were soft.

What do you know of the Holy Spirit, Zanesville? Once, the Spirit was powerfully manifest in your midst.

Holy Spirit, where are you brooding now? Give us the grace of readiness.

Phoebe Palmer and the Day of Days

A while back, a well-known pastor made remarks about a female pastor that were distasteful and offensive. While respecting the pastor’s different viewpoint knowing full well that not all followers of Jesus agree in all areas of doctrine, I was disappointed with how the view was expressed regarding women as pastors. I have three daughters and I want them to know that God loves them, wants a relationship with them, and will empower them to do amazing things when they fully surrender their lives to God, just as God will use men when they do the same. For me, this includes the belief that God calls women to be fully ordained pastors. (This reflection is not meant to give a verse-by-verse biblical defense of women in ministry. If you would like more information on that, I encourage you to click HERE.)

Instead, I’m highlighting a female historical figure, one I have discussed with my oldest daughter: a woman named Phoebe Palmer, who was a prominent female pastor at a time when women were not allowed to vote. We discussed Mrs. Palmer after my daughter showed a desire to experience mission work and went on her first international mission trip. She just so happened to go with a group from a denomination that does not support female ministers. I was troubled when she messaged me and said, “I have already been told several times that God would never call me to be a pastor. How could I be a missionary if God doesn’t let me preach?” Then, after she heard the comments by the pastor I mentioned above, she asked me again about being a woman and what freedom she will have to preach and teach.

If you do not know anything about Phoebe Palmer, I encourage you to discover more on your own. She was born into a strict New York Methodist home in 1807. She eventually married a respected physician named Walter Palmer. During the first ten years of their marriage, they experienced the devastating loss of three young children, the third of whom died tragically when gauze curtains near the cradle accidentally caught fire. (1)

Rather than this experience causing her to turn away from God, eventually, she came to completely entrust her life to God. Palmer spent many years as a private Bible teacher, but she began to feel a longing for a deeper experience of faith. On July 26, 1837, God filled her with a special sense of the Holy Spirit that she would call “the day of days” for the rest of her life. (2)

Because Palmer lived in a time when it was not common for women to preach, she was hesitant at first to share her experience with men until a Congregational minister named Thomas Upham received the fullness of the Holy Spirit under her guidance. After that, she chose to set aside the social convention of the day and spoke to anyone who would listen. (3) Palmer spent the rest of her life as a writer, preacher, teacher of holiness, and social justice warrior. It is estimated that her influence led to the salvation of at least 25,000 people and helped thousands more learn how to live out sanctified lives. In A Global History of Christians, Paul Spickard and Kevin Cragg say of Palmer, “She was more than a preacher. She exemplified the nineteenth-century Protestant synthesis of evangelism and good works. She was the moving force behind innumerable urban social service projects. The most widely known was the Five Points Mission in New York City, which provided housing, education, and religious instruction for poor families.” (4)

Her ministry influenced the perception of women in ministry. “By the end of the 1850’s, Palmer had reached the high point of her preaching career, as both men and women viewed her as a leader. She not only brought the sexes together in worship, she also advanced the role of female preachers. She had become a prominent religious figure at a time when very few women rose to positions of power in America. Other women involved in leadership roles performed their services in their homes. Palmer was one of the few who took her message on the road and in the process, became the recognized spokesperson for the Holiness movement.” (5)

The story of Phoebe Palmer has given my daughter faith and boldness to believe that if God could empower Mrs. Palmer in such a powerful way, God can empower her as well. Additionally, Mrs. Palmer’s story shows men and women alike that whatever God calls us to do, we are to humbly but boldly obey, regardless of the social conventions of the day. I told my daughter, “How sad it would have been if Mrs. Palmer chose to stay quiet in fear of the men who would speak against her. Her ministry would not have eternally influenced thousands of people. How sad it will be if God calls you to preach, and you stay quiet. If God calls you to speak, then speak, and trust God to give you the courage to stand firm no matter what.”

1. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/phoebe-palmer

2. Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 182-183.

3. Paul R. Spickard & Kevin M. Cragg, A Global History of Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 290.  

4. Spickard and Cragg, A Global History of Christians, 290.

5. “Phoebe Worrall Palmer,” Encyclopedia, 2019.

Featured image from a volume contained in Southern Methodist University Bridwell Library Special Collections and Archives.

Review: Dr. Rob Haynes Explores “Renew Your Wesleyan DNA”

What makes a Methodist a “Methodist”? This is an increasingly important question in the age of the rise of secularism, the decline of churches in the West, and other significant challenges in the Wesleyan/Methodist movement. As younger generations decreasingly emphasize the role of denominations, many people are no longer aware of the rich history and theology of the Wesleyan/Methodist churches they call home. In some parts of the world, leaders need fresh encouragement for mission and ministry. All the while, the global Wesleyan movement remains strong, and God continues to use it to share and show the love of Jesus Christ.

Renew Your Wesleyan DNA: Pursue God’s Mission in Your Life and Church by Engaging with the Essential Strands of Wesleyan Theology Cherished by Global Methodism by Rev. Dr. Richard Waugh (Australia: Cypress Project, 2019) is a critical resource to help contemporary Wesleyans learn the history of the movement while valuing the principles that continue to guide the most vibrant Wesleyan/Methodist churches. However, Waugh’s work is not merely a historical retelling. It is an examination and appreciation of the core of the Methodist movement. It is a call for churches and leaders to reflect upon their own ministries and reorient them for the vibrancy experienced when the “people called Methodists” are faithful to God’s call and mission.

The book is divided into eight chapters around three themes: Wesleyan Identity, Wesleyan DNA, and 21st-Century Ministry. Independently and cohesively, these provide a helpful view of the rich history of the Wesleyan movement, its ability to hold a variety of theological positions in a healthy tension, and a call to action for the contemporary church. Waugh identifies five strands of Wesleyan DNA: Creator’s Mission, Salvation, Transformation, Means of Grace, and Ministry with the Poor. These, he says, “encapsulate the essence…of Wesleyan emphases.” He uses them to illustrate the unique way in which John Wesley balanced biblical and theological principles. Waugh demonstrates their application for modern Christian discipleship. The book’s usability is further expanded through the author’s inclusion of historical and theological profiles that show evidence of Wesleyan DNA through various expressions of the global church. While these profiles include a brief historical account, the highlighting of the contemporary gospel witness in each context is enriching.

The global Wesleyan movement has a varied and complex history. Waugh successfully navigates this complexity by providing two separate narratives to illustrate one grand story: the first primarily concentrates on geographic particularities (see chapter two). The second recounts the ways in which Methodism has influenced various theological streams, ecumenism, missional witness, education, healthcare, and other important areas (see chapter eight). He handles these complexities in a way that remains appropriately thorough yet approachable for a general international audience. After all, according to Waugh, over 100 million people from more than 160 countries follow Jesus in the company of the Wesleys. Appropriately, he does not attempt to recap them all. Rather, he gives proper appreciation of various iterations to encourage the reader to apply the Wesleyan DNA into each local ministry. Throughout the work, Waugh’s unique voice as a Wesleyan Methodist leader from the South Pacific gives an important timbre to the conversation.

In some corners of Methodism, leaders have failed to attend to the doctrine that Mr. Wesley sought to preserve. Publications such as this, grounded in modern biblical and theological scholarship while accessible to a broad audience, are important for a deeper sense of belonging in the way God continues to use the global Wesleyan movement.

With thoughtfulness for local church application, small group discussion questions are included. Other helpful resources include a church audit guide, celebration service, and worship guides for Watchnight, Covenant Renewal, and Aldersgate services.

Renew Your Wesleyan DNA is a helpful addition to the libraries of Wesleyan/Methodist laity and pastors alike. It provides a fresh, global perspective on the vibrancy of the People Called Methodist. The work offers tools for individuals, small groups, and congregations to go deeper in their own faith development alongside their Wesleyan/Methodist kindred in the worldwide movement.

Featured image courtesy Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Discussing Theological Education on the Wesley Seminary Podcast

Recently I had the joy of chatting with Dr. Aaron Perry on the Wesley Seminary Podcast he hosts; our conversation ranged from theological education to vocation to Wesleyan Accent and global Methodism to leadership and gender. He is a regular contributor to Wesleyan Accent, providing a hearty voice from the academy, and teaches at Wesley Seminary where he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Leadership.

The Wesley Seminary Podcast, “seeks to provide relevant content to those in ministry while addressing questions of faith with intention and thought. Centered around audience interaction and listener feedback, the podcast provides an outlet for questions…and also serves to minister to those who need encouragement within their ministerial journeys.”

This was recorded before the world went on lockdown; a few mid-quarantine postscripts are included below. Click the play button to listen here:


Wesley Seminary is affiliated with Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. Founded in 2009, it offers a variety of Master’s degrees as well as a Doctorate of Ministry degree, highlighting online accessibility.

Wesleyan Accent is unique: our site is a hub featuring voices from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations, in a time when institutional silos tend to run deep. United Methodists might be surprised to learn that 85% of Wesleyan clergymembers don’t have a Master’s degree, while Wesleyans might be surprised to learn that ordained United Methodist elders don’t have to wonder if a particular congregation will provide health insurance and pension.

Theological education in North America is prone to the same pressures undergraduate institutions or liberal arts programs endure; debates about accessibility vs residential programs, in-person classroom discussions vs online engagement, bang for education “consumer” buck vs holistic development, and job preparedness vs academic rigor will surely re-emerge in the eagerly awaited post-quarantine world. Perhaps these straining values will be thrown into sharper relief as false dichotomies; likely, future debates will resound with fresh insights gained from the massive shift to remote working and learning.

Whether or not we can collectively master our moment (a deliberate higher education pun), surely our current circumstances force our attention to certain realities:

  • Modern online technology can no longer be considered an optional add-on; the internet should be approached as an essential utility.
  • Congregations, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions that are nimble and had already integrated into online existence well have had fewer hiccups adjusting to remote living.
  • There are deep inequities in accessing the internet and owning the technological tools to utilize it, from rural areas to urban areas.
  • Economic stability is fragile; many congregations and academic institutions will be affected for years to come, and some potential students weighing student loans now consider theological education from a new economic footing.
  • Theology matters; pastors and chaplains with robust appreciation for theology are well-positioned to engage with the massive wave of deep questioning on the nature of suffering; death and dying; the value of the body; missiological contextualization and the Sacraments; uncertainty and addiction, substance abuse, and trauma; Divine sovereignty and human free will; and more. Theological education isn’t a luxury; it’s essential.
  • Some things that pastors and academics thought the church (broadly speaking) in North America does well, were in fact things that organizations did well as long as circumstances were ideal; some things that pastors and academics questioned about the church in North America have proven stronger or more resilient than expected. So it goes with crisis: revelation ensues.
  • Leaning into the global nature of the broad Church is always a strength: it helps highlight our blind spots and provides insight we simply don’t have. Early in the pandemic, an American pastor asked for leadership advice from a pastor from the Congo, who had led church members through significant upheaval, including public health crisis. He gave excellent advice. North Americans don’t know everything; and we need to know that.

Are you a layperson, pastor, or professor? What dynamics of church life are you grappling with? If you’ve been to seminary, what’s been one of the most valuable elements of your theological education during the past few weeks? If you grew up outside the U.S., wherever you live now, what are your observations about theological education, infrastructure, church life, quarantine, and leadership?

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ What Is A Wesleyan Theology of Sanctification?

What comes to mind when you think of the word “sanctification”?

If you’re online trying to find a local mechanic to align your tires and somehow ended here, let’s back up.

Lots of people are atheists or agnostics or follow any number of religions. Christians are theists – we believe in God. In particular, whether we’re Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, or another tradition, Christians believe that God in God’s nature is Trinity: three persons, one God. Historic language for this is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, not because two/thirds of God is male, but because to approach God is to discover the tightly knit interconnectedness of how three persons relate in one unity. I promise this connects to the question, “what is the Wesleyan theology of sanctification?” Also, your tires might need rotated or balanced, too.

Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Coptic and other Christians also believe in the Incarnation: the second person of the Trinity, like the Gospel of John tells us, became flesh. The Word became flesh, and dwelled among us, or as Eugene Peterson poetically painted, the Word “moved into the neighborhood.”

Why the “Word became flesh” through the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is where you begin to find some different emphases among Christian traditions. For centuries, some Eastern Orthodox believers have been universalists, believing eventually everyone will have full union with God in the afterlife. Western Christianity (St. Augustine from Africa, the eventual Roman Catholic Church, and many Protestants) has always placed focus on humanity’s tendency to self-destruct. Curved inward with disordered love of self over God and neighbor, humans have repeatedly chosen to reject God’s love in favor of self-will. (Sometimes this is referred to as “original sin” or as “sin” in general.) Humans continually fall short of the profound goodness and love of God; Jesus moved into the neighborhood, so to speak, to redeem the situation, to show us what God looks like with skin on, and to bring new life and hope to people in need of both. The Word became flesh to bridge the gap between the Creator and the creation.

Yes, you say, having finally found the right tire place on Google maps, but what of the Holy Spirit? What about “Wesleyan” and what do you mean by sanctification? These are great questions to ask in or out of a mechanic’s shop, and the longer you wait while your car is being worked on, the more you’ll need the Holy Spirit and sanctification. Or, put another away, the longer you wait, the more opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work sanctification of your soul after you’ve flipped through an old People and watched the clock practically go backwards.

The Holy Spirit pours out the power of God in a variety of ways that always reveal Christ, point to Christ, and empower believers with the love and power of Christ. Christians may point to the Holy Spirit inspiring the formation of scriptural texts or the Holy Spirit being active in varying practices of ordination (the setting aside of specially called, trained, anointed ministers). Some believers affirm the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Eucharist or Mystery or Holy Communion, transforming simple bread and wine or juice literally (if you’re Catholic) or mystically into a grace-filled experience of the body of Christ. Within these various traditions also lies a very real, often impostered, frequently misunderstood reality. The Holy Spirit continues today to surprise us in tire stores or churches or huts around the world with supernatural phenomena inexplicable solely through reductionist materialist scientific inquiry – healing, signs, strange things we can’t comprehend but that always, only reveal Christ and point to Christ and the invisible reality that is as real as a chipped coffee mug next to a stale-smelling Keurig machine. To greater and lesser degrees, and through a variety of means, believers also affirm that the Holy Spirit works to transform our outer behavior and our inner lives and loves so that we aren’t stuck in the same self-destruct patterns forever.

And this is where we intersect the original question: what is a Wesleyan theology of sanctification? Sorry, we’re out of time, we’ll have to look at that later.

Kidding! Kind of. There’s a lot to say and we’ve already condensed 2,000 years of church history and Trinitarian theology in ways that will have pastors, priests, and especially academics clearing their throats and raising their eyebrows and wanting to clarify or redefine everything I just said.

Wesleyan Methodists, or Wesleyans, or Methodists, are a group of Protestant Christians with a particular set of theological emphases from English brothers John and Charles Wesley, who lived in the 1700’s. “Wesleyan” derives from their name, obviously, and “Methodist” began as an insult because of their persnickety adherence to, yes, methods. While I say Wesleyan Methodism sprang up because of two brothers, if you read a basic biography you’ll soon see we wouldn’t have it today without their remarkable mom, Susanna.

Though John and Charles started what would become this movement, the seeds of Methodism grew while they were at Oxford University. Though they had sisters, women weren’t allowed admission at Oxford at the time, so while the mechanic comes over to tell you that instead of alignment, you need four new tires, you can sit and muse about how the movement might have looked had the Wesley sisters been allowed to attend Oxford.

The Wesley kids primarily were raised by their mom, but their father was a clergyman in the Church of England, which matters but we won’t get into why right now. The main point is that the Church of England at the time was nothing to write home about; and the brothers’ zeal for spiritual growth and formation was in stark contrast to the snoozing pulpits of polite civic religion of their day. Thus they were given the snarky brand of being overexcited “Methodists.”

The notion of sanctification doesn’t belong to one Christian tradition; it doesn’t belong solely to Wesleyan Methodists. You can find it in different terminology scattered across church history, through various traditions, and around the globe. But the Wesleyan Methodists were really organized about focusing on it, pursuing it, and living it individually and in community. The impact on real daily lives was astonishing. Child labor was confronted, illiteracy tackled. John Wesley’s most popular writing during his lifetime wasn’t his pile of sermons, it was his little practical, common-sense pamphlet on health, 250 years before Web MD. There were many very tangible outcomes to something that could sound abstract or removed from real life – sanctification and holiness. But for the Wesleys, sanctification was never about traveling to a remote cave to get away from the mundane or insidious. It was about real life, today, given all the less than ideal circumstances that come our way.

“Sanctus” means holy; sanctification simply refers to being made holy. We struggle though with how to define holy: you might say sacred or set apart or pristine or consecrated. Christians call God “holy,” but what do we really mean by that? Pure? Transcendent? Other-than? Monty Python delightfully skewered the weight and the difficulty of applying the word in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in a comedic scene about divine commands on how to use the “holy hand grenade.” Obviously, you can agree to call any object holy or sacred but that doesn’t make it so even if you treat it like it is. You may ask your mechanic if she’s using the ancient holy wrench on your car to be charged this much for new tires, and she may say, “yes, this here is my holy wrench,” waving it around while both of you know there’s nothing holy about this grimy dented wrench or her impulse to whack you with it or your impulse to be rude and impatient.

Holiness must be derived from something holy in and of itself. Where God breaks in, there is holiness. We don’t strain and strive to become our version of holy – John Wesley tried that, it didn’t go well. Painting a hammer gold and calling it holy doesn’t make it holy.

But as we follow Jesus, we open space to pursue and receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to be transformed so that, while you are still fully you, you are also more like Jesus in your thinking, will, desires, and choices.

Different traditions within Christianity describe a couple of odd phrases: imputed and imparted righteousness. To impute righteousness is to ascribe or assign righteousness to something that doesn’t have it inherently (rather like the “holy hand grenade”). It’s a position you occupy whether or not you bear the reality within yourself. Say a country with a monarchy has a revolution and they want to install a new king or queen. With a great deal of ceremony and ritual, they name someone as monarch who may have no royal family heritage. (That’s how monarchies began. “He is king now.” “But five seconds ago – ” “HE IS KING NOW.” “Long live the king!”) Everyone agrees to that position while knowing that one person’s DNA is not inherently set apart as “royal.” You are assigning a reality onto something.

To impart righteousness is to give righteousness; imparted righteousness is given and received in a meaningful way so that you are not just assigning a position or title or state of being. Righteousness is actually grown into; it is lived out. Say a kid starts taking vocal lessons and is fairly mediocre. But as they internalize their training and mimic the habits and disciplines of their teacher, their skills genuinely change and improve. Someone who begins as a novice singer transforms into a skilled vocalist. In that scenario, a teacher is imparting skill, passion, discipline, advice, correction, and affirmation.

Imagine then if the teacher could reach into their own throat and share a portion of the clarity of their tone, their perfect pitch, their love of music, and infuse their student with those qualities. That is imparted righteousness. It’s a transcendent music teacher not only demonstrating but sharing their own qualities with the student, as the student also exercises their will to show up for lessons, practice at home, and hone a love of singing.

And that – in part, please don’t email nasty remarks about how I’ve butchered a beautiful tradition – is what a Wesleyan theology of sanctification is: it is the belief, practice, discipline, and lifestyle of showing up to voice lessons with a desire to sing like our Divine Virtuoso, and our Cosmic Music Teacher sharing a portion of their own tone, pitch, technique, power, and passion back with us, so that whether or not we occasionally croak, crack, or drop a word, our intent is complete harmony with the Master Vocalist: the aim of perfect love.

More can be said about the nuts and bolts of this pursuit: the value of practicing this together in Wesley’s discipleship bands; the tangible way this works out in pursuit of justice where there is discordant exploitation, poverty, and abuse; the means of grace as a kind of practicing the scales and showing up for lessons; Scripture as a pitch pipe that reveals and tunes.

Your tires are finally ready, by the way. And where ugly attitudes or impatience or self-centeredness threaten to lead you off-key, leaning into the voice of Jesus Christ happens when, with humility, you can see your tired mechanic, make eye contact, smile, love her, and ask her how you can pray for her today. That is the Jesus way; that is what we mean by holy.

Brian Yeich ~ Where Is Your Zeal Focused? Lessons from Francis Asbury

On my office shelf is a 200-year-old brick from Bethel Academy, the first Methodist school in the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains, established by circuit riding Methodist preacher Francis Asbury in 1790. From those roots sprang Asbury College in 1890 and Asbury Theological Seminary in 1923.

You might look at that brick on my shelf and think it’s just an old brick. But to me, that brick is a reminder of the faithfulness and zeal of Francis Asbury as he worked to, “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” It’s also a reminder of the subsequent faithfulness of John Wesley Hughes as he founded Asbury College and Henry Clay Morrison as he founded Asbury Theological Seminary.

A brick from the original Bethel Academy. Photo courtesy Dr. Brian Yeich.

In 2 Timothy 4 Paul implores Timothy to preach the word…”I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” – (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)

Paul regards Timothy as being in a crisis in which he must make positive action. He must preach the word in which he has been nurtured as never before. The verb behind the words, “be prepared in season and out of season” (ephistēmi) means “to stand by, be at hand.”

In our Methodist history, Francis Asbury is one of the great examples we have of what it looks like to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy. Asbury’s zeal for God and commitment to preach and teach the gospel are now legendary, but they were never meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists.

According to John Wigger, the author of American Saint, Francis Asbury communicated the vision of the Methodist movement in America in four important ways.

1. First and foremost, his personal piety and perseverance were rooted in his own conversion. In other words, Asbury was a disciple of Jesus.

He was moved by the zeal of Methodist preachers and found forgiveness and assurance in Christ in his mid-teens; by the age of 17 he had started preaching. He understood that his conversion was only the beginning of his life in Christ and began earnestly seeking sanctification by joining a Wesley band (small, intentional discipleship group). His faith was tested as he and other Methodist preachers were assaulted with dead cats (!), beaten, and otherwise harassed for their zeal.

Asbury was tried and tested in the American frontier as well, but even his opponents noted his deep, abiding faith. Even James O’Kelly, leader of the first Methodist split, remarked that Asbury possessed, “cogent zeal and unwearied diligence in spite of every disappointment.” Asbury was grounded in a deep faith that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was unshakable.

2.  He had the ability to connect to ordinary people: he wasn’t actually a strong preacher. Wigger notes that Francis Asbury was not known as a great preacher, but nonetheless that he connected with people one-on-one and in small groups.

In an era before modern photography or Instagram, it is said that he was more visibly recognizable in his day than either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. As Wigger notes, “People found Asbury approachable and willing to listen to their concerns, more than they found him full of inspiring ideas.”[1] Asbury was intensely relational in his approach to ministry.

3. He understood and leveraged popular culture – but failing to confront it haunted him.

While never compromising on preaching the Gospel, Asbury didn’t try to fit English Methodism into the American frontier, but rather found ways to make the good news relevant in the wild, untamed new country, whether through camp meetings or emotional expressions of worship. He also worked within the tension between the dominant culture around him and the Gospel.

However, his cultural relevancy exacted a price as Asbury did not confront Southern slavery – a decision that haunted him.

4. He helped organize the Methodist movement in America. The keystone to the Wesleyan revivals was found in practicing Christian disciplines. Each Methodist was expected to, “live out their salvation with fear and trembling,” by attending to the means of grace and living in intentional, accountable community.

“Methodists succeeded where other religious groups failed largely because they were more disciplined.”[2] The early American Methodists lived in expectant hope that God could do more in their lives than they could ever imagine. Asbury was able to leverage Wesley’s organizational method that enabled the Methodists to continue to be a movement.

Perhaps most importantly, Asbury lived out Wesley’s admonition regarding the “order” of zeal. In Wesley’s Sermon On Zeal he proposed that our zeal should follow a particular order:

12. Take then the whole of religion together, just as God has revealed it in his word; and be uniformly zealous for every part of it, according to its degree of excellence. Grounding all your zeal on the one foundation, “Jesus Christ and him crucified;” holding fast this one principle, “The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved ME, and gave himself for ME;” proportion your zeal to the value of its object. Be calmly zealous, therefore, first, for the Church; “the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here on earth:” and in particular for that branch thereof with which you are more immediately connected. Be more zealous for all those ordinances which our blessed Lord hath appointed, to continue therein to the end of the world. Be more zealous for those works of mercy, those “sacrifices wherewith God is well pleased,” those marks whereby the Shepherd of Israel will know his sheep at the last day. Be more zealous still for holy tempers, for long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, lowliness, and resignation; but be most zealous of all for love, the queen of all graces, the highest perfection in earth or heaven, the very image of the invisible God, as in men below, so in angels above. For “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”[3]

How did Wesley “order” zeal?

1. Love of God – Lived through our own conversion and call in response to God’s love for us through Christ

2. Character – The fruit of the Spirit

3. The Means of Grace – The disciplined Christian life expressed in living out works of mercy and works of piety

4. The Church – The community of believers in general and the particular branch with which you connect

Francis Asbury knew that to get this order of zeal turned upside down would spell doom for his own soul as well as the movement. As my mentor Phil Meadows says, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Wesley and Asbury both knew that the love of God in their own hearts was first priority. We cannot give away what we don’t have.

Asbury lived in a time of uncertainty – the American Revolution had left the Methodists with a lack of leaders and a less than stellar reputation. Yet, by the grace and power of God, this group of pioneers led by Asbury “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” Perhaps we might say, “well, Asbury was just extraordinary.” However, I don’t think his zeal was meant to be extraordinary – it was meant to be the ordinary work of everyday Methodists. Perhaps now, more than ever, is a time for us to examine our own “order of zeal.”

[1] American Saint, p. 7.

[2] American Saint, p. 10.

[3] On Zeal, John Wesley

Brian Yeich ~The Lost Metric of Testimony

The church seems to be obsessed with numbers. We account for professions of faith, baptisms, membership and worship attendance, and these statistics for church health point to a crisis in the present and increasingly dismal view of the future. We seem to count everything. Even the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, made sure that every Methodist could be counted. However, it is my conviction that we have lost a “metric” that the church has relied upon for centuries, not only to demonstrate the health of the community, but to paint a vision of what the Christian life should be. We have lost the metric of testimony.

In his book, Narrative of Many Surprising Conversions, Jonathan Edwards observes, “There is no one thing that I know of that God has made such a means of promoting his work amongst us, as the news of others’ conversion…”1 On the cusp of the Great Awakening, Edwards observed how God was using the stories of people’s conversions to inspire and cast a vision for new life among those where were not yet awakened. As powerful as the Gospel is, the stories of those who have encountered the living God revealed in the Gospel story are also used by the Holy Spirit to encourage, enlighten and inspire people to a living faith in Jesus.

Not only do the stories of people’s conversions inspire, as Edwards suggests, but also the stories of overcoming struggle, of the ups and downs of life. When new believers or even non-believers can see how God is working through the lives of disciples, they catch a vision for what God might do in their own lives.

Why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? Have we lost the metric because we are not pursuing the least, last and lost in our communities?

Metrics Today

Most denominations today rely on metrics such as professions of faith, baptisms, attendance, and membership to gauge the health of their congregations. It is likely that these metrics are favored because they are relatively easy to collect and they do provide some indication of how a congregation is doing. However, these numbers can be far from encouraging. Worship attendance across denominations, according to most sources, indicates that fewer people are gathering in our places of worship each week than in years past. Professions of faith are down in many denominations including those that would identify as evangelical. In my denomination, it has become standard practice for conferences to require churches to enter data on a regular basis in a “dashboard” that tracks these metrics and others. While these numbers can provide some insights into what is happening in the life of a local church, they can also have a negative impact. Focusing on “getting people in the pews” can be an unhealthy focus for pastors and congregations. 

Several years ago I was engaged in leading a church re-start. In the first year of our efforts, I was approached by a former denominational leader and encouraged to “poach” from another, struggling congregation so that we could more quickly achieve the critical mass needed to sustain the church. I have been tempted in my ministry to play the numbers game and have many times succumbed to that temptation. However, the words of this leader shocked me into a realization about metrics. A focus on numbers may tempt us to simply rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship rather than seeking to reach people who have not heard or had the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.

Even though we say, each of those numbers represents a person,” I believe it is difficult to keep our focus when the numbers are the metric. Metrics like professions of faith or conversions, baptisms, or membership tell us something about the state of the congregation. In fact, if the church is alive and healthy, those numbers should reflect that reality. But while these numbers tell us something and they do represent people, we don’t hear the stories through the numbers. The fact is that numbers cannot tell the story of transformation in the lives of human beings. Yes, baptisms and professions of faith are significant moments in that transformation, but those numbers are only a waypoint on the person’s journey.

So, why does testimony seem to be ignored as a valid metric in our day? It may be because of the ease of counting worship attendance and baptisms as compared to collecting the stories of transformation among a congregation. And while the value of such stories may be recognized, that is not the data that is being most sought by denominational leaders. This is an unfortunate break from those who have gone before us.

Metrics in Early Methodism

As the founders of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley knew the power of people’s stories. In fact, they solicited the conversion stories of Methodists, many of which were published. Bruce Hindmarsh notes that these written narratives were expressed in a person’s own words soon after their experience of conversion and typically shared with others in a band meeting.2  The Wesleys saw the same value of testimony and narrative that Edwards observed on his side of the Atlantic. When people read the story of ordinary people encountering an extraordinary God, a hunger and thirst were stirred up and many of those hearers of the story came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These were not cute, sentimental Facebook posts but were raw stories filled with the challenges and obstacles to faith as well as the triumphs.

Hannah Hancock wrote to Charles Wesley about hearing John preach on Romans 6:23 (the wages of sin is death). She describes the conviction she experienced and shared that she, “had sweet communion with God for two months…” However, she also shared the challenges which soon cropped up when she wrote, “then the enemy came in as a flood upon me telling me I was in a delusion.”  It could be comforting to know that the challenges they were experiencing were not unusual, nor were they insurmountable through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without such a testimony, a person could continue wallowing in self-doubt and perhaps even lose their faith.

Many of these conversion stories made their way into the Arminian Magazine, a publication started by John Wesley in 1778 to encourage and inform the Methodist movement. In addition, Wesley published the stories of lay preachers whom God had raised up as leaders in the movement. While these published stories are significant, it seems more significant that people were encouraged to share their stories in class meetings and bands. It was in the context of community that the “metric of testimony” impacted the movement. As persons shared their stories and listened to the stories of others, God also spoke into their lives by his Spirit and people were empowered to, “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”3

While publishing was significant, as Hindmarsh notes, the primary space in which these stories were shared was the band meeting. Persons would gather in very small groups and share their lives with each other. Methodists would confess their sins with one another, share their triumphs with one another and then encourage and admonish one another to continue to pursue holiness of heart and life.

Shortly after Wesley’s death, the 1798 Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church in America indicated the value of such testimony that can take place within a band:

There is nothing we know of, which so much quickens the soul to a desire and expectation of the perfect love of God as this. For there little families of love, not only mutually weep and rejoice, and in everything sympathize with each other, as genuine friends, but each of them possesses a measure of ‘that unction of the Holy One,’ (1 John ii. 20.) which teaches all spiritual knowledge. And thus are they enabled to ‘build up themselves [and each other] on their most holy faith,’ Jude 20. and to ‘consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works,’ Heb. x. 24.4

In these groups, life was shared in its raw form – the ins, outs, ups, and downs of a person’s walk were shared and as the community heard the stories, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer a word of encouragement, admonishment, or exhortation. In addition to these groups, bands would come together periodically for a “love feast” in which testimony to the amazing work of God would be given and the community would celebrate and be encouraged by the stories.

Have we lost the metric because God is not at work? I certainly do not think so. God is still in the life changing business and people are being transformed by the Holy Spirit just as they were in the days of John and Charles Wesley. However, I am afraid that we seldom hear their stories and that we have not done a good job of making space for people to tell their stories – warts and all. So how do we recover the lost metric of testimony?

Recovering the Metric of Testimony

Perhaps it is obvious, but for someone’s story to be heard, they must have the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives. In some traditions and at certain times congregations have practiced testimony services or other gatherings in which people could tell their stories, similar to the love feasts of the early Methodists. A modern twist on the testimony service is using video to share stories of faith in a worship service. However, I am not certain that either of these is an adequate way of addressing the loss of testimony as a metric, and more importantly, as a spiritual practice. 

Fortunately, there are movements among Christians that are seeking to bring back, not the 18th century of John and Charles Wesley, but rather the spirit of the Methodist movement: a way of life marked by a commitment to grow in faith, a focus on spiritual disciplines, a passion to engage the mission of God in everyday life, and a covenant of life together in small groups of spiritual friends. One such initiative is the Inspire Movement which was begun in the United Kingdom in 2008.

The Inspire Movement is “an international network of Christians who are committed to developing mission-shaped discipleship in the leadership and life of the church.” Since its founding, Inspire has spread from England to Ireland, the United States and beyond. Inspire seeks to engage Christians in a way of life marked by longing for more of God, staying connected to God’s grace through spiritual disciplines, following God’s lead in mission and investing in spiritual friendships. Fellowship bands are the catalyst of this way of life and are groups where people share life deeply and help each other pursue this way of lifeInspire has developed missioner teams who work with churches and leaders to train and enable Christians to develop bands in their respective contexts. In the context of bands people share their stories of how God is working in their lives, and as they learn to tell their stories to each other, they are learning how to share this testimony with others in their church fellowship and beyond.

People need to tell their stories perhaps as much as people need to hear them. Focusing on numbers without the opportunity to share testimony of God’s work robs people of the opportunity to share what God is doing in their lives and prevents those who could hear the testimony from experiencing its impact. The recovery of the metric of testimony through community and bands could help individuals and congregations pursue a richer, deeper life of discipleship.

Pete Bellini ~ Methodism on Fire

It is no revelation that the United Methodist Church is facing an uncertain and problematic future. The second largest Protestant denomination in the United States is deeply divided over human sexuality and as a result it is divided over its language in the Book of Discipline (the denomination’s manual on agreed-upon life together) and is divided over decisions made by the Judicial Council, several Annual Conferences, and Boards of Ordained Ministry regarding human sexuality. In response, the Council of Bishops proposed The Commission on a Way Forward to address human sexuality and the Book of Discipline. The proposal was approved by the 2016 General Conference. The Commission has been given the Herculean task of proposing a way forward that will maintain unity among stretched and strained denominational differences. When its work is complete, the 32-member commission will report to a special session of the General Conference in 2019.

Amidst the uncertainty there have been many voices from both sides of the divide that have also speculated on a way forward. Several refreshing responses have come under the banner #nextmethodism. Recently, my colleague at United Theological Seminary, Dr. David Watson, wrote an article entitled “The Four Marks of the Next Methodism,” in which he forecasts what God has in store for the weary people called Methodists. Watson’s second mark declares that “the next Methodism will be Spirit-filled.” I think my friend is onto something. Rather, I know the Holy Spirit is onto something.1

The Holy Spirit is always at work in the world and in the church regardless of the problems that we face and regardless of the darkness that seems to prevail. God is a missionary God and has always been moving upon the earth carrying out God’s work. In John 14:26, Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name. The Spirit of Truth would bear witness to the person and work of Christ. In Acts 1:8, the disciples were invited to receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. This invitation to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is not just for the disciples of that generation but to their children and to their children for all generations. Acts 2:38 promises that all who repent and are baptized will receive forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

The mission of God (missio Dei) involves the sending of the Son, but it equally involves the sending of the Spirit. The Spirit is the primary agent of salvation in terms of our appropriating and experiencing the work of God’s grace in Christ. The Spirit draws, witnesses, convicts, enables repentance, justifies, regenerates, assures, sanctifies, quickens and inhabits the sacraments, constitutes the church, empowers for mission, works justice, heals the land, and much moreEarly Methodism understood these operations of the Spirit. Methodism today may benefit from further sound teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit and from further strategic opportunities to be filled with the Spirit and to serve in the power of the Spirit.

Early Methodism was no stranger to experiential religion and to the work of the Spirit. A case could be made that one of the greatest outpourings of the church age following the first century began with the Great Awakening and early Methodism. Revival fire lit up England and spread across the ocean and helped give birth to what Kenneth Scott Latourette called the “Great Century,” referencing the vast influence of Christianity in the nineteenth century. The Second Great Awakening, the healing movement, the holiness movement, the modern mission movement, the abolitionist movement, and a host of social and educational institutions all were significantly influenced by 19th century Methodism.2

Going into the 20th century, even the earth-shattering Azusa St. Revival from 1906-1912 was fueled by Methodist, former Methodist and holiness leadership. Wesleyan holiness theology reworked from John Wesley and John Fletcher was instrumental in igniting the passion and drive for entire sanctification and the baptism of the Spirit that launched Azusa St.3  The intense and permeating impact of Azusa’s eschatological pneumatology on the passion and push for missions catapulted North American Pentecostalism globally where it either ignited the fires of existing holiness work or networked with existing indigenous outpourings. Together these spiritual torrents helped to generate the seismic movement known as the Global South Shift. Could one of the greatest outpourings of the Holy Spirit in church history that began with Methodism come full circle back to Methodism?  

The fact is that it is already happening in many parts of the world. Global Methodism is burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit on virtually every continent. At United Theological Seminary, where I serve as Associate Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair, many of the faculty, including myself, have witnessed revival in Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Cuba. Churches have been planted. Thousands have come to Christ. Many are healed. Signs, wonders, and miracles are accompanying the preaching of the Gospel in Global South Methodism. My colleagues and I have been blessed to witness personally the mighty work of the Spirit, and yet the amazing growth of Global Methodism is much greater than the limited experience of our faculty. In Africa alone the church is increasing by 220,000 annually while the United Methodist Church in the U.S. is losing around 90,000 annually.4 Of course, the growth in African Methodism is not an anomaly either but is occurring wherever Global South renewal is diffused, and the character of these movements are usually charismatic in nature, as Philip Jenkins has documented in his now-classic, The Next Christendom

The good news is that God longs to move in American Methodism in the same manner. Many who are crying out in prayer for renewal are already experiencing a foretaste of it in certain oases, like Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, New Room Conference, the Holy Spirit Seminar, Change the World Conference, and in the classrooms at United Theological Seminary and in other places. The examples that I have cited hardly scratch the surface, as people in local churches, training events, and conferences across Methodism are seeking God’s presence over institutional programs. We have marveled at the Methodist machine long enough. We have tinkered with its parts. We have polished the brass until we could see our reflection. Though the Methodist machine is indeed a marvel, in many ways, it has become a body without the Spirit. The body without the Spirit is dead, and the dead need a resurrection.  

The picture of Methodism today is similar to what Ezekiel saw in the thirty-seventh chapter of the book that bears his name. The Lord gave the prophet a vision of a valley of dry bones that were once supporting a body that was filled with life. Of course, the valley of dry bones pointed to Israel in captivity. The Lord had a plan to renew and restore his people. He would breathe his ruach upon the dry bones, and they would live again. God set the prophet apart to prophesy resurrection and life to those dead bones.

I believe God has similar intentions for the people called Methodists. In our decline, division, and defeat, we are down for the count. Yet our denomination still exists and carries on as if something less than a divine move of the Spirit of God, such as programs or polity, will get Methodism off the canvas and on its feet again. In this sense, we are like the living dead. Like the Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1), we have a name seemingly indicating we are alive, but we truly are dead.

However, like in the time of Ezekiel, in these days God is raising up prophetic voices that are called to speak new life to the Church. They will prophesy to the dry bones that they will live again, and there will be a great rattling among the bones. There will be political rattling, theological rattling, doctrinal rattling, and spiritual rattling among the bones before they are gathered together and restored. Then the prophets will speak to the four winds of the Holy Spirit that will blow over the dry bones of Methodism, and the Spirit will resurrect and revive the descendants of John Wesley. I concur that the next Methodism will be a Holy Spirit Methodism, a Spirit-filled Methodism.

In the places where I have witnessed and beyond, many in our Methodist family are already experiencing a spiritual refreshing, as they are encountering the transforming power of the Spirit with signs and wonders and the manifestation of the charismata (the gifts of the Spirit) for the first time. I believe that the acts of the Holy Spirit and ensuing semeia (signs) found in the New Testament that are experienced in the Global South will be experienced in Western Methodism, if we are humble, open, and willing to repent and receive. Of course, the power of the Spirit is not an end in itself but rather is intended to empower the church for mission and witness. Increased fruitfulness and the spread of the Kingdom will indeed be the product of such an awakening.

Yet I believe more than just a charismatic “next Methodism,” God desires a sanctified next Methodism. Like Isaac in Genesis 26:18, we are called to redig the old wells, in this case the old wells of Methodism. Wesley declared that God raised up Methodism chiefly to spread scriptural holiness across the land.5 Key features of early Methodism will be revived in a sanctified “next Methodism,” such as holiness of heart and life, salvation as therapeia (healing and wholeness), empowerment and release of the laity, transformative discipleship, fresh sacred songs and poetry from heaven, and homiletical authority or preaching that facilitates conviction and conversion.

As we cry out to be set on fire with the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit and to be sent out to be good news to a world that needs hope, the Lord will send a blaze from heaven that will consume sin and fill us with holy and perfect love. A sanctified “next Methodism” will serve as a balance to a charismatic “next Methodism” holiness and power. Power without holiness, charisma without character, and gifts without fruit can lead to excesses in our lives and ministry that will be detrimental to the life and witness of the church. May our hearts’ cry be for the full manifestation of the Spirit.

As a Professor who teaches courses on church renewal and the Holy Spirit, I am often asked by students, “What can I do to have more of the Holy Spirit in my life?” This concise list of ten exhortations to understand the gift of the Holy Spirit and to cultivate the life and ministry of the Spirit may be a good place to start.

  1. Be Christ-centered. Focus on Jesus. The Spirit primarily bears witness to Christ.
  2. Be immersed in the Scriptures. Have a scriptural basis for all you are and do in your life and ministry. The Spirit speaks the language of Scripture.Be aware of exalting your experience over Scripture.
  3. Be presence-based over program-based in life and ministry. Expect and cultivate the presence of God wherever you are.Let life and ministry flow from there.
  4. Make faith your primary epistemologicalinstrument. Reason is essentialbut meant to be subordinate to faith. We are justified by faith and not justified by reason.
  5. Have a passion for holiness, Christlikeness. “Holy” is the Holy Spirit’s first name.
  6. Cultivate humility as a virtue. The Holy Spirit does not speak of himself (John 14-16). The Spirit is humble and is attracted to humility. God resists the proud.
  7. Learn to hear the voice of the Spirit and teach your people likewise. Give the Spirit the solitudeneededto speak to you and expect to hear specific guidance from God.
  8. Have an open heart to serve others especially the poor, the stranger, and the outcast. The Spirit loves to adopt.
  9. Create opportunities and structures for all types of prayer. If we want the fellowship of the Spirit we must communicate in the Spirit.Look for both worship and mission to flow from a life of prayer.
  10. Create an expectancy for the gifts of the Spirit in ordinaryand extraordinary ways and settings.