Our greatest hope is always Jesus Christ.
He is the hope of the world. None of us when confronted by the politics we see should ever doubt the capacity and ability of our God to overcome all obstacles in our way. Jesus tells us himself quoting Isaiah, “In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:21). We know Christ has overcome the world. We know we always have hope in every circumstance if our trust is in God.
The problem since Eden has always been the same: sin. We have continuously argued about what is sin, whose sin it is, whose sin is greater, who can judge sin, and who should make the rules about not sinning. Culture has swayed between oppressive leaders who have self-righteously restricted believers’ actions by their own definition of sin to hedonistic laissez faire approaches that claim there is no sin. Neither extreme is right.
The church is Christ’s. If it follows him and obeys him it should be a beacon of light and hope to a dark and despairing world. My problem up to this point has not been finding hope. I can find it daily in reading God’s Word and spending time with my Savior. I have found hope in local congregations as they faithfully serve the world as Christ’s hands and feet.
The problem is that the United Methodist Church has grown hopeless in my lifetime.
The problem is sin. The church is not only being assailed from the outside by a culture that is growing more post-Christian every year. It is being corrupted from within. Bishop Mike Lowry is correct in his statement.
“At its heart, the issue before us is not (ultimately) about human sexuality but rather is a dispute about what accurately constitutes the core of the Christian faith and the essence of United Methodism.” -Bishop Mike Lowry
I began my work in ministry with great hope.
I grew up in a thriving neighborhood church in Wichita, Kansas. When my parents joined the church in the mid-70s it averaged around 250-300 a Sunday. In 1994 a new pastor arrived at our church and things began to change. We saw new families coming to the church. People were excited to invite their family and friends. A newfangled praise service was started with “loud music” that I still remember threatened to split the church when it started, until everyone realized it didn’t hurt the other services and in fact brought many new people to our congregation. Our congregation went from an inward to an outward missional focus.
After 15 years our church had tripled in size. I have read many stories of miraculous churches that have grown from near death to megachurch size. This isn’t one of them. Yet the reason I share about my home church is because I found in my formative years that I was a part of a growing, exciting, challenging church. It was infectious. It was empowering. It was centered on Christ alone and filled with the Holy Spirit. In 6th grade when I felt a call to ministry that same pastor fostered my call, encouraged my gifts, and ultimately guided me into ministry. I began my work towards ministry with such great hope. I began excited to see what God could do through the ministry I had in front of me.
I lost my hope when I entered the larger church.
Then I started my ordination work. The paperwork and requirements were difficult, but they should be. The problem was when other pastors grilled me in a committee and pushed me because they knew I am a conservative. They singled me out due to my theology on human sexuality.
As I finished seminary and began working in the local church I remember attending my first annual conference meeting. I greatly enjoyed much of the fellowship. There were moments of worship that were good. Then I saw the divisions. The comments and the challenges were multiple. When we elected delegates to General Conference we could easily see two distinct groups form.
At the last General Conference I had moments where I was ashamed of our church. I am ashamed because the local church where I pastor is a community that is shocked by the news stories about an openly homosexual bishop appointed to our denomination and numerous reports of same sex marriage ceremonies taking place in UM churches with UM pastors. The open defiance of the Book of Discipline has raised anxiety in our congregation and created a rift between the ministry in the local church and the larger denomination.
As excited as I was at the beginning of my ordination work I now found myself, only 6 years into full-time ministry, without much hope for the United Methodist Church. Divisions abound, hurtful language has been used, and the brokenness of the church is apparent to all. I have 37 years left that I am eligible to be appointed in the United Methodist Church. I had lost hope that the church would continue for those 37 years. I had lost hope that the larger denomination could work through the divisions and hold fast to the doctrine and theology that created the movement of Methodism in the beginning.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association has changed my view of our church.
For one day on Friday, October 7, 2016 I stood in a ballroom in Chicago with 1,800 brethren who were not divided. Our worship was deep. The Spirit was present. God moved in our hearts and minds. I have encountered this deep worship many times in the local church. I have never encountered it at an annual conference or other denominational meeting before.
Acts 4:32a states, “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” The unity that was the very birth of our church and the work of the Holy Spirit must be present to see revival begin again. Unity brings power as we are able to act quickly in agreement to do the tasks set before us. Unity brings joy as we find closer relationships and trust abound. Unity, real unity, strengthens not just the leaders but all who are a part of the church.
I have a taste of that Acts 4:32 experience. I saw for a moment what it can be to have unity in Christ at the corporate level of the church. This unity helps me see the power our church can have to really accomplish the task of creating disciples of Jesus Christ. This united church can transform the world. This united church can shake off the burdens of institutionalism and move from surviving to thriving in the postmodern culture. This united church I saw in Chicago is a powerful, Spirit-filled example of God’s movement.
Yet that united church is not the United Methodist Church.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association inaugural meeting gave us a taste of the possibility. It also showed us the long road ahead. Before our Annual Conferences, Jurisdictional Conferences, and General Conferences have this unity and power in the Spirit we first must work to change our church. Our theology is solid. Our history is amazing. Our future is bright, especially if it can reflect the beauty I saw in that day in Chicago.
There are many who think the WCA a single-issue organization, created to maintain the UMC’s stance on human sexuality. It is not. It is so much more. I am convinced that the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a revival of the United Methodist Church. It is a revival of our historic Methodist roots. It is a revival of our powerful voice in the culture by partnering personal piety with social holiness. It is a place of unity for those who believe that the rich historical orthodoxy of the United Methodist Church is not to be abandoned. It is a positive organization built to reflect the future of our denomination.
That gives me hope. I have hope because I serve a God of resurrection. Our Church needs a resurrection. We have a world waiting to be shown the love of Christ. I have hope the United Methodist Church will transform the world by making disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not know exactly how it will happen. I do not know every step of the way forward. Yet my hope is in the Spirit that guides us, and I’m thankful to be united with so many great brothers and sisters through the Wesleyan Covenant Association as we walk this road together.
“I mean, Lastly, love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. So far as in conscience thou canst (retaining still thy own opinions, and thy own manner of worshipping God), join with me in the work of God; and let us go on hand in hand.”– John Wesley’s sermon Catholic Spirit