I’m in Wilmore, KY right now at Asbury Theological Seminary for an intensive week of class. It was a long drive down here, and I quickly learned that the state of Kentucky does not believe in wide driving lanes. I arrived on campus and found out that I was placed on the top floor of the dorm and moved my stuff in on a very hot Sunday afternoon. The room is small (for those who were in Timothy Hall at Lincoln Christian, this dorm makes the Hole look like the Hilton). The class is from 8am-4pm daily on ancient church history. Knowing all this, I was ready to pack up and leave…when I get into complaining mode it’s hard to stop. But then God started speaking….
Everyday, walking to and from class, I pass through what is called “Wesley Square” here at Asbury. In the middle of the square is a life-sized statue of John Wesley preaching. Behind the statue is a plaque with a famous quote from John Wesley that says:
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and disciple with which they first set out.”
I started thinking about this fear from our founder of the Methodist movement. Then I started thinking about some of the things that hit me at Annual Conference a couple of weeks ago. A few things hit me at different times during conference. At the Good News Dinner, Rob Renfroe started talking about why we sing “And Are We Yet Alive?” at the opening of Annual Conference. This is a tradition that dates back to the Wesley’s. I always liked singing this song to begin conference, but had no idea why it was such a strong tradition. Rob explained that the early circuit riding pastors never knew who would make it to conference from year to year because of death. He also explained that the first 300 circuit riders who died in America were under the age of 30. These pastors were so dedicated to making disciples of Jesus Christ that nothing kept them from going out. I once heard it said that when the weather got really terrible it was said, “it was only fit for crows and methodist preachers.” So they would sing this song at the early conferences and look around to see who had entered the Church Eternal while in the service of God. Nothing, not even death, could stop this movement!
Then in class this week, we talked about the early church. The faith was so illegal that persons were requested to renounce Christ by offering sacrifice to the pagan Roman gods…those who refused were put to death. Some went to their martyrdom in the belief that God was even going to use their death to advance the gospel. What dedication! What faith! What resolve!
I started to put the two together…the early church and the early Methodist preachers. As I walked back to my room yesterday, I noticed Wesley Square in a new way. I stood in the warm Kentucky rain and contemplated the fear that Wesley had…that we should exist as a dead sect having the form of religion without the power. How did he know? How did he see it?
We sat at conference a few weeks ago and closed 8 churches…eight! I wonder how many gave pause to reflect on what this meant instead of just casually voting yes with their fancy little keypads?
I want to stand in the tradition of the early church and those early Methodist preachers. I refuse to be a part of a dead, religious sect. I am saying that closing churches should be unacceptable! Ineffective clergy who underperform because of guaranteed appointment (not making a statement either way on that topic…yet) should be unacceptable! I’m praying for the UMC today…that God would bless our churches with a vision of transformation. I’m praying for our clergy…whether they are young or old; progressive, moderate, or conservative; male or female; ordained or licensed…Rise up! Be bold and prophetic!
I’m standing up today….I want to hold fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline that made us alive in the first place!
We are alive and we can and WILL make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
And are we yet alive,
And see each other?s face?
Glory and thanks to Jesus give
For His almighty grace!
Preserved by power divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus? praise we join
And in His sight appear.
What troubles have we seen,
What mighty conflicts past,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last!
Yet out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.
Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.
Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain,
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.