God Will Carry On The Divine Work
Generally, when these truths, justification by faith in particular, were declared in any large town, after a few days or weeks, there came suddenly on the great congregation, — not in a corner, at London, Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in particular, — a violent and impetuous power, which,
Like mighty wind or torrent fierce, Did then opposers all o’er-run.
And this frequently continued, with shorter or longer intervals, for several weeks or months. But it gradually subsided, and then the work of God was carried on by gentle degrees; while that Spirit, in watering the seed that had been sown, in confirming and strengthening them that had believed,
Deign’d his influence to infuse, Secret, refreshing as the silent dews.
And this difference in his usual manner of working was observable not only in Great Britain and Ireland, but in every part of America, from South to North, wherever the word of God came with power.
Is it not then highly probable, that God will carry on his work in the same manner as he has begun That he will carry it on, I cannot doubt; however Luther may affirm, that a revival of religion never lasts above a generation, — that is, thirty years; (whereas the present revival has already continued above fifty;) or however prophets of evil may say, “All will be at an end when the first instruments are removed.” There will then, very probably, be a great shaking; but I cannot induce myself to think that God has wrought so glorious a work, to let it sink and die away in a few years. No: I trust, this is only the beginning of a far greater work; the dawn of “the latter day glory.” – John Wesley, “The General Spread Of The Gospel”
There is an unfortunate myth floating about that evangelicals want to divide the UMC. The fact of the matter is, I know a lot of evangelicals, and while a few of them really want division, the vast majority want us to work out our differences and move forward without any kind of major separation of the denomination. If the majority of evangelicals wanted to divide the church badly enough, they would do so. As we have seen with the Episcopal Church, property and pensions cannot hold a denomination together. – Dr. David Watson “The Myth of Evangelical Divisiveness”, Musings And Whatnot, June 15 2015 (emphasis added)
Of the many things that frustrate me about the current dialogue in the United Methodist Church, few things get me more riled than the way labels are tossed around without thought. As the above quote from Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary shows, “evangelical” has come to mean a particular group within our denomination, a label that sets them over and against those obviously not evangelical. I am part of a group on Facebook calling itself “Progressive Methodists”, a name that confounds me in many ways. We would all be better served if we tossed labels aside and agreed, at the very least, on some basic identifiers about being United Methodist.
The first and most important is that we United Methodists are, and have been since the days of John Wesley and Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke (referred to as “the Father of Methodist Missions“, dying in what is now known as Sri Lanka on a missionary journey) an Evangelical denomination. As John Wesley himself makes clear in the above sermon, we spread the Gospel, sometimes in power, sometimes in the simple practice of being who we are; whether it’s a revival meeting or the mundane administration of the Church, what marks us as those who follow in the footsteps of John Wesley is our commitment as a body to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Our mission statement is Evangelical, rooted in the Great Commission, making us heralds of the Kingdom. For Watson and others to make of the name something that sets them apart from others among us in our denomination is theologically ignorant and unnecessarily politically divisive.
The labels we use as identifiers within our Church – evangelical, progressive, liberal, traditionalist – are all words that have meanings. Unfortunately, they are not the meanings those who are just a bit too quick to use them believe them to be. If one is a United Methodist, then one is by definition Evangelical. That is who we are. That is what it is to be a United Methodist. To be a United Methodist, however, is also to be progressive. We work for the forward movement of the Gospel, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. That automatically makes us workers in the fields where those who have nothing are seeking something. We offer the naked clothing; we offer the lonely hospitality and community; we offer the hungry food; we name our brothers and sisters whom the world deems inhuman beloved children of God. That is what it means to spread the Gospel.
To be a Christian who adheres to Liberal Theology is to be one committed to a refusal to sacrifice the intellect. Liberal Theology’s great gift to the Church is the critical spirit that has opened up our past and future. From the first historical critics of the Bible; from Friederich Schleiermacher’s Christ-centered insistence on faith being an orientation to God granted as a gift from God; to the Personalist Philosophy of turn of the 20th century Methodists and the great flowering of mid- and late-20th century protest, process, and post-modern theologies, Liberal Theology has kept alive the intellectual rigor so necessary to “faith seeking understanding”.
Traditionalist/fundamentalist Christianity returned our eyes and ears to the Bible; to the centrality and necessity of the Word as the primum inter pares when it comes to authority. While Barth began that movement within streams of neo-orthodox and crisis theologies, here in the US, it was the fundamentalists and traditionalists who have reminded us that the canon is not only the body of writings but the rule by which truly faithful Christian theology is measured.
To be a United Methodist, then is to be evangelical, progressive, Liberal, and a traditionalist. They are ours by birthright, our history, and our traditions. We are not divided by these labels. They unite us, mark us as The People called Methodist who trust the work begun through us in the Spirit will be completed in God’s good time. I pray for our understanding that all of us and each of us will grab hold of these words in the fullness of their meaning as the special identifiers for who we are and what we do.