For several years now, our local market has been saturated with the United Methodist's motto, "Open mind, Open hearts, and Open doors." I confess that on the surface it is a neat motto. It also sounds kind of Christian too. Nevertheless, as I heard it, I wondered if this is what makes a Methodist a Methodist? Does this motto really illustrate the kind of catholic spirit that our founder, Rev. John Wesley, taught? Or does it illustrate more of the same old humanistic liberalism?
Go ahead and research what our founder taught. There are articles about Wesley here on IMARC along with some fine links. You will find that he would not have allowed gay and lesbian preachers, positive pro abortion views that are held by many UM pastors, those who deny the divine creation, and those that belittle the evangelical spirit in the Methodist pulpits. What we are seeing in the United Methodist Church is not love, as this motto tries to portrays, but permissiveness. There is a real difference. Being a Christian means that we must obey the Book on which our faith is founded. It is our guideline even in matters of social conduct. Remember, while Jesus loved the sinner, he never let that sinner dictate his message or moral standards. Really, Wesley would have put a screen on his open mind, heart, and door, to filter out the wrong things. Still the motto is neat. While Wesley loved the sinners, he never overlooked the sins of the people to reach out or build a church. For Christ there was no such thing as an acceptable sin. The same is true for Wesley.
Sooner or later the Methodists are going to have to ask "What do we really believe"? Of course this question is politically incorrect. Over the last fifty years the leadership of the United Methodist Church has challenged the very substance of the church with their liberalism and higher criticism. They worked hard to build a society and a modified religion based on human vanity.
Early Methodism and many of its partisans of today are true believers. We dare to be, religiously speaking, politically incorrect because our Lord said as recorded in St. John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." While God loved the world, he did not wink at sin. Obviously we can't come to Him via science, or human philosophy, or supreme court decrees. This narrow way is one of the corner stones of real Methodist Christianity. With this liberal leadership we can understand the loss of Methodist distinctive's. However, we should expect better of the conservative leadership of the para Church organizations such as the Good News and the Confession Movement. We should never wince, like they seem to do, from Rev. John Wesley's teaching.
John Wesley had supreme confidence in the Bible. Here is what he said of it. "God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri: A man of one book". So we see that our founder did not dilly dally about his convictions or what he thought. Neither did many who followed him. Bishop Asbury loved the Book. Other great Methodist leaders greatly esteemed the Book too. We Methodists are people of The Book. Therefore, let us be like Wesley and be "homo unius libri" people of The Book.
Real Methodists, while concerned with the social aspects of life, should be equally concerned with the spiritual necessities of life. Wesley once again makes that clear when he says, "I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life, as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till a few moments hence, I am no more seen! I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore." Methodists first take care of their own soul, by knowing the way to Heaven. Being born again. Then we go out to win others to Christ. For the real Methodist it is not church membership and good works first, but salvation by grace through faith. We always want to make sure that those who we love will be with us in eternity. We want them to be born again. We are not talking about a psychological or an emotional events here as some current Methodist leaders would have us believe. We are talking of a real personal relationships to the One who shed his blood for us.
Methodists are people who seek truth and make time to find it. Wesley says, "Here then I am far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read this book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of what I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of lights. Lord, is it not your word, ‘If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God'"? Wesley found the answer to life as he asked of God and read the Book. How many Methodists today make it a priority to read that Book and there by find the truth? How can we be Christians if all of our secular education makes us less inclined to read that Bible, yes even to doubt it? For Wesley, and real Methodists, the Book is the primary source for knowing God and what He did for all mankind. It is all that we need to find peace in this life. It is all that we need to know His will for our eternal souls. It answers the age old question, why are we here?
The above reasons most other mainline denominations and para church organizations could agree. So would most of the leaders in the conservative branches of Methodism wether they be United or Independent. Let's go a step deeper in our discussion of Methodism.
So then what makes us Methodists rather then Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, or some of the fundamentalists, evangelicals, or Pentecostals para church organizations within Christendom today? Perhaps our founder can even share some insight to this question when he says, "I then search after, and consider parallel passages to scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate thereon, with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then, the writings whereby, being dead, they speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach." As a result of God's leading of Wesley, the church took on the Arminian perspective of Protestant theology without apology. At one time, before liberalism and higher criticism, most Methodist preachers knew what they believed. It was in the Bible. It was Free Grace and not free will. They rejected the doctrinal particulars of other denominations and para Church ministries such as eternal security, immersion only, or charismatic gifts. As a result, the doctrine of holiness was not the only defining doctrine of Methodism.
And what of eternal security or once saved always saved? We never find any such phrase in the scriptures, much less in the Greek text, that says such or that one can never lose salvation. Wesley affirmed that one could fall from grace and lose salvation. Here is what he said. "I believe a saint may fall away; that one who is holy or righteous in the judgment of God himself may nevertheless so fall from God as to perish everlastingly." Today many within the conservative movements within the United Methodist Church, such as the Good News people and even some in the Confession Movement could care less about this doctrine. Their reason for this avoidance is that we must understand how important it is to have a catholic spirit in such matters. That is why they allow those from outside the United Methodist Church to bring in their doctrines. Doctrines that will cause splits in UM Churches if United Methodist pastors would preach Methodist them. Of course if this happens the pastors will get the blame when they should be hailed as great men for standing.
What of immersion? At the outset of the second Gulf War, the Good News magazine showed a picture of a solider being baptized by immersion in Iraq. In contrast I heard a Baptist preacher saying that they poured water on converts because of the critical shortage of water as our great army began their moral battle. Methodism historically taught optional modes of baptism, preferring sprinkling or pouring. What happened? In short, these new age liberators of Biblical Methodism could care less what the great Methodist writers from Wesley to Miley say on this subject, much less the Bible. They have now become a none Methodist denomination within United Methodism. How tragic! Also many tracts and pamphlets have been written on these topics by many individual Methodist pastors in the not too distant past. This dogmatism on immersion salvation is from without, and needs to stay out! We Independent and United Methodists have enough problems with out such actions.
What of Holiness? This is about ‘the only' thing that makes many conservative UM leaders feel that they are Methodists. The doctrine itself is not the problem. As a real Methodist Christian I do object to the way that it is bantered about. One is left with the impression that this is all that Wesley ever taught. While Wesley is credited with the rediscovery of this doctrine, he was no less a man of the entire Book. Read his works and as well as those that followed. This doctrine however, became a tool of division within Methodism in years gone by. Those who held to holiness strongly discouraged the doctrine of growing (gradually being made holy) in grace. Today, all too many holiness churches and movements seem to proudly trace their beginnings back to Methodism. That's good, but it seems that Sanctification is the only doctrine that qualifies them to share the name of us Wesleyan?
But what did the Methodist Church really teach concerning this subject. It is best said by Dr. Thomas Ralston in his theology Elements of Divinity. "It matters but little" he says, "whether this eminent state of holiness be gained by a bold, energetic, and determined exercise of faith and prayer, or by a more gradual process - whether it be instantaneous or gradual or both the one and the other. The great matter is, with each and all of us, that we lose no time, but arise at once, and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." This would jibe perfectly with what our founder taught. However, this one doctrine alone hardly qualifies one to be a Methodist.
What of the charismatics within the UMC? Wesley never had much use for emotionalism in his time. For him, the Spirit filled life was way we lived. That for him and all real Methodist Christians is the "proof in the pudding." Not a strange sound coming from ones mouth. Even while the great camp meetings where taking place, men like Peter Cartwright opposed the tongues speaking charismatics of his time. The only real reason that this group found a home in the Methodist church was to counter balance the frigidity of cold religious liberalism. That of course could be said of the other Baptistic groups within Methodism, wether United or Independent. It is not a strange sound from the mouth that counts, but the life that is lived for Him.
When attention is brought to these doctrinal problems, most of the conservatives leaders in the United and Independent Methodist movements brush off any criticism. They tell us that we ought to be thankful for what little Biblical Christianity we have left in Methodism? They piously declare that we need to drop our petty differences for the larger cause. Thereby, they run behind the catholic spirit that Wesley taught. Sadly, those who they associate with do not drop their insistence on doctrines like eternal security, immersion, and charismatic gifts. The point is that while Wesley taught the catholic spirit, he had his limits.
First, he believed in the great redemption plan of God offered freely to all and preached it more clearly then most. Second, while he extend a hand of fellowship to the Calvinists, and Baptists, he did not throw his convictions to the wind nor demand his followers to do differently. That is not what made Methodism great! Nor will it free us from the current liberalism and the lethargic doctrinal indifference within the United or Independent Methodist Churches of today.
While I am somewhat critical of one motto, there is still another motto that the United Methodists use that could help. The conservative leadership of both United and Independent Methodists might well to listen to this one. IT IS TIME TO WALK THE WALK AND TALK THE TALK! As the Bible says in James 5:12 "let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation."