by Bob Phillips
The United Methodist Church is moving toward a ‘mitosis moment,’ a cell division within the body of Christ that can renew and expand the outreach of the Gospel and the life of discipleship within Wesleyan Christianity. Between now and General Conference 2022, slated for August/September 2022, an institutional kabuki dance will lure countless clergy and laity of all opinions into a series of rituals, ‘spin’ conversations and reflection on the future of the existing church. If the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace is approved, even with minor modifications, a new expression of the Wesleyan way, the Global Methodist Church, will be birthed. The existing United Methodist Church likewise will move into a profound re-boot of its organization, theology, budget and vision. A Liberation Methodist Movement also is possible, flapping the left wing of the Spirit dove in matters of sexuality and theological inclusion.
Annual conferences, local churches and clergy/laity will be engaging in serious discussion on where to align for the future. This could be the new expression GMC, the post-separation UMC, or another course of independence or connection with other more liberal or conservative existing bodies. Only annual conferences with no significant theological diversity will escape the dialogue as to where to align (think the Western Jurisdiction, Northern Illinois or New England as examples from the left and Northwest Texas as an example from the right). That statement is an observation of reality, not a slap at any of those conferences. No conference, church or pastor will escape the profound changes that inevitably will follow at the denominational level.
What follows are five reasons to consider aligning with the Global Methodist Church as a new expression of Wesleyan Christianity for the 21st century. They are not the only reasons, nor necessarily the most compelling reasons, depending on the context of a given congregation or pastor. But they do speak to lived realities and an alternative vision of the life-giving gospel.
1. Affiliating with the GMC for Coherent and Consistent Wesleyan Evangelical Faith
Charles Krauthammer wrote, “It seems elementary but a science, like the (political) Party, must have unity, at least in the fundamentals. Chemistry cannot have two periodic tables. Physics will not permit believers in 19th century ether. Alchemy is not an elective at MIT.” That insight applies also to church. The existing UM church offers a theologically schizoid big tent in which the incarnation of God in Christ through the miracle of the virgin birth did and didn’t happen, the miracles and bodily resurrection of Jesus did and didn’t happen, and the new birth is and is not a transcendent movement of the Holy Spirit that ushers one toward the Kingdom and away from Hell, which does and does not exist. Christian marriage is and isn’t the union of one man and one woman. Jesus is and is not the way, the truth and the life. Huge Methodist muddled matters are tackled and stated clearly and decisively in the GMC in light of scripture and the great universal creeds of the church. The interpretation of scripture is a legitimate dimension of discipleship, but it has become an “anything goes” black hole that renders essential convictions optional or incoherent. “How long will you go limping between two opinions,” said Elijah to the Israelites. This finds resolute response in the clarity of core teaching of the GMC.
2. Affiliating with the GMC to Push the Reset Button on an Ineffective ‘System’
The Methodist organization of conference, class meeting, bishops and the like was created to maximize accomplishing the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” The US church has failed for 52 straight years to have more people following Jesus. If “every organization is perfectly aligned to the results it gets,” and the results of the status quo is sustained and accelerating decline, well, do the math. The GMC is focused on a major reboot of structure, processes, training, education, and evangelism with a passionate focus on making disciples. Decades of surface system tweaks have not made a difference; mitosis and new institutional birth can.
3. Affiliating with the GMC to Live Clearly into the ‘Global’ Dimensions of the Wesleyan Way
Yes, ‘all politics is local,’ but the church of Jesus is global. Few US United Methodists fathom that one-third of the denomination’s membership is in Congo, where the median age is 19 and the median annual income is less than $400. Profound shifts by the GMC can meaningfully align the universal Christian faith with a global Methodism that honors vibrant Wesleyan Christianity. Such a change in perspective and priorities also will bring white, Western, relatively affluent Methodists into a challenging, Kingdom-centered faith equal to the challenges of a 21st century world Christianity, while still reaching those of local origin. US members will be equals of our brothers and sisters living for Christ outside the US, not superior in culture, attitude or leverage.
4. Affiliating with the GMC Will Be a Priceless Gift to the Post-Separation UMC
What? The decline in worship attendance for the US and European status quo church is in consistent, accelerating decline. Pointing to other churches in decline is no defense…take a look at the numbers for Pentecostal Christianity in 1968 (creation year for the UMC) and today. They grew 800% world-wide, while the US church has declined nearly 60%. Methodist mitosis will force those aligning with the GMC into new practices and innovations. It also will force the remnant UMC into a level of profound change previously resisted and denied in other areas of practice, organization, priority of beliefs and the like. Inertia finally can be pushed out of the room, for the absence of numerous congregations and leaders who have departed for the GMC will require decisiveness and change heretofore rejected or derailed. “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which promising ideas are gently lured and quietly strangled,” will describe fewer denominational committees.
5. Affiliating with the GMC Can Energize and Best of Wesleyan Evangelical Faith and Practice
The Wesleyan traditional/conservative/orthodox (pick a label) movement differs significantly from the skewed and often dysfunctional or crassly political ‘evangelical’ cultural presence. Women are fully affirmed in all areas of ministry. Education and the life of the mind are embraced. Science and the reality of public education are not enemies to faith. The biblically-based prophetic witness for justice in society (love of neighbor) is not dismissed as an add-on but is a core metric for faithful discipleship. Wesleyan traditionalists are not joined at the hip with any partisan political movement or party. A vision of gracious accountability within the church, a step to transforming inert members into active disciples, can be a holy rebuke to the “It’s all about me” culture that disdains accountable faith. There is a reason that studies indicate that of US “20-somethings” who do get seriously involved in a church, 75% of them gravitate toward churches that are evangelical/traditional in core beliefs and outside-the-box in areas of worship, outreach, service and community. That can become the Global Methodist Church, with a strong Wesleyan witness emerging amid our fractured religious landscape.
Chair WCA, Illinois Great Rivers Conference
Degrees from University of Illinois, Asbury and Princeton Seminaries, University of St. Andrews
Graduate of Senior Executive Seminar on Morality, Ethics and Public Policy, Brookings Institution
Captain, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (ret)