by Bob Phillips
The GMC offers a transition that eases profound upheaval. The language of historic and dynamic Wesleyan Christianity remains embedded in church discipline, organization and practice. What has worked well in the connectional-denominational system is retained, i.e., the GMC is not simply pitching everything away. The GMC reflects a spiritual revival and reformation and has good reasons biblically and theologically not to discard everything in a go-it-alone approach.
The GMC provides gracious support to congregations. The GMC is committed to be a positive and supporting presence in practical ways, and to enable the church to avoid unintended detours and spiritual dead-ends. “Two are better than one for they have a good reward for their toil…” are words from Ecclesiastes 4 not only for individuals but for the church of Jesus.
The GMC provides gracious accountability for congregations. Go-it-alone groups that develop issues with the pastor, with finances, with legal matters, or with unbiblical teaching must handle all such crises alone. Yes, they can (and should) ask for help but there is a reason thousands of local independent churches fold every year (not just UM or mainline churches). No NT church was basically accountable only to itself.
The GMC embraces and lives what it means to be “One, holy, Catholic (universal) and apostolic church.” St. Augustine once complained that the self-righteous and legalistic Donatist splinter group were like a frog croaking on a lily pad at dusk, saying to itself, “I am the only frog there is, in the only pond there is, making the only sound that counts.” American independent churches have struggled (or worse, ignored) the biblical and historical model of embracing a faith that truly is global. We are more than any one town or county or nation or race or language, but without meaningful accountability to one another, this gospel vision of church tends to recede.
The GMC guarantees the living continuation of the best of the Wesleyan way. Women empowered and called by the Spirit will be affirmed at all levels of leadership. The Wesleyan prophetic witness for justice will be affirmed, but not help captive to secular politics of left or right. The Wesleyan freedom to disagree in biblical ways will be protected, as in Wesley’s words, “At all opinions that do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.” Many independent churches struggle with openness and holy freedoms the GMC affirms. There is a reason Wesleyan Christians have received Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer prizes, held the highest offices in the land, founded major universities and hospitals and care for the poor (think Salvation Army). Core gospel truth will be taught and defended in ways that don’t leave it up to each local church to decide what the gospel actually is…again, accountability.
The GMC offers unity in cultural and justice issues of spiritual warfare. What do you call one Marine who hits the beach to attack the enemy? You call him one dead Marine. What do you call the 3rd Marine Division that hits the beach to attack the enemy? You call it one unending nightmare for the enemy. The GMC is the 3rd Division of God, or the 101st airborne of the Kingdom, or the Pacific Fleet of Jesus to witness in the strength of numbers for gospel values in a fallen world. Prior to WW2 Hitler began a quiet program to euthanize adults…and children…with profound mental and physical disabilities, killing thousands. Little was known and nothing was done until the Roman Catholic archbishop of Munster, Klemens Von Galen, learned about the program and publicly denounced it in a sermon that was reprinted throughout Germany. Hitler was furious but stopped the program. Hitler could (and did) kill the isolated-independent voice of protest but was afraid to murder one who spoke for a unified thousands of churches. Our strength is in real and practical unity that the GMC provides, and independent status does not.
The GMC affirms congregational freedom, i.e., true freedom to leave if one is led of God to move elsewhere. In addition to saving churches the mega-hassles of going independent with legal-property-financial-personnel matters, it has built into the system a vastly different approach toward keeping churches in the GMC. The GMC plans to keep churches by delivering the goods on what a healthy, faithful and effective Wesleyan denomination should be, a ‘fellowship of the committed, not the constrained.” The clergy pension program is solid but involves no unfunded pension liabilities, so no ‘bar tab’ to pay if one wishes to leave. No trust clause likewise frees a church to depart without haggling over property if that is what the church believes God is calling them to do. The GMC has cut out the claims and bonds and demands the UMC is using, confident that a holy and healthy witness will retain churches AND that local churches should have freedom to depart if the GMC ever fails to keep faith with its vision.
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)
See Bob’s work on Methodist Mitosis in Methodist Review.
One thing we tend to overlook when a church goes independent is that once independent all those things defined by the BOD disappear since the BOD is no longer applicable, therefore a church is left with a building, some people, a bank account and hopefully a pastor. The people are now only attendees since membership was defined by the BOD , same with officers, committees, theology, clergy requirements, and so on now all out the window and will need to be reinvented. Who in the average Methodist church is capable of defining and/or inventing new theology? The GMC comes with all those requirements defined and ready to be put into practice.
Have you noticed that online highwaymen of the continuing-UMC have lately taken to Tweeting rather than posting long pasquinades against departing GMCers. Why is that? Does it intimate a panicky feeling that their posts will soon be read in hilarious retrospect rather than solemn noteworthiness?