Five Hopes for #andcanitbe

In recent weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a United Methodist, inspired by my good friend and colleague Kevin Watson. Kevin’s last three posts on his blog have dealt with some of the concerns and ideas I’ve been wrestling with for some time. 

There has been a great deal of hand-wringing over the future of the United Methodist Church ever since General Conference and the failed initiatives to make major overhauls to our structure. Ever since, people have offered proposals suggesting we will only move forward with continued efforts to restructure at the next General Conference. 

While I agree we need major change, I think we have more basic and fundamental problems that need to be addressed. While we do suffer from an over-inflated bureaucracy, we struggle more with a lack of what I call core unifying commitments

That’s where the #andcanitbe conversation began. Those of you who aren’t familiar with Methodist hymnody might not recognize that this is based on the lyrics Charles Wesley published in 1738, 

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

For me, this suggests a hearty recovery of the basic Christian doctrines at the core of the Wesleyan movement we call Methodism. John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, is used and co-opted by people in the denomination from across the theological perspective. However, the reason I’m so drawn to him is that I believe he was, at his heart, an orthodox classic Christian who held to the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith. 

Several years ago, I ran across this helpful advice from Tim Keller to a pastor asking about how to find a denomination in which to be “missional,” and I believe it is extremely relevant to this conversation, 

I wonder where you’d go to find a truly missional denomination? I don’t know of any. For missionally minded churches, any denominational connection will bring you into relationship with some other churches and ministers who downright embarass you. This will be true of any ecclesiastical body with more than 5 churches in it. I don’t think that going independent and only staying connected in to a missional ‘network’ – which has no disciplinary authority – is the answer either.

My counsel: 1) inhabit a denomination with a historic tradition you admire (Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist) 2) stay in a denomination if it gives you space to follow your calling, 3) don’t be marginal to it–be active in the denomination, but 4) don’t be too absorbed in all its workings and especially not in its politics

United Methodism inhabits a particular tradition I admire, but only inasmuch as it holds strongly to  classic Christian doctrines (even as they’re given uniquely Wesleyan emphases), such as the ones Kevin described in his post,

sin and the need for repentance and forgiveness; justification by faith; the new birth and assurance; and sanctification by faith, even unto entire sanctification. Another way this has been put is: “All need to be saved. All may be saved. All may know themselves to be saved. All may be saved to the uttermost.”

My hopes for the #andcanitbe conversation are as follows

  1. That it reminds United Methodists that there are plenty of young adults in the denomination who care deeply about classic orthodox expressions of Christian doctrine and faith. 
  2. That it demonstrates we United Methodists are Christians first and then tied together missionally by distinct Wesleyan core commitments (both practical and doctrinal) such as the importance of small groups for growth in discipleship (being apprentices of Jesus) and the helpful articulation of the work of God’s grace even to entire santification. 
  3. That it reminds us renewal will not come as the work of human ingenuity or bureaucratic tinkering, but instead from a hearty return to God in faith, repenting of our own failure to “do it ourselves,” and turning toward a future of radical abandonment to God. 
  4. That it eventually spreads to the point that we can recognize God’s work outside of the United Methodist Church in the United States as an important corrective to the decades of decline we’ve experienced here.  
  5. I also hope that there are more diverse voices that come to the #andcanitbe table who share common commitments to classic Trinitarian belief, the bodily resurrection, and the doctrinal commitments mentioned above.   

9 thoughts on “Five Hopes for #andcanitbe

  1. Thanks Matt for stepping up to leadership. These very same concerns and challenges have carried a number of us (now old-timers) for many years. The impact of continuing to chip away at the loss of our Wesleyan core has been to re-ignite some growth in certain quarters of this old denomination, e.g., starting new churches again as a part of our evangelistic priority and re-engaging with the global church in holistic mission/evangelism. I remember sitting through a meeting years ago when the iron curtain had finally fallen and true religious freedom began being offered in Russia. The question facing church leaders was, should we consider supporting the development of a United Methodist mission to Russia? I watched as key leaders spoke against “imposing” our faith or our “culture” on those in another place even though invitations had been clearly offered. Their strong voices challenged the notion of engaging in mission with the Russian people. Thankfully, other voices prevailed and the Russia Initiative was launched – the fruit is seen today …

    My hope is your hope – that your voice and that of your peers might help lead the whole UMC to reclaim our doctrinal voice. Guy Ames

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