Today we reach the final chapter in Dr. Scott Kisker’s book, Mainline or Methodist. Thank you to everyone who has been reading along with this series. In the final chapter, Kisker admits that he is a historian and not someone who easily makes suggestions about directions to take in the future. However, as a committed United Methodist, he uses this chapter to propose several ways forward.
More than anything, he hopes to recover Methodism within United Methodism. While this may seem like a strange comment to people outside of the UMC, Kisker reminds us of something very important.
Methodism was always most church (defined, as Wesley did, as “a company of faithful” people) when it was a movement…Methodists became more “churchy,” and we gradually ceased to be “one” through schisms, we ceased to be “holy” through lax discipline and compromise, we ceased to be “catholic” through denominational prejudice, and we ceased to be “apostolic” (that is, a “sent people”) through sloth.
Kisker imagines that Methodism might be recovered by once again becoming a movement rather than a church, and could mean that someone could be Methodist (in discipline and practice) as part of any denomination whatsoever. More than that, this suggests being United Methodist doesn’t necessarily make you a Methodist! He goes on to say that this movement toward recovering Methodism could begin with groups of individuals starting class meetings on their own, or even having Sunday school classes reframe their purpose in ways that modeled the class meeting. This kind of small group life would involve asking seriously, “How does your soul prosper,” or in today’s language, “How are you doing spiritually?” No vague comment about spirituality will suffice to grow as disciples. We need to regain the practice of reporting to fellow Christians how we are doing in the traditional means of grace: prayer, scripture reading, study, etc.
This means that we would have to take the character of our tradition seriously. Kisker even suggests that our official vision statement, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” is too vague. Although it is certainly Christian, it doesn’t really suggest who we are. He proposes returning to Wesley’s call, “to spread scriptural holiness over these lands.” Imagine that!
We United Methodists have been playing church for a long time without being a Christian society. We have [as Wesley feared] been “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (1 Timothy 3:5, KJV)
To quit playing church and begin being the church, we need a renewed commitment to salvation,
A renewed commitment to holiness necessitates a renewed commitment to salvation, since holiness is the purpose of salvation.
After many other helpful suggestions and dreams, Kisker closes with helpful words,
Methodism began as a means of grace and a system of accountability. It was an order within the larger church for the renewal of the Church. If we are to recover that usefulness to the kingdom of God in the world, we need what we once had: a missional focus, clear simple rules, and a clear simple and flexible structure.
Can this be done within the United Methodist Church? I personally think it can. However, we will need strength and resolve to continue spreading scriptural holiness over the land, because this vision isn’t shared by everyone. And like other phrases, “scriptural holiness” can be shaped and defined by whoever is using it. My prayer is that we will continue to move closer in line with the work of God’s Holy Spirit and capture the passionate desire for salvation that the early Methodists had. Then, we will see true renewal and revitalization.