What Does a Denomination Strive For?

As I have time, I’m beginning to reflect on the words of the early Free Methodists and the writings they published. The Free Methodist General Conference is approaching in July 2015 in Orlando, Florida. I hope these reflections from early church writings will help us prepare for General Conference. At the end of I have some discussion questions if people wish to share this in small groups or just reflect on the questions in their own devotional time.

NUMBERS, WEALTH AND POWER

erskine church pewsThe Earnest Christian July 1872

(a publication published by Free Methodist founder Benjamin Titus Roberts)

A few mornings since a prominent Methodist Episcopal clergyman remarked to us in a very decided tone, “Let the enemies of the Methodist Episcopal Church say what they please, and her rivals speak in envy against her, one thing cannot be denied, it is a big-thing, a decided big-thing.” It is well enough to have a large church. Every church organization has its plans for making its churches larger and more numerous. As Wesleyans and Free Methodists, it seems cheering to us to know that we are steadily increasing by a few dozen churches and a few hundred members every year. But in this there is abstractly no virtue, while there is in purity. Not by quantity, but by quality will we be judged in the end. Therefore our greatest aim should be at purity of life and heart, and in getting as many as possible to join us in the work of saving themselves and the world.

It is undoubtedly right that we should be few and often compelled to ask the question, “By whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small?”(Amos 7:2) But the answer should ever be: “If we go up, it must be in the strength of the Lord, and if he go not up with us, let him take us up hence.” Not smallness of numbers, nor loss of material, wealth or men should sadden us half so much as the danger of losing purity of heart, and the loss of dependence on God, as we increase in numbers. If we do, it is the earnest prayer of one poor heart at least, that we may never grow another member larger, nor be another cent increased in material wealth. If earth can be served better and heaven made sweeter to us by our lying at the rich man’s gate, for Christ’s sake let us be there. It -will be sweet, anywhere, for the members of Christ’s body to rest ” with their dying Head.” We utter not one word of complaint, nor think it is a hard job. It is all right. We want spiritual union with Christ, because he wants us to have them.

We want spiritual power because he wants us to possess it; and we want to awaken and stir those who are all about us because Christ wants us to do so, and because it is of infinite value to them to be awakened. But we do not want spiritual power just to “shake things” all about us, and to show the world that we are something, and that our once little churches are “as big as anybody.” Perish the groveling thought! We want no spiritual power that we may consume it upon our lusts, but for Christ’s sake, and that we may use it for his honor, not ours. Power misdirected is a dangerous thing, and it is so seldom used as it should be, that it seems as dangerous as riches; with which it is so difficult to enter heaven.—Rev. L. A’ Stratton, of the American Wesleyan.

Questions

  • Going forward what should the goal of the Free Methodist denomination be?
  • Is it possible like Rev. L.A. Stratton noted our denomination’s greatest aim should be: “At purity of life and heart, and in getting as many as possible to join us in the work of saving themselves and the world.” Are we accomplishing that in our home churches and as denomination?
  • Stratton notes the differences between Wesleyans, Free Methodists and the larger Methodist Episcopal Church. Do we still remain different and true to our original mission or have we lost our focus and become generically evangelical?
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One thought on “What Does a Denomination Strive For?

  1. I see many local churches that were founded as Free Methodist congregations, and are still listed as such in Conference information, denying their identity, and masquerading as non-connectional, locally based churches. They describe themselves as “community” churches, and use some other name, and do not follow the Book of Discipline as to governance or preach/teach doctrine based on the denomination’s official articles of faith. Their local “ministries” are mainly social or similar to “self-help” or “empowerment,” and they sponsor events aimed at appealing to popular interest. Being totally unlike other churches or traditional churches is a major theme. The Conference encourages this, and has been known to close local churches unilaterally and “relaunch” them after a year or so, under a totally new name, and even help finance the relaunch, with only new members, and local publicity using only the new “community” name. The pastor and a sort of cabinet called a “hub” or something on that order are aware of the Conference ownership and authority, and send in apportionments or “fair share” payments as required, but local operations are of the “roll your own” variety. Church growth and income seems to be the goal. Building membership or attendance and income is all very well, for the Rotary or a political party, but not necessarily an indication of the spiritual growth of the local supporters or participants. The god of these groups is as generic as the Higher Power mentioned in 12-step program meetings.It appears to me that the “lost your first love” appraisal applies. The choice of venue for the General Conference, in a resort, limits attendance by laity, doesn’t it?

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