B.T. Roberts didn’t just launch the Free Methodist denomination in 1860 with the help of other likeminded folks who because unwelcome in the Methodist Episcopal Church (forerunner of today’s United Methodist Church) because of advocating against slavery and paid seating (family-owned church pews) and for “Scriptural holiness.” That same year, Roberts raised money and launched a privately financed magazine, The Earnest Christian, that declared: “Our object is to publish a revival journal; our aim shall be to set up the Bible standard of religion. We hope by our … uncompromising advocacy of ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ to make our magazine a favorite and welcome visitor.”
Contrary to common misconception, Light + Life is not the same magazine that Roberts launched then. On Jan. 9, 1868, this publication officially got its start with Vol. 1, No. 1, of The Free Methodist. In this month’s Feature section, you’ll read an article from that first issue in which founding Editor Levi Wood explains the “the object and scope” of the publication. If you read elsewhere that this magazine began the previous year, that’s because Wood printed on Nov. 2, 1867, what he described as a “specimen number (sample issue) of a contemplated weekly religious journal to be devoted to the promulgation of pure Bible truth. Our object in publishing it is to glorify God, and save men.”
Over the years, this publication morphed from a weekly tabloid newspaper to a monthly magazine, and its name changed to Light and Life (later styled as Light & Life and now Light + Life) in 1970 at the direction of the Free Methodist Board of Administration. In his book “A Future With a History,” David L. McKenna shares the board’s reasoning: “We are committed without reservation to the Free Methodist Church as a means of fulfilling God’s purposes for mankind. We must therefore do all we can to get the attention of persons who need God in their lives. Both the name and the cover, we hope, will invite further reading. We want to exalt Christ. He must come before denominational sponsorship. It is our earnest prayer that Light and Life will be an evangelistic tool for every subscriber. Let us share the good news of God’s redemptive acts.”
The magazine’s purpose, direction and oversight have been debated many times over the years although the underlying message has not changed. As noted in a timeline in this issue, Roberts opposed General Conference 1886 delegates approving the purchase of The Free Methodist to make it an official publication of the denomination; he wanted it to remain an independent voice. The delegates responded by electing him editor. The Earnest Christian editor became The Free Methodist editor, and, in recent decades, this magazine used taglines such as “Developing Earnest Christians” and an “Interactive Magazine for Earnest Christians.”
For this issue, the Light + Life team decided to reprint articles and artwork from the magazine’s past in celebration of this publication’s rich history and bright future. Some of the articles had to be edited slightly for the modern reader (for example, we no longer use the spelling “to-day”) and condensed for space constraints. I felt better after reading this note in the Aug. 9, 1910, issue: “In making up our forms we were compelled to condense some of the articles, much against our desire. This was especially true of the most excellent article on our educational institutions by President Burritt.”
This magazine’s 100th anniversary issue predicted what the church would be like a quarter-century into the future. For this sesquicentennial issue, Light + Life asked Bishop David Roller to envision what this magazine and the Free Methodist Church might be like 150 years from now. We hope you enjoy Roller’s witty article and catch the subtly powerful message amid the humor.
This magazine continues to innovate and attract new readers at age 150. We recently launched a new online study guide at lightandlifemagazine.com that helps small groups use this magazine more effectively and also benefits readers in personal study. We’re continually attracting new readers via social media and increasingly reaching a global audience. We are now a bilingual magazine with a Spanish language website (revistaluzyvida.com). We continue to report news of the Free Methodist Church (information that typically can’t be found elsewhere) and to serve as a key advocate of Wesleyan Holiness theology, but we also want to inspire and contribute to the conversation in the wider Christian church.
Whether you’re an earnest Christian or a spiritual seeker, we hope Light + Life will be a “favorite and welcome visitor” that continues to spread “the Bible standard of religion” in print and online.
Jeff Finley is the executive editor of Light + Life, which he joined in 2011 after working as a reporter and editor for Sun-Times Media.1