Anniversaries are times to celebrate and reflect, remember where we’ve been and dream of where we’re going. Such is the case with the Free Methodist Church – USA. We are 160 years old this month!
It’s appropriate to ask ourselves, are we the gospel movement that was intended at our founding? Are our senses heightened as much to our mission as they once were? Are we settled or unsettled? Such questions are intended to be answered communally, not just personally. The undercurrents of our founding were not viewed as merely good ideas that seemed to be more creative than other Christian sects; they were unstoppable impulses that to be undeniably Christian, must be part of the experience, practice and mission of the church. While some of the cultural specifics have changed, the condition of our hearts and the spiritual ills are much same. I’d like to draw our attention to three.
To believe, see, and experience holiness of heart and perfection of love. “Primitive holiness” was how B.T. Roberts described it, referring to John Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” The need for hearts and lives to be entirely sanctified should be self-evident in today’s toxic social climate. How do we re-ignite our urgency to see holiness spread through the land? Perhaps it begins with a personal cry that Wesley often quoted from Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” When is the last time you prayed to have the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
Freedom of the Spirit in houses of worship with free access to all. Is the Holy Spirit free to move in our churches? Perhaps it would be good to ponder that question with relentless repetition. Is the Holy Spirit – free indeed – entirely free – unhindered by human control to move in our worship? Let’s reexamine ourselves at this anniversary to seek full-on freedom of the Spirit in every worship gathering. Speaking of freedom, selling seats made houses of worship at the time of our inauguration inaccessible to many people. Although I don’t know of a single Free Methodist house of worship that charges a monetary fee to attend and occupy a seat, we should ask ourselves if we are still placing barriers of exclusion before people. I recall a message by Bishop Emeritus Richard Snyder at the Genesee Annual Conference in 2004, passionately reminding the delegation that we too often don’t like to let messy people into our churches for fear that they will mess up our church. Wherever there are deterrents to access, there is a “fee” whether monetary or through unrealistic expectations.
Freedom from oath-bound, secret societies. This might seem highly irrelevant today, but I believe, just like non-fee-based barriers to access in our churches, you can be a “secret society” in the heart of matter, even though you might not be in the letter of the matter. In September’s Light + Life Magazine I will be writing on the topic, so I encourage you to read my article, “What’s at Stake? A Lot!” Let me simply encourage us at this time to consider that there is a big difference between holy confidentiality and unholy secrecy. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that certain dynamics of many private and secret social media groups are not secret societies merely because they’re not the Masonic Lodge. Wherever there is unholy secrecy, we are bound by oaths of secrecy and must be determined to live holy lives, above reproach in all our ways.
What will the next 160 years, barring the return of our Lord, say about our generation? I pray that tomorrow’s history books record the story of a generation that remained committed to our roots. Not because we are merely Free Methodist, but because our distinctives are biblically mandated. I pray that we are known as people who loved the Lord with our whole hearts and served our neighbor in love. In doing so, may it be said of us that earth looked more like heaven wherever the people called Free Methodists lived and ministered.