Over the last few years as I have been in the ordination process in the United Methodist Church I have been asked the question “Why did you become Methodist?”. Given my background I can see why it would be a puzzling questions. Growing up the son of a Southern Baptist preacher in a large church doesn’t provide the best incubator for someone whose theological influences are The Wesley brothers, church fathers and desert monks and prefers slow church. I want to share with you the three reasons I became Methodist.
Even more so, why did I decide to make a career transition from a “growing” church style to one in the midst of decline? It is because I believe the Wesleyan framework of salvation and discipleship is best poised to draw people to Jesus Christ in the 21st century.
I remember being a confused college student and participating in a bible study on Romans 6. One evening, in a moment of early adulthood angst the comment was uttered..”Are you trying to say it is possible to NOT sin?” You could easily hear a pin drop in the room as the leader started explaining a wesleyan understanding of holiness and Christian perfection.
In that moment...years sorting out, struggles, questions and false spiritual disapproval were gone. Instead of taking a “Cowboy Up” approach to sin, the task was to focus more on Christ. To fill life up with holy things and allow Jesus to take over.
As I entered into seminary coursework, the more academic renderings of Sanctification continued to be fruitful. I started to read Wesley’s sermons and other publications. I became part of small groups that mutually were holding each other to sanctification.
It also related well to my own Father (who had been my youth minister at one point in time) to let Jesus do the things he needs to do...and not you. It felt like it was already part of me, just articulated better.
It’s odd to think a doctrine can make such a difference, but it did.
As a child, when my pastor said “This is the body and blood of Christ” when we took quarterly Lord’s Supper I believed him. It was only when I hit college at a conservative Baptist University I was told this wasn’t so. I never had a view of presence reaching the Catholic sense, but I felt something was going on because this HAD TO mean something.
Baptism was much the same. I remember being frustrated at how high we treated it, but explained it as a simple follow through. The build up happened and then it was never mentioned again. Baptism lasted just a few seconds.
In both senses, the Wesleyan understanding of sacraments as being something God does, and not us, appealed to my heart. It pushes these sacred acts to the forefront of Christian life. We learn what it means to revolve around the presence of Christ, to realize the power that we have in our baptism. The Christian life ebbs and flows around these holy mysteries where God has shown and given himself to us. It gives us the power to live on the journey of a sanctified life. God is with us and God is powering us.
A tradition of Faith
In college (a public University by now) I took a class on the history of the Christian Church. I was memorizing the Apostles Creed for the class and in frustration I hurled it across the room exclaiming “No one has said this thing in a thousand years...I don’t want to memorize it.” My then girlfriend, sitting on the couch next to me, turned as started immediately saying, “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.....”
I was floored. When I asked for an explanation I found she grew up saying it every Sunday in worship. I then realized my faith carried a much greater legacy than imagined. Soon afterwards I poured into the writings of the Church Fathers and found so much I had been looking for. I remember carrying a printed out copy of “The City of God” on a tour that summer. The preachers of the Christian camp had a kick out of the sound guy reading Patristics after set up.
In the Methodist church I found the practice of a Historic faith that also encouraged continuing to forward movement in contextualizing worship in the 21st century. I also found a spiritual home in the legacy of John Wesley. I had descended from something and someone. I could trace my spiritual Fathers and Mothers. I found a faith with defined boundaries, with statements about what it meant to belong.
As I often tell people, I feel like I was born Methodist. What I found was a family of faith who put better words to what I had felt and thought for years. I was a closet Methodist. I am part of this tradition now. I am a Methodist.