By Luther Oconer
December 6, 2023
I come from a country where anticipation for Christmas begins as early as September 1st, which marks the start of the “ber” months, that is, September, October, November, and December. This is also the time of the year when Christmas lanterns and lights begin adorning the streets and major thoroughfares. In the Christian calendar, however, this sense of expectation for Christmas starts very much later with the season of Advent. While the season signals for us that Christmas is just around the corner, it also encourages us to reflect upon Scripture prophesying not only the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ but also his Second Coming and final victory over sin and death. But what makes this year’s Advent very special for me is that it is also my first Advent as an ordained elder in the Global Methodist Church. The hopeful expectation that the season brings becomes even more real for me because I have so much reason for hope as I follow God’s call in my life through the GMC.
For many years, I have actively prayed for and participated in the renewal of my former denomination as a youth leader and pastor in the Philippines, and in the past decade, as a seminary professor in the U. S., I have had a glimpse of a Methodist revival, first in 1997 when I answered the call to the ministry. I have witnessed it in my local pastorates, among young people, and at one point, even at the highest levels of leadership. Nevertheless, whatever gains we had from those powerful experiences they were short-lived and quickly overshadowed by ambiguities—nominalism, jealousy, intrigues, infighting, and moral failings—that persisted within the denomination. Additionally, liberal theology remained unabated, taking its toll upon our seminaries, pulpits, and pews. As a result, for example in the Philippines, many Methodists left in search of greener spiritual pastures by joining Pentecostal/Charismatic churches or other evangelical groups. In my estimate, a large percentage of the youth leaders I have known have taken the same path. While I rejoice knowing that they continue to bear much fruit in God’s Kingdom in their new spiritual homes, my heart weeps for Methodism for losing good people like them.
This is why for many years I have hoped to see the tide reversed. Eventually, after realizing that there was no longer a way out of the very difficult predicament that had beset us for so many years, I too have recently left the denomination of my birth. But the hope that I thought was lost, has found new life in the GMC. I feel highly optimistic that a Methodist revival, that is all-encompassing and more long-lasting, is now within reach. For Jesus said, “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matt. 9:17). I do feel that I am part of a new wineskin, this new way of thinking, of doing, and of being the church. As I participate in the process of charting the course of the GMC in my home country, including the Middle East, and hear about the amazing things God is doing elsewhere in the GMC, I cannot contain my excitement. As I tell my friends, I have never felt like this in ministry in a very long time, and many Filipino Global Methodists share this newfound sense of purpose. We are now witnessing things within the GMC we never thought we’d see happen within organized Methodism and with such scale and frequency. It’s a build-up for greater things to come. We’re headed towards a real Methodist revival!
For genuine revival cannot prosper in old wineskins. The church’s overall culture and institution must be ready to accommodate the fermentation process of the Holy Spirit or else it will have to be content with stale wine. Just like what the Asbury Outpouring early this year has taught us, institutions that persist to remain as new wineskins, like Asbury University, will receive new wine, just as it had experienced several times in its history. Accordingly, Methodism is long due for a rebirth, and this is what I mean when I say, “Methodist revival.” It is less about recovering the prestige of its glory days, but more about becoming once again a movement of the Spirit, just as it always has in different generations. Just like when Wesley and his Holy Club friends fanned out across England and the British Isles after experiencing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Fetter Lane Street on New Year’s Eve of 1739. Just like when the young Methodist circuit riders blazed the trail filled with the Spirit to bring the glad tidings of salvation in Jesus to communities in the American frontier in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Just like when Spirit-baptized Methodist missionaries led powerful revivals in Asia, Africa, and Latin America at the turn of the 20th century.
We are on the cusp of the next rebirth of Methodism. This is why I don’t see the GMC as a mere default destination for those who have made the exodus. I am in the GMC because I believe that God is not yet done with Methodism, otherwise, I would have gone elsewhere. I believe Methodism is not yet a spent movement, or to use the words of Wesley, “a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.” Methodists still have so much to offer to this unbelieving world that has become more antagonistic to a Christianity that has been marred by scandals and materialism. This is why I believe the Wesleyan vision of the Christian life, especially the doctrine of entire sanctification or holiness, which Wesley called “the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists,” is still very much relevant for our time.
But I am under no illusion that this resurgent Methodism will come to us easily. For new wine to happen there will always be a crushing and pressing of the grapes. We too will have to go through a period of crushing and pressing, whether corporately or individually. Perhaps the birth pains—the challenges, frustrations, and persecution—we are experiencing in this season are part of that crushing and pressing. We too had to contend with these in the Philippines and yet I also do know they are necessary if we are to receive new wine! Our task may be difficult, and the road is rough, but let us remain a people of hope as the season of Advent reminds us. As we reflect on the anticipation of the Old Testament prophets for the coming messiah and wait on his Second Coming as the New Testament writers encourage us, let us also thank God for bringing us into the GMC. For he has enabled us to dream big once again for Methodism, renewing our hope for a genuine Methodist revival in our lifetime.
The Rev. Dr. Luther Oconer is Associate Professor of Global Wesleyan Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Oconer has also served local churches in the Philippines and in the United States.