By Walter Fenton
February 2, 2022
All things considered, many theologically conservative local United Methodist churches are relatively healthy and vibrant, despite an ongoing pandemic and unresolved tensions in the denomination. These churches are located in rural communities, villages, inner cities, and suburbs scattered all around the world. Whether they are numerically small, midsize, or large, they are committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. And they are looking forward to the UM Church’s 2022 General Conference, praying the 862 delegates adopt the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation so they can freely and fairly join the Global Methodist Church.
Not surprisingly, many of them want to know how a local church will function in the Global Methodist Church? The broad answer is, “There will be some major changes, but much will remain the same.”
The biggest changes are as follows:
First, there will be unity around the authority of Scripture, the classical confessions of the Christian faith as articulated in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and in the historic Christian ethical standards that derive from them. Clergy and laity at every level will be expected to warmly embrace these hallmarks of the faith. And for the sake of its mission and the unity of the church, its leaders will be responsible for holding one another, its clergy, and its laity accountable to them.
Second, the church will be truly global in nature. As theological conservatives make their transition to the Global Methodist Church, within five years the majority of its local churches are likely to be located in sub-Saharan Africa. It will of course also have local churches in Europe and Eurasia, the Philippines, the U.S., and quite possibly a growing a number of congregations in Central and South America and Asia.
Third, there will be no trust clause in the Global Methodist Church; for the first time in their histories, local churches will own all their property and assets, rather than holding them in trust for the general church. The denomination will move forward based on an ethos of fidelity to its greater mission and local churches’ trust in one another to fulfill it at every level. This change will have profound implications as the new church takes shape.
And fourth, there will be no attempt to build a large bureaucratic structure with numerous boards and agencies seeking funding from annual conferences and the local churches that constitute them. Instead, annual conferences and, even more so, local churches will be encouraged to develop partnerships within and beyond the connection to fulfill the Global Methodist Church’s mission both locally and globally.
Among many things that will remain the same are the following:
Global Methodist churches will continue to teach and promote a warm-hearted, Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith. This long-held commitment will be buttressed by a renewed emphasis on faith formation through catechesis and growing as disciples through small accountability groups. Intentional faith formation will help people see and know the beauty, joy, and transformation brought about by the faith they confess. And small accountability groups will help members build life-long, loving friendships where people pray together, share their joys and sorrows, confess their sins, and hold one another accountable to following Christ in their daily lives.
Local churches will also continue to be organized in the time-honored and effective ways Methodists have used and refined over the past 240 years. Methodist polity has enriched and enabled local churches to flourish, and all the more when laity are empowered by clergy to use their gifts and talents in service for the church. And with its commitment to fulfilling the denomination’s mission through grassroots partnerships, local Global Methodist churches will emphasize the Protestant Reformation’s reclamation of the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2.5, 9).
To be sure, these aims and aspirations for local Global Methodist churches will strike many people as starry eyed, naïve, and unrealistic. But they are no loftier than those of other denominations, and justifiably so. If Christians cannot aim for the highest as they join together to represent Christ’s church in the world, then they should pray more, think harder, and reconsider their calling.
Since theological conservatives are steeped in the orthodox confession of the Christian faith, they are well aware of the terrible reality of human sin and the suffering, grief and awful limitations it creates for the world. And they are well aware that local churches are full of sinners in need of God’s redeeming, so a general church, here below, will never be heaven on earth. However, they also believe the Holy Spirit empowers the church by infusing penitent, faithful people with a spirit of humility, patience, and grace, so as one, they can embody the hope and love of Jesus Christ in the world.
No local church, on this side of the veil, can ever fulfill all the hopes and visions a faithful people have for it. Reality, we know, seldom comports entirely with our highest aspirations. But we keep pressing on, marching to Zion, as the great hymn puts it.
To learn more about the Global Methodist Church, click HERE. And for detailed information see The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, Part Three, The Local Church.
The Rev. Walter Fenton serves as the secretary for the Transitional Leadership Council.