By Walter Fenton
May 4, 2022
Since John Wesley and his friends founded the Methodist movement in the middle of the eighteenth century, Methodists, of whatever stripe, have emphasized the importance of connectionalism. As the Rev. Dr. David Watson, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary (Dayton, Ohio), put it, “To be Methodist is to be connectional.”
Wesley’s use of the term was his way of emphasizing what Christians have always believed: living out our faith is done in community, in local churches. And just as individuals need to be connected, so local churches do as well. We believe connectionalism is rooted in the patterns set forth in the New Testament church.
In our connections, Wesley said, “We are to watch over one another in love.” And love in the Christian context means we are to inspire one another to live faithfully as Christ’s disciples. Love means extending grace to one another as God has extended it to us. Love also means praying for and serving others both inside the connection and beyond it, particularly the hungry, the sick, the defenseless, and even our enemies. And love also means speaking truth to one another as graciously as we can while holding one another accountable to the faith we proclaim.
And the same goes for local churches. They are to encourage one another in the faith, alleviate one another’s burdens, and to join together to serve others. They are also to hold one another accountable to Christianity’s core confessions and those ethical standards derived from Scripture and the teachings of the Church catholic.
Christians have always recognized truly loving others is far easier said than done, and therefore, as individuals and local churches, they would have to be in connection with one another in order to hold each other accountable to such a challenging and high calling. Unfortunately, church history is full of examples of our failure to hold one another accountable in Christian love and so remain in authentic connection.
Wesley was certainly aware of the many deep disagreements that had divided Christians over the centuries, but that awareness did not diminish his commitment to connectionalism, just the opposite. Divisions demonstrated the necessity of always working to repair and strengthen the connection, not to give up on it or acquiesce to a vapid connection with no accountability. He, like many others who went before him, could not conceive of living the Christian life without authentic connection.
The Global Methodist Church fully embraces the importance of authentic connectionalism, and so it warmly invites individuals and local churches who long for such a connection to join it. The church believes authentic connectionalism must be marked by a spirit of freedom. It will be strongest when all its people and local churches are freely committed to its core theological confessions, its ethical standards derived from Scripture and the teachings of the church catholic, and when all watch over one another in love by holding each other accountable to its high calling.
The thousands of people who have worked and prayed for the formation of the Global Methodist Church are well aware – some painfully aware – that when a connected church fails to maintain accountability and yet simultaneously seeks to preserve its power, authentic connectionalism is lost, the seeds of division are sown, and internal strife eventually weakens its ability to fulfill its greater mission.
Consequently, the local churches in the Global Methodist Church will work together to fulfill the great commission in a spirit of freedom and love, even as we recognize that there may be rare instances when disagreements are so serious that a local church might depart from the connection. In that instance, we will part as amicably as possible. The absence of a trust clause will mean that such a local church will be able to move forward with its property free from any claim of the Global Methodist Church.
Now is the time for people and local churches to pray and work together for a new connection empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now is the time for people and local churches to give of their time, talent, and resources to build an authentically connected church. A church that watches over one another in love, that extends grace, serves others, proclaims the truth, and holds one another accountable to its great calling.
You are free to join and free to leave the Global Methodist Church, and most importantly, you are free to give yourself wholly to creating a connection committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ, who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.
Learn more about the Global Methodist Church by visiting our Resources page.
The Rev. Walter Fenton serves as secretary for the Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council.