From our religious affairs correspondent
I have seen the following letter but have heard no official response from the Methodist Church in Britain.
“To the Daughters of Wesley who reside in the land of Britain write: ‘Here is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know what you are doing – you have a reputation for being alive, but in fact you are dead! Wake up, and strengthen what remains, before it dies too! For I have found what you are doing incomplete in the sight of my God. So remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and turn from your sin! For if you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief; and you don’t know at what moment I will come upon you. Nevertheless, you do have a few people in Methodism who have not soiled their clothes; and they will walk with me, clothed in white, because they are worthy. He who wins the victory will, like them, be dressed in white clothing; and I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life; in fact, I will acknowledge him individually before my Father and before his angels. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Daughters of Wesley.
Sent to you with the love that is prepared chasten,
As some of you already know, I worship in a Methodist church. It is not the denomination I grew up in, which is Presbyterianism, and that has its own faults, nor is it the denomination with which I feel most in line theologically, but it is where I worship.
The church I worship in is a real life church, with some people who are really great and some who leave me wondering at time. With about 80 members, it is too big to be a unicellular organism, but the leadership do not appear to be too keen to encourage people to join or form small groups for organised Bible study and to build up fellowship. We have three mid-week bible study groups, one of which attempts to use either topical of expository study, one studies the readings for the coming Sunday in the Lectionary and the third, which started in September 2012 attempts to answer the questions that its attendees ask. I asked when the last admission to membership through conversion had occurred and was told there was somebody about ten years ago, I think. Is this a problem with the local church, with the internal structure, with a bad reputation because a previous minister was caught too close to a woman who was not his wife, or signs of a deeper malaise?
You may think that I am over-emphasising the role of the mid-week groups, but when the minister of the church tells us that the sermon is for proclamation of the Word, and not for teaching, perhaps you will begin to understand why I feel concern for my fellow congregants who have been brought up in this denomination and have never been on the receiving end of some good old-fashioned Baptist or Presbyterian preaching.
In the last year, the church has started to encourage people to read the Bible systematically at home, by obtaining copies of Scripture Union notes for all members of the congregation who want them. This is a major breakthrough and I have heard comments like, “That is the first time I have ever read anything from Habbakuk. I don’t think that book has ever been the subject of a sermon in church.” Unfortunately I think where we were about five years ago is where much of the Methodist Church is now. I can still hear you say, ”He’s exaggerating!”
However we are concerned about the Methodist Church in Britain at a national level.
And looking at the reports of the Faith and Order Committee to Conference this year, we find that there is a “resource on cohabitation” being prepared for Young Methodists which was requested at the Young Methodist Conference in 2009. My first reation wqould be to tell everyone who asked for such a resource to read Mike McManus’ book “Living Together: Myths, Risks and Answers “.
But a little bit more digging in the Methodist Church website brings up a report from 2005 on the 20s and 30s Initiative, in which the Methodist Church attempted to find out why young adults were rejecting it. The report acknowledges that while attempts to engage with people in their 20’s and 30’s were “widely applauded” there was criticism on the grounds of taste from some within Methodism. Later, in the same document, co_12a_the20s30sinitiative_0505, it goes on to say under the heading of “Research” in paragraph 3.3 which I quote in full
“Although among evangelical participants there was strong support for Christian teachings on sexual matters as traditionally expressed, it is clear that these teachings have been and are being widely ignored among many younger Methodists. The practice of sexual intercourse and cohabitation outside marriage was regarded as widespread, sensible and right. (Marriage often followed before children were born.) Some divorced participants and single parents regarded their churches as mainly supportive but, for some, negative preaching about divorce had been damaging. Methodism was thought by most to be more accepting of homosexual orientation and lifestyle than other mainstream Churches, and this was welcomed. In post-university settings, there was a view that Methodism must go further in affirming homosexuals.”
Is there no wonder Methodism is the fastest declining denomination in Britain if such erroneous belief is not countered with truly Biblical teaching. This strikes me as Methodism trying to win a race for the lowest common denominator. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “what fellowship can light have with darkness”? What difference is there between the views expressed in this report, which, so far as I can tell was accepted without comment, and the views of the hook-up culture that we see in so many of our cities and towns?
Perhaps some “dyed in the wool” Methodist can show me that I am wrong and that the denomination is not suffering from a systematic failure to teach the Gospel. A few weeks ago, we had a minister new to the circuit preach who reminded us that the Great Commission was to go and make disciples. It appears that the Methodist Church in Britain has failed to do that a generation ago and we are now reaping the fruits of that generation’s lack of labour.