Connectional and-or Catholic

United Methodist identity is bound up, in part, with our understanding of the word “connectional.” In ordinary speech, a connection is “a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.” (Oxford Dictionary). Almost every Christian church is connectional in the ordinary sense of that word.

When United Methodists use the word, however, we are describing our particular manner of being connected with other members of the United Methodist Church. According to the Book of Discipline, we are connected by our historical standards of faith, our polity, our ethos, our distinctive way of doing things and our working together in mission (¶132).  The connection is “experienced” through our systems of episcopacy, itinerancy, property, annual conferences and agencies. (¶701) The Book of Discipline is the cornerstone of our unique way of being connectional.

For many United Methodists, the word “connectional” is not merely descriptive; it evokes our sense of religious identity. On more occasions than I can count, I have heard United Methodists utter their own version of Luke 18:11: “God, we  thank you that we are not like other people. We are connectional!” The connection is who we are. And as the place where we meet God, it is a holy thing that should not be trifled with.

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The Shadow Side of Wesley’s World Parish

It was on this day (March 28) in 1739 that John Wesley wrote John Clayton a letter that would give Methodism one of its enduring slogans: “The world is my parish.”

It’s a slogan that has both blessed and plagued the Methodist movement and the Christian Church. While recognizing all the good that issued from the Wesleyan movement and the birth of Methodism, I would also like to acknowledge the shadow side of Wesley’s self-confident proclamation.

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Charles Wesley Hymn for Advent

Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of His train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.

Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold Him,
pierced, and nailed Him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
all who hate Him must, confounded,
hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment, come away!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear!
And His saints, by men rejected,
coming with Him in the air.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow’r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
O come quickly, O come quickly,
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

The General Rules are Living Prayer

There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, ….

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In their original form, the General Rules of the Methodist Church were a kind of living prayer. Conforming to the Rules was not a means to earn God’s favor. Neither were Rules a prescription for virtuous and praiseworthy living in general. They were not even a roadmap for living gratefully and joyfully in response to what God had done. Rather, they were a way for people “deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption” to wait actively and expectantly before God.

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How Wesley Organized for Transformation

After retiring last month from military service as an Army chaplain, I was able to attend my first district preachers meeting in 27 years last week. The district superintendent spent most of the meeting reminding us of Methodism’s earliest means of making disciples. John Wesley, he recalled, organized Methodists into societies, classes and bands.

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