I sometimes think that too many Methodists have become self-conscious about being grateful for being a Methodist. For some, this might arise out of society’s increasing disavowal of the legitimacy of religion in general, and Christianity specifically. If you have to be religious, it’s much cooler to be Buddhist or Muslim or just about anything except mainstream Protestant. Or perhaps some are troubled by denominational politics and stances that they feel they should distance themselves from, but they aren’t quite ready to just give up their church.
Because Protestantism encourages independent thought, the Methodist church began splitting into different flavors from the earliest days of John Wesley and Francis Asbury. Although the United Methodist Church represents the largest number of Methodists in America today, it is certainly not the only Methodist denomination. Just as there is a differentiation between Luther – his thoughts and theology – and the Lutheran Church, so is there differentiation between Wesley’s vision of a holy church, and the various ways it has been implemented. You may love where some of these denominations are today, or you may not. You may fear where a denomination may be headed, or you may be excited about it. But in all likelihood you were attracted to Methodism by the core principles expounded by Wesley, and it is certainly for these that we can all be profoundly – and publicly – grateful.
Core Methodism can be summed up as scripturally based faith in action. Wesley approached this by envisioning a movement that balanced a deepening of personal faith through Bible study, the sacraments, and personal examination, with a deepening commitment to live out that faith in works of charity, kindness and evangelism. Personal Holiness and Social Holiness: these combined defined for Wesley the Christian journey of sanctification. The key to this journey is the balance between the two. Too much emphasis on Personal Holiness leads to self-centered, non-sacrificial faith. Too much emphasis on Social Holiness leads to Christ being pushed aside and the hubris of believing that we, not God, are the agents of change. When in balance, our deepening faith brings us into closer harmony with God, which enables us to better address the discord of the world.