During July the Methodist Conference meets in London. As most of you will know, this annual event takes place in a different location each year, and so it is fairly rare for it to gather in our capital city.
No doubt the debates will be varied, and my limited experience of Conference is that some of it can be very moving. Conference reminds us that we are a ‘connected’ Church, linked together through Circuit, District and nationally through the Connexion.
And so with Conference meeting nearby, I thought we might have a little Methodist refection for this month! Although we may be a disparate group of people, our history, especially in the theology of John Wesley, provides us with some distinctive – not unique, but distinctive – convictions including the belief in the availability of salvation for all. Wesley’s belief was not that a pre-ordained group of people would receive salvation, rather that all may be saved.
A reading of many of Charles Wesley’s hymns puts this theology into song – try, for example, Singing the Faith 320 (520 in Hymns and Psalms), to see how the word ‘all’ is present in every verse. We remember this theology as the ‘four alls of Methodism’ –
- all need to be saved
- all may be saved
- all may know themselves saved
- all may be saved to the uttermost.
From this, a number of other things flow which have a distinctive Methodist flavour to them. The desire for the Gospel to be spread to all people, the longing for the spiritual and the physical lives of all to be bettered, the wish for all to be included, the quest for Christian holiness within ourselves and our community which comes from an assurance of salvation, and also the belief in the place of our own experience of God’s grace within the context of a living faith – “my chains fell off, my heart was free…” we sing.
Methodism does have a distinctive flavour, and – I believe – a continuing role within the Church in this land. Whilst we live in markedly different times from those of John Wesley, the challenges we face are his challenges as we seek to put what we hold to be true into action. Therefore we need to consider how we are to show God’s love for all; how we reflect upon, and speak of, our own Christian experience; how we demonstrate concern for the spiritual and physical well-being of our communities…and so on. Pertinent questions for us all, don’t you agree?