“Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).
As United Methodists we have been in a spiritual desert and wasteland for decades. We have slowly watched our beloved Wesleyan heritage erode and then, the very gospel itself. We found ourselves fighting a two-front battle: Fighting for the historic Christian gospel, the unique claims of Jesus Christ, and the authority of Scripture (to name a few), and the less heralded, but no less real battle: Fighting for our Wesleyan heritage. Wonderful themes like prevenient grace, sanctification, Trinitarian salvation, divine synergy, discipleship, and so forth have also been lost by many in the church.
In the last few months, particularly since the United Methodist General Conference, many of us realized that we have finally arrived at the end of the fighting and the struggle. We are at the end of our rope. The blatant disregard of the Discipline of the Church has severed our covenant. The ordination of Karen Oliveto coupled with the silence from the Judicial Council served to powerfully remind us that our hope is not to be found in church structures or church deliberations, with all due respect to the special Commission on human sexuality which will unfold over the next few years. We will not be rescued through our cleverness any more than through forty years of open warfare. Only God can save the United Methodist Church.
The question which has been hanging over our heads for decades has been, “But will He?” Many of us were wondering if the 45 year slow motion schism would just continue for the next four or five decades until the church shut its doors and our witness finally fell silent. Those affirming historic faith would continue drifting to other movements, and the church left behind would gradually just become another service organization like Rotary, Lions, or Kiwanis. But, in our darkest hour, when all seemed lost, God began to move. Now, the clouds are lifting and we are sensing the fresh winds of the Spirit blowing across us.
Over the last three years, our New Room Conferences have drawn larger and larger responses, beginning with 300, 700, and more recently, over 1,500. Each time we have experienced a clear movement of God in our midst. The breakthrough, in my view, came last September on the last day of the New Room gathering. We were led into a season of travailing prayer which, in my view, transformed the whole event. We moved from a “let’s-learn-about-Wesley-and-celebrate-our-evangelical-faith” to a “let’s-repent-of-our-sins-and-ask-God-to-do-what-we-cannot-do.”
I sensed a spiritual breakthrough taking place in our midst. This past conference witnessed a powerful move of God on Thursday night which went well into the late evening. We believe that as many as 400 pastors were restored from sin. It is a sure sign of God’s presence when no one was looking around trying to blame this or that group for our plight. Instead, we were repenting of our own sins and asking God to do a new work in us.
We are just as culpable for the loss of faith and witness in the United Methodist Church as any of the groups who have so publicly worked against historic faith. New Room and, more recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting (WCA) demonstrate that God is leading us to a new place. He is bringing renewal to the church. The purpose of New Room is to link all vibrant Wesleyan movements in the world together and resource them as we sow for a great awakening. The purpose of WCA is to provide a faithful witness for historic faith and Wesleyan witness within the United Methodist Church. God is moving in a powerful way, calling us to follow His lead. He is restoring our covenant. He is renewing our heritage. He is giving us the gospel back in fresh and powerful ways.
I think we are finally at the edge of the desert. Our feet are still standing on the hot desert sands, but we can see a stream in the distance. Let us keep praying. May a true spirit of travailing prayer fall upon all the people called Methodist. The hour of renewal has come. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:12). I can hear the water flowing! Can you?