Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On September 16, Bishop Dyck invited United Methodists from around the Northern Illinois Annual Conference to gather in Naperville for a day of conversation regarding the unity of the Church and human sexuality. I have asked the Staff Parish Relations Committee to lead First Church in this conversation beginning in 2018.
To prime us for this conversation, I will share some thought provoking reflections about the nature of the Church and distinctive Wesleyan contributions. My reference document is “Wonder, Love, and Praise: Sharing a Vision of the Church.” (WLP) This document was written by the Committee on Faith and Order of The United Methodist Church at the request of the Council of Bishops.
With other Protestants, United Methodists affirm that the Church is a congregation of faithful men [and women] in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly administered. Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the Church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers and the redemption of the world. These affirmations lay out the basic functions of the Church: gather, preach, administer and obedience, or in other words, to be God’s vessel of salvation to the world.
A uniquely Wesleyan conviction is that God’s salvation is meant for all people. “God our Savior…desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Wesley’s comment on this passage in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament emphasized the everyone, “It is strange that any whom He has actually saved should doubt the universality of His grace!” A second point to note is that God does not compel people to accept grace, rather the offer of grace activates human freedom and human participation.
In contemporary dialogues, three prominent models of the Church are employed: people of God, body of Christ, and temple of the Holy Spirit. Each of these models help to make the point that the Church is a gift from God and provoke us to realize this gift may take different forms.
Each of these three points provides rich material for our reflection. Are we functioning as a vessel of God’s salvation? Are we convinced God’s salvation is for all people? What form are we manifesting at this time?
I look forward to Christ’s continued building of the church through each of you and First Church as a whole.
Rev. Joseph A. Johnson