Wesley’s General Rules, Not Programs

     The United Methodist Church should seriously consider the place of the General Rules in forming its identity as the people of God in the world.  More specifically, we should explore how these rules functioned in the Methodist movement not only as a form of discipline for individual piety, but as a warrant for broader ecclesiological claims.  L. Gregory Jones and Michael Cartwright write, “One of the primary factors enabling the ‘people called Methodists’ to become the ‘people called Methodist’ in early Methodism was the practice of the ‘General Rules’ through the class meetings and gatherings of the societies.” 
     Formed by the rules, Methodists constituted a people “called out by God to embody an evangelical mission on behalf of the wider church.”  Rather than pursue innovate ways to attract specific segments of the market, perhaps the United Methodist Church should draw upon Wesley’s account of formation and ecclesiology, as they do represent a tradition that gives shape to a holy people.  In the face of the all-encompassing market, we must consider the church as a holy people before we consider the church as constituted by holy people. In other words, rather than capitulating to the individualizing forces of the market and rather than allowing this to shape our conversations about what the church should be in order to serve this “market,” we should continually ask, “What does it mean to be the people of God?”  What difference would it make if we began our conversations about the church and its ministry in just this way?  

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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