LAY LEADERS’ FELLOWSHIP
WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a member of the Methodist Church?
Methodists often think of membership in terms of privileges, but they also need to remember and fulfil their responsibilities which are clearly spelt out in e Book of Discipline.
Those who want to become members of the Methodist Church are expected to have “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins”. They must repent, renounce evil, confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour, and profess faith in the Triune God, in whose name they must be baptised.
When becoming members, they make a covenant with two parties: with God and with fellow members in the church. They are expected to keep this covenant with all diligence.
This also says something about their two-fold accountability – to God and to the church.
A Methodist is expected to be loyal to Jesus Christ, committed to the church’s biblical faith, and be faithful to the church in general, and to the Methodist Church in particular.
Outlining these “basic requirements” needed of a Methodist, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon added that a Methodist is committed to live his or her daily life as:
A Disciple of Christ. This means that a Methodist should seek, by the grace of God, to nurture his relationship with Christ, to practise Christian disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, and to obey Christ in every area of life.
A Servant of Christ on mission in the local and worldwide community. As Christ’s servant, the Methodist is expected to live as “salt and light” bearing witness to Christ. The Social Principles, which outline “standards of attitude and conduct”, are meant to serve as an “essential resource for guiding each member of the Church in being a servant of Christ in mission”.
A Christian Steward. Realising that all he has belongs to God, a Methodist places himself, his gifts and possessions at God’s disposal. He volunteers himself to serve the church in its mission and gives generously to support such work.
Bishop Dr Solomon made these points to some 70 lay leaders from all the three Annual Conferences at his biannual lunch fellowship at Methodist Centre on April 10. His talk, which was followed by group discussions among the participants, was entitled “Wesleyan Ecclesiology”.
Being a member of the Body of Christ, one should “shoulder the burdens, share the risks and celebrate the joys of fellow members”. As found in our General Rules, Methodists are called to show fruits of their faith “by avoiding evil of every kind”, “by doing good” and by “attending upon all the ordinances of God”.
To be a Methodist is indeed a high calling. When forming Methodist societies in the 18th century, John Wesley expected high levels of commitment and discipline among the Methodists who were organised into classes of 12 each so that accountability to God and church could be practised. Membership tickets were issued on a quarterly basis and were renewed on condition that members were faithful to their covenant.
Such high standards have dropped over the years as sophistication and nominalism set in, noted the Bishop.
He asked: “Is it not time for standards and quality of Methodist membership to be raised? Is it not time to expect of Methodists the kind of faith, faithfulness, loyalty, commitment and discipline that characterised the early Methodists? And is it not time to improve our accountability to God and to one another?”
Discipline is an important component of Wesleyan ecclesiology, not in a legalistic sense, but in a teleological (final purpose) and soteriological (salvation) sense. It is needed to produce sanctification in a holy and loving people.
The Bishop said that the church “can stop treating our members as religious consumers and see them more as Christ’s disciples in need of discipling and discipline”.
“Remind our members of their responsibilities. Encourage them to walk with God and practise the daily Christian disciplines. Teach them our Articles of Faith, General Rules, Social Principles and other key resources.
“Help them to practise accountability to God and with one another in small covenant groups.
“Observe the annual Covenant Sunday at the beginning of the year to remind them of their membership covenant made with God and the church.”
On the subject of ministry, the Bishop said: “All Christians are called to this ministry of servanthood in the world to the glory of God and for human fulfilment.”
This ministry is shared by all Christians through their baptism.
DISCIPLINE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
“Stop treating our members as religious consumers and see them more as Christ’s disciples in need of discipling and discipline.
Remind our members of their responsibilities. Encourage them to walk with God and practise the daily Christian disciplines.
Teach them our Articles of Faith, General Rules, Social Principles and other key resources.
Help them to practise accountability to God and with one another in small covenant groups.”
– Bishop Dr Solomon in his talk to the lay leaders.
They are to love God with all they are and have (Mt. 22:37) and their neighbours as themselves (Mt. 22:39), and present their bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).
During the plenary session, Mr Han Hai Kwang, Lay Leader of the Chinese Annual Conference, asked whether there was a need to make some radical changes to worship and evangelism in light of the Wesleyan view against a backdrop of modern experiences of church.
Mr Jerry Soh, Vice-Chairman of the Local Church Executive Committee of Living Waters Methodist Church, stressed the need to have cell groups as, he said, “more than Sunday worship services, cell groups make it easier for church members to be accountable to one another”.
Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message. Daniel Lie is a member of Barker Road Methodist Church.
Story by Peter Teo Pictures by Daniel Lie