Letters to the Churches

By Keith Boyette

During this turbulent and chaotic season in the life of The United Methodist Church, I have found direction, encouragement and strength in the letters to the churches in Revelation (see chapters two and three). The churches are a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly — not unlike the ecclesial landscape we confront today. It is into such a spiritual landscape that the Wesleyan Covenant Association has been called to serve Christ and His church. The UM Church is in an existential crisis. Far too many of our leaders appear paralyzed. In too many of our churches, we are content to gather for an hour on Sunday rather than be the church militant deployed behind enemy lines advancing the Kingdom of God. During this season of travail, I believe God is preparing us for the next Great Awakening.

Like the church in Ephesus, I submit we have lost our love for Jesus and for each other that once marked the people called Methodist. If we are to awaken and be those through whom Christ gives light, we must reclaim our love of Jesus. Our mission is all about Him. We have no other purpose than lifting high the name of Jesus — worshiping and serving Him. Remember Jesus said that if He be lifted up, he would draw all people to Himself. If we hunger for spiritual awakening to come to our churches, our movement and our world, then we will major in Jesus.

Jesus told His disciples that they would never be separated from His presence for although He may no longer be physically present with them, He would send the Holy Spirit — the Advocate. Part and parcel of our love of Jesus having grown cold is our distancing ourselves from the Holy Spirit. If we are to awaken, we will become intimate once more with the Holy Spirit. We will make room for the person of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our churches, and our movement. We will be a spirit-filled people. We will do nothing in our own strength. Jesus promises that if we are intimately connected to Him through the Holy Spirit, we will do the works that He did and greater works still. As awakening occurs, we must reclaim a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must animate all that we are and do. We must be filled to overflowing with His presence. We must be instruments through whom He releases His power and performs signs and wonders. Yes, we must reclaim the supernatural in our lives, churches, and ministries. We must declare, “Come, Holy Spirit, you are welcome here.”

The letters to the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira reveal they had lost their commitment to truth. Pergamum tolerated some among them who taught false teachings. Thyatira countenanced the ministry of those who were leading God’s people astray. If we are to awaken, we must reclaim sound doctrine grounded in the word of God. John and Charles Wesley were sold out — all in — on spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land. Just as we need a rekindling of our first love — love of Jesus — and an insatiable longing for the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, we need a hunger for the word of God. Our shepherds must be rooted and grounded in the word of God. Our shepherds must teach sound doctrine and defend the faith imparted to us. Our people must hunger and thirst for the spiritual sustenance that comes from the word of God, not the junk food offered up on a daily basis from our culture. And as a consequence, we will experience a harvest of righteousness.

Most of us are likely familiar with the malaise of the bad churches addressed in Revelation.  Laodicea was neither hot nor cold. In its lukewarmness, it was useless. Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but was in fact dead. Unfortunately, far too many of our churches would have to plead guilty to these indictments. With our vision focused on Jesus, filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, enriched by our continual dwelling in the word of God, we must burn with passion for the mission to which we are called. Working through us, God desires to awaken the multitudes and give them light. We must stop playing church — going through the motions week in and week out — and be the church in a sick and ravaged world. God called us to be alive — the church sent as light into a sin-sick world that as yet is unaware of its terminal condition. If we are to awaken, we must reclaim our commitment to personal and social holiness.

If we are to awaken, we must receive God’s word to the good churches in the letters to the churches in Revelation — Smyrna and Philadelphia. Smyrna was fearless. Although it was being tested with persecution and imprisonment, it was emboldened by absolute confidence in God. God, the church believed, is faithful, true and victorious. He calls us to live faithful, true and victorious lives. Philadelphia persevered. It did not grow weary, capitulate and compromise or accommodate with the culture around it. God assured Philadelphia that he would protect its people. Likewise, we must persevere and be confident in the protection of God.

Elijah believed He was the only faithful prophet left in a perverse generation. Noah was a righteous man — the only blameless person living on the earth at the time — who walked in close fellowship with God. Daniel was a servant of God in exile surrounded by enemies. If we are to awaken, we will be like them. We will not be conformed to this world and its values, copying its behaviors and customs, but we will let God transform us and our churches by renewing our minds and changing the way we think.

God is not done with the people called Methodists. For some time, I have sensed that we are in a season of labor and delivery before birth occurs. The people of God have been in such places before. During this portion of the journey, we are stressed, anxious, perhaps fearful and at times discouraged. The future has yet to be clearly defined. In known and unknown ways, God is at work shaping, forming, and molding us for the Great Awakening that is about to be unleashed in our midst.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association takes to heart the lessons imparted to the churches in Revelation and desires to see the church God is calling into existence to be radically in love with Jesus, utterly dependent upon and intimate with the Holy Spirit, rooted and grounded in the word of God, passionate for Christ’s mission, and absolutely confident in God’s provision as we move into the future He has prepared for us.

Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.