I’ve always thought that putting the word “Free” next to “Methodist” was strange. I mean, isn’t there a touch of the oxymoron in saying “Free Methodist”? How can you be essentially methodical and yet modify yourself with an adjective that is essentially not methodical? It has always reminded me of other strange word pairs like “Led Zeppelin,” “civil war” and “airline food.”
But (you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you?) the word “Methodist” doesn’t really mean “methodical.” It goes way beyond that. It goes beyond methodical to “intense,” “intentional” and “ferociously single-minded.” The mental image (another oxymoron) I have is of 5-foot-3-inch John Wesley (the first Methodist) bravely riding into English towns on his horse knowing there was a drunken mob waiting to beat him to a pulp. That’s the heart of a Methodist: braving a beating to tell the mob’s members that Jesus loves them.
I also think of Wesley in 1771, standing in the Bristol New Room, calling for missionaries to go to America; being heard by young Francis Asbury who left England never to return, nurturing Methodism across the American colonies.
Asbury was a bishop but didn’t have an office. He didn’t have a staff. He didn’t even have a home. He just had that same fierce desire, the Methodist heart, to tell folks that Jesus loves them like crazy.
Free Methodists have that kind of Methodist heart, not dull hearts that rely on a methodical ritualism. And then, just to make it clear who we are, we preface it with “Free.” Our hearts are on fire, and we’re Free!
But wait a second. Is that really it? Is the freedom really about us? Is that what the “Free” means; that we are free? Like we’re free in the Spirit to worship how we wish? Or is it that we’re Methodists who believe the Good News is free for all and freely shared? Or is that we’ve been freed from the strands of sin and habits that shackled us to the perpetual cycle of sin and forgiveness? Or is it that this movement is freed from politics and ecclesial heavy-handedness? Or is that slavery doesn’t belong among us in any of its forms; that every person should be free?
Yes, that’s it. It’s all of those. That word “Free” means “free from,” “free to,” “free for,” “free of,” “free within” and “free without.”
Does a movement like that sound too good to be true? Sure it does. We all know we’re not always that great. But this is what we aspire to be … Free Methodists. The fact that we’re sometimes less than we aspire to be doesn’t mean we’re going to quit aspiring! And the fact that we’ve immortalized our aspiration in our name helps us keep on track.
Like a lot of teenagers, my parents would sometimes admonish me before I left the house, “Remember you’re a Roller.” The subtext was “live up to your bloodlines.” Remember you’re a Free Methodist!
Free Methodists have a peculiar name, and it’s fitting, because we’re different. We’re not like the church down the block or the preacher on the TV. Oh, yes, we share the core beliefs of all Christ-followers, and we celebrate the other streams of Christianity. But without demeaning any other tradition, we really like the peculiar kind of people we are … a people free, freed and freeing; a people ferociously, single-mindedly passionate about the deep and wide work of the grace of God in our lives and available for everyone, everywhere.
Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.2