If you are Free Methodist, you are part of a global body of believers. In his article about the Uniquely Free Methodist “Go Global” strategy (fmcusa.org/uniquelyfm/go-global),Bishop David Roller numbers our international brothers and sisters at 900,000, making the ratio of international to American Free Methodists a whopping 14:1.
This figure would bring great joy to the heart of denominational founder B.T. Roberts, who was deeply committed to “preaching to the poor.” For Roberts, reference to the “poor” was not just a commitment to those in a particular economic stratus, though that was certainly a part of it. It was also a general call to the masses, specifically those still suffering in moral poverty. Howard A. Snyder emphasizes this truth in his book, “Populists Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists”:
But what did Roberts really mean by “the gospel to the poor”? … By “the poor” Roberts meant “the masses,” particularly in distinction from “the rich” who were gaining increased political and economic power in his day. For Roberts “the poor” constituted at once a moral and an economic category.
Essential Free Methodist characteristics covered in devotionals in this month’s topical emphasis on Essentials, such as living “free,” loving Christ and surrendering fully, encompass far more than a personal focus. They point equally to connectional living, which Paul likens to a body:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body … But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.(1 Corinthians 12:12–13a, 24b–27)
Luke also emphasizes the church’s demonstration of unity in diversity as he records the birth of the church in Acts 2:1–12:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tonguesas the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
According to Donald N. Bastian in “Belonging: Adventures in Church Membership,” “Pentecost brought people together. … [It] had a bridging and binding effect … [and] gave the disciples themselves a deepened sense of belonging.”
To be sure, unified diversity, as described by Paul’s illustration of the body and Luke’s portrayal of the church’s birth, leaves no room for discrimination, favoritism or injustice. It takes seriously the reciprocal nature of life in Christ together, so it cannot help but beckon others with magnetic effect.
Boasting an international membership 14 times the number of American adherents certainly does illustrate magnetism, yet our work is not complete. Instead, growth should be exponential given the multiethnic and multinational ministry launching points encompassed within our Free Methodist body of believers. We are not saved, sanctified servants of God for our own benefit. There are so many more that need a place to belong. Again, Snyder summarizes our denominational heritage in this regard quite powerfully:[Roberts] understood evangelism … as more than the winning of converts, central as that
was. As a good Methodist and one committed to Wesley’s emphasis on sanctification and discipleship, Roberts understood the gospel to mean salvation from all sin, with inner cleansing and empowerment for Christ-like, self-sacrificing service.
Joy M.O. Ireland is a Free Methodist elder who resides in Wilmore, Kentucky.
DISCUSSION:Who did God use to bring you to faith? What was it about their life that bid you into sacred belonging, and how can your unique story of salvation and sanctification catapult you into similar service for the sake of nonbelievers in your neighborhood and around the world?  In what ways can a commitment to evangelism evidence Pentecost’s powerful picture of unity in diversity within your home, your workplace and your church? 0