In 1786, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, looked back on the revival begun during his lifetime. He seemed to think that it was well enough established that it would not immediately vanish after his death. However, he was not content with the survival of a lifeless sect that hung around, but failed to renew souls in the image of their creator. He wrote in “Thoughts Upon Methodism” :

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

This passage is one that haunts me. It is as if Wesley continues to challenge all who call themselves Methodists to continue to have the zeal to “spread Scriptural holiness” that the early Methodists had. I can’t read this quote without asking myself the obvious question: Is the United Methodist Church in America a dead sect, does it have the form or religion without the power? Or have we held fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which we first set out?

I plan on looking at the three keys that Wesley lifts up in this passage in the days to come (doctrine, spirit, and discipline). Until then, I would be very interested in your reaction to the implicit question Wesley asks us today, Are we a dead sect, or do we have he form and power of godliness?

Kevin M. Watson teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Connect with Kevin. Get future posts emailed to you.