Add new resolution: Missions in the Twenty-first Century
At the time Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples a pronouncement (“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.”—Matthew 28:18), a charge (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19-20a), and a promise (“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20b). In every generation as followers of Jesus Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, struggled to carry out this mandate, the Great Commission, two questions have challenged them: how to deal with the dynamic tension between Spirit-led “independent” missionaries and church-appointed missionaries who are led by the same Spirit and how to manage dissension between those who hold differing philosophies of mission. The 2004 Resolution No. 94, Guidelines for Cooperation in Mission (The Book of Resolutions, pp. 265-267), implementing guidelines devised by the World Methodist Council, is but a recent attempt to meet this challenge.
Official missionaries versus “the independents”
When Jesus still walked the earth, Scripture records, that “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him because no one who does a deed of power by my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil against me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means the reward’” (Mark 9:38-41, cf. Luke 49:50).
Since that day thousands of followers of Christ have taken the Gospel into the world as independent missionaries or as official envoys of a particular church and the two have cooperated harmoniously in many instances.
Scripture records that the deacon Philip first brought the Gospel to Samaria as an independent missionary. He was followed by the official church envoys, Peter and John (Acts 8:4-25). Independent missionaries first planted the Gospel in Antioch. That church was then nurtured by the official envoys, Barnabas and Paul (Acts 11:19-26). This church in Antioch later became a missionary-sending church in its own right, commissioning Paul and Barnabas to take the Gospel to the far reaches of the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1-3). In some places, they were the first to preach the Gospel. Elsewhere, for example, in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-19:10), these official missionaries were preceded by the independent missionaries, Apollos, Aquila, and Priscilla.
In the Wesleyan movement, similarly, the first Methodist preachers and class leaders in America were independent missionaries, Philip and Margaret Embury, Paul and Barbara Heck, Robert Strawbridge, and Captain Thomas Webb. The official missionaries, Joseph Pilmoor, Richard Boardman, Francis Asbury, and others, then built on the foundation laid by the independents. In 1850, Ebert Wunderlich started a Wesleyan revival in his home province of Weimar, Germany, while the official German Methodist missionaries labored elsewhere. Later Wunderlich’s work was merged into the official enterprise. In Nigeria in 1906, United Evangelical Church preacher C. W. Guinter began his work under the independent Sudan United Mission and received official church sponsorship many years later.
So it has always been and we celebrate. We applaud the cooperation and mutual support that have occurred between representatives of our official General Board of Global Ministries and its independent counterpart, The Mission Society (formerly, the Mission Society for United Methodists). We commend The Mission Society’s decision at its founding in1984 not to compete with the Board, but to work in regions, up to now, unserved by any Wesleyan witness or in regions where our sister autonomous churches have invited their help, a policy true to the letter and spirit of Resolution No. 94. We rejoice with them for almost a quarter century of fruitful Christian witness around the world.
Differing philosophies of mission
At the same time, we lament that differing philosophies of mission impeded cooperation between representatives of the Board and The Mission Society and sometimes planted suspicion and distrust between the two. This, too, is a challenge the church has faced from the earliest days.
The Apostle Paul, for example, found himself in conflict with other official missionaries who believed that the true conversion of Gentiles required their adoption of the Jewish ceremonial law as well as the reception of Jesus Christ and Lord and Savior (Acts 15:1-29). Again, he parted company with his mentor, Barnabas, over John Mark’s desire to rejoin their missions team (Acts 15:36-40).
Differing philosophies of mission kept the British Methodists from sponsoring Bishop Thomas Coke’s last missionary expedition, forcing him to recruit volunteers to go with him as “independents.” Differing philosophies of mission prompted Francis Asbury and Jacob Albright to part company with Asbury preaching to the English-speaking settlers in America and Albright to the Germans. One of the seeds of the conflict in the Evangelical Association that resulted in the division between the Evangelical and the United Evangelicals in 1891-1894 was a dispute between missions superintendent Joseph Hartzler and Bishop J. J. Esher about the running of the Evangelicals’ Japan mission, a dispute that escalated from a disagreement over missions philosophy to a feud between rival personalities and their followers. Differing philosophies of mission was similarly a factor prompting the formation of The Mission Society.
We regret these incidents in our history and pray that their remembrance will spur us to work for reconciliation, to speak the truth only in love, to disagree without being disagreeable, and to avoid intemperate language and attributing unchristian motives to those with whom we disagree. We do not have to let past discord impede present and future cooperation. Paul’s and Barnabas’s falling out actually doubled their outreach capacity and led to the maturing of the young missionary, John Mark, the object of their quarrel, so that, at a later date, Paul could commend the young man as “useful in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Learning from the past, looking to the future
In light of these lessons, let us celebrate with The Mission Society as it completes a quarter century of faithful service in spreading the Gospel in the Wesleyan tradition. The Mission Society has greatly expanded the opportunities for United Methodists to respond to the missionary call and has conducted itself with tact, respect, courtesy, and a spirit of cooperation. As a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, it has exercised scrupulous fiscal responsibility of the funds entrusted to it.
We regret and repudiate the false accusation, frequently made against The Mission Society, that it “competes with the General Board of Global Ministries,” and call on all United Methodists to challenge it whenever it is heard.
As long as The Mission Society’s belief and practice conforms to our established standards of doctrine and to the letter and spirit of Resolution No. 94, we call on
1 the General Board of Global Ministries and its staff and divisions to develop liaison with The Mission Society and to cooperate with them in all areas of mutual concern,
2 our members to respect The Mission Society, and, where appropriate, support it and avail themselves or its services, and
3 our bishops and annual conferences to support missionary appointments and clergy special appointments to serve in The Mission Society with the same acceptance and enthusiasm as they show to missionaries serving the General Board of Global Ministries.
For too long, institutionalists, bishops, annual conferences, and well-meaning GBGM supporters have slandered The Mission Society and discouraged our clergy and laity from working with it. We should end these injustices and recognize The Mission Society as a respectable and loyal, if unofficial, servant of our church.