As my harvest sermon for tomorrow will make clear, I don't think that 'the Gospel message' is simply about professing Jesus Christ as Lord so that one will go to 'heaven' when one dies.
Non-Methodists may disagree, but it's fundamental to Methodism that 'all can be saved', in other words, that God's offer of salvation extends to every person who has ever lived or who ever will live. The conclusion that I arrive at from 'all can be saved' is that every single person is equally beloved by God and is equally precious and with equal dignity. Furthermore, God's central commandments are to love God and love my neighbour.
I therefore conclude that I too am commanded to treat every person as equally precious and with equal dignity. That means every person is important to God and should be important to me. I confess that I don't always live this out as I should do, but this is what I believe.
I want to stress that I do not in any way deny the importance of Christ's divinity, his atonement or any creedal statements. I'm simply putting emphasis on what some call 'the social gospel' because I think it has been denied for too long.
This might seem obvious to many people, so why am I saying it? Because there has been some suggestion in the British Methodist blogsphere that a minister's time is far too precious to be spent engaging in allegedly 'ineffective' things like conducting weddings for non-church members. Apparently, unless the wedding (or presumably a funeral, a baptism or a visit) results in a conversion and larger numbers of people in church, it's not worth the minister's time.
When I talked about the church's responsibility to the wider community in country villages, this was regarded as 'socialising'. Amazing how the church trying to love its neighbour by caring about them ends up sounding like two corporate fat-cats swigging G&Ts whilst betting on the horses.
I simply don't believe that it's possible to preach the message: 'God loves you, but I won't care about you until you start coming to church.' Any fool can see past this sort of hypocrisy; people are not stupid. How on earth do you preach that all people are of equal worth to God and then act as if an individual is not worth the church's time? How does this fit with 'Let the little children come to me and don't forbid them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?'
By all means, pray for revivial. But don't expect anything to happen if the church is not prepared to to see non-Christians as people who are worth our time.
Sadly, the church all too often reminds me of Lucy Van Pelt's comment in the old Peanuts cartoons. Lucy says 'I love mankind, it's people I can't stand.'