I wanted to pick up on Peter Kirk's comment on 'conversionism'. Peter wrote:
To me, the central issue which distinguishes evangelicals from other Christians, at least in the Church of England, is conversionism, the belief that what the mass of people need is not moral exhortation or participation in worship but to be born again. How far are Methodist evangelicals, and Methodists as a whole, in agreement with this?Perhaps those who have been Methodists longer than I have been can answer that question for 'Methodism in general'. I think it's right to say that 'conversion' is central to Methodist thinking: 'All need to be saved,' according to the 'Four Alls'.
I'd like to do some personal thinking around the idea that 'people do not need moral exhortation or participation in worship, but to be born again.'
My own sense is that we need all of these things and that conversion alone is not sufficient. I think I'd also add that we need prayer as well; this might come under the cover of worship, but I want to make clear that public worship on a Sunday probably isn't 'enough', at least not if we are ever going to need to call on our faith in times of crisis.
First of all, on 'conversion'. I think that we all need to be 'converted' because we all need to repent. As most Christians know, 'repent' means to turn around. We all have a tendency to want to go our own way apart from God, be it actively sinning or simply just ignoring God, so we all need to 'turn around'. But this 'turning around' isn't just a one-time thing.
If 'conversionism' is a one-time big event, then I don't think it's sufficient. Necessary, but not sufficient. I worry if people think that all they have to be able to do is to name the time and the date of their conversion and then, as far as God is concerned, they are set up for heaven. I also would not want to exclude people who have managed to turn around, repent and convert without ever being able to name the time and the date. I do think that this can happen for people who have been brought up in a Christian family or another Christian environment.
I believe - and I think that this is very Methodist - that 'conversion' is an on-going thing. As someone said to me recently, it's not that we have been saved, it is that we are being saved. This 'on-going salvation' is, I think, another way of expressing the Methodist idea of Christian Perfection or Holiness. Once having 'given one's life to Christ', we are still in need of on-going growth, discipleship and perfection.
I think that the Christian community is extremely important in our on-going discipleship and I think that worship and prayer are important in this continued growth. I'd argue that this is also 'Methodist' - at least, it's Wesleyan. Wesley exhorted his followers to receive communion as often as possible and also recommended 'constant communion'. Certainly, the early classes and bands were nothing if they were not opportunities for moral exhortation and prayer.
That brings me to 'prayer' and I can't really point to anything particularly Methodist as I talk about prayer, although Methodists certainly have nothing against praying! I believe, mainly from personal experience, that putting effort into practicing a prayer life is vitally important. A retired Methodist minister remarked recently that, in his experience, the attitude of many elderly people toward God depended on whether or not they had a prayer life. I'm not talking about 'faith' as 'doctrines' but 'faith' as in whether or not people feel that they can turn to God in times of crisis. This rings true to me and would probably be another long post. Suffice it to say that I think that there is value in 'practicing' prayer even if we can't feel God at all or don't feel like praying.
To sum up, I personally believe that conversion is necessary but not sufficient. For me, to neglect or de-emphasise worship and growth in holiness is to be constantly 'drinking milk' rather than 'eating meat'.