The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit

April 10th, 2018

Faultlines is a collection of resources intended to inform conversations around human sexuality within the United Methodist Church as the denomination prepares for the 2019 General Conference. The collection represents diverse perspectives and attempts to fill knowledge gaps around the debate, biblical foundations, theological arguments and the impact on The United Methodist Church and her people. Visit for more information. The following is an excerpt from The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit by Carolyn C. Moore.

Do you wonder why Wesley chose questions? Why not statements of faith or something that sounds more like a manifesto? Was his choice an act of practicality or a stroke of brilliance? I suspect the latter. Because he chose to ask questions of those seeking to lead in the early Methodist movement, pastors for nearly 250 years have had their worldview shaped, their calling clarified, and their potential unearthed by these nineteen potent ideas presented as theological affirmations with a question mark.

By the time an ordinand stands to answer these questions publicly, he or she has already been approved for ministry. An appointment has already been chosen. The candidate’s family has arrived from out of town to celebrate the milestone. No one reasonably expects the candidate to answer in a way that would preclude ordination. Much like a wedding, while the public profession is authentic,  the commitment seems to have been made long before the big day.

And much like a wedding, one might well answer these important questions faithfully on the “big day,” then quickly forget the substance of them in the years to follow.

I read these questions for the first time when I was preparing for ordination. After that, I can’t say that I so much as thought about most of them again until almost twenty years after I first answered them publicly. I pulled them out in recent years when conflicts within The United Methodist Church began to heat up and pointed questions were being leveled at opposing “sides” about what matters theologically. As a blogger, I was surprised to find some of those questions leveled at me. I have had people take issue with my use of the term orthodoxy, informing me that I don’t get to decide what orthodoxy means. I would agree. Neither I nor they get to decide what it means. Orthodoxy has an accepted meaning. Methodism is another term I’m hearing tossed about as if it too can be redefined according to whim and culture. And love. Evidently, some circles get to define what love is, while others are labeled as unloving or unjust by virtue of their disagreement with those definitions.

"The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit" (Abingdon Press, 2018)

As the debates and contemporary questions swirl, I’m drawn back to these historic nineteen questions. In them, I’ve discovered something unexpected and sublime. I’ve found that rather than becoming distant and lifeless, these questions have only been enriched by time. After twenty years of ministry, I now have experience to support their richness. I understand freshly that knowing what you believe matters. In light of denominational turmoil, I recognize the importance of publicly committing to our doctrines. In these questions, I hear the heart of a man at the helm of a new and growing movement. When he asked his candidates whether they were resolved, whether they were earnest, whether they would study and be diligent in instructing others, Wesley wasn’t after company men or career women. He was looking for fruitful, whole-hearted followers of Jesus willing to give their all to this Methodist way. It was his vision that these questions both inspire and require a cohesive unity—one heart, one mind, one mission.

Unfortunately, the issues facing us in this age are leading us in opposing directions. The issues of marriage, sexuality, and ordination have polarized clergy and laity alike. For some of my clergy colleagues, upholding and supporting United Methodism’s traditional view of marriage and sexuality is a violation of their conscience. For other colleagues of mine, their conscience is violated when they sense a lack of accountability on the part of progressive clergy and leaders (when, for example, a same-sex union is performed by a United Methodist minister and there is no ministerial consequence).

Countless conversations have tried in vain to find the common ground between these two “sides.” I suggest that we are searching for common ground in the wrong field. It won’t be found in our widely diverse opinions on social issues. Instead, these nineteen questions define the ground on which the foundation of Methodism was built—Christ, Scripture, doctrine, polity, our rules, spiritual discipline. Those who can honestly, transparently examine their own heart on these matters should be able to decide for themselves if this is their tribe, and these questions are an able guide. Much more than a test on the way to ordination, these questions were—and are—a kind of spiritual and doctrinal accountability. They are meant to live in us, to be lived out much as Paul advised us to work out our salvation daily with fear and trembling. They sound a call to faithful living and personal conviction.

Wesley tips his hand in the final phrase of his final question: “And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.”

This line raises the bar to the level of personal holiness. This current division is indeed a matter of conscience, and for Wesley that was quite the point. By asking questions rather than barking decrees, the founder of this movement challenged all who would lead to own this, freely—for conscience’ sake, he counsels. These profound and weighty questions are designed not to stamp out doctrinal robots, but to shape pastors and people who live, work, and minister with integrity—from a right heart, with authority, without fear, freely rather than under compulsion.

Those who choose to answer these questions in the pursuit of spiritual leadership should not have to be corralled into line behind them. Rather, they ought to be those who so thoroughly walk in the way of Jesus and in the spirit of a Methodist that these concepts become more of a challenge than a test, an inspiration to follow hard after our great redeemer, friend, and teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the request that these questions be rehearsed year after year, century after century, Wesley’s motive was surely to produce men and women of God who were honestly, earnestly attempting to grow up in every way into Christ, who is our head. If indeed that is the heart behind these questions (as I suspect), then they are worth asking of every United Methodist everywhere who seeks to live in covenanted connection with others around the globe who claim this Wesleyan theology as they seek to follow Jesus.

Wondering if you are up for that challenge? Spend time with these questions. Hear them as if spoken from the mouth of a man who sacrificed rather significantly for the cause of Christ and who has helped generations of Christians live out a practical theology of grace and truth.

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