Based on the values of Jesus Christ as expressed through the heart and mind of John Wesley and B.T. Roberts, Free Methodists are a people who have continually been energized by our freedoms. These core values not only direct our work but also provide an energizing force within that work. Easily identified as the values Christ taught and reflecting our Wesleyan understanding of the blend of individual and social holiness, our Free Methodist values change us individually as well as focus our work to change our society collectively.
Just as our Wesleyan “theology of love” or “relational theology” defines us as we “love God, love people and make disciples,” this theological foundation has caused us to build a structure of freedom that takes the Methodism we inherited and expresses it in uniquely defining ways of how we treat one another. Though there are varying expressions of the freedoms of our movement, the five that provide the most synergy and energy have been expressed as:
1. Freedom of all races to worship together in unity.
2. Freedom of women and men to be treated respectfully and use their gifts equally in the church, in the home and in the world.
3. Freedom of the poor to be treated with dignity in the church and with justice in the world.
4. Freedom of the laity and clergy to be given equal authority and decision-making positions within the church.
5. Freedom of the Holy Spirit to inspire our worship.
Freedom of All Races to Worship Together in Unity
Free Methodists were and are abolitionists. This social justice comes from a deep place of love and respect for all people. Recognizing that every person is created in the image of God and that we are all brothers and sisters within His family, we come to our Father with our arms locked in solidarity with all His children. The sin of racism in all its varying forms is an evil that we do not tolerate. We work diligently to bring all people together into multicultural congregations, conferences and Christian communities. That we are imperfect and have not yet achieved the fullness of this value only compels us to work even harder for justice for all.
Continuing the work of B.T. Roberts who was an abolitionist in the 1860s, today we are working to end global slavery through our Set Free Movement. Under the guidance of Kevin Austin, we are working together to end the sexual and financial enslavement of the powerless in our world. Primarily represented by women and children, these modern-day slaves have lost the freedom that Christ came to give.
On another front, we are working through our immigration services to bring legal solutions to those who have come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. These legal clinics are approved by our government as a compassionate way for churches and others of goodwill to help in direct and tangible ways to set people free from the vulnerability they experience from often enslaving employment practices that working with an undocumented status produces.
The ultimate relationship of all Christians is described by John when God revealed to him the life we will all share in heaven. Beginning here on earth, we are preparing to be a united people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) as we stand before God in worship. This freedom from racism and vital expression of unity is a value of God that we take seriously as Free Methodists.
Freedom of Women and Men to be Treated Respectfully and Use Their Gifts Equally in the Church, Home and World
After a lengthy discussion that was begun by B.T. Roberts in the 1800s, Free Methodists have come together in valuing equality between men and women. The devastating curse of original sin that caused women to be dominated by men created a patriarchal world, but that has been restored by the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed this restoration by His transforming interactions with women in the Gospels. Paul proclaimed in Galatians 3:28 that there is to be equality between men and women as between the races because “we are all one in Christ.” Because of this, Free Methodists look not to the gender of a person but to God’s call and gifting to determine whether a person is to be a leader, including fully ordained as an elder within the church. Thus Free Methodists work to set all people free from the arbitrary cultural limits placed on women so that the church may, by teaching and example, fulfill the redemptive work of God.
Though there are still those within the larger Christian faith who do not understand this tremendous freedom Jesus gave us, Free Methodists continue to proclaim this freedom. Representative of that, the seminal work of B.T. Roberts, “Ordaining Women,” has been edited and reprinted to fit present-day sensitivities and scholarship. Also representative is the Junia Project led by Kate Wallace Nunneley and Gail Wallace.
Freedom of the Poor to be Treated With Dignity in the Church and With Justice in the World
The enslavement of the poor and vulnerable continues to be a reality within our world. The inequity of socioeconomic class distinctions often extends even into the church when status and deference is given to those with wealth while the poor are in some way kept down. Freedom from this evil is the third freedom of Free Methodists. We are committed to leave socioeconomic distinctions and prejudices outside the sanctuary and invite all people into true fellowship and acceptance in our ongoing commitment to show the love of Christ to all.
This commitment is put into action outside the sanctuary as we seek justice for the poor and vulnerable who have substandard education systems, higher rates of incarceration, and poor health due to lack of health care and nutrition. Though Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us, He also calls us to care for the least of these among us (Matthew 25).
Freedom of the Laity and Clergy to be Given Equal Authority and Decision-Making Positions Within the Church
Free Methodists are committed to ending the clergy domination of the church and forming a consistent partnership with clergy and laity working together to do God’s work. This elevation of laity to use their spiritual gifts alongside those given pastoral gifts enriches all aspects of life in the church and protects against institutional abuse.
This equality is increasingly causing us to recognize the necessity for the church to invest in leaders who are not only clergy but also function within the arenas of business, the academy and the community. Recognizing the Wesleyan and Free Methodist imperative of equality based on God’s love for all, Free Methodists value the education of all people. Thus we established and support Free Methodist colleges and universities to express our value of holistic education that integrates faith with practice to prepare students to serve God in whatever He calls them to do.
Freedom of the Holy Spirit to Inspire Our Worship
Often within the larger Christian world, the value of a specific style of worship defines the group. Free Methodists value the leadership of the Holy Spirit and affirm the freedom of each congregation to follow the Spirit’s leading in how they worship and express their devotion to God. As a result, there is no normative worship style within Free Methodist churches. Some worship in liturgical style with daily office while others worship in charismatic style with praise choruses. Most have taken this freedom to create a blended style of worship that brings together a community of people of all ages and creates a family of God that accepts both sacramental liturgy and the Christian year as well the most recent praise choruses and prayer services. Worship includes not only the music of praise, the study of Scripture, and receiving the Sacrament, but also the sharing of life in community.
In a similar way, discipleship is a unique Holy Spirit-led maturation of faith in a process that can be accomplished using a variety of methods. Unique to culture, age, education and tradition, each congregation, pastor and teacher is free to discover the method that is most applicable to their community. This dependence on the Holy Spirit is a defining mark of our Free Methodist movement.
As we emphasize these five freedoms, there is an overarching freedom from legalism that has increasingly become a defining characteristic of the Free Methodist movement. This was not always the case. Historically, freedom was experienced in the Holiness Movement of the 19th century when we became free from the power of sin through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. However, in subsequent generations, it became a list of rules that each member was required to obey in order to not only belong as a member but also to signify that one had been sanctified.
During the last decades of the 20th century, this emphasis on external adherence to laws that had so enslaved the Pharisees was systematically and enthusiastically transformed by Free Methodists so that a Christ-centered identity has become our goal. This freedom from legalism has had a profound impact as the love of Christ has become our energizing value rather than the adherence to a set of disciplinary rules. This value has enlivened the Free Methodist movement as our love for Christ has become a transforming experience within our churches as we: embrace those of all races, honor both women and men, affirm the worth of the poor and vulnerable, partner with both laity and clergy, and celebrate and worship as the Holy Spirit leads and transforms us as disciples of Christ. This freedom from religion to relationship compels us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind while we love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39), and it provides the primary value of our Free Methodist movement.
The church of Jesus Christ in every generation has its own unique expression. In increasing ways, the energy that comes from our Wesleyan-Free Methodist values is propelling our generation forward in following Christ. With love as our primary value, and the five freedoms as our expression of that love, Free Methodists are speaking a form of the gospel that reaches a broken world that is in lonely and often isolating pain. When expressed to the young adults of this generation, there is a resonance with our values and freedoms that fuels a “values-based, sustainable” movement with which they not only identify but also enthusiastically embrace. That is the result of the loving, transforming freedom we find in Christ.
The Free Methodist Church’s theology is often referred to as “via media” or middle way. We seek to hold biblical truths as the foundation for our doctrine, and therefore, our lives. Our doctrine is not easily classified as theologically “conservative” or “liberal” but instead seeks to honor four sources of theology (also called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral):