by Mark Tooley
United Methodist evangelist Eddie Fox defended the importance of sound Christian doctrine in the first of three speeches to the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism this week outside Atlanta.
Fox has been World Director of Evangelism for the World Methodist Council since 1989 and is a revered evangelical leader within United Methodism. He’s the Harry Denman Lecturer for this year’s gathering of several hundred evangelism-minded United Methodists.
“There are essentials on which we stand,” Fox declared. “God willing, General Conference and the Judicial Council will never overturn them.”
Fox noted that the global Methodist movement, of which 12 million member United Methodism is one part, now has 80 million adherents and is the world’s fourth largest communion. This family of churches descending from John Wesley is growing 1 million members annually.
“I was a Methodist before I was born,” Fox smilingly recalled. “My family was Methodist when John Wesley was still alive.”
Fox recalled that when Methodist theologian Albert Outler addressed the Congress on Evangelism 40 years ago he rued that modern Methodism was no longer based on grace but on a new optimism centered on social and political change. Outler called for a new Great Awakening similar to early Methodist revivalism that left one of every three Americans Methodist.
Decades ago, Fox remembered, United Methodism’s old Board of Evangelism employed 50 people. When Fox headed the evangelism office there were 16 people. Today there is one.
“We’re not going to transform anything,” Fox said. “Only the power of the Gospel can do that.” A “spiritual cliff” is more dangerous than a financial cliff, he warned. Yet places in Methodism today are a “dead sect,” against which Wesley had inveighed. There are also Methodist places “alive, growing, vibrant.” The world is in “desperate need of salvation,” he said.
Wesley had urged speaking “plainly for plain people,” Fox noted. Doctrine has fallen into “bad repute” today for supposedly meaning doctrinaire. But doctrine “simply means sound truth,” Fox observed. “I’ve heard it said that a Methodist can believe anything sincerely,” he said. “But you can be sincerely wrong.”
“Serious problems haunt our movement,” Fox lamented. “We’re not certain in what we believe.” The Mainline churches are no longer mainline because, as even secular media have noticed, they are “unsure what their message is.” Methodism “sometimes looks like collection of slogans,” Fox said. “We struggle with truth decay.”
Too many in the church believe that “enough people with the same opinion equals truth,” Fox warned “That’s not a living faith,” which should be built on the Holy Bible and revolve around Jesus, he said. “I was challenged by a bishop about my emphasis on doctrine,” he recounted. “There’s a new Bible now,” that bishop had claimed. “I’ll stick with the old Bible,” Fox had responded. Clear “apostolic preaching is focused on the centrality of Christ.”
Recalling that a Methodist church in old Czechoslovakia unveiled a banner after Communism’s fall declaring, “The Lamb Wins,” Fox concluded, “Evil never has the last word.” Fox told that 51 percent of Africa now “believes in Christ as Lord and Savior,” while also describing the recent murders of Christians in Nigeria. The motto of Methodists in Nigeria is “Worthy is The Lamb.”
Fox implored: “Lets hold fast to our doctrine.”