Rev. Dr. David Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs as well as Associate Professor of New Testament at the United Methodist Church’s United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is an ordained elder in the denomination’s West Ohio Conference. These reflections on the late September national New Room Conference, which was attended by some 1,500 believers of various Wesleyan/Methodist denominations originally appeared on his personal blog. Reposted with permission.
This year I attended the New Room conference for this first time. I’d always heard great things about it, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a diverse group of insightful speakers. The worship, led by Mark Swayze, was powerful. There were plenty of great books for sale, along with opportunities to meet and converse with many of the authors. It was great to reconnect with old friends, and I made some new ones as well. If there was one highlight of the conference for me, it was listening to my friends Scott Kisker and Kevin Watson talk about the importance of the band meeting. They’ve just written a new book on this topic, available here in print and here as an e-book. They were funny and informative and challenging.
The conference is sponsored by Seedbed, a relatively new publishing house associated with Asbury Theological Seminary. Seedbed has put out some very helpful new Christian resources, particularly related to Wesleyan expressions of the faith. Much of their work is written for Christian laity. My latest book, Scripture and the Life of God (available here in e-book), was recently published through Seedbed. They’ve been great partners in the process.
I don’t know if this is the case every year, or if it is because of the release of the new book by Watson and Kisker, but there was a strong emphasis on band meetings. These are gatherings of men or women who have come together to confess their sins, hold one another accountable, and pray for each other. John Wesley believed that the Methodist movement had been called into being to spread scriptural holiness, and particularly “entire sanctification,” or “Christian perfection.” While these terms may seem old fashioned to many, they simply mean that the Holy Spirit may create such abundant love in the heart of a believer that he or she no longer willingly transgresses God’s will. Wesley believed that the band meeting was key to receiving this gift of perfect love.
Today, the term “perfection” has many negative connotations. People strive for the perfect body, the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect job… and they are inevitably disappointed. This kind of perfectionism is unhealthy and incapable of producing happiness. When Wesley talks about “perfection,” however, he doesn’t mean that we can no longer mess up, that we won’t make mistakes, or that we will be the “perfect” person other people would like us to be. He means that, through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can become who God made us to be–loving and kind people, devoted to God and serving our neighbors. In this sense, “perfect” means something more like “complete” than “flawless.” In fact, “perfection” in the Christian sense will save us from the worldly “perfectionism” that will inevitably leave us dissatisfied.
I’m grateful for groups like Seedbed (and, if I may brag a bit, United Theological Seminary) that are propagating these Wesleyan concepts around God’s work in our lives.
New Room was a great conference. I highly recommend it. If you’re able to go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. To the contrary, I think you’ll find it refreshing, and you may receive a fresh touch from God.