The Free Methodist Church was formally organized on August 23, 1860 – 159 years ago this month. The date is always included in the church calendar as “Free Methodist Founding Day.” The organizing convention took place near Pekin in western New York State. There were fifteen preachers and forty-five laymen who participated in the organizing of the new denomination. The first Free Methodist Book of Discipline, stated “All [our] churches are required to be as free as the grace [we] preach. [We] believe that [our] mission is twofold – to maintain the Bible standard of Christianity, and to preach the Gospel to the poor.”
What is the “Bible standard of Christianity?” Bible Christianity means becoming like Jesus and doing what Jesus did – personally and as a people. This is holiness, and holiness is Christlikness – nothing more and nothing less. That means becoming like Jesus in our character, our actions, and our mission. The first FM Bishop, B.T. Roberts, consistently pointed to what Jesus did in fulfilling His own mission. At the outset of His earthly ministry Jesus said,
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
The church is the Body of Christ on earth – Jesus’ hands, feet, and mouth – we are His church. The church is sent to bear witness to Jesus Christ. The church is anointed, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and set apart to continue Jesus’ work. The church is sent to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for those in prison and recovery of sight to the blind, to be God’s instrument to offer freedom in Jesus, and to proclaim that God’s great salvation through Jesus is available to everyone today. We proclaim the freedom and life found in Jesus, through our words, attitudes, actions, and behavior: not only by sharing Jesus with a lost, blind, and imprisoned world, but by being a positive influence in the world, by seeking to meet the physical needs of hurting people, and by pursuing justice.
But how often does the church do something else? The fact that the church was doing “something else” is the reason why the Free Methodist Church was formed. The people who convened in an apple orchard on August 23, 1860 had tried to reform their church, the Methodist Episcopal Church; but instead of being a prophetic voice able to turn the church back to her Biblical roots and mission, these devout followers of Jesus were expelled from the fellowship of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
This is our heritage of freedom in the FM Church. It is a good heritage with a timeless mission that we are called to live out in our daily lives.