The World Methodist Council just unveiled their 2016 Conference logo and theme. As the organization's website announced, "The theme, “One”, is used to both reflect the Council’s goal of being a body that unites the 80 member churches from the Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, United and Uniting Church traditions as well as recalling John Wesley’s quote that “Methodists are one people in all the world”."
While I think the World Methodist Council does important and valuable work, I think the theme for 2016 highlights the challenge of the council's work. As recent posts by Robert Hunt on this blog have indicated, oneness is an elusive quality in The United Methodist Church. Moreover, it is elusive not just for issues of language or theology but of deep-seated elements of culture and worldview.
If oneness is a struggle for the UMC in its efforts to be a global church, how much more of a struggle must it be for the World Methodist Council? Many of its constituent denominations face similar challenges as the UMC in bridging national and/or cultural divides within their own bodies. Then when eighty different such denominations are brought together, the problems of achieving oneness are compounded by an order of magnitude or two. Those problems are highlighted by the fact that the council cannot use a single word to describe its members but must instead refer to the five labels of "Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, United and Uniting Churches."
Yet we can view the theme of the 2016 Conference as something other than a naive or unrealistic calling for unity across such theological, denominational, cultural, and national variation. We can also see it as an eschatological calling. Perhaps the World Methodist Council has chosen this theme not to assert that they have made or are capable of making so many into one. Perhaps they have chosen this theme to remind the many of the goal of oneness and of the One who calls us to that goal of oneness with himself and with others.
We may never achieve the goal of oneness, within The United Methodist Church, within the World Methodist Council, or within the broader body of Christ. But we will certainly never reach that goal if we are not pressing on towards it, ever striving to be made more perfect in love.