The message produced from this historic conference:
We, the Methodist people of Southern Africa who have gathered for the largest and most representative assembly in the 165 years of our Church’s history, share with our fellow Methodists what we believe God has been saying in and through the Obedience ’81 Conference. For seven days we met as a people bound by a common covenant, committed to participate fully in all the proceedings and to search our hearts for what the Lordship of Jesus Christ means to us as Methodists in Southern Africa in the eighties.
From the outset we have joy in declaring that we serve a mighty God. Ours was no easy journey together. Yet He was always there, leading us forward to see His truth and to receive His love and power. As we were reminded of our heritage with its roots firmly in the Bible, the Wesleys and Africa. He was there. As we wrestled with our diversity and division, we became angry and hurt, the seeds of our own violence and fear exploded to the surface redoubling our pain. Yet He was there. God in Christ was in the midst and He brought us to repentance. He opened our eyes to our sin and to the wounds inflicted on each other by our insensitivity, bitterness and fear. We cried out for His forgiveness and redeeming grace. While there is much for which we still need to repent we now celebrate with you that He did not abandon us but illuminated our way with the light of His living Spirit. Out of this costly journey, we share the hope we have found together:
God has a vital and immediate task for the Methodist Church. We reaffirmed that within our beliefs are embraced the central elements of the Christian Faith, and within our family belong the broadest spectrum of people. God challenged us to give priority to the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ and to demonstrate His grace in visible social action. God expects us to be whole people healed by His forgiveness and filled with His Spirit. He challenges our lack of prayer, our failure to earth our lives in Scripture, and our compromises with personal sin.
We accepted His promise of power, where in the past we argued about the Holy Spirit instead of opening our loves to Him. These failings in obedience to Christ’s example have imprisoned the Church and we call upon all our people to claim now the ‘full, free and present salvation’, which is in Jesus Christ and is the mark of every true Methodist.
God commands His Church to be a pattern of His way of Love, proclaiming salvation, demonstrating unity, expressing acceptance of one another in and beyond our own cultural and racial group. This Church, from its local congregation level, is to be an undivided community practising deep and costly reconciliation. The whole Church is to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity and conviction, to offer caring ministries, which can recognize and heal the pain of His suffering people. The Church is to be God’s living visible Good News in a fragmented society. Trust between ministers and confidence in the laity is to be the cement of its programme. Truth, not expediency is to direct its course. Love is to permeate its every structure. Essentially we are a Church of Africa and we must discover afresh the implications of our unique heritage. God Seeks a free South Africa, delivered from the violence of oppression, revolution and war.
In listening to the cries of those in our body who endure our land’s apartheid laws and other discriminatory practices and attitudes, we know that we have touched only the edge of their pain. What we have heard convicts us that every Methodist must witness against this disease, which infects all our people and leaves none unscathed in our Church and country. We call upon every Methodist to reject apartheid. We have experienced how hard it is to abandon long-held prejudice and long-felt bitterness. But we have seen God work this miracle in us. It happened because we continued to search for each other even at our time of deepest division and despair.
There has been no mistaking the hand of God in the proceedings of Obedience ’81. Individual loves were transformed and resolute views surrendered as the Holy Spirit moved amongst us. Perhaps the greatest sense of foreboding was that in spite of all the painful lessons of the past, we might fail yet again to move from resolution to action. There can be no compromising the immediacy of this message nor its urgency. If we are to be true to Jesus, now is the time for us to move forward together to claim this destiny and become obedient followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man.
We now declare to all South Africans that there is a better way where people who have discovered their love for each other translate it into justice for all. We believe it to be the way of the Cross. We choose it knowing that we cannot walk it unless we receive from Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit the weapons of courage, compassion and commitment. Our hearts and attitudes have been touched and changed by the Holy Spirit’s work at Obedience ’81. We have experienced a healing which has lifted us from the very agony of division and despair to the joy of unity and praise.
Therefore, we promise before Almighty God and each other that we will henceforth live and work to bring into reality the concept of an undivided Church and a free and just Southern Africa.
This message was unanimously adopted by 800 Methodist people at the Obedience ’81 Conference held in Johannesburg in July 1981 and confirmed by a standing vote of the Methodist Conference in October 1981.