Wesley knew how to be abased and how to abound. He intended, as did his brother John, to live all of life under God’s hand, whatever the circumstances of any given day.
Though it may seem to be the most difficult to define of the three, Wesley insists on including spirit with doctrine and discipline because right doctrine (belief) and right discipline (practice) are not enough in themselves.
So holiness is not a static concept. It isn’t a condition where a Christian desperately tries to avoid thinking the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, lest his spotless purity be marred by sin. Instead, it is the dynamic reality of love—transforming the believer’s life and giving the believer a new set of values and commitments that are in harmony with God’s desires for his children.
I have heard numerous people in various ecclesial and academic contexts use this reformulation as if it were the direct equivalent of the original. What I have not heard, however, is much in the way of critical reflection upon such usage. “Stay in love with God” is perhaps easier to say (and memorize) and sounds more modern than the rather cumbersome original, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.” Yet does that new, popularized rendering accurately express the point that Wesley was trying to make? At a deeper level, is the phrase “stay in love with God” theologically adequate?
How shall we struggle to identify what keeps us rooted and grounded in our shared covenant even when we are not in agreement? How shall we “hang in there” with each other – not in spite of, but because of our different views? We share deep roots. Our Wesleyan heritage is rich and grounds us deeply in the love of God and love of neighbor. We share deep roots and from what I’ve noticed over the last fifteen months, our branches spread wide.
We Methodists don’t “believe” in backsliding, as some have accused us, but we’re honest enough to confess a fact when it stares us in the face, and we’re sensitive enough to our spiritual condition that we can tell the difference.
We Christians are to “sit down on the bottom rung of the ladder of sanctity and yell for Jesus Christ.” When we do, he will come. He will come to nurture and change us.
Here is a reality check as we move forward from the Christmas event: Mary may have been the first Godbearer. She may have been the ultimate Godbearer. But if you are in relationship with Jesus Christ, then you are a Godbearer too. Everyone who follows in the Jesus way is called to be a Godbearer. That is a huge part of what it means to follow Jesus – bearing God to others.
We know that something is amiss with the world. Christmas Eve, oddly enough, confirms it. There is no pretending that life is some scene from Currier and Ives or a television special neatly presented in a two hour cable channel format. Life is not perfect. And we cannot seem to fix it despite best intentions, efforts, and desires. A part of the story of Christmas is that God is not happy with the way things are either. Thankfully, God is not interested in leaving us to our own devices. God has another way, a divine way, that challenges the human heart and mind to wake up to what God is trying to do in our midst.
An intriguing commonality between those who follow the Jesus way and non believers is a general distaste for evangelism. Certainly this dislike doesn’t apply to everyone, believer or not; nor does it stem from an accurate understanding of what evangelism is all about. But the dislike is there…The negative image of the televangelist looms large in all our consciences.