I’m always encouraged when pastors and laypeople express an interest in finding out more about our tradition. Ultimately however, if we want not only to learn about Wesley but also to become Wesleyan, we should take John Wesley’s approach to the Christian life seriously. It isn’t just about becoming familiar with a fascinating figure in church history. It is about letting that figure serve as a guide to point us toward Jesus Christ and the salvation that he wants to give us.
Do you die at peace with your God, at peace with others, at peace with yourself? Do you die with a weathered faith that murmurs, ‘til the end, “I know that my Redeemer lives…”? Do you die with the taste of communion bread in your mouth? … Do you die, knowing that soon, your tomb will be full, but that The Tomb That Matters Is Empty? Do you die with curiosity about what it feels like to caper with Triune Eternity?
The weight of Christian worship history testifies that the Sunday service is primarily a gathering of, and for, the faithful. This is not to say that we shouldn’t consider how our worship services can best speak in the language of our local contexts. It isn’t to say that we shouldn’t consider if our gatherings are marked with radical hospitality and welcome. But we gather in continuity with the first followers of Christ who found the tomb empty on Sunday.
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.