For Wesleyans, the Bible matters, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ matters, the freedom to exercise the will matters, the means of grace matter, and people matter, from the least and the last to the prominent and powerful: it is full-orbed, Spirit-driven engagement with the Word of God and the world, soup and Scripture, Ebola medication and intercessory prayer.
Christian discipleship is characterizing how we engage in activities in this world that demonstrates the love of God to this world. Christian discipleship is about living in such a way that we distinguish ourselves as followers of Jesus from those that do similar things out civic duty, moral obligation, or humanitarian aid. Christian discipleship is not so much about doing something – or anything – at all. Christian discipleship is being a follower of Jesus and living in a manner consistent with Christ’s example even when we are hanging out with friends, stuck in traffic, or surfing the internet.
Wesley leads us to the heart of Lent and to the heart of every day of seeking the fullness of life in Christ: such a longing to please our Lord that we want the Holy Spirit to check us at the first sense of pride, wrong desire, or the wandering will — anything, that is, that might “quench the kindling fire.”
The good news is that we already have a basic blueprint for how to help people embrace faith in Jesus and become his apprentices. Methodist discipline, or the method that gave Methodism its name, was focused on helping people become deeply committed Christians, to become mature followers of Jesus Christ … The biggest challenge contemporary Wesleyans may face is our own unwillingness to be a disciplined people.
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.
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.
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.
The first verse of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” is an invitation to join the angels who announced Christ’s birth. In fact, Wesley wants all nations to rise and “join the triumph of the skies” in the tumultuous news, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Notice the exclamation point. Wesley was inclined that way. It’s hard to end all your sentences with periods when your soul is on the rise.