Monday, February 26, 2007

Rediscovering our Methodist Roots

The pastors at our church (First-Centenary) will be asking the congregation to read the book Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodist. As I read through the book I was once again reminded of the wonderful history of the Methodist movement. In this book, Henry Knight III presents eight practices that were at the heart of John Wesley’s theology and life. He reminds his readers that these are the practices that define what it means to be a Methodist, but more fundamentally, what it means to be a Christian. Just so you know, these practices do not make a person a Christian; rather, they define what a Christian is.

Knight breaks the spiritual disciplines into four categories: Personal Devotion, Worshiping Together, Letting Go, and Reaching Out. Prayer was the foundation for the movement. The Bible was the most important means for teaching us about God and salvation. Worship was so important for Methodists that Charles Wesley wrote thousands of hymns in order to draw people into a deeper faith. John Wesley encouraged the Methodist to take communion as often as possible. Wesley wanted the Methodists to “conference together” by being in small groups called “bands” and “class meetings.” Living a life of simplicity was very important because we are to honor God with our money. He suggested that we “earn all we can,” “save all we can,” and “give all we can.” Wesley believed we were to love and serve our neighbor in all we do.

In reflected on these disciplines that were so important to Methodists, I realized that Wesley used these “means of graces” to move people into a deeper commitment to God. The Wesley bothers were also able to meet people where they were in life in order to move them to a better place. For instance, Charles Wesley often wrote songs using familiar tunes so that people would be more likely to worship. John Wesley realized that people need accountability, so he organized folks into smaller groups.

As a United Methodist, I hope that we will be able to draw on the strengths of the early Methodists in order to lead people to Jesus. Sometimes I think the UM church seems to be falling behind in doing some of the things that Wesley did. When I think of Praise and Worship music, I would like to see the UM church to do more song writing. I love Chris Tomlin and I think he is doing a wonderful job, but we need more people doing what he is doing. We sometimes seem to be stuck in the traditional Sunday school mode, but I think we need to offer more small group options that actually hold people accountable, help them grow in their faith, and teach them how to serve God in the world. I am not suggesting that we do away with Sunday school, but we can at least compliment them with small groups. Methodist should lead the way when it comes to giving money and time to the church. I also wish we would learn to read and love the Bible like Wesley did and then say, “Give me that book.” I almost weep when I hear people say that Methodist don’t believe in the Bible because we do, with all our being, love it.

It is time that we United Methodist lead the way to Jesus by loving God and our neighbor. It is time that we become proud of our heritage. It is time that we boldly serve and proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Where's the Beef

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Little Left of Living Right

Trent Tomlinson, a country music singer has song out called One Wing in the Fire. In the song he talks about his dad who he claims is a “back row Baptist with his share of front row-sin." He goes on to say that “he lives a little left of livin' right,” but he hopes that God will look past that so he can go to heaven.

I am sure if we all thought about the people we know we could think of a few who fit the description of being an “angle with no hallow, and one wing in the fire.” I find this to be a bit perplexing because we do not have spiritual categories for people who go to church, but their lives are not what we would call Christians. We generally think that someone who is a Christian should live a morally upstanding life and someone who is an atheist should live an amoral life. We are confused when a Christian lives an amoral life and an atheist lives a moral life.

Theology over the years has tried to help us deal with issues like this. On the one hand it has been said that in order to be a Christian a person had to live a moral life, obeying the things that are spelled out in the Bible. (Although people often disagree about which things are spelled out in the Bible). In other words, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) Reformed theology has tended to go to the other extreme, holding that salvation has nothing to do with your works; it is a matter of believing in Jesus or having faith. In other words, “It is by grace that we are saved through faith alone.” (Eph. 2:7)

This is where I believe Wesleyan theology helps me better understanding our dilemma. It says that faith and works are not incompatible. On the one hand salvation is by God’s grace alone when we accept it by faith alone. We cannot earn our faith by good works. However, God’s grace does more in our lives than just give us forgiveness from sin. God’s grace continues to work in our lives so that we will eventually do good works. It causes us to have a living faith. Wesleyans call the first act justification, because we are restored in our relationship with God and forgiven for our sins. We call the second act sanctification, which is the process of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to restore in us the Image of God in which we were originally created.

This means that the people sitting around us in the pew on Sundays may not be saints, but we hope that they are cooperating with God so that they will eventually become one. This also means that we may have to understand that the people sitting around us in the pews may not live what we would call moral lives, but we should encourage them to grow in their faith so that they will slowly be transformed into moral people. We cannot judge someone for what they do, but we can help them become who God wants them to be. Salvation is a process, a journey in which we embark. We take this journey not on our own, but as a community of faith.