Paul’s Constellation of Terms around Sexual Immorality

Paul uses a cluster of terms in his letters to characterize sexual immorality: porneia, aselgeia, akatharsia, and epithumia/pleonexia . These words are found in various forms in close proximity at several points throughout Paul’s writings.

Paul doesn’t so much name the vices as he characterizes them. Sexual vice is a kind of moral impurity and social indecency, instigated by feelings and desires and that are out of control. When Paul speaks like this, it is partly for modesty’s sake. There are just some things that one doesn’t say in polite company. Mostly, though, it simply wasn’t necessary to provide a clinical description of the pagan world’s sexual habits. Paul’s audience, informed by the scriptures and Jewish mores, knew what he was talking about.

As Paul’s language indicates, some cases are more extreme than others. Some are shocking, with no place in proper society. At the root, though, they all share some common characteristics. They are products of corrupt human nature – misguided passions and misshapen desires – and they render one unclean before God.

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Of Evangelists and Pastors

Seven years ago, Teddy Ray published a series of articles that still has me thinking.

Ray’s thought draws heavily from Wesley’s sermon, The Ministerial Office.

If I can summarize Ray’s argument, it goes something like this. Wesley appointed preachers, not pastors.

The preachers were traveling evangelists who proclaimed salvation in Christ, invited people to repent and believe, organized Methodist societies where there were none and checked on the health of existing societies as they traveled.

Wesley’s preachers were like the extraordinary prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New. The Church of England clergy were more like the Old Testament priesthood. Both were important. Methodists received the sacraments and the other priestly ministry of the church from the regularly constituted clergy of the Church of England. Pastors (bishops, elders and deacons) cared for their the people of their parishes and dioceses.

When Wesley ordained clergy for America, he broke from this model. American Methodism now had churches. Nevertheless, the preachers in America basically followed a pattern similar to the one laid down in England. The traveling preachers had sacramental authority, but they were not really pastors of the churches they visited. They still functioned in an apostolic role, evangelizing, planting churches and guiding the churches in their charge.

Since the itinerant preachers were rarely present in for any length of time in any one place, the everyday job of pastoral care and discipling fell to local leadership, including former circuit riders who had “located”.

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Connected to Pursue Holiness

The entire Wesleyan connection was built so that Methodists could strive together toward that holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” When Wesley said that there is “no holiness but social holiness” he meant that we make this journey toward holiness with other Christians. “You can believe and practice whatever you want as long as you do it by yourself ” is just not a Methodist way of being the church. Our structures exist so that we can help each other live the holy lives to which we have been called.

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Unbound by Geography

In John Wesley’s England, a parish was not just a congregation. It was a piece of land and the people who lived there. Each parish had defined geographical boundaries. Two parishes did not compete for the same parishioners. Likewise, each episcopal diocese was geographically defined. One bishop did not plant churches in another bishop’s episcopal area.

It was in this context that John Wesley wrote his famous declaration, “I look upon all the world as my parish“. Wesley denied that any priest or bishop held exclusive ecclesiastical authority within the geographical bounds of a parish or diocese. God’s call and authority superseded any human boundaries. No one had the right to exclude Wesley or his movement from any territory.

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The Many Streams of United Methodism

There are many streams of United Methodism in the in the United States, each with its own language, customs and culture. Each stream reaches deep into Methodist history and thus expresses some of element of who we are (or at least who we have been).

In practice, the streams overlap and interact with each other. Most Methodist-related congregations and institutions combine several streams in varying proportions in their practice of Christianity.

Infinite permutations and combinations exist. And just as chemical elements, when combined in different proportions, can produce materials with vastly different properties, so the multiple streams of Methodism can combine to produces vastly different versions of “church”. When you change the mix, you change the product.

And finally, each stream also draws from wider movements in church and society, creating natural partnerships and affinities with groups outside Methodism which share its interests.

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