Of the Unworthiness of Ministers

John Wesley gave Methodists 25 of the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. Here’s one he omitted, that I wish he had included.

XXVI. Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.

ALTHOUGH in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

Whitfield, Wesley and a Rope of Sand

John Wesley was not the greatest preacher of his day. His occasional friend and sometime nemesis George Whitefield was that. “My brother Wesley acted wisely,” Whitefield said. “The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.” …. Wesley himself used the image to describe the Christianity against which his people reacted in eighteenth-century England: “Those who were desirous to save their souls were no longer a rope of sand, but clave to one another, and began to watch over each other in love. Societies were formed, and Christian discipline was introduced in all its branches.” …. There are no Whitefieldian societies now. But there are tens of millions of Wesleyan believers around the world.

Thus write Jason Byassee and L. Gregory Jones of Duke Divinity School in a 2009 article at First Things. The article focuses on Wesley as the inventor of what is now known as the micro-loan or the micro-credit movement. It begins, however, by describing the difference between John Wesley and George Whitfield’s approach to evangelism and discipleship.

The authors use the word “organize” to describe the secret of Wesley’s success. I would prefer to use the word “community.” Organization is a method; community is the product, and organizational leadership is not the only key to its existence.


Where Have all the Lectionary Preachers Gone?

When I moved, after 10 years of parish ministry, into an extension ministry nearly 25 years ago, reading and preaching the lectionary was the common worship practice in my annual conference of the United Methodist Church. At least it appeared to me to be so. Not everyone used the lectionary, but there was a large percentage of pastors who did. There were even groups who met weekly to discuss the upcoming lections.

During most of my Army career, my Sunday mornings have been occupied in military chapels. In my last assignment, however, I had the opportunity to start visiting United Methodist churches again on occasion and I found that none of the congregations in my little corner of Texas used the lectionary. Now, I’ve been reassigned and I find the same situation in my little corner of Virginia.

Here, I get to visit a United Methodist congregation almost every Sunday. None of them use or engage the Revised Common Lectionary in any meaningful way. None. Zero. Lectionary preaching has disappeared.

All the preachers are preaching a “series”.

Do I have the misfortune of just living in a lectionary “dead zone”?

What happened to the lectionary?

Should I blame Adam Hamilton?

A Scorecard for Worship

As a preacher without a pulpit, I visit a lot of churches – mostly United Methodist, but also those from Lutheran and Anglican traditions.

I like the format for worship found in the United Methodist Book of Worship; I only wish that more United Methodist churches actually used it.

I’ve come to appreciate many of the historic – dare I say “catholic” – forms that fit naturally within the framework of the UMC’s worship format. Even without these additions, however, it’s difficult to find United Methodist Churches that understand what I believe to be the strengths of our liturgical form. Repetition and catholicity are good; weekly innovation, individuality and unpredictability are (IMHO) not helpful. The purpose of worship is not to make people think about things they’ve never thought about before or to create some sort of affective response. Worship is not avant garde performance art aimed at the congregtion. Rather its purpose to to glorify God in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in his holy church, with all his saints, to maintain and nurture the life-giving union between Christ and his church, and to help Christians live within the story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.

What I am looking for, then, is worship that substantially follows the form found in the UMC Book of Worship, the Book of Common Prayer, the Lutheran Book or Worship or the more recent Evangelical Lutheran Worship. I’m not terribly picky; there is even a lot I like in the “Reformation” format of the 1964 Methodist Book of Worship and the pre-1979 editions of the Book of Common Prayer (and the ACNA adaptation of the earlier BCP forms. )

Continue reading “A Scorecard for Worship”

Bruns on Worship and Discipleship in the Early Church

At Seedbed, Steven D. Bruns has an excellent article on the relationship between corporate worship and making disciples in the early church.

… The main function of the worship service, wherever it was celebrated, was twofold. First, it was a time of intense teaching and discipleship, and second it was a time to receive the Eucharist. All people were allowed to attend the first part of the service; only baptized Christians were allowed to remain for the second. …

… The worship service was not evangelistic in nature, and the preaching was not for conversion of the visitors. The focus was on God and how to be a faithful follower of God. If people who were not Christian arrived at a service, (they frequently did since the Church experienced explosive growth for the first three centuries), they had already been intrigued by the lives of the Christians they knew. The reason they came was not to be the center of attention or the focus of the service, but to learn what these people truly believed and why.

Some may find it ironic, or even a bit troubling, that early Christian worship was liturgical, always incorporated the Lord’s Supper, did not focus on the conversion of its visitors, and yet still grew tremendously. …