On Aldergate’s Legacy

On May 24, 1738 John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed while visiting a Christian meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. Wesley wrote of that experience, 

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Methodists and other evangelicals frequently look back on that event as a model of Christian conversion, an experience that for some defines the essence of being a real Christian. For Wesley, of course, it wasn’t one experience that determined whether one was a real Christian. The whole life of a Christian is marked by the love of God and neighbor, from the core of one’s being to every outward act.

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United Methodist Law and Holy Communion

The Articles of Religion

In 1784, John Wesley gave the newly independent Methodists in America 25 articles of religion, adapted from those in use in the Church of England. The Articles continue to be established doctrine for the United Methodist Church.

The closing text of Article 18 says, “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped”. These final words were aimed at Catholic practices that flow from the doctrine of transubstantiation. There, Christ’s presence in the consecrated host is separated from the context of the holy meal. The host is not just bread to be eaten in faith, it is the embodiment of Jesus even apart from the act of eating. Consequently, the sacrament is reserved so that it can be adored. To adore the consecrated host is to worship Jesus because it is Jesus. The consecrated host is lifted up and carried about in the Procession of the Holy Sacrament on the annual solemnity of Corpus Christi. The Articles of Religion insist that this is not what Jesus intended.

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Separation in the United Methodist DNA

If any act of ecclesiastical separation renders a church invalid, the United Methodist Church is in a world of trouble. While the 1844 schism creating the Methodist Episcopal Church South is frequently brought up in contemporary discussions of the denomination’s identity and future, the most important act of separation is rarely mentioned. The Methodist Episcopal Church was born in an act of separation from the Church of England. Separation is in our DNA.

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Retributive Justice and Eternal Damnation in 2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12

Relief for the Persecuted

In the first chapter of Second Thessalonians, Paul seeks to encourage a persecuted church to persevere in the faith. To that end, he promises the church two things: God will permanently relieve their suffering and he will bring their persecutors to justice.

Retributive Justice

“Someone needs to be accountable for killing my child,” a mother pleaded on the local news this week. People want those who have painfully wronged them to face justice. Every day, it seems, the press carries stories of families who demand that offenders “pay for what they’ve done.” This is true on a community level as well. Holocaust survivors still seek punishment for those who tortured them in concentration camps nearly 80 years ago. Minority communities still want violent racists who terrorized them decades ago to be punished in a court of law. They want the same thing for officers of the law who abuse them today. Justice often demands some form retribution.

Persecuted Christians long for justice as well. The author of Revelation records this vision: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'” (Revelation 6:9-10)

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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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