What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Marriage of Ministers

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Catholic priests don’t marry, everyone knows that. Some think it has always been this way, yet it was not until 1139 at the Second Lateran Council that this position was officially codified. Before 1139, most priests did not marry, but some did, and they had a roughly similar policy to Eastern Orthodox. That is, if you are married before you are ordained, you can be married. If you try to marry after you are ordained, you cannot. There are some married Eastern Rite Catholic priests who are still in communion with Rome, as well as former Lutheran or Episcopal priests who become Catholic, but it is important to remember that this was not an ancient policy when it was challenged during the Reformation. When Martin Luther married Katerina, he was not upending 1500 years of teaching but only a little over 300.

Theologically, the marriedness or singleness of ministers comes down to how we interpret 1 Corinthians 7. In 2 Timothy and other passages, a bishop is said to be husband of one wife, so there is some precedent. Yet in 1 Corinthians, Paul says that it is best to not be married so as to more dedicated to God, but if you must, marriage is good. 

For Rome, priests were to be held up to the highest standard, that is also why ordination is a special sacrament on its own.

For Protestants, it is the individual and not the institution that decides on marriage. Ordination is not a sacrament akin to Communion or Baptism. It is a blessing and a setting apart for a specific mission of Word, Table, Order, and Service. Immediately after the Reformation, every Anglican priest did not marry. Most early Methodist circuit riders were not married. 

Today, though, the tides have turned. There is an assumption that the preacher be married, or if not, they would love to be with someone's granddaughter or grandson. I have a number of colleagues who are struggling in ministry because of these assumptions. I know a lot of churches who think a pastor's spouse is automatically another pastor who will do whatever anyone wants.

Marriage does not bring salvation. Our spouse is not our savior. Our future is not unidirectional. We are not less human single or widowed. We find our hope, our future, our life in the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. Marriage is not restricted from Clergy, nor is it required. Just like marriage is not required of our children or grandchildren. They don't need to marry to be happy. They can find joy in the Lord. 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. - Psalm 121:1-2

Article XXI — Of the Marriage of Ministers

The ministers of Christ are not commanded by God's law either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage; therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christians, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve best to godliness.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the One Offering of Christ, Finished upon the Cross

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Does Jesus save us or does Jesus and the priest or how does all this work? This is the question addressed by Article 20, though before we get to the interesting bits, we need to address the unfortunate anti-Catholic Elephant that quickly saunters into the room. 

As I have mentioned multiple times while remarking upon the Articles of Religion, at their conception in the mid 16th century, the authorities of the Church of England were deeply anti-Catholic. John Wesley cut out a number of articles (14 to be exact) but he left many of the supposedly anti-Catholic ones when he edited the Book of Common Prayer into the Sunday Service for the Methodists in the new country of the United States of America. 

Article 20 is different from the others in that it speaks to a distortion of Catholic dogma, not to its faithful practice. In short, the article declares that Christ’s offering on the cross was perfect and total for the satisfaction and saving of all the sins of the world. It then goes on to say “wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.” John Henry Newman, in the final Tracts of the Times, articulates quite clearly how this article is not speaking of Catholic doctrine (Newman actually quotes the Council of Trent to the same effect).

Okay, that is pretty deep church nerdy and if I’m losing you, don’t worry, we’re about to change directions.

The importance of this article is not found in the anti-Catholic part but in the declaration about the satisfaction of the offering of Christ. Jesus saves. Priests don’t. Pastors don’t. Parents don’t. Friends don’t. Rich Aunts don’t. Jesus saves and his offering has already been made and accepted. Theologically, this is called the Atonement of Christ. Christ offered himself for us, for all of us, for all the sins of the world. We are saved only by Christ. Not by our worship or works but by the faith of Jesus Christ, as Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians. The cross is not a sign of morbid fascination but a mark of victory over death. Death no longer rules this world and our Lord went to the depths of hell to win the victory!

This is Good News. Jesus Christ makes whole the brokenness of the world. We see but a foretaste for now we look through a glass darkly, but soon we shall see Him face to face. Thanks be to God!

Article XX - Of the One Oblation of Christ, Finished upon the Cross
The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Both Kinds of Communion

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Back before the reformation, when communion was served, the priests would receive the body and the blood while the people would only receive the body. Article 19, of both kinds, directly addresses this practice. A practice that is currently anachronistic in Catholic circles, but still is something of interest to discuss due to the common reality of people with gluten allergies or intolerances.

Most Methodist churches currently serve communion by intinction. That means you are given a piece of the bread and dip it in the cup. Most Catholic and Episcopalian churches you are served the wafer and drink from the common cup together so that there is no dipping and fewer chances of crumbs. 

A central aspect of Eucharistic theology is that both the cup and the bread function as communion so if you did only have the juice or the bread, it would still ‘work’. There is no deficiency to this. Article 19 encourages that the bread and the wine should be distributed to everyone and not reserved for some people and not others. 

Okay, a lot of this may seem pretty convoluted and I am sorry for that. If you are still with me, awesome. One of the limits of intinction is that the method makes it very difficult to only have the cup since you need something to dip. There was a recent ruling by the Vatican about the production of communion wafers that is apropos. The Pope said that communion must have gluten. Now, there is a company in Missouri (I think) that produces communion wafers with .000001% gluten in it that is indistinguishable from other wafers. Yet, this avoids the major issue about why that ruling was not really a big deal. If you are allergic to gluten and you are Catholic, you just take the wine. 

If you are allergic to gluten and you are Methodist, we have separate gluten free wafers. This is not ideal to have two separate loves. I have made gluten free communion bread before and after weeks of testing recipes, it turned out pretty good, but had to be baked fresh every morning before it was used. One of the lines in the liturgy which I can’t say anymore is that because there is one loaf, we who are many are one. I would much rather have all communion be a gluten free wafer or loaf than have two types, but this is where we are today.

Most of these blog posts have functioned to explain or elaborate on the various doctrines of the church. This is mostly a big question that there is little guidance or help from the church but for which the Articles of Religion can give a lodestar. We are to be a body which serves all and excludes none. Communion is not just a metaphor or a memory but Jesus for us, with us, in us, transforming us. Theology is not just answers. Theology is the questions we don’t know the answers to yet and the process of discerning together with Scripture how best to address them. That is hopeful. We are a part of what the future of the church will be. In the basic and central practice of sharing communion, we can seek a place of serving all in our midst, of being one body. We can also look to how we are not quite there and what it is going to take to truly be one. 

Article XIX - Of Both Kinds

The cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both the parts of the Lord's Supper, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be administered to all Christians alike.

What do Methodists Believe?: On the Lord's Supper

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I like imagining a martian coming down and secretly observing us. What would he/she/it say about what they see? If they see me walking my dog, who would they think is the master? If they hear what we say on Sunday morning, what would they think about the way we live the rest of the week. If they watch us during communion, what would they think that we are doing?

This is the body of Christ, broken for you.
This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Would they think us cannibals? What are they supposed to think goes on at communion? 

One way to start is to think about what other churches say communion means. Catholics, most famously, believe in transubstantiation. That means they believe that the substance of bread becomes the body of Christ even while it looks like bread. The wine becomes the blood of Christ even though it looks like wine. Part of this comes from the Aristotelian categories of substance and accidence, but it also comes from the Gospel of John 6:53-56

 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the view of communion as a memorial. In sharing communion, we remember Christ’s sacrifice. It is a sign, but that is all that it is. 

Between transubstantiation and a memorial lies the Methodist view of communion. It is a sign but also a sacrament, mysterious instrument of grace. For their to be violin music, one needs a violin, but one also needs a violinist. A violinist cannot make music without a violin. A violin cannot make music without a violinist. In communion, the violinist is God, the violin is the elements of bread and wine, and the music is the grace for us who receive.

The article on communion says of transubstantiation is ‘repugnant to the plain words of scripture’, but we must remember the anti-Catholic sentiment present in the 16th and 18th centuries. The Methodist position is much closer to the Roman Catholic one than the low church memorial. We simply do not use the categories of Aristotelian metaphysics. 

At communion, not only do we remember Jesus, we receive Jesus. It is a foretaste of our heavenly banquet when we will all be fully present with God. Taste and see that Lord is good!

Article XVIII - Of the Lord's Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death; insomuch that, to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped.

What do Methodists Believe?: On Baptism

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What is the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist cupcake? The Methodist has sprinkles on top, the Baptist one is totally submerged in icing.

Okay, so this is not a very good joke. That is not the point. Any joke that highlights different denominations is going to be inherently bad. Just like any aggie jokes or t-sipper jokes. They are not funny in themselves but only funny due to preconceptions. 

Jokes, funny or not, point to preconceptions and assumptions. The assumption with Methodists is that baptism is just a sprinkling affair whereas Baptists have full-immersion baptistries in the churches themselves. Well, what do Methodists believe about Baptism?

We should start with how Methodists practice. We baptize infants, children, adults. Anyone who has not been previously baptized is up for baptism. If you have been previously baptized, well, tough for you, but you can get your pastor defrocked if they baptize you again (Not that this has happened in a hundred years, but it could. The defrocking part, that is. The re-baptizing happens more than I’m comfortable with...c’est la vie).

Why?

Why do we baptize infants?

There are two major theological reasons for this. The first is that we see baptism as primarily an act of God and not an action of the person being baptized. Baptism is something you receive. It is a sacrament, a revealed grace of God to cleanse you of original sin and to mark entrance into God’s holy body, the church. Baptism is a grace that need not be withheld. There is no scriptural moment of waiting to be baptized. In fact, when Philip explains the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Ethiopian eunich in the book of Acts, the Ethiopian asks, “Why should I not be baptized?” Philip then proceeds to take the Ethiopian to be baptized. 

The second major reason to baptize infants is because there are a number of instances in the New Testament of entire families were baptized, like in Acts 16:

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.”
‭‭Acts‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Baptism is a gift that is offered and should be accepted. It is also a step in the life of faith and not the end result. Christianity isn’t over when you are baptized. That is when it literally begins. 

People can be baptized as infants and fall away from faith. People can be baptized as adults and fall away. God gives us freedom to draw closer or to pull away, yet even when we pull away, God seeks us out. 

Article XVII - Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The Baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Sacraments

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Translation has been a central issue of Christianity since the time of Jesus. One of the most unique aspects of the religion is its universality: God became human in Jesus Christ so that all may be forgiven and reconciled with God, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they have done with their life. 

The latin word, sacramentum, is a translation of the Greek word, mysterion. The word, mysterion, may make you think about TV mysteries or books with detectives and murders and problems to solve. Mysterion does not mean something unknown. Instead, it points to a solution that has been revealed. A gift. 

Much of Article 16 of the Articles of Religion is concerned with what is not a sacrament. Like Article 14, there is a definite anti-Catholic bias to this that today should be read generously with an eye to the broader church Universal. It is important to remember that John Wesley did not write the articles, he adapted those that were adopted by the Church of England some 200 years prior. My own reading and understanding of sacrament in the United Methodist Church is framed by Wesley's work on the Means of Grace, which are articulated most clearly in his sermon of the same name. They can be summarized in the following way:

Works of Piety

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy

Individual Practices - doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Wesley frames the sacraments into the wholistic life of the Christian seeking God and seeking to be perfected in holiness so that all that remains is love. 

Communion is not a badge or a token. Baptism is not a badge or a token. God acts through these means. God acts through other means, as well, and so we should seek God wherever God is to be find. We should seek grace, especially at the table, especially at the mercy of the baptismal font by introducing others to the mercy of Christ and the purpose of life in friendship with God.

Article XVI - Of the Sacraments

Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God's good will toward us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called sacraments, that is to say, confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel; being such as have partly grown out of the corrupt following of the apostles, and partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not the like nature of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, because they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves condemnation, as St. Paul saith.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Speaking in tongues without a translator

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The Methodist movement began in the 18th century as an open-air revival, peak low church, led by an Anglican professor at Oxford (assumptively peak high church). Low church and high church refer to liturgical styles or styles of worship. A high church service has all the smells and bells, incense, sitting and standing and recitation of texts. Usually the worship leaders are dressed in special garbs for the occasion (with fun words like 'chaucible').

Low church, in contrast, is exemplified by the tent revival, with extemporaneous prayers and sermons and speaking in tongues. Informality reigns supreme. In Article XIV, we see the church positioned against the Church in Rome. That article should be read from an ecumenical with an understanding of the anti-Catholic sentiments that were to be found in the 16th and 18th centuries in England. Likewise, We should understand article 15 against the speaking in tongues without a translator as not referring to any practice analogous to modern day Pentecostalism or charismatic churches. Article 15, instead, points to 1 Corinthians 14 and Paul's extended reflection on prophecy and the speaking of tongues. What Paul emphasizes is that all spiritual gifts must be for the upbuilding of the community. If they are solely for individuals, they are no longer truly spiritual. This is why it is important to have translators to speaking in tongues so that any spiritual insight is not limited to any one individual but to the whole church.

For us today, whether we practice speaking in tongues or not, the lesson of 1 Corinthians 14 (and of Article 15) is that our gifts of the Spirit must be used for the upbuilding of others. They cannot be hoarded. It is like the parable of the talents. To those who use many, much will be given, to those who bury their talents out of fear that they will have even those taken away from them. 

Or as the old children song goes,

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

We must let our gifts shine, whatever they may be. When we hide them or only use them in ways we understand, we have already received our reward. 

Article XV — Of Speaking in the Congregation in Such a Tongue as the People Understand

It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the primitive church, to have public prayer in the church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understood by the people.

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Purgatory

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Context is essential whenever we look at historical documents. And anything not written today is historical in some sense. A text written hundreds of years ago is not perspicacious in and of itself but needs context. The Church of England was formed in the heart of the 16th century Reformation. The Articles of Religion of the UMC are adapted from the 39 Articles.

In this context, articles against purgatory and adoration make sense. One refers to more Catholic ideas, the other to much more low church ideas. Both arguments come out of a desire to understand what it means to be a Christian and in the Reformation context, first and foremost that means to be someone shaped entirely by Holy Scripture. 

John Wesley was ahead of his time in being a protestant in the 18th century who acknowledged that Catholics were Christian, yet Wesley’s abridgment of the 39 articles does not contain the spirit of ecumenism found in some of Wesley’s other works. Constitutionally, the church cannot change the Articles of Religion and still be the Church. Overall, I think this is a good thing because I would be horrified about opening the door to some future General Conference no longer thinking that the Trinity is relevant and so cutting that portion.

What the church has decided is to provide an interpretative resolution that has been adopted, in some form, at every annual conference since 1970. I am going to include the resolution in full because I believe that these words, better than my own, help to articulate how anti-Roman texts can be interpreted in a spirit of Christian unity. (From the 2016 Book of Resolutions 3155).

WHEREAS, it is common knowledge that the context of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (1563-and specifically Articles XIV, XIX, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXV, XXVIII, XXX) was bitterly polemical, it is of prime importance in an ecumenical age that they should be reconsidered and reassessed. They were aimed, deliberately, at the Roman Catholic Church in a time of reckless strife, and were a mix of the theological and nontheological convictions of embattled schismatics fighting, as they believed, for national survival and evangelical truth. John Wesley's hasty abridgement (1784) of the original Thirty-Nine Articles (down to twenty-four) retained seven out of the ten of these anti-Roman references (XIV, XV, XVI, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI) in his enumeration. This reflects his conviction as to their applicability to the Roman Catholic Church as he perceived it at the time. This much must be recognized and acknowledged as belonging to our inheritance from our Anglican-Wesleyan past.

It is, however, one of the virtues of historical insight that it enables persons, in a later age, to recognize the circumstances of earlier events and documents without being slavishly bound to their historical evaluation, especially in a subsequent epoch when relationships have been radically altered. Such a transvaluation will enable us freely to relegate the polemics in these articles (and the anathemas of Trent, as well) to our memories "Of old, unhappy, far-off tales/And battles long ago" and to rejoice in the positive contemporary relationships that are being developed between The United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, at levels both official and unofficial.

Therefore, be it resolved, that we declare it our official intent henceforth to interpret all our Articles, Confession, and other "standards of doctrine" in consonance with our best ecumenical insights and judgment, as these develop in the light of the Resolution of the 1968 General Conference on "The Methodist Church and the Cause of Christian Unity" (Book of Resolutions 1968, 65-72). This implies, at the very least, our heartiest offer of goodwill and Christian community to all our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, in the avowed hope of the day when all bitter memories (ours and theirs) will have been redeemed by the gift of the fullness of Christian unity, from the God and [Creator] Father of our common Lord, Jesus Christ (Journal of the 1970 General Conference, The United Methodist Church, 255).


Article XIV — Of Purgatory
The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well as images of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

What do Methodists Believe?: On the Church

Here is the church
Here is the steeple,
Open it up,
and see all the people.

What is the church? Where is the church? In the scriptures, this is a frustratingly ambiguous question. Is the church the building? No, but linguistically we refer to buildings as churches. Is there church people? Yes, but church refers to a specific people. Everyone is not the church. There are boundaries. These boundaries are the point of doctrine. It is not to keep us in line but to help us from lying to ourselves. That is, as humans, it is incredibly easy to justify any action we may take. We can rationalize anything. Doctrine helps not to rationalize what is destructive.

Like drinking bleach. If I tell someone not to drink bleach, they may think me authoritarian, but I am seeking their wellbeing in a concrete way. This is what God reveals to us with doctrines like the T

With the meaning of the church, we define more to give us an opportunity to flourish as the body of Christ. We can define it in a myriad of ways that are good in themselves but do not get to the heart of the matter. 

The church is not just what happens in worship, but if we are not worshipping God, we are not being the church. We may be a benevolent organization working for good in the world, but we are not being the body of Christ and we limit what God can do in our lives and give to us. Article XIII defines the church as the congregation where the pure word of God is proclaimed and the sacraments administered. 

This means that when we stop baptizing people, we stop being the church. When we stop sharing the supper of the Lord, we stop being the church. When we stop preaching the Word of God, we stop being the church. 

It also means that when we baptize, God is here. When we share the table, God is here. When we preach the Word, God is here. We are the body of Christ. God desires us to flourish together for God’s glory in this world. As it says in our communion liturgy.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
       and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
      that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
      one with each other,
     and one in ministry to all the world,
      until Christ comes in final victory
       and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ,
      with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
       all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father,
now and forever. Amen.

Article XIII — Of the Church

The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful people in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

What do Methodist Believe?: The Half-way point

We are now at the half-way point in our journey through the Articles of Religion. This week, I wanted to share a place holder with links to all articles which we have addressed so far. These posts are not exhaustive but are meant as a helpful way to think through what Methodists claim to believe in the Book of Discipline (¶104). If you would like to talk more about one of the articles or if you disagree or have a question, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. 

Article I— Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
Article II — Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man
Article III — Of the Resurrection of Christ
Article IV — Of the Holy Ghost
Article V — Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation (Part 1)
Article V — Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation (Part 2)
Article VI — Of the Old Testament
Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin
Article VIII — Of Free Will
Article IX — Of the Justification of Man
Article X — Of Good Works
Article XI — Of Works of Supererogation
Article XII — Of Sin After Justification

 

What do Methodists Believe?: Of Sin After Justification

What are we supposed to do with Christians who claim the faith publicly and then turn around and abuse others in the name of God? What are we to do with those times when, perhaps, we have claimed the faith and then turned around and hurt our neighbor, or even just withheld love? What happens to people who are baptized as infants and then turn completely away from God as they grow up?

One helpful way to frame questions of this sort is to look at grace. John Wesley stood in the long tradition of the church when he preached on the four graces of God. These graces are not independent and often overlap, but the names are helpful for us to understand how God works in us to transform our lives. 

The first grace is prevenient grace, which means the grace that comes before. This is the Holy Spirit in our life from before we are even aware of God. The second is justifying grace, which is the grace which makes us right with God, taking away the stain of original sin. The third is sanctifying grace, which is the grace that helps us grow in holiness that we can truly be the people we were created to be, that we can be emptied of all but love. The last is glorifying grace, this is the grace reserved for those blessed to be in the final presence of God in the new creation. 

Justifying grace is roughly equivalent to the sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism we are cleansed and we enter into the community of faith. Justification, though, is not the final step of faith. With sanctifying grace, we are drawn closer into the life of God, but we are not robots in this. We are not puppets and God is not the puppet master toying with us at his whim. God is like the shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep. For a sheep to be lost, the sheep has to already be in the fold of the shepherd, right? Jesus doesn't say that the kingdom of heaven is like a shepherd who goes out to domesticate wild sheep and then they never stray again. Sheep stray and God seeks the lost and brings them home.

We should not try to stray but we should not give up hope when we sin after receiving the justifying grace of God in Baptism. We should not give up when someone we love falls away from the faith. 

This is the point of Article XII of the Articles of Religion. Not every sin is a sin against the Holy Spirit (alluding to Gospel passages like Mark 3:28-30). Hope is not lost when we stray. God does not forsake us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. We have the ultimate freedom to separate ourselves from God by choosing pride over love, but God gives us every chance to turn back to him and to accept the mercy God has in store for all. 

Article XII — Of Sin After Justification

Not every sin willingly committed after justification is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore, the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and, by the grace of God, rise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned who say they can no more sin as long as they live here; or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

What do Methodists Believe?: On doing too much

The kingdom of heaven is not a junior high cafeteria. I know you may not need me to say this but it must be said. The kingdom of heaven does not consist in all of humanity jockeying for God’s favor. We have received God’s favor through free grace. 

Once you become a Christian, though, it is difficult to not become a pharisee. The good news of Jesus Christ is so good that we can distort it and turn it into a means of controlling others or lifting ourselves up in comparison to other. It is easy to turn faith into a competition just like it is easy to turn everything in life into a competition. One of the greatest marks of the fall is the human tendency to extract self-worth from comparison with others. ‘At least I’m not as bad as that person.’ In earnest ways, we compare ourselves to others. Yet this is not what our future with God looks like. 

And this is the point of Article XI, one of the more convoluted of the entire Articles of Religion. The main word in the title, supererogation isn’t used at all any more.

Over the last 300 years, the word had a peek usage in the 1840s but is now virtually unknown. The word comes from greek, ergo, work and it means the works above and beyond. 

This does not mean, of course, that we should strive to do the minimum. On the contrary, Article XI helps us to see that we don’t need to do extra things for credit with God in order to earn points. Instead, we should maintain humility in all that we do because it is all from grace that we can follow God’s will at all, let alone happen to do good in this broken world. 

The comparison’s that matter are between ourselves and Christ, between ourselves and the holy people in our lives. If holiness is possible in John Doe, it is possible in me. Because the grace that makes holiness possible in John Doe is that same grace given to me. 


Article XI - Of Works of Supererogation

Voluntary works—besides, over and above God's commandments—which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

What do Methodists Believe?: On Good Works

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The slogan of the Boy Scouts of America is 'Do a Good Turn Daily'. Help someone. Be nice. The qualifier 'daily' is interesting if you compare it to Wesley's General Rules of the Methodist Societies. The first is 'Do not harm.' The Second is 'Do all the Good you can,' the third is 'Follow the ordinances of God, which means worship God, pray, fast, read the bible, etc.).

I don't mean to pick on the scouts, but their slogan is far more limited than Wesley's.

In the Reformation, good turns and all the good you can would be segmented as Good works. The danger then comes if we begin espousing works-righteousness theology. That is, a theology wherein we are made right with God due to what we accomplish do. As if we can earn our salvation. This is patently contradicted by Paul in Ephesians where he writes in Ephesians 2:8: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."

The Epistle James also states that faith without works is dead. So what are we to do. If we are justified by faith, do we need to do works? Shouldn't we just be satisfied with a good turn daily since grace covers up all the rest?

By no means!

Articles X of the Articles of Religion begins by stating clearly that good works do not save us, but that they are "pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit."

According to Scripture, good works come from a heart that has been turned towards God. When you are filled with God's love, you desire to love others more than you desire to love yourself. You would rather help your neighbor than help yourself.

The question cannot be, according to this paradigm, how can I do the minimum? The question must be how can I so overflow with God's love that the fruit of good works are naturally what I desire at all times? To have the love of God and love of neighbor will all my desires. This is what Christian perfection is. It is not a life free of mistakes but I life free of all but love.

When we realize we are not doing all the good we can. When we realize we are not avoiding harm and that we are not following the ordinances of God, there is grace for us.

Article X reminds us that we must see good works. They are not means to an end but fruit of a greater end in Christ, thanks be to God.


Article X - Of Good Works
Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.

What do Methodists Believe?: Justification by Faith

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I have never built a house from foundation to roof. Some of you may have, though I would not be surprised. I built a few roofs in college on mission trips with far wiser men than me guiding the way.

If you build a house or a roof or anything else and it is not square, it won't last long. A square framing is sturdy and stable against the elements. Jesus tells the parable of the man who built his house upon the sand and how it blew away, but the man who built his hand upon the rock, his house remained.

We must have a firm foundation on the rock of the truth of God. Yet we also must be made right. It doesn't matter if we stand on a strong foundation and yet are not square.

This is what justification means. Dikaosune in Greek means to be made right, to square something up. In Latin, the word is iustitia, where our word justify comes from. Justice and righteousness are two translations of the same word in Greek or in Latin. Article IX says that we are made right only thanks to the grace of Jesus Christ. We don't earn it. If we do more good things than bad, that does not make us right and square. The Good news of Jesus Christ is that we are saved by grace through faith, as Paul says.

As well, as Article IX says, this is a comfort. We should be comforted by God's grace toward us.

Justification does not mean that we can do whatever we want. This is called antinomianism (which means against the law). Grace doesn't mean you get to do whatever you want but that God, in fact, heals us so that we can truly want what we need to live and no longer want what destroys us.

You are saved by grace through faith, but that is not the end of the story. Paul begins Romans 5 by saying, "Now that you have been saved by faith..." He still has a lot more to tell the people of Rome. In being justified we are made right on the foundation of Christ for life with God now. Not only a future promise, but the present reality of the kingdom of God here.

 

Article IX Of Justification

We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.

What do Methodists Believe?: Free Will

Free will is a concept that sounds a lot simpler than it is. More often than not, free will is confused with free choice. That is, an assumption that freedom means the ability to make a choice between two possibilities. This is how freedom is often characterized in the modern world. You are free if you can choose between having eggs for breakfast or cereal. You are free if you can choose between being a doctor or a lawyer or a politician or a teacher. 

It doesn’t take long to realize how impoverished a view of freedom this is. For the most part, as long as you are rich, you fulfill the requirements of free choice. If I am wealthy enough to choose between options, I am free, If my options are limited, I am not free. Some see the government at fault for limiting options. Some see every individual as completely culpable for anything that happens to them. Therefore, if someone doesn’t have a lot of options in life, that is their fault. They should just be better at life. 

This is not the freedom revealed to us in Scripture and given to us by grace through Jesus Christ. Free will is about the direction of our lives, it is about our desires. What do you desire out of life? Are you trapped by selfish desires? This is what Paul calls the slavery to sin and death and, in Romans 3, he points to Psalm 36 where the Psalmist writes that no one is righteous, no not one. No one who understands. No one looks for God. They have all turned away. 

This does not mean that everyone only does bad things apart from God’s grace. Many people happen to do good, but what is revealed through Jesus is that apart from grace, as Article VIII states, “we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”

We have no power in ourselves to do good. When others do good it is God working in them without their knowledge, but the issue of desire is still present. Free will is the freedom to see God and follow God, the freedom to not be a slave to selfish desires. As Paul says in Romans 8:5-8, 

People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.

And then in verses 26-28

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.

The Spirit of God comes to help us in our weakness so that no matter what circumstance or state we find ourselves, we can follow God’s will. We should still strive for justice and the alleviation of suffering, but freedom in Christ is not about reaching a certain income threshold so that you can choose between going to Whole Foods or HEB, it is the freedom to love fully that can only come through grace. In looking at Jesus Christ, we see the ultimate expression of free will and the possibility for all of us through grace. 

Article VIII — Of Free Will
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

What do Methodists Believe?: Original Sin

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"Why is church so negative?"

It is easy to look at a doctrine like original sin and think that it is just flat out pessimistic. "Sins are bad things, right? Like stealing and murder and the whole Ten Commandments thing, right?" When we talk about sin, we must begin with God. What does God desire for us? God desires us to flourish in love and hope and faith. God desires to live in relationships of mutual uplift. Sin is when we do not do this, when we act against God's will and plan and hope for us of abundant life. Sins are not just things our parents tell us not to do. Sins are inherently destructive because they attack the image of God in us, they deny who we were created to be. Even when we do not see the direct consequences of our actions, sins harm us. 

Let us imagine a lie. You forget to respond to a phone call from a friend and instead of admitting it, you tell them you never got it. Your friend may never realize that you lied. This does not change the effect that the your lie has on you in taking you away from the truth of God's love and plan for you. Every lie is an absence of faith.

But, eek, what about all the little sins that we do every day. Wouldn't it be absolutely overwhelming to have to remember about all of those and to feel sorry for all of those?

This is where we get to the grace that is found in understanding original sin. Original sin teaches us that every person tends to corrupt what they have. That at its basest level, we are not to blame for where we start. We should not be surprised by our tendency towards sin. We should not be surprised by the brokenness of the world. 

This is the miracle of grace. This is the miracle of the coming of Jesus Christ. We did not deserve grace but God loved us so much that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believees in him will not perish but have everlasting life.

As well, original sin reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. No matter how hard we work or how hard we try, apart from God's grace, we will not flourish. 

As Christians, we should be able to honestly look at our sins and not be ashamed because of the grace we have been given. Our sins don't point to our weakness. It is when we hide, when we pretend we are people that we are not that we are truly week. When we admit our need for grace, our need for God, when we seek, we shall find mercy and the true freedom to be who we were created to be. 

Article VII - Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Old Testament

"I like the New Testament. The Old Testament seems so mean. I want the God of love not the God of anger."

In my four years in full time ministry, I have heard this or something like this from dozens of people. The Old Testament is different from the New Testament, this is true. One is written in Koiné Greek (or common Greek), the other in Ancient Hebrew. Greek is a very noun-centric language, Hebrew a very verb-centric language. But does the Old Testament describe a different God than the New Testament? 

From the earliest days of Christianity, people have made this claim again and again, the most famous being the followers of Marcion. Marcionites believed that the God of the Old Testament was fundamentally different from Jesus and Jesus came to defeat the OT God. 

What Marcion and the Marcionites had to do was cut out significant passages of the NT in order to make this work. Jesus says repeatedly that I am the Alpha and Omega, I and the Father are One, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc.. Jesus quotes texts from the Old Testament unceasingly. 

Marcionitism is, in fact, a heresy. A heresy is not something bad or wicked in and of itself but a willful distortion of revealed Truth about who God is. Marcion couldn't stomach that the God of the Jews was the God of Jesus and so he said that he was not. 

But what does that leave us with the earnest confusion around the God of the book of Joshua (with all of its violence) and the God of Jesus Christ (with all of his talk of love) being one and the same? People are not foolish or heretical to have discomfort in reading of wrath.

On one level, we should remember that there are a number of wrath passages in the New Testament. In Matthew 25, probably the most famous text used to describe social justice, the last half includes a lot of wrath. 

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ - Matthew 25:41-43

As well, the Old Testament is full of love and grace and mercy. For example, from Isaiah 30

Nonetheless, the Lord is waiting to be merciful to you,
    and will rise up to show you compassion.
The Lord is a God of justice;
    happy are all who wait for him. - Isaiah 30:18

The Old Testament is called the Old Testament because it testifies to God in a prior way, not an outdated way. As Jesus says, 'I did not come to replace the law but to complete it.' We believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God revealed in Jesus Christ by faith. This is where the Article of Religion comes in because the articles describe claims about God that have already been revealed. Claims that we need not re-litigate it again and again but can search to see how they are true. 

Jesus does not replace the law but fulfills it. Jesus does not replace God's covenant with Israel but completes it and draws all people into that special relationship with God. This is good news. 

Article VI — Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture

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The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.

Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night! (Psalm 1:1-2)

Last week, I wrote about the canon of the Old and New Testaments and how important that list is to the Christian faith. Today, I am going to remark upon the other major clause of Article V: the sufficiency of Scripture.

Sufficiency is a word that lacks the hyperbole so present in modern culture. If your daughter was dating a man and she told you he was sufficient, that almost works as a mark against him. We don’t want sufficient. We want spectacular. Incredible. Awesome.

The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, mentioned in Article 5 of the Articles of Religion, is an allusion to 2 Timothy 3:16 which is translated by the RSV as ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The word is ophelimos Greek, utilis in latin (like utility or useful). Scripture is useful. Not Scripture is magnificent or awesome, but useful, profitable. 

Article 5 articulates how we do not need to use superlatives or hyperbole in order to proclaim that God is revealed in Jesus Christ through Scripture. The bible is not sufficient full stop but sufficient for salvation. That is all things necessary to understand the depth of God’s love are found therein. 

This is amazing! The God of all creation has revealed Godself to us in the texts of a book that we each have. It is locked away by our overloads, but given freely and openly. 

Our culture likes hyperbole and superlatives, likes the best, the biggest, the greatest, the spectacular and awesome, yet most often these words are used to differentiate and set people apart. If I have the best car, that means you do not. If you have the best house, that means I do not. In God, we are each given the grace to be saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, this has been revealed in the Scriptures and is open to all. 

Because of this we should each return to the scriptures together and by ourselves, again and again. We should seek instruction in the Word and grow closer to God together.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Canon of the Bible

Okay, friends, I am about to geek out on some manuscript issues about the canon of the bible. That is, about the choices made concerning which books are included in our sacred scriptures. 

Ever since the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 70 years ago (as well as the Nag Hammandi Coptic scrolls a few years later) there has been a renewed cultural interest in the canon of the New Testament. Scholars have discovered the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and hundreds of others that were not included in the New Testament. The Dan Brown thriller, the Da Vinci Code, is based around an assumption that these texts were excluded from the New Testament due to the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. While that theory may be the basis for a popular pulp novel and movie, it has little basis in history. In fact, all of these so-called ‘Gnostic Gospels’ were written far later than the canonical gospels and had a far smaller readership and importance. Though the New Testament canon was not finalized until the end of the 3rd Century, very few of the books were actually disputed (most arguments had to do with James (which made it) and the letters of Barnabas and Clement (which did not but are still seen as important). Most disputes about New Testament texts are fabricated for ideological purposes. 

In the 16th century, the New Testament was assumed, it was the Old Testament canon that was controversial. The dispute came out of the humanist resurgence in the 15th century when scholars began diving back into languages like Hebrew and Greek in large numbers. The Hebrew texts of the Old Testament had fewer books than the Greek texts (called the Septuagint), though the Greek manuscripts were actually far older. 

Martin Luther, himself, was a Hebrew scholar and so he argued forcefully for a limited set of Old Testament texts that matched the Hebrew rather than the Greek. The Latin Vulgate bible had, in large part, followed the Greek set of texts. The Church of England followed suit with Article 5 and John Wesley included this article in the text he sent across the pond after the American Revolution.

The biggest difference between Catholics and Protestants is not the sacraments or the priesthood or marriage and divorce, but the books we call Holy Scripture. The absence of the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit and Sirach shape how we do theology and how we see God.

But more than any of this, it is important to know that historical critical scholars have not yet disputed the authority and authenticity of the Bible as we know it (even though they have tried). It will not ruin your faith to learn more about the development of the canon of Scripture. In fact, it may strengthen it. The bible was not written in King James English, nor was it handed down from on high fully formed. Instead it is the cooperative work of God and the apostles. The texts have been passed down from generation to generation. They have been prayed over. They have been worshipped with because God is here. 

May we continue to affirm the authority of the Bible and to remember that God is present here. Martin Luther called the Scriptures the swaddling clothes wherein we find Jesus. They are not Jesus but they hold Jesus. Thanks be to God.

Article V - Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

The Pastor's Study is Open

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One of my good friends from seminary came to visit a few weeks ago and we talked about pastor's being in the office or outside of the office. A big trend today is for preachers to go to coffee shops to write sermons and things like that. My friend reminded me that pastors don't have offices, they have studies.

We have a new sign in the Narthex for the church office because new people often miss where Liz is when they come in during the week. I hope this summer to use my router to make sign for the room where my desk is that says, 'Pastor's Study'.

It is a space to pray, to study, to share, to cry, to pray, to plan, to hope. It is a privilege to be in that space, to be the Pastor of Berkeley UMC during the week and not just on Sunday. It is a privilege to see Dominic and Ephraim across the courtyard at the Childcare Center.

But all of this is a reminder to all of you that, as your pastor, I am ready to talk about anything with you, especially what happens on Sunday, especially what I say during the sermon.

The past few weeks, I have preached on much more controversial fare than in the first few months of my appointment here. Part of this is intentional: on a spiritual level, I felt like I have avoided addressing the material consequences of the call to discipleship since I have come to Berkeley. I have spoken continually about the spiritual levels of the call to discipleship but not many of the material consequences.

That is, when Jesus calls someone, he bids them to lay down their nets in order to follow Him. We cannot follow him and hold on to our nets. We try. We all try, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies and this is not a metaphor. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger and this is not a metaphor. Paul tells us not be conformed to the world and the world goes deep.

These past few sermons and the next few do not come from a place of secular politics but from my reading of the Bible and how I see God speaking.

The Bible is meant to be read together. If you disagree with anything I have preached on, come and read the Bible with me. I would love that. If you have agreed with what I have said, I'm probably going to preach something that you won't agree with, and when that happens, please come and read the Bible with me.