What do Methodists Believe?: Of the Sacraments

eucharist-icon.jpg

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

August 30 Blog Image.jpg

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

Blog Image august 23, 2017.jpg

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

IMG_0168.JPG

 

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

IMG_0168.JPG

 

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

blog June 22 image.jpg

"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

June 2 blog.jpg

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

FullSizeRender.jpg

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.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Holy Spirit

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Ghost is such a strange word to the modern tongue. My first thought is Caspar the friendly ghost, but that really refers to is the connection between ghosts and the souls of the dead who are neither in heaven nor in hell. This is not a biblical notion, but it is quite popular. Shows like Ghost Hunter and Ghost Whisperer point to a collective fascination with this possibility (not to mention A Christmas Carol or Hamlet).

Today, we mostly speak of the Holy Spirit, but Holy Ghost refers to the exact same thing. Ghost comes from an Old English root whereas Spirit comes from a Latin root, both refer to immaterial realities. Realities without substance or matter. 

So what does the Holy Spirit have to do with my life?

Jesus tells us quite explicitly in the Gospel of John: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is the bond that connects the church to God. 

In the Methodist tradition, we believe that the Holy Spirit is present with us from before we are even aware of God. We call this prevenient grace (which means the grace that comes before). When we say Yes to God, it is because God has said yes to us through the Holy Spirit. But more than that, the Spirit that is with us is not simply a messenger of God but is true God from true God.

We see a connection between the creation with the Spirit or breath (Ruach) of God flowing over the waters to bring forth life. We see the Spirit with Moses and the Bush, and with Jesus, the Spirit that descends, the Spirit that is sent out, the Spirit that is with us today. 

The reason why the church exists, why this church exists, is not due to the extraordinary actions of a few individuals but because God is with us through the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit were not with us, if the Spirit were not God, we would be alone to the whims of a tyrant like Zeus rather than the creator who is love.

What do Methodists Believe?: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The_Ressurrection_of_Christ Blog Post.jpg

Easter is the high point of the Christian year. Eastertide lasts between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is a season of resurrection. Eastertide takes place in Springtime, a time of new blooms and new leaves, when nature itself seems brimming with new life. Yet the resurrection we celebrate as Christians is unique. 

Trees lose their leaves in the fall and go dormant, budding in the springtime. Jesus Christ did not go dormant. He did not go to sleep. He died. And then the impossible happened. 

Resurrection is a belief that the God of all creation has defeated death and will make all things new, beginning with Jesus, continuing with all of us. The Christian hope does not rest in clouds and harps but in the new creation, in all things being made new. 

To live into resurrection is to imagine something more than the possible. We often times feel limited with what we can or cannot do. Resurrection points beyond these limits. Resurrection lets us hope in a concrete possibility of abundant life, but only if Jesus really did rise. Here is what the Third Article of Religion states:

Article III — Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he returns to judge all men at the last day.

Another description of Resurrection that I appreciate is from a poem by the novelist, John Updike. Updike wrote it in his twenties for a magazine, but it has a lasting power because of the biological details: 'amino acids', 'valved heart.' The poem helps us to remember that resurrection is not a metaphor. Or, if it is, than it is truly worthless to us.

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

What do Methodists Believe?: Jesus Christ

Methodists believe in Jesus Christ as the ultimate revelation of God, as the second person of the Trinity. As our savior, as the anointed one of God, the Messiah, as Emmanuel, God-with-us. The second article of the UMC Articles of Religion go into detail in the somewhat archaic language of the 16th century

Article II — Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

I found the formulation of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity be more direct in confronting the difference between how Jesus is sometimes portrayed culturally and the God revealed in the Scriptures.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

It matters that Jesus is God for our worship. It matters that Jesus is God for our salvation from sin and death. It matters that Jesus is God for the way that we respond to salvation in loving our neighbor because, since Jesus is God, we find Jesus not in the positions of comfort but in the people of this world who are hurt, broken, and tired.

Because God first loved us in Jesus Christ, we love. As Christians, as Methodists, this is because Jesus is God and that he has been revealed to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

What do Methodists Believe?: Trinity

What on earth does the Trinity have to do with me? God is three in one? How is that supposed to work? These are not stupid questions. The Trinity is the first article of religion and by far the most difficult to understand. In fact, you cannot understand it. I can’t understand it. Not in the way we understand every other object or form of knowledge in creation. You may not understand exactly how a computer works, but someone does. And, if need be, you can find the expert and given enough time and interest, you can learn how computers work to the point that you would understand.

God is not an object like other objects. God is not a creature like other creatures. God is not this really powerful being really far away telling us what to do, controlling us like puppets. God is the source of all existence, all being. As Paul says in Acts 17, God is the one in whom we live, move, and have our being. 

We believe that God is triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons, of one substance, because it has been revealed to us. It is an act of faith. Here are three analogies that I find helpful when approaching the Trinity. Each has its virtues but each is also limited.

Fire: It is written, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29) Fire can be used as an analogy for the Holy Trinity for fire generates light and heat. Nevertheless, the flame, its light and its heat are one entity. From the moment the flame begins, from that moment light and heat also begin.

Water: It was written, “The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook” (Prov 18:4) The well, spring and stream have been used also as an analogy for the Holy Trinity: Just as the spring and the stream produced from a well are not separate and yet there are in fact three visible objects and three names yet they all have the same water.

Love: Lover, Beloved and Love. "And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love and with him I am well pleased’" (Matt. 3:16-17). God the Father loves God the Son through the Holy Spirit. 

So why should we not forgot about the Trinity since it is so complicated. Many people have done this over the years. Unitarians came into exist because they denied the Trinity. 

Basically, though, the reason to keep proclaiming the Trinity as true is because of who Jesus is and has been revealed to us through Scripture. If there is no Trinity, Jesus is not God and the Holy Spirit is not God. Therefore, Jesus has no salvific power and his crucifixion and resurrection have no world-altering effect beyond the whims of some tyrant god. If there is no Trinity, the Holy Spirit has no power to be present with us, to comfort and advocate for us because the Holy Spirit is not God. 

Finally, prayer: if God is not triune, than the Spirit is not present with us in prayer. If God is not triune than God does not desire friendship with us but servitude. Trinity frees us to follow the God that is love fully, only limited by our weakness. And even then, free to be transformed by the God that is love through power of God’s triunity.


From the UMC Articles of Religion

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

What do Methodists Believe?: Introduction

Blog POst March 30.jpg

When we look back to the history of the United Methodist Church, one of the biggest turning points was the American Revolution. Before then, Methodists had simply been a group within the Church of England. However, once England no longer has authority over the colonies, all the Anglican priests go home and so John Wesley knew that the Methodists in North America still needed guidance and sacrament. 

Thus, he ordained Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury and sent them across the Atlantic. As well, he edited a copy of the Book of Common Prayer (which he titled the Sunday Service) and a version of the 39 Articles (which was and is the doctrinal standard of the Church of England) called the Articles of Religion.

In 1968, with the merger between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the EUB Confession of Faith was added as a doctrinal standard to the Articles of Religion.

Now, doctrines in and of themselves sound about as stale as a sandwich left out over night. Doctrines are simply things about God, humanity, reality that have been revealed in the Christian faith to be true. Not true in an abstract, ivory tower kind of way. True in a way to describe our own experience of life. Doctrine is not a tool of oppression but a way to see the world rightly and to live and act in right relationship with our Lord and our neighbor through grace. 

And so, over the next few weeks (months) every week that I can, I will publish a blog post on one of the articles of religion with the express aim of describing the purpose and relevancy of each article for the Christian life today. Methodism has been described as a religion of the head and the heart. Doctrine is usually put in the category of the head. I want to show that it is of the heart as well. Some of the language is archaic, but the meaning is not. I hope you will be able to follow along with me on this journey. The first four articles are the most important, and so I am publishing them now.

Article I - Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and good; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Article II - Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man

The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Article III - Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from the dead, and took again his body, with all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature, wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until he return to judge all men at the last day.

Article IV - Of the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

May you find in these words not the stale bread of the 16th century but the living water of the body of Christ throughout all ages.