Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I am not a life long Methodist. At best, I have stumbled into and through Methodism the past seven years. The language is sometimes puzzling to me, and the rights and rituals are as well, but after seven years I have come to greatly appreciate the desires of the hearts of most who call themselves by that name. Their perseverance and optimistic attitude to seek a life of holiness is inspiring to me. So, with some trepidation, I have made the decision to ensconce myself in this world and with these people called Methodists. The first half of this short essay will retrace my spiritual journey, highlighting the most transformational points that have led me to my spiritual position today. The second half of this essay will discuss how I intend to apply what I have learned in helping to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
The majority of my experience of church has predominately been Independent Baptist. As a scrawny little seven year old on a Wednesday night very close to Easter, I had a conversion, a salvation experience, and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior. My get out of hell free card was punched and I was prepared to ride that train to glory land. These were certainly the thoughts and understandings of my tender mind. To this day, that experience was very real for me and I am grateful to my church for caring enough to tell of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a sophomore in High School during a youth retreat, I was compelled by God to proclaim that He had called me into the ministry. This too was a great and glorious outcome of my experience with my Baptist tradition. After my senior year of high school I was invited to attend a choir tour with a local Presbyterian church. Through their teaching of Calvinism, I was given my first taste of intellectual Christianity. Because I had only encountered strong emotionalism, I was greatly intrigued and enthralled with this teaching. Needless to say, I engulfed every word and quickly became a strict five point Calvinist. To be honest, it was not until recently that I have begun to overcome the animosity I have felt for these traditions. I believe that their hearts are in the right place, but their practice is found wanting. Escapism is not the answer. Pure doctrinal knowledge and making sure we cross our t’s and dot our i’s is not the answer. Existentially, these methods of Christianity unfortunately bare little fruit. I am grateful for the gifts I was given from those traditions, but I find myself lamenting that I did not know sooner what I now know.
It was not until I began attending school at a nominal Methodist institution that I was aware of the rich tradition of Wesleyanism. I found that I could argue predestination with the best of them, but something was missing from my life. There was no doubt in my mind that I knew Christ, at least on an epistemological level, but did I really know and love Christ? Did I simply adhere to the Christian tradition because of what I was going to gain from it, namely going to heaven when I die? Coupled with an intense wanting and longing for more than I had learned about Christianity, I began to study John Wesley and the Methodist tradition. You see, justification, imputed righteousness, and the like were nothing new to me, but I had never before heard about sanctification and the task of living a holy and acceptable life unto God. It was a breath of fresh air to my stale understanding of God as judge. Sanctification implies an ongoing, growing relationship, not simply a static union.
To quickly sum up, Weslyanism has given me the tools to articulate my experience in Christ. I do not discount my experiences as a young person, but rather I see them as part of the process of growing in Christ. God was within terms of Prevenient Grace through my parents who saw fit to take me to church any time the doors were open (Harper, Video). He placed men and women in my young life that cared for me and my soul so much that they told me of the love of God who sent His son to die for our sins. At the age of seven I experienced the Converting Grace of God, knowing that I was a sinner and the only way I could be made righteous in God’s eyes was to believe in the sacrifice of His son (Harper, Video). Though I could not have articulated it, God was present with Sanctifying Grace, molding me and shaping me into the person I was called to be, and He continues to do so today (Harper, Video). Honestly, I feel that I am at a point in which I want God to control the entirety of my life. This is known as Entire Sanctification (Harper Video). Not only am I being saved from a life of sin, but God is saving me to a life of holy living. With continued grace, I pray that God will lead me to Glorifying Grace, knowing with all my being that at the moment of passing my faith was not in vain (Harper Video). I can attest from my own experience as did Wesley “that growth in faith toward salvation is a process initiated and nurtured by God’s grace” (Matthaei, 47).
To be sure, salvation is not simply what God can do for us, but also what we can do for God. God longs for a dynamic relationship with His children. He also longs for His children to have dynamic relationships with one another. For this reason, we are called to lead others on journeys of discipleship. John Wesley never officially coined the phrase quadrilateral, but the hermeneutical structure of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience is a sure fire method to interpret and live life (Harper Video). As a disciple of Christ, I must always be attuned to the fact that God is constantly working in others’ lives. The Wesleyan view of anthropology is very high. God’s Prevenient grace is always at work. I must trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in the entire process of salvation.
Growing disciples can not be done in a vacuum. By this I mean the process of discipleship can only be accomplished in the midst of community. It was for this reason that John Wesley established the system of Societies, Classes, and Bands. Wesley knew that the seeds that were planted during evangelization needed fertile soil to grow. These small groups acted as the fertilizers that allowed the seeds to sprout. Discipling means to journey alongside and help others grow while you are continuing to grow in the process. Regardless if an individual has a Damascus road experience or an Emmaus road experience, it is important for them to be surrounded by fellow believers that they know and with whom they can trust and can grow.
After establishing a relationship in small groups, I would encourage the individual to study and spend time in scripture on his own attempting to cultivate a love and a passion for the revelation of God. I would also remind them that it is through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience that we interpret scripture. For these reasons I would encourage him to read classic Christian literature, both academic and devotional. Reading would not stop with just the sacred. Because all truth is God’s truth, I would encourage him to sift through secular texts and world views to decipher where else truth can be found and how it can be incorporated into our Christian perspective. Lastly, I would encourage him to find a personal mentor. This person would hopefully exhibit the attributes of Christ and be a living witness to the fact of “that which scripture promises is accomplished” in their life (Harper Video). What I read in scripture, see in tradition, and know to be true should be evident in how I live my life. Discipleship is not an easy road. It is filled with peaks and valleys, but God’s grace is abundant enough to carry us through all the while singing and praising His name.
Harper, Stephen. "Wesleyan Distinctives." Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY. 25 Sept. 2007. Na.
Matthaei, Sondra H. Making Disciples. Nashville, TN: Abingdon P, 200. 47.
Thanx for your post. It has left me with a sense that what I have spent many years attempting to convey to others, I have missed delivering to you.
Sanctification, the doctrine that you have felt short-changed on as a Baptist is a three-fold event in the Christian's life. It is ever continuing.
First, were are saved from the Penalty of sin. As you have said, it is our "get out of hell free" card. However, there are two additional elements to it, in which I firmly believe. The second affect is that we are also saved from the Power of sin in our lifetime. This simply means that we are not compelled to sin, but have freedom to escape the temptations that are introduced to us by the world system in which we live. And finally, whether in death or His second coming, we will be set free from the very Presence of sin. It will be no more in the presence of God, and since we will be with him, not in our presence as well. I hope now that I have given you the full story as I have been taught and taught others as well, you will see that Sanctification is not just a Wesleyan concept, but one of Biblical proportions, wherin we are "set apart" as a "peculiar people", unto "good works", that we may demonstrate the love of God to a lost and dying world.
We are Saved from it's penalty.
We are Saved from it's power.
We are Saved from it's presence.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!