Nineteen Questions-10: Will You Preach and Maintain Them?

Will you preach and maintain them [the doctrines of The United Methodist Church]?

This question presupposes a positive answer to the previous two. It presupposes that the candidate has studied the doctrines of the UMC and also believes that they are in harmony with Scripture.

This is an important question. One cannot preach and maintain doctrine that they do not fully embrace. There would be no authority or power, not to mention genuineness, behind preaching of doctrine that I do not or cannot affirm. I really see two paths represented in this question.

First, if you cannot affirm our doctrines, do not attempt to preach or maintain them. If it’s something that isn’t protected by the restrictive rules, work to have that doctrine changed. Whether it can be changed or not, do not ignore our doctrine and preach your own. This is unfaithful to the vows made at ordination. I can recall several instances just since I became a United Methodist where there were pastors who refused to baptize infants because they personally only affirmed believer’s baptism by immersion. This stands in opposition to our nuanced belief in Baptism being God’s gracious action. This is just one example.

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Second, preach it, preach it, PREACH IT. I can’t tell you how many United Methodist Churches I have been in where very faithful laypeople have no idea what distinguishes their Church from any other Church in the neighborhood. The doctrines of The United Methodist Church highlight the unique contribution that Wesleyan theology has made to the Church Universal…we need to teach them! We need pastors who are proud of the doctrine that they have studied and found to be in harmony with the Holy Scriptures…and they need to share that teaching with the people so that they can see and understand how these doctrines impact their lives as disciples and what these doctrines mean in relationship to Scripture.

Affirm, teach, preach….live by our doctrines!

Will you preach and maintain them? I will!

Nineteen Questions-9: After Full Examination, Do You Believe that Our Doctrines are in Harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

This is an important question for me—the question reveals that our hope as United Methodists is that our doctrines are in harmony, in unity, in agreement, in accord, in sync with what is revealed in Holy Scripture.

Scripture is very important to me and to the Church. John Wesley famously wrote “Let me be a homo unius libri”—a man of one book. one book.jpgOf course this didn’t mean that Wesley intended to only read the Bible or expected that of his preachers. Rather, he wanted them to read all sorts of books, but Scripture was supreme as the authority for the faith. United Methodists hold that “Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine.”[1] Scripture is interpreted through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience. Scripture is informative and transformative for the community of faith. All things necessary for salvation and growth in holiness are revealed in God’s Holy Word.

I believe that pastors and laypeople must be students of Scripture and theology. The Church must always examine its doctrines in light of Holy Scripture to make sure that they stand in harmony with God’s revelation through Scripture and not in opposition to it.

Obviously, I feel that that doctrines of the United Methodist Church are in agreement with what is revealed in the Bible. I am proud to be a part of a tradition that takes Scripture so seriously and finds its doctrinal expression through what is revealed in God’s Word.

After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures? I believe that they are.

[1] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/theological-guidelines-scripture

Nineteen Questions-8: Have You Studied the Doctrines of The United Methodist Church?

Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?doctrine.png

I first became a Christ follower during a week at a non-denominational Church Camp. When I got back to my hometown, there wasn’t a non-denominational Church for me to attend. My family had some very loose ties with the United Methodist congregation up the road. I started to get involved. They had some different practices from the non-denominational churches represented back at camp. I wanted to understand those differences and attempt to discern what fit best with what I was learning and experiencing in my own study and growth.

Obviously I ended up in The United Methodist Church, so that should say something about where my discernment led me…but that’s for a different reflection.

The United Methodist Church holds in common many doctrines with Christians everywhere. The Articles of Religion begin to spell out what it is that we affirm as United Methodist Christians.  The unique doctrinal heritage of The United Methodist Church comes in the form of practical divinity. This means that we best express our doctrinal beliefs in the way that we allow them to be expressed through the way we live our lives. This is putting our faith into practice. The Book of Discipline states that “the thrust of the Wesleyan movement and the United Brethren and Evangelical Association was ‘to reform the nation, particularly the Church, and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.’”[1] The Wesleyan emphasis on grace is something that particularly drew me to ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Through my years as a Christian, as a student of religion both in undergraduate college and Seminary, I have become a bit of a doctrine nerd. I believe that doctrine is extremely important to the life and growth of our Church. Unfortunately, today, it seems as if doctrine has taken a back seat. Many people in our churches are simply unaware of basic Christian doctrine and the unique contribution that United Methodism makes to doctrinal matters.  I believe that we must wake up from our slumber when it comes to doctrine. “The time has long since past when we can pretend that basic Christian teaching is irrelevant to continued growth in grace and faith.”[2] John Wesley also believed that doctrine was important to our task of spreading scriptural holiness. He once wrote:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.[3]

I believe that doctrine is extremely important. It’s extremely important for our pastors and laypeople to be able to clearly articulate, understand, and live out United Methodist doctrine.

Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church? I have studied them.

 

 

[1] Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2012, ¶ 102, p. 64.
[2] Abraham, William J. Waking From Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church. P. 74
[3] Wesley, “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” in Works (Jackson), 13:259

Nineteen Questions-7: Will You Keep Them?

Will you keep them [the general rules of our church]?

This question makes me chuckle. Remember back in elementary school when there were those kids that seemed to have the answer to the teacher’s question before he or she was even done asking it? As soon as the teacher started to speak their hand would shoot up in the air “ME! ME! I KNOW! PICK ME!” It was always sickening when they got the answer right.

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It was always interesting, though, when they either actually got the answer wrong or the teacher had a follow up question…oh, follow up questions—how I loathe you! Their hand would slowly retract, their bright eyes would turn cold, and their gaze would shift to the floor. I call this phenomenon “checking your shoes”.

It’s like when the pastor says “Who in here loves Jesus and wants to serve Him?”

Everyone can get on board with that, they are eager to lift their hand and be counted.

Curveball follow-up question: “Good, who’s ready to chaperone the youth mission
      trip?”

Everyone suddenly needs to see if their shoes are tied.

This question—to me—is a bit of a “check your shoes” question.

“Do you know the general rules of our Church?”

     “Yep! Sure do! I can recite most of them for you right now if you’d like, Bishop.”

“Will you keep them?”

             “You know, you’ve got some lovely shoes on, Bishop.”

It’s one thing to know the general rules of the Church. It’s another thing entirely to keep them. I mean, there’s a lot contained in those broad categories of do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.

I shudder to think how many times I’ve engaged evil in ways that do harm to my relationship with God, with others, and with myself. I shudder more to take stock of the ways and places where I’ve failed to do good. I shudder most when I realize that I have not always availed myself of the means of grace in ways that help me stay in love and grow deeper in love with God.

Yeah, I know the general rules of our church. I know the standards of Scripture upon which these rules were written. When it comes to keeping them….there have been some really good moments in there….but there have been some moments where I have been an absolute failure as a follower of Jesus Christ. My relationship with Him and with His Church and with the world for which He died has been a stumbling, bumbling mess.

But you know what? Even in writing that honest confession, I feel grace. I feel God saying “Yes, son, there have been times that you’ve made a mess of things. I forgive you. I am far from done with you.”

For me, the shuddering moments are a sign of a warmed heart, of one who is going on to perfection. If God wasn’t at work in my life, I wouldn’t care. But since God is at work and through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit making me more holy each day…I can get up each day and work at these general rules all over again.

I don’t have to check my shoes. I am an imperfect follower of Jesus Christ. But by His grace, I am going on to perfection.

Do you know the General Rules of our Church? I do.

Will you keep them? I will so endeavor.

Nineteen Questions-6: Do You Know the General Rules of Our Church?

Do you know the general rules of our Church?

Rules? Ugh. I hate rules. Okay, that’s not completely truthful. At the end of the day, I do see the need for rules. I love baseball, and I can’t imagine the chaos that would ensue if there were not clear parameters and rules to govern and protect the integrity of the game. So it would probably be more fair if I said that I hate unnecessary rules.

The general rules of the United Methodist Church[1] are the general rules that Wesley crafted for the members of the early Methodist societies. John Wesley believed that these rules were to be followed as evidence of a continued desire for salvation.

According to the rules, there is only one requirement for admission: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” The fruit of that desire is summed up in the general rules themselves; broken into three broader rules:school-of-the-north-for-the-love-of-god-25-728

Do no harm…”by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced”

Do good…”by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men.”

Attend upon all the ordinances of God (Stay in love with God) …
-The public worship of God
-The ministry of the Word, either read or
expounded.
-The Supper of the Lord.
-Family and private prayer.
-Searching the Scriptures.
-Fasting or abstinence.

“These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts.”

Do You know the general rules of our Church? I do. 

[1] All quotations in this reflection come from this link.

Nineteen Questions-5: Are You Resolved to Devote Yourself Wholly to God and to God’s Work?

Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and to God’s work? 

In my reflections leading up to ordination, I started reading a book by retired UMC Bishop Ernest Lyght entitled Have You Faith in Christ? A Bishop’s Insight into the Historic Questions Asked of Those Seeking Admission into Full Connection in The United Methodist Church. His brief insights into each of the nineteen questions have been invaluable to my own reflection on these questions that I will soon answer. When it comes to this question, which begins a departure from the questions about personal faith and perfection, this is how he begins his consideration:

The question is predicated on the foundation of the first four questions, which explore one’s relationship to Christ and test one’s desire to seek perfection and to strivev after perfection in love. When we say yes to these questions we are also saying yes to God and the work of God’s ministry.[1]

So this fifth question flows from the previous four. If I am to be wholly devoted to God and God’s work, that resolve flows out of my relationship with Christ and desire to seek perfection. Bishop Lyght suggests that this question should be read in two-parts:

  1. Is your resolve such that you are without reservation fully committed to God?
  2. Are you ready and willing to do the work of God’s ministry without excuses?

Today, as I consider my own resolve, I’m contemplating the resolve of those who have come before me. I have the honor of receiving the mantle of leadership passed from the retiring class of Elders at this year’s retirement service. It’s a humbling responsibility. I even have a line. Near the end of the service honoring the retirees, one of the retiring Elders will pass a lantern to me with these words: “We transfer this mantle from our generation to the young, indicating thereby that the responsibilities and dedication of the older generation will be caught up and carried on by the young, and the spirit of today’s Elijahs will rest upon today’s Elishas.” As I receive the lantern I will respond by saying “We who come after you take up the mantle which falls upon us. May we inherit a double share of your spirit.”

I’m struck by the simplicity and depth of this moment. The statements are simple. Then I start looking at some of the words. Mantle. Responsibilities. Dedication. Inherit.

I will stand there receiving the mantle of leadership from 31 pastors who, according to The Current, have served a total of 959 ¾ years in ministry. I believe they have shouldered the mantle well. These are one’s who have resolved fully to be devoted to God and God’s work. They’ve sacrificed for that commitment. They’ve laughed, cried, smiled, and rolled their eyes as they faced the joys and challenges of vocational ministry. They’ve “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, and children…for me and for the Good News.”[2] I am grateful for the many ways they have served Christ’s Holy Church through the years. I think I speak for all of us being ordained and commissioned when I say that we do not take this responsibility lightly. We want that same resolve and dedication they have had for so many years. We really do pray for a double portion of their Spirit as we move forward living out the work to which God has called us.

I am resolved to give myself fully to God and the work God has called me to, no matter what that looks like. For me, it’s a matter of trust that God’s grace will proceed me wherever I go. Part of my daily preparation for ordination has been the reciting of The Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition. The more I pray this prayer, the more I feel that resolve, dedication, and commitment.wesley-covenant-prayer.jpg

Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and to God’s work? I am so resolved.

 

 [1]Lyght, Ernest S. Have You Faith in Christ?: A Bishop’s Insight into the Historic Questions. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. Kindle Edition. Loc. 585

[2] Mark 10:29-30

Nineteen Questions-4: Are You Earnestly Striving After It?

Are you earnestly striving after it?

This is the last question about my own spiritual journey. Having reflected upon this question and the previous two, it is very clear that this issue of holiness (perfection in love, sanctification) was of the utmost importance to John Wesley. We’ve reflected on the meaning of going on to perfection as well as the expectation of reaching perfection in love in this life. Now the question shifts past the expectation and asks “Okay, so you expect it—what are you doing to get there?”

I believe that we strive after perfection by being open to the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. The ability to be open to that energy means that we, as Wesley exhorted, attend to the ordinances of God. This means being invested in the public and private worship of God, receiving Eucharist, prayer, searching the Scriptures, fasting, engaging in works of mercy and justice. Participation in these public and private means of grace keep our relationship with God from being static and propel us into dynamic and maturing faith.

Am I striving after it? Yeah. Do I do a great job of it? Sometimes. Sometimes I’m an utter failure. The point is that we can’t stay put. If we are going to earnestly strive after holiness of heart and life, we have to work it out. Keep practicing the means of grace even when it feels dry and routine. Work it out!

Striving after it reminds me of what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Even though I can be a stumbling, bumbling failure of a disciple…I know that God is still working in me, perfecting me in love and making me holy. This striving, work-it-out.pngwhen it’s going well and when it’s at a standstill is a part of that work…working out my salvation. In that striving, you never know when the perfecting moments might come.

In a previous appointment, I served as the chaplain of a United Methodist related retirement home. There was an old, wrinkly retired Methodist pastor among the residents. Well into his nineties, he was still always looking for those opportunities to work out his salvation. He just wanted God to be able to use him for God’s kingdom without his advanced age being an issue. Some days this was really difficult for him. He had spent so much of his life serving God’s kingdom, working out his own salvation , leading others to salvation, announcing the reign of God…that he often felt like wasted flesh now. Then I saw a perfecting moment. I was going to be away for vacation when one of the monthly communion services was scheduled. I asked him if he would be willing to preside at the Table. He wept. A lot. “I guess God still has use for me after all.” I’ll never forget that moment. It was a bright shiny moment of the fruit of striving for perfection in love.

God use me! Make me what you want!

Are you earnestly striving after it? With God’s help, I am.

Nineteen Questions 3–Do You Expect to be Made Perfect in Love in this Life?

I’m a day behind, so I’m going to do two shorter reflections today. I went camping with a group of guys…that was anything but perfect.

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

This question, at first brush, seems just as strange as the previous was to me at my first annual conference when I was 15. Do you expect to be made perfect in this life? At first glance, it just seems rather presumptuous of John Wesley to make this inquiry. But, as Bishop Lyght points out, it is doubtful that Wesley would ask this question if he didn’t truly believe that it was possible.

The question makes sense to me on a cerebral level in light of the previous question. If I am going on to perfection, if I’m striving for it, then the expectation should be that God can work that holiness in me while on terra firma. John Wesley wrote of this expectancy. In his journal he defended the charge to expect perfection in love in this life, “I say an hourly expectation; for to expect it at death, or some other time hence, is much the same as not expecting it at all.”[1]

As I reflect on this question, that really makes sense to me. It is really easy to say “Oh yeah, God is going to make me perfect—but not in this life.” To expect to be perfected in love in this life—now that’s a God-sized expectation! I expect that God can make me the type of human being who loves God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, who loves my neighbor as myself, who does justice and loves mercy and walks humbly before God. I want that holiness of heart and life that deepens a dynamic, mature relationship with God and neighbor. I want to be all that God has called me to be. I expect to be made perfect in love in this life—not by anything that I can do, but by the grace of God.

Do you expect to be made perfect in this life? God willing, I do.

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[1] John Wesley, “May 6, 1760 to October 28, 1762,” Journal and Diaries IV (1755-65), ed. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, vol. 21 of The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992, p. 389.

Nineteen Questions-2. Are You Going On to Perfection?

I was 15 years old—attending my first ever session of Annual Conference when I first heard this question. The question struck me as odd at first. I was a new Christian and to that point everything had been about my conversion experience. All I knew is that I was a sinner saved by grace—the idea of “going on to perfection” seemed out of place.

The more I learned about God, and the more I learned about the Wesleyan movement, however, the more I fell in love with the doctrine of perfection in love. Perfection is central to the DNA of the Wesleyan tradition.

John Wesley, in his sermon Christian Perfection, said it this way “By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbors, ruling our tempers, words, and actions.” For Wesley, perfection was synonymous with holiness or total sanctification.

Wesley made this emphasis that was really a re-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. In the reformation there was so much emphasis on conversion and justification through faith in Christ alone, and rightly so as Christology needed to be brought back to the center, that the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart was completely de-emphasized. Wesley was bringing into focus the fullness of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit works in our lives to bring us to perfection.

Going on to perfection is the post-conversion process of the Holy Spirit re-orienting our lives away from sin and toward holiness. Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote that perfection “doesn’t mean your life is free from sin. But it does mean that sin becomes your mortal enemy, not your secret lover.”[1]

I can look back over my own life and see where God’s sanctifying grace has been at work through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit moving me on to perfection.image1.JPG By the grace and mercy of God, I am not the person I was when Christ found me, I’m not the person I was five years ago, I’m not the person I was last week. I have come to celebrate the process of going on to perfection by rejoicing in all the small victories where I can see that my heart has been re-oriented away from sin, where I can say that I am more loving, more Christ-like, more even-tempered. I am far from perfection (just ask my wife), but the Holy Spirit continues to work in my heart and life and move me toward it.

Are you going on to perfection? I am, by the grace of God.

[1] Tennent, Timothy C. Awakening Holiness. Wilmore, KY: Seedbed, 2011. E-Book. P.36

Nineteen Questions–1. Have You Faith in Christ?

Have you faith in Christ? This seems like such an obvious and simple question for one seeking ordination in the Church. Indeed it’s one of the foundational–nay, THE foundational question of the Christian faith.

The faith to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is the bedrock upon which Christianity is built. Jesus as Lord is not just a piece of Christianity, it is Christianity. Upon Peter’s confession of Him as “the Christ, the son of the Living God” Jesus pledged to build His Church. For me, the Christological hymn preserved in Philippians 2:6-11 says it all:

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
 and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In reflecting on this question, retired Bishop Ernest Lyght imagines that there are really two layers to this question: “Do you know Jesus?” and “How well do you know Jesus?”[1]

I came to know Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” when I was 14 years old during a week of church camp.faith-spirit-of-faith3-300x225 I came to realize that Jesus had been pursuing me with His grace before I was even willing to admit the existence of God. I accepted the invitation to confess my sin, put my trust in Jesus, and submit my life to his Lordship. The words of Charles Wesley’s great hymn became my reality:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

This was a dramatic experience in my life. During that same week of camp I felt God’s call to ordained ministry. I really began my Christian journey with the peculiar certainty that Jesus wanted to use me. But even though I felt that call, the height of it all was knowing that Jesus loved me and had rescued me.

How well do I know Jesus? To me, this is a question of Christian growth. My life changed the instant I professed faith in Jesus Christ, but the story of faith would be incomplete if it ended there. Faith must always strive to be maturing. Fresh in my mind right now is the sermon that my friend and co-laborer Bruce preached yesterday on John 16:12-15. In my journey, there have continually been new facets to faith in Christ. There have been times where I could “not bear” to know any more, but I’ve learned more about Christ and His grace as the journey continues. As individual believers, we are called to lives of personal and social holiness. This is only possible by submitting our entire selves to the Lordship of Christ in vocation, relationships, time, passion, and will. In so doing, we know him more, and reclaim more of our authentic humanity.

Christ continues to be my only hope. He’s my hope for my own life, for the life of my family, my hope for the human race, my hope for the Church. Everything I have and everything I am is because of Jesus.

Have you faith in Christ? I have.

[1] Lyght, Ernest S. Have You Faith in Christ?: A Bishop’s Insight into the Historic Questions. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. Kindle Edition. Loc. 284