Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 31st, 2014 by Joel Watts

Bishop’s address, Methodist Episcopal South, 1906

umc logoCould such an address be given today? This was given by the Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal, South, in 1906, the same year as the great earthquake in San Francisco. I should think that if such an address was repeated at a General Conference today, there would be more damage done there than all of that seen by the City by the Bay.

Imagine a state of society where all were dominated by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, and where all the customs of society were determined by such low standards, and it is evident that the conditions are absolutely opposed to a life of faith. Only Christianity could stop the brutal and inhuman ferocity of the gladiatorial shows and other forms of amusement which long dominated and brutalized the Roman populace. The indecencies of the stage can be checked by the same divine influence at work in society, as the obscenities and gross improprieties ofthe printed page, whether of the drama or the novel or the sensual poem, have been outlawed by the spirit of Christ that cleansed the temple of those who profaned it by unholy customs. Custom cannot make right. Custom is too often the unbridled spirit of worldliness, as in the days before Christianity exercised any restraint whatever. It is the mission of Christianity to change the customs of the world until they conform to the spirit of Christ….

The point is well made. The same Christianity that worked for social justice (in alms, caring for the widows and orphans) likewise challenged the order of the day, not bowing to the wickedness of impure customs “opposed to the life of faith.” This customs included an appeal to all things fleshly. There was a holiness attached to doctrine, and both grew into orthodoxy. This is not conspiracy but history.

…The true mission of Christ is both to save and to leaven—to destroy the works of the devil, and to impart the power as well as the spirit of right living. Because the spirit that now rules among the children of disobedience is a spirit of worldliness, making men lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, making self rather than Christ the center of life and thought, bidding men live without God in the world, the avowed aim of Christianity is to enthrone the Lord Jesus Christ in the heart and to make no provision for fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. The expulsive power of a new and holy affection has ever been needed to keep the life of God in the soul of man. If Methodism has often seemed strenuous in insisting on abstaining from every form of evil, she has found her justification in the blessing of her Lord in influencing the lives of men. God forbid that she should ever fall so low as to throw down all barriers about the flock of Christ and, in her lust for numbers, admit to her communion those who have no supreme desire to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins, and who do not show this desire by the fruits of holy living. A passion for the souls of others, born of this desire, as well as the desire to please Him who has called us to be soldiers, will best prevent becoming entangled in the affairs of this life inconsistent with the discipline of holy living. With the battle lines drawn against the devil, the world, and the flesh (the sworn and cruel foes of the soul), this is no time to relax our vigilance. “There is no surcease in that war.”

Imagine battle lines drawn against evil rather than one another.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

One Response to “Bishop’s address, Methodist Episcopal South, 1906”
  1. Oh how I wish things like this were still being proclaimed from our Annual Conferences:

    “God forbid that she should ever fall so low as to throw down all barriers about the flock of Christ and, in her lust for numbers, admit to her communion those who have no supreme desire to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins, and who do not show this desire by the fruits of holy living.”

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