Category Archives: Church History

Wesley, Sermon 134 , on the importance of doctrine

John Wesley Quote

There is this notion that John Wesley somehow cared very little for “orthodoxy, or right opinions,” and yet, we see throughout his sermons (which are official doctrinal standards in the United Methodist Church) a sound footing placed not on experience of emotions and subjective ideas, but on these right doctrines as expressed best in the three creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian).

If his sermons are doctrinal standards (and they are) then this means we should based our doctrine moving forward on these sermons. In as such, I want to focus on one in particular (for now). This one, True Christianity Defended, has the basis of Wesley’s vision for the individual Christian. What we see is not a turning, or loosening of, from doctrine to nothing but good works (i.e., recent definitions of Social Justice). Rather, what is seen is a concrete call to these right opinions as matters of the heart and practice.

This post will be done in two parts. One focusing on Wesley’s view of doctrine and the second, focusing on Wesley’s view of practice. You can find it here if you would like to follow along.

Wesley is distressed at the lack of sound doctrinal teaching. If you look at the collected sermons, you will not teachings on various doctrinal points — The Trinity, Justification, etc… — and not just good works. Anyway, this part really nails it, I think.

We have likewise cause to give thanks to the Father of Lights, for that he hath not left himself without witness; but that there are those who now preach the gospel of peace, the truth as it is in Jesus. But how few are these in comparison of those (hoi kapeleuontes) who adulterate the word of God! how little wholesome food have we for our souls, and what abundance of poison! how few are there that, either in writing or preaching, declare the genuine gospel of Christ, in the simplicity and purity wherewith it is set forth in the venerable records of our own Church! And how are we inclosed on every side with those who, neither knowing the doctrines of our Church, nor the Scriptures, nor the power of God, have found out to themselves inventions wherewith they constantly corrupt others also!1

That last line is a doozy, ain’t it? Those who know nothing of the foundation of the Christian Church make up things as they go along. (I honestly blame the seminaries here who seem more intent on teaching innovation and bureaucracy than Scripture, Tradition, and Reason). First, this should tell us Wesley understood well the reasoning behind Tradition. Second, it tells us Wesley did not care for “new” or “innovative” because they more often than not betray the lack of connection the inventor has with Christianity.

What had gotten Wesley so riled up is that he believed the Anglican Church (and perhaps the Church Universal) as infected with debasing doctrines. Just before this quote, he has harsh words for his community, words I dare say would never be uttered today by many United Methodists,

How faithful she was once to her Lord, to whom she had been betrothed as a chaste virgin, let not only the writings of her sons, which shall be had in honour throughout all generations, but also the blood of her martyrs, speak;—a stronger testimony of her faithfulness than could be given by words, even

By all the speeches of the babbling earth.

But how is she now become an harlot! How hath she departed from her Lord! How hath she denied him, and listened to the voice of strangers! both,

I. In respect of doctrine; and,
II. Of practice.

Honestly, though, imagine a pastor standing up in a local UMC congregation and telling it that we had gone astray because we had not listened to Scripture (writings of her sons) and Tradition (blood of the martyrs).

In what areas did we go astray, the Staff Parish committee would say, as they were preparing the letter to tell the Bishop the pastor had gone insane.

The pastor, watching the Trustees nominate from the congregation people who can only be bivocational bouncers-slash-pallbearers, says simply,

In doctrine and in practice.

Doesn’t that (the seemingly sole focus on Scripture) sound a bit… fundamentalist! Hardly.  While we can imagine Wesley was a “man of one book,” Wesley did not discourage many others books besides — but actually recommended many, many books.  He writes,

It cannot be said that all our writers are setters forth of strange doctrines. There are those who expound the oracles of God by the same Spirit wherewith they were written; and who faithfully cleave to the solid foundation which our Church hath laid agreeable thereto; touching which we have His word who cannot lie, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” There are those also, (blessed be the Author of every good gift!) who, as wise master-builders, build thereon, not hay or stubble, but gold and precious stones,—but that charity which never faileth.

Believe it or not, Wesley valued Tradition, albeit a firm — apostolic — Tradition. He knew that Scripture and Tradition could be expounded upon (the former) and expanded (the latter) — but when one dismissed either of them, substituting their own ideas and experiences for the Christian message, then this was what actually damaged the Church. “Babblings of the earth” are those things separated from Christian Tradition.

After detailing some issues with Bishops of the Anglican Church who had tried to focus more on works than on faith, Wesley concludes:

But why should we seek further witnesses of this Are there not many present here who are of the same opinion who believe that a good moral man, and a good Christian, mean the same thing that a man need not trouble himself any further, if he only practises as much Christianity as was written over the Heathen Emperor’s gate, — ” Do as thou wouldest be done unto;” especially if he be not an infidel, or a heretic, but believes all that the Bible and the Church say is true

Oh snap. You mean Wesley believed there was a difference between morality (of which anyone could have) and Christianity? In other sermons, Wesley went far to say atheists had better morality and works than Christians! Indeed, Wesley believed there was a difference between morality and Christianity, separated by doctrine. Notice the last line here. Wesley honors both Scripture and Tradition (that…the Church say is true). Fr. John is pointed here. It takes more to be a Christian than morality — it takes more to be a Christian and moral than to simply honor the “golden rule.”

I would not be understood, as if I despised these things, as if I undervalued right opinions, true morality, or a zealous regard for the constitution we have received from our fathers. Yet what are these things, being alone What will they profit us in that day What will it avail to tell the Judge of all) “Lord, I was not as other men were; not unjust, not an adulterer, not a liar, not an immoral man” Yea, what will it avail, if we have done all good, as well as done no harm, — if we have given all our goods to feed the poor, — and have not charity How shall we then look on those who taught us to sleep on and take our rest, though “the love of the Father was not in us” or who, teaching us to seek salvation by works, cut us off from receiving that faith freely, whereby alone the love of God could have been shed abroad in our hearts

Does this need explanation? Wesley honored the Tradition he received as needful, the doctrines he received as just and required, but demanded morality equally. In the next section of the sermon, he turns to practice (orthopraxy).

We are condemned if we consider ethics as equal to or primary to doctrine. Equally, we are condemned if we consider doctrine as unimportant. 

If this is our (United Methodist Church) doctrinal standard, then why do we suffer through those who do the exact thing condemned herein?

Wouldn’t those who think that nothing exists outside of Scripture find a better home in the Southern Baptist Convention while those who think subjective experience and emotionalism reign find a better home in the UCC?

What makes us Wesleyan if Wesley would not recognize us?

  1.  John Wesley, Sermons, on Several Occasions (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).

the progressive fundamentalist

In the thick of the street festival, some demo...
In the thick of the street festival, some demonstrators used the occasion to get their message out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, because of a shared post on FB and my recent post on Rob Bell (1 that was critical v. the dozens or so that are supportive), I have encountered what can only be called progressive fundamentalism. Do not get me wrong. Not all of those who disagreed with me can be labeled as such, nor do I want to make a sweeping generalization, but in these examples and in my continued defense of orthodox Christianity (doctrines, creeds, councils, etc…), the progressive fundamentalist will regularly rear its head. As a former fundamentalist of the opposite side, it is pretty easy to spot one. The behaviors are the same, almost exactly so.

It is neither logical nor fair to label everyone who is different than I a “fundamentalist.” Indeed, this term is often debated. Does it refer to the early 20th century movement? Yes, but when I do so, I usually try to capitalize the “f” (Fundamentalist). However, it can and should refer to those who have adopted an unquestionable stance. Like the Fundamentalists who drew a line around historical inquiry into Christianity, these modern-day fundamentalists draw lines around certain things as well. Granted, for them, the line is drawn rather tightly around specific axioms of individual experience and belief. While we often look to conservatives to be the bastions of immovability, progressives have their fair share of individuals who simply require intellectual inquiry.

Unmovable and unquestionable are two different things, to be sure. For example, I have a high Christology (which is connected to my orthodox stances). This is unmovable because what makes up orthodox Christianity begins with a high Christology. Yet, this belief (in the divine sonship of the Second Person of the Trinity) is questionable given new data regarding such things as Second Temple Judaism and the like. I welcome questions because, frankly, a faith without questions is stupid. And it keeps me less judgmental because I’m usually okay with most things, even Gnostics (Gary!).

The one thing I usually lack the strength to overcome is fundamentalism. Why? because fundamentalism is a harmful system.

Progressive fundamentalism is a real thing. These PFs tightly define a set of specific believes, albeit even if it is a “this is what we cannot allow” and require others to follow it. As I wrote previously, even progressives build walls to keep people in.

Because I want to use others sources to help flesh out fundamentalism as a label (before adding “progressive”), I want to turn to a recent post highlighting a growing trend of fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church, a system I once thought impenetrable to fundamentalistic thinking.

Dr. George E. Demacopoulos writes,

Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them.  Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching.

We can see this easily applied to both the conservative (not merely Westboro types, but the Ken Hams, Mike Huckabees, and Robert Jeffresses of the world) and the progressive sides of Christianity (for instance, those who think we cannot dare challenge Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and current attitudes towards justice, peace, and inclusion). Each side has a litmus test established, usually on individual preference, to insure that the axioms of the “faith” are followed and in this litmus test, they deem all others unworthy, if not sinful/heretical/evil — or, ironically, fundamentalist.1 Equally so, they are legalistic. If you step out of line, you will know about and you will be shamed into compliance.

If you read Demacopoulos’s post, you will see more connections between what he describes as an Orthodox fundamentalist and what you might see demonstrated by both the left and the right (especially in Protestant circles). For instance, the regular use of misrepresentations of history and act to achieve their goals. In reality, Jesus wasn’t about inclusion (unless it was about Gentiles into Israel’s covenant). He excluded (abusers, sinners who refused to heed the call, and those who hated others). Further, Jesus did have social justice aims (what the ancients called a “leveler”). Eunuch doesn’t mean what you want it to mean. Yet, often times these facts are chucked in order to make a point. They create this fanciful notion of the idyllic Christian message — either to the welfare line or to hell.

Demacopoulos goes on. “The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism.  By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.” If you remove “Orthodox” and replace it with conservative, progressive — or, better, just the word “ALL”, it becomes truer.

Fundamentalists, as he writes, are reductionists. They (both conservatives and progressives) remove Tradition so that their interpretation remains unchallenged. They create a basic set of unquestionable doctrines or tenets of belief required to be “right.” They remove points of departure and unity so that the walls remain high — to keep people in. Then they go heresy hunting.

Both sides, both extremes, include more fundamentalists than they care to admit. They share similar behaviors, and similar worldviews. Indeed, they inhabit the same system of abusive, control, and manipulation. Neither side allows questioning and if it happens, such action is met with abusive behavior and shunning.

There is no way to stop it — it develops naturally in every system. The best we can do is to recognize it and attempt to provide a buffer against it — without becoming fundamentalists ourselves.

  1. The term “fundamentalist” is often thrown around by progressives as a way to stop conservation and is used as a wall to keep people in. After all, the one thing you cannot tolerate as a progressive is a fundamentalist.

John Wesley on #Lent

English: "John Wesley," by the Engli...
English: “John Wesley,” by the English artist George Romney, oil on canvas. 29 1/2 in. x 24 3/4 in. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breaths more a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.”  –  John Wesley

While not exactly a Lenten prayer, it is in the Lenten spirit,

O JESUS, POOR AND ABJECT, UNKNOWN AND DESPISED,
have mercy upon me, and let me not be ashamed to follow Thee.

O JESUS, HATED, CALUMNIATED, AND PERSECUTED,
have mercy upon me, and let me not be ashamed to come after Thee.

O JESUS, BETRAYED AND SOLD AT A VILE PRICE,
have mercy upon me, and make me content to be as my Master.

O JESUS, BLASPHEMED, ACCUSED AND WRONGFULLY CONDEMNED,
have mercy upon me, and teach me to endure the contradiction of sinners.

O JESUS, CLOTHED WITH A HABIT OF REPROACH AND SHAME,
have mercy upon me, and let me not seek my own glory.

O JESUS, INSULTED, MOCKED, AND SPIT UPON,
have mercy upon me, and let me run with patience the race set before me.

O JESUS, DRAGGED TO THE PILLAR, SCOURGED, AND BATHED IN BLOOD,
have mercy upon me, and let me not faint in the fiery trial.

O JESUS, CROWNED WITH THORNS, AND HAILED IN DERISION;

O JESUS, BURDENED WITH OUR SINS, AND THE CURSES OF THE PEOPLE;

O JESUS, AFFRONTED, OUTRAGED, BUFFETED, OVERWHELMED WITH INJURIES, GRIEFS, AND HUMILIATIONS;

O JESUS, HANGING ON THE ACCURSED TREE, BOWING THE HEAD, GIVING UP THE GHOST,
Have mercy upon me, and confirm my whole soul to Thy holy, humble, suffering Spirit.

O Thou who for the love of me hast undergone such an infinity of sufferings and humiliations, let me be wholly “emptied of myself,” that I may rejoice to take up my cross daily and follow Thee.

Enable me, too, to endure the pain and despise the shame; and, if it be Thy will, to resist even unto blood!

– REV. JOHN WESLEY (at age 20). Friday morning prayers – “A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day in the Week”, 1733.

Further, Wesley observed Lent (and the Stations of the Cross)

 

Peter Chrysologus – The Lenten Journey #Lent

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Image via Wikipedia

If your Lenten journey doesn’t last the year through, I think it is a waste.
Saint Peter Chrysologus (c.406-450), Bishop of Ravenna, Doctor of the Church
Sermon 8 ; CCL 24, 59 ; PL 52, 208

Exercises for Lent: almsgiving, prayer, fasting

My dear brethren, today we set out on the great Lenten journey. So let us take our food and drink along in our boat, putting onto the chest the abundant mercy we shall need. For our fasting is a hungry one, our fasting is a thirsty one if it isn’t sustained by goodness and refreshed by mercy. Our fasting will be cold, our fasting will flag if the fleece of almsgiving doesn’t clothe it, if the garment of compassion does not wrap it around.

Brethren, what spring is for the land, mercy is for fasting: the soft, spring winds cause all the buds on the plains to flower; the mercy of our fast causes all our seeds to grow until they blossom and bear fruit for the heavenly harvest. What oil is to the lamp, goodness is to our fast. As the oily fat sets the lamp alight and, in spite of so little to feed it, keeps it burning to our comfort all night long, so goodness makes our fasting shine: it casts its beams until it reaches the full brightness of self-restraint. What the sun is to the day, almsgiving is to our fast: the sun’s splendor increases the light of day, breaking through the dullness of the clouds; almsgiving together with fasting sanctifies its holiness and, thanks to the light of goodness, dispels from our desires anything that could petrify. In short, what the body is for the soul, generosity acts similarly for the fast: when the soul leaves the body it brings about death; if generosity abandons the fast, it is its death.

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Martin Luther on #Lent

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk
Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This just goes to show you how much better Luther was than his lackeys, you know, Calvin and that Zwinugil Zinger Zwinger Zapper, no, well, then, that Zwingli feller. Some of the Reformers threw out the baby with the bathwater:

Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent; Matthew 4:1-11
A sermon by Martin Luther from his Church Postil.

The Fast and the Temptation of Christ

I. THE FASTING OF CHRIST.

I. This Gospel is read today at the beginning of Lent in order to picture before Christians the example of Christ, that they may rightly observe Lent, which has become mere mockery: first, because no one can follow this example and fast forty days and nights as Christ did without eating any food. Christ rather followed the example of Moses, who fasted also forty days and nights, when he received the law of God on mount Sinai. Thus Christ also wished to fast when he was about to bring to us, and give expression to, the new law. In the second place, Lent has become mere mockery because our fasting is a perversion and an institution of man. For although Christ did fast forty days, yet there is no word of his that he requires us to do the same and fast as he did. Indeed he did many other things, which he wishes us not to do; but whatever he calls us to do or leave undone, we should see to it that we have his Word to support our actions.

2. But the worst of all is that we have adopted and practiced fasting as a good work: not to bring our flesh into subjection; but, as a meritorious work before God, to atone for our sins and obtain grace. And it is this that has made our fasting a stench and so blasphemous and shameful, so that no drinking and eating, no gluttony and drunkenness, could have been as bad and foul. It would have been better had people been drunk day and night than to fast thus. Moreover, even if all had gone well and right, so that their fasting had been applied to the mortification of the flesh; but since it was not voluntary it was not left to each to do according to their own free will, but was compulsory by virtue of human commandment, and they did it unwillingly, it was all lost and to no purpose. I will not mention the many other evils as the consequences, as that pregnant mothers and their offspring, the sick and the weak, were thereby ruined, so that it might be called a fasting of Satan instead of a fasting unto holiness. Therefore we will carefully consider how this Gospel teaches us by the example of Christ what true fasting is.

3. The Scriptures present to us two kinds of true fasting: one, by which we try to bring the flesh into subjection to the spirit, of which St. Paul speaks in 2 Cor 6,5: “In labors, in watchings, in fastings.” The other is that which we must bear patiently, and yet receive willingly because of our need and poverty, of which St. Paul speaks in 1 Cor 4, 11: “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst,” and Christ in Mt 9,15: “When the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then will they fast.” This kind of fasting Christ teaches us here while in the wilderness alone without anything to eat, and while he suffers his penury without murmuring. The first kind of fasting, one can end whenever he wills, and can satisfy it by food; but the other kind we must observe and bear until God himself changes it and satisfies us. Hence it is much more precious than the first, because it moves in greater faith.

And from another sermon:

It is not wrong to fast in honor of the name of an apostle, or to confess during Lent. But neither does he who omits these things commit any evil by this omission. Let him who desires to fast and make confession, do so, but let not one censure, judge, condemn or quarrel with his fellow over the matter. One individual should be like- minded with another–tolerant of what the other does and regarding his action as right because in itself blameless.

I would tend to agree, in part, with Luther that Lent should not be about works or added Grace, but as with a fast, bringing the body under subjection.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the LORD?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.

The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.

“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the LORD will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isa 58:3-14 NLT)

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