Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 11th, 2017 by Joel Watts

Fletcher could be talking about modern Methodism

Fletcher, one of the Methodist Fathers, gives an analogy (portrayed as dialogue between a Neighbor and a Believer) and then clarifies, that doctrine – as contained in public confessions — is  an important and vital aspect of the Christian faith. We pick up the conversation as the Neighbor is mentioning that he has a pastor to whom he shall turn to for the more difficult things of the faith.

Neighbor: “’Christ living in them by means of faith!’ I pray, sir, what is to be understood by this expression? I do not comprehend the thing. But, if I recollect, I shall have an opportunity, in a few hours, of mentioning the matter to our pastor, whom I expect here this evening to make up a party at cards.”

The true believer, after thanking his worldly neighbour for the patience with which he had listened to his conversation, took his leave and withdrew, apprehending every evil consequence from the decision of a pastor who was known to indulge a taste for play and vain amusement. His fears were too well founded. The minister, true to his engagement, arrived at the appointed hour, and the gentleman thus eagerly addressed him:

Neighbor: “I have been receiving some singular advice from a person of a very unaccountable turn, who appears to agree either with the Mystics or the Pietists. He spoke much of faith, asserting that all true Christians are really regenerate, and that they have Christ living in them by faith. What think you, sir, of such assertions as these?”

Minister: “I will tell you freely…that these abstruse points of doctrine are among those profound mysteries, which neither you nor I are appointed to fathom. It is usual with enthusiasts to speak in this manner: but such mystic jargon is now out of season. There have been ages in which divines were accustomed to speculate concerning this faith, and publicly to insist upon it in their sermons. But, in an age like this, enlightened by sound philosophy and learned discoveries, we no longer admit what we cannot comprehend. I advise you, as a friend, to leave these idle subtleties close shut up in the unintelligible volumes of our ancient theologists. The only material thing is to conduct ourselves as honest men. If we receive revelation in a general sense, and have good works to produce, there can be no doubt but that our faith is of a proper kind, and highly acceptable before God.” …

…The circumstances alluded to in the above relation are not imaginary; and there is every reason to fear, that circumstances of the same nature are no less common in other Christian countries, than in that which gave birth to the writer of these pages.

Thus the worldly minister, instead of preaching this important doctrine in its purity, seeks to destroy even the curiosity which would engage an irreligious man to inquire into the necessity, the nature, the origin, and the effects of evangelical faith. And while the generality of those who are required to publish this victorious grace are seen to reject it with contempt, no wonder that the true minister esteems himself obliged to contend for it, with increasing earnestness, both in public and private, Jude 3.

To close this section. When the Christian minister proclaims salvation by faith, he adheres, not only to the Holy Scriptures, but also to those public confessions of faith, which are in common use among the Churches of Christ. “We believe,” say the Churches of France, “that every thing necessary to our salvation was revealed and offered to us in Christ, who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” Art. xiii. “We believe that we are made partakers of righteousness by faith alone; since it is said, that he [Christ] suffered in order to procure salvation for us, and that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish,” Art. xx. “We believe that, by this faith, we are regenerated to newness of life, being by nature in bondage to sin. So that faith, instead of cooling in us the desire of living righteously and godly, naturally tends to excite such desire, and necessarily produces every good work,” Art. xxii. – Fletcher, The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher (vol. 3; New York: Carlton & Porter, 1833), 143–144.

What would Fletcher think about such pronouncements today coming out of the more liberal wings of Methodist denominations? Do you not hear as I do, the same pronouncements made today… “as long as we have…good works…then we are okay…”?

How far the People called Methodists have fallen.

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

5 Responses to “Fletcher could be talking about modern Methodism”
  1. Tom McCann says

    “Do you not hear as I do, the same pronouncements made today… “as long as we have…good works…then we are okay…”?”

    I haven’t heard that, although I have heard Protestants maintain that good works are required for salvation.

    • i hear it too much from the left. Activism rather than discipleship.

    • “as long as we have…good works…then we are okay…”
      I don’t think it is meant to be a direct quote of anyone but a summary and fair characterization of the minister’s dialogue.
      Yes, I have heard the precise points of that dialogue expressed many times in contemporary english by elders, district superintendents, bishops, and conference agencies. It is common practice at conference events to speak thus so as to end debate on trivial issues such as the character of God and move on with the important stuff like rasing money for Bicycles for Borneo or whatever our current feel good mission is this month.

  2. Having become all to familiar with the mind boggling array of “what it means to be a United Methodist” within the United Methodist Church, I agree that progressives tend to be more about what they are doing than who they are becoming; accomplishing a social justice agenda is their primary goal. And in their desire to “be inclusive”, the most radical progressives do not care who they exclude or run over.

  3. Glen Connoley says

    I don’t have your same experiences, Joel. It seems that discipleship is a strongly pressed point in our conference right now. It was the main focus of our AC this year. But that said, I still don’t see how we begin to even talk about these two as separate items. I mean, isn’t what we are doing, shaped by what we are becoming? But just as true, isn’t what we are becoming, shown in what we are doing?

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