Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
February 3rd, 2016 by Joel Watts

Wesley’s hope for Christian Unity

ephesians 4.14Lately, as is so often the case, when I turn to read Ephesians, I inevitably get to chapter 4. It is honestly the oddest thing I experience. I read chapter 1…then chapter 2…then chapter 3…and then bam! there is chapter 4. Again. Happens all the time.

This particular chapter is immensely important because the author lays out the hierarchy of the Church, then giving the purpose of those ministers. More than that, it is a chapter given almost completely to the idea of Christian unity.

Oddly enough, Scripture is not used here to denote what causes unity — only ministers standing in the Great Tradition. Of course, Scripture is not left out. You are literally reading something that tells you something…and the author prefaces the section with a quote from the Old Testament. 

The author begins by calling for a general Christian unity, based in the Spirit. Indeed, only the Spirit can give unity. More than that, unity is also in practice — so that rebaptisms aren’t needed. Further, there aren’t Christianity, but Christianity. I’m being a bit anachronistic here, but you get the point. The author is looking forward in hopes that we can unite on Christ.

What I find interesting here is the work of the Father (Ephesians 1.15–23), the work of Jesus (Ephesians 2), and the work of the Spirit (Ephesians 4). Of course the Trinity was not fully defined until later, but it is easily drawn from the New Testament.

Indeed, that is the goal of Ephesians 4.9–16. This is why we are given leaders, in order to keep us connected to Christ and to one another…to keep us growing in and towards Christ.

Doctrine, we are told, matters — as does real teaching of who Jesus is as the Son of God. Further, the author declares that there is actually something called “the truth.”

It really is one of my favorite chapters.

Anyway, we are often lied to by self-proclaimed Wesleyans and told Wesley didn’t care for doctrine. But, you see, he did. And, what’s more, he gets what the author of Ephesians 4 is actually trying to say. He writes,

Till we all—And every one of us, come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God—To both an exact agreement in the Christian doctrine, and an experimental knowledge of Christ as the Son of God; to a perfect man—To a state of spiritual manhood both in understanding and strength, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ—To that maturity of age and spiritual stature wherein we shall be filled with Christ, so that he will be all in all.1

Of course, we know that his explanatory notes on the NT are considered a doctrinal standard of the United Methodist Church — so this part is actually something we have to listen to. I mean, those with integrity to their vows and all.

[tweetthis]Wesley didn’t say that we had to agree to what Christian doctrine was…[/tweetthis]

Wesley didn’t say that we had to agree to what Christian doctrine was, but clearly sees it as an external force, and something we come to.

Wesley’s hope is that we reach an exact agreement… along with an internal knowledge…

If only Methodists were really Wesleyans…

  1.  John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Fourth American Edition.; New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 513.
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

3 Responses to “Wesley’s hope for Christian Unity”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    Every man, and woman, is his or her own theologian. Denominations, and even whole religions, constitute the story of the blind men and the elephant on a monumental scale.

  2. A large part of the functional role of creeds and catechisms was to limit what a believer could consider canonical. While the UK bible tradition retained the apocrypha up until the 1900’s, “the same publishers” remove it in the US versions. Scripture’s role is to point us to Christ — and Christ is the metastory of scripture. God is the God of truth and he will use any part of his creation to “set us free” if it suits him. Our problem is the discomfort we feel when someone else’s relationship with the Godhead looks different than our own. Paul wrote a lot about this but we choose to ignore it because the economics of the Christian Industrial Complex do not allow us to aggregate the markets necessary to support colleges, publishing houses, pulpits unless we apply a judicious amount of Satan’s wisdom… #UnityThroughDivision

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