The orthodox element of the United Methodist Church is often chided about the desire to have the return of the Nicene Creed. Our adversaries regularly use the argument from silence, that Wesley removed Article 8 when he gave the American Methodists their set of principles.
Perhaps, but given his adherence to the Creed and his sermons and statements on them, I’m not sure that is the case. However, it got me to looking at the other removed articles, such as Article 26.
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the Word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority; we may use their ministry both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinances taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences, and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.
Those with something of Church History behind them can pick up the shadows of the first paragraph. The Donatists insisted on a rather pure priest to administer the sacrament. The reason Wesley felt he had to appoint Coke and Asbury is because no bishop was serving the American Methodists and Wesley believed that only the clergy could issue the sacrament.
And Wesley loved the Donatists.
I think that all this time you are directly pleading for looseness of manners, and that everything you advance naturally tends thereto. This is my grand objection to that doctrine of the necessity of sinning: Not only that it is false, but that it is directly subversive of all holiness. The doctrine of the Gnostics was, not that a child of God does not commit sin, that is, act the things which are forbidden in Scripture, but that they are not sin in him, that he is a child of God still; so they contend, not for sinless, but sinful, perfection; just as different from what I contend for, as heaven is from hell. What the Donatists were, I do not know; but I suspect they were the real Christians of that age; and were therefore served by St. Augustine and his warm adherents, as the Methodists are now by their zealous adversaries. It is extremely easy to blacken; and could I give myself leave, I could paint the consequences of your doctrine, in at least as dark and odious colours as you could paint mine. – Letter to Mr. Dodd, John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (vol. 11, Third Edition.; London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872), 453.
How odd then, that the man who believed in spiritual perfection of the saints as one full of grace would remove this article?
Odd or completely in line with Wesley’s thinking? I think Wesley got tired of the elevation of bishops clearly undeserving of blessing the sacrament. It was a new world, with no episcopal jurisdictions, yet, Wesley was laying the ground for a kingdom of priests, without sin.
Without it, are the People called Methodists meant to refrain from taking sacrament from unholy officiants?
1 ALL ye that seek the Lord who died,
Your God for sinners crucified,
Prevent the earliest dawn, and come
To worship at His sacred tomb.
2 Bring the sweet spices of your sighs,
Your contrite hearts, and streaming eyes,
Your sad complaints, and humble fears;
Come, and embalm Him with your tears.
3 While thus ye love your souls to’ employ,
Your sorrow shall be turn’d to joy:
Now, now let all your grief be o’er!
Believe; and ye shall weep no more.
4 An earthquake hath the cavern shook,
And burst the door, and rent the rock;
The Lord hath sent His angel down,
And he hath roll’d away the stone.
5 As snow behold his garment white,
His countenance as lightning bright:
He sits, and waves a flaming sword,
And waits upon his rising Lord.
6 The third auspicious morn is come,
And calls your Saviour from the tomb,
The bands of death are torn away,
The yawning tomb gives back its prey.
7 Could neither seal nor stone secure,
Nor men, nor devils make it sure?
The seal is broke, the stone cast by,
And all the powers of darkness fly.
8 The Body breathes, and lifts His head,
The keepers sink, and fall as dead,
The dead restored to life appear,
The living quake and die for fear.
9 The Lord of life is risen indeed,
To death deliver’d in your stead;
His rise proclaims your sins forgiven,
And shows the living way to heaven.
10 Haste then, ye souls that first believe,
Who dare the gospel word receive,
Your faith with joyful hearts confess,
Be bold, be Jesus’ witnesses.
11 Go tell the followers of your Lord
Their Jesus is to life restored;
He lives, that they His life may find;
He lives to quicken all mankind.
John Wesley and Charles Wesley, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley (ed. G. Osborn; vol. 4; London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1869), 129–130.
April is National Poetry Month. While we know that John and Charles wrote hymns, they also wrote poems… some of which are still sung in Christian Methodist congregations…
I might highlight a few throughout this month.
“GRIEVE NOT THE HOLY SPIRIT”
1 AND art Thou grieved, O sacred Dove,
When I despise or cross Thy love?
Grieved for a worm; when every tread
Crushes, and leaves the reptile dead!
2 Then mirth be ever banish’d hence,
Since Thou art pain’d by my offence:
I sin not to my grief alone,
The Comforter within doth groan.
3 Then weep, my eyes, for God doth grieve!
Weep, foolish heart, and weeping live:
Tears for the living mourner plead,
But ne’er avail the hopeless dead.
4 Lord, I adjudge myself to grief,
To endless tears without relief:
Yet O! to’ exact Thy due forbear,
And spare a feeble creature, spare!
5 Still if I wail not, (still to wail
Nature denies, and flesh would fail,)
Lord, pardon; for Thy Son makes good
My want of tears, with store of blood.
John Wesley and Charles Wesley, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley (ed. G. Osborn; vol. 1; London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1868), 43.
Talking to a (for now) friend who seems to dismiss lex orandi. My question to him was,
“What did Peter Böhler say to Wesley?
Now, if you are a Methodist of any worth, you know exactly what he said.
“Fake it until you Make it, Fr. John.” (Watts Paraphrase)
I was truly amazed to see this, what I assumed was a uniquely inspired moment, repeated in the famed Wesleyan theologian, Justo González’s commentary on Luke’s Gospel.
Part of the reason why this surprises us is that we have lost much of the sense of the role of rite and worship in the life of discipleship. We tend to think that the relationship between attitude and action, between belief and rite, is unidirectional: an attitude leads to an action, and a belief leads to a rite that expresses it. But the converse is also true. Action shapes attitude, and rite shapes belief. Historians often refer to this with the Latin phrase lex credendi est lex orandi, “the rule of worship (or prayer) is the rule of belief.” John Wesley was once told by a wise counselor that as long as he did not have saving faith he should preach as if he had it, and that when he did have it he should preach because he had it. In our everyday experience we know that the simple action of smiling often leads us to want to smile. In the life of faith, faith leads us to worship; but worship also leads us to faith.1
I am praying for that f
- Justo L. González, Luke (ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher; Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 142–143. ↩