Today the 8th episode of The Threshing Floor came out. I am privileged to produce this podcast with two great friends and for it to be part of the amazing Seedbed family. In this episode all three of the hosts share why we each are Wesleyan. We are also each offering up a blog post today on the topic as well.
For me, there are many reasons I self identify as a Wesleyan. I didn’t grow up Methodist and I wrote about that transition a few months ago. I wasn’t always a Methodist…but I think I have always been a Wesleyan. The United Methodist Church became the place I found my own personal experience best expressed. And experience matters.
Why I am Wesleyan
1. The Theological Beginning Point of an Incarnating God.
I am a big fan of the incarnation. The tagline of my blog is “worshiping a God who has come to our world”. That is the incarnation. We have a God who is not distant and far off, but instead is right here among us. In the very mess of life.
The incarnation is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, so no big distinctiveness here. What I makes me Wesleyan are a few shifts the incarnation gives my larger view of faith.
God absolutely claims us first. He said yes to us before we said yes to him. This is why I (as a pastor) will absolutely baptize an infant. It is why I believe in the true goodness available to all people in prevenient grace.
This also gives us a savior who meets us in communion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we meet with the presence of Christ at the Lord’s Table. Our Thankgiving isn’t just a rememberance, but it is a Holy mystery of us meeting and being sent by God.
2. Commitment to a Holy God.
When I was in seminary there was always a big conversation about Open vs. Classic Theism. What I appreciated was an alternate conversation about God being understood as Holy. Of course God is holy, but here we find another Wesleyan distinctive.
The very beginning point in our attempt to describe God is Holy. In his own words, God is who he is (exodus 3:14 אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה) If we want to look at the characteristics of what best describes, what is the starting point for the way our God works…it is holiness.
For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44)
God wants us to be like him, to be functional images of the one who created us. This is a precious gift.
3. The Importance of Human Experience.
One of the four parts of Outler’s quadrilateral is experience. John Wesley called Methodism an “experimental faith”. Not experimental like a science project or a weird cult, but an experiential faith. Human experience should play a dramatic part of faith. John Wesley had this at aldersgate and we each have primary spiritual experiences.
Not only do we have an experiential faith, but we have a faith in which our experiences about God teach us who He is. These experiences should shape our view of God’s character. We believe God gives us these experiences for this very reason.
These are just a few reasons. I hope the conversation helps you think about why you specifically believe what you do, whatever the faith tradition.
The early Methodist revival was fast moving and organized behind a single purpose, saving people into a radical and transformed life with Jesus Christ and characterized by holy love. Highly organized (hence the name Methodist), the class meeting played a pivotal role in the longevity of the people called Methodist.
Possibly the largest conversation current in the United Methodist Church focuses on renewal. Whichever side you are on regarding other debates, everyone appears to be in a fervent search for a solution for church decline. There are many opinions and solutions offered up.
I think Kevin Watson has given us a game changer in his book The Class Meeting.
I never intended on doing many book reviews on this website, but I also never intended reading a book like The Class Meeting. Instead of looking at what many believe to be a historic, but dead practice, Kevin digs down into the functional goals of the original Methodists and brings a highly successful core strategy back into the future. He gives a convincing case of the importance of the recovery of the class meeting and leads us into the practical aspect of beginning one.
Here are 3 reasons Class Meetings change the game.
Class Meetings were the secret sauce in the Methodist Revival.
Part of the general concern between the early Methodists was a deep love for one another and participating in a life together with God. The were coming together and putting themselves in a situation to be changed by grace (pg141). The structure and relationship the class meetings provides gave a practical framework for the mobilization of thousands of people into living examples of the perfecting love of Jesus Christ.
It means taking your faith into your own hands
The Christian life is not passive. When people take faith out of the passive role it has previously occupied (and not given any tangible benefit) they are unleashing the love of God and the changing power of the Holy Spirit into real life. In real ways. Christians are made, not born. John Wesley knew the power of the Class Meeting and how it taught individual ownership to its participants.
How to sustainably manage a small group
Many churches know they need small groups. Sunday School as an enterprise is slowly not working for large masses of people like it did in the past. Their are plenty of explorations about how and why to do small groups. Let’s also be honest, many churches have been doing modern styled small groups for almost two decades. Your average Methodist church is just beginning to think about them and is behind the times. We don’t have the infrastructure to raise up and organize a large mass of teachers. The beauty of the modern small group movement is how much it took from the Class Meeting and inside the very DNA of Methodism is a practical and sustainable and lay-led small group model. Class Meetings are who we are.
The fourth hidden tidbit is the genuine ecumenicism of the book. John Wesley himself was known to cooperate with anyone who genuinely loved Jesus and wanted to see his kingdom advance (read the catholic spirit). No matter what your denominational affiliation, The Class Meeting can be a dynamic resource to grow people closer to God.
Kevin does a tremendous job teaching us to love the idea of a class. He makes it easy to understand the necessity and historical side of class meetings as well as how to functionally begin class meetings. I honestly believe this is the beginning of a new wave of Methodism.
Get yourself a copy of The Class Meeting and read through it. Prayerfully consider starting a class or implementing a series of classes in your own local churches.
Beatles or Stones?
Earlier this year I asked this question on Facebook and got around 200 comments. I love the question. It tells me so much about a person and their musical taste and preferences.
Good questions tell us so much more than a simple answer.
I wrote a piece on Why I became a Methodist. In the article, I mentioned one of the primary decision points being my belief in the effectiveness and necessity of Wesleyan discipleship.
Part of historic discipleship and formation (growing closer to Christ) in the Methodist tradition is the act of asking questions. We ask them to ourselves in our own personal devotion. We ask them to others we are in accountability with. This was important in the Methodist movement and I feel a recovery of the asking of questions will be a key thing to any spiritual development in our world now.
A little history…
Wesley organized his folks (you couldn’t really call them a formal church yet) into 3 groups. From largest to smallest; the Societies, The Classes and The Bands. Part of the fundamental design of the two smallest (classes and bands) was a series of questions designed to keep each person in forward motion towards Jesus Christ. The Class met as a mixed group of sexes and ages. When they met, these questions formed the main conversation points. They got SERIOUS!
When the Bands met, the questions got even more in depth. They also centered on this small group (usually no more than 5-6 and same sex) really keeping each other on track. You gave the others the permission to get into your business.
Here are another set of questions Wesley and his original small group, called The Holy Club, asked themselves in their lives and meetings.
Our life now
These questions matter. They help us to be real and honest with each other. One of the best small group experiences I have ever had focused on asking a few of these questions every week. This isn’t casual discipleship. It is changing and transformational discipleship. It is the kind of spiritual relationships each Christian needs to have in their life.
Several groups have done a great job trying to incorporate these classic notions of discipleship into current life. Most of them are going really well. What I really appreciate are the attempts to quickly get the emotive qualities of these HUGE lists into a few simple questions. You can answer them openly, in front of people you know and don’t know. You can be asked them by people who know you really well. The most important quality is these questions are approachable. It is frightening allowing others into what most modern Christians consider to be pretty private. Here is a listing of the ones I have found, liked and used.
1. Are you growing closer or further away from God since the last time we met?
2. How do you see God moving in your life right now?
3. How is your life in God?
Lately, I have a new one I have been thinking about, asking myself and asking others. It comes from my own personal conviction and values.
How have you allowed God to change you lately?
This question tells much more than a simple yes or no. In my own examination it causes me to think about my openness to Christ, my expectation of his presence and activity, how my false self is being broken down, etc, etc. It is great and broad.
Self-examination has long been part of Christian tradition. It helps us to make the points in which we have grown closer to God, progressed in our sanctification, won victory over things controlling us or simply mark our maturation in Christ.
So friends, How have you allowed God to change you lately?
A few years ago I was asked to teach a confirmation class on the three ways Wesleyans understand grace. After much thought I began to understand how Hollywood offers us an example lesson in the movement of grace in the lives of every Christian.
How Hollywood Teaches Wesleyan Grace
Methodists understand grace as acting in three major moves, in a progressive (we are Wesleyans after all!!) manner. The initial goal was to get 6th graders to engage a concept I have been asked about in almost every oral examination on the process to ordination. A tall task indeed! I used this analogy of Hollywood and the film industry to help them understand more about their faith. I have since begun using this illustration in many other settings.
is often like a movie trailer. It exists before and gives experience, making us familiar with the story and exciting us about the actualization in an encounterable manner. Trailers make us want to see the movie.
Prevenient grace is the free gift of God to all men and women tugging their hearts towards a saving relationship with him.
brings us to the moment in the movie theater. You can call it an opening night gala. What can be known minutely beforehand is now actual experience. The trailer worked and drew us into the physical event. A person is now truly experiencing the story for the first time. Where it once existed only in brief and broken ways, the full story is made known.
Justifying grace marks the awareness of sin and the need for a recognition of Jesus Christ. In justifying grace, each of us truly experience the depth of Christ and His love for the first time. We are assured of our status of belonging with God.
seats the DVD in our permanent collection. It is the special collectors edition with all of the extras (But not those horrible Star Wars editions that change the whole thing…those DVD’s totally blow the illustration). It doesn’t change the story, but presents the permanent and ongoing fulfillment of both the trailer and the original theater viewing. The DVD purchase brings the movie into the home, where we own it and are able to continuing experiencing the story in new ways. We learn the story word for word and can repeat it anywhere through constant viewing.
Sanctifying grace brings us closer to holiness. It is the constant move of God in our lives as we pursue Jesus Christ more and more. Through sanctifying grace we are continuing to experience the transformative power of God in our lives.
I find this threefold expression of saving grace helpful because it is hopeful.
God moves in each of our hearts, edging us towards saving and justifying grace. If and when a person makes the decision, they are not abandoned. Grace continues, always changing us. May God be changing each of us as we read these words.
Something is wrong with any concept of justification that does not result in holiness of life. I must take exception to those who insist that justification may be completely hidden with no evidence of personal transformation and outgoing concern for others. Such a view would be in contradiction to God’s redemptive purpose and creative power. Wesleyans, as the pietists and Puritans before them, rose as a protest to this kind of scholastic maneuvering. To use Wesley’s words, “We know no Gospel without salvation from sin.”