Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶124 The Church–Baptism

Water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord, signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be administered to believers as declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 3:5; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-17; 9:18; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.

If you want to get into some heated discussions with church people, bring up the topic of baptism. There are so many different understandings of what actually happens in the sacrament (or even whether it is a sacrament) that even usually docile people become irate.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects older people who become believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. If a Church exists in communities where people are not yet Christian, and that Church is actually doing what it is commanded by Jesus Christ of spreading the Good News and introducing people to him, there ought to be adult converts. Therefore, there ought to be new believers getting baptized.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects Christian families to bring their children to be baptized as well. There are three main reasons for this belief. First, we stand in the main stream of the history of the Church for the past 2000 years in that we affirm and practice infant baptism. That is a position with a strong historical precedent. The Church in the most places in the most time touching the most Christian lives around the globe for the last 2000 years has baptized infants, and we remain faithful to that practice.

Yet we also know that just because something is ancient in its practice does not necessarily make it right. Therefore, second, we affirm that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those in the Kingdom of God and those outside of the Kingdom of God. There is not a third category of “children of those in the Kingdom who are waiting their turn.”

Finally, we affirm and practice infant baptism for theological and biblical reasons. If all have sinned in Adam, that includes infants. Psychology teaches an age of accountability for our actions, but the Bible is clear that all have sinned. As well, entire households were baptized in Acts, and even Paul baptized the entire household of Stephanus in Corinth. And if baptism is truly the mark of the new covenant just as circumcision was of the old covenant (as referenced by the Colossians passage above), then there ought to be no reason to keep children out of the covenant since the same God instituted both covenants, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Theologically, we believe that God is the primary mover in all of our relationships. God’s presence and grace go before us and we react and respond to it. Baptism of infants is our liturgical and ecclesiological way of showing our belief that God is the primary mover in our salvation. God’s grace is already being poured out on us, even in infancy.

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Article XVII-Salvation-Adoption

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶118 Salvation-Adoption

Adoption is a filial term full of warmth, love, and acceptance. It denotes that by a new relationship in Christ believers have become His wanted children freed from the mastery of both sin and Satan. Believers have the witness of the Spirit that they are children of God.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:5-6; 1 John 3:1-3.

Salvation can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but one of my personal favorites is that I am now a Child of God. In one sense, all human beings are children of God, yet when we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we become more than a child of God because of physical birth. We become children of God because of an intentional choice on God’s part to redeem us and graft us into his family.

Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son when Mary conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. That was a type of prefiguring our adoption by God as children in a new and bigger family.

There are many people who resent the image of God as a father, mostly because of the poor example of fatherhood in this world. They do not wish to see God in any kind of parental role like this because the only example they have of of a father is one who was hurtful, harmful, abusive, or absent. It is precisely because of instances like this that we need God as Father. God is able to truly love us and give the kind of paternal affection that we miss in this life at times.

Of course for this to be true, that means that God must be actually involved in our lives. When we are adopted into the family of God and we have God as our Father, he is not an absentee Father. He is truly involved in our daily lives and does share his love with us. This may seem far-fetched, especially with all of the evil in the world, but thousands of years of personal experiences can show it to be true. No one will ever be able to quantifiably explain this in raw data. It is seen in the stories of Christians down through the ages and including today.

If you need a Father, if you need a family, God is willing to adopt you as well.

Article XIV-Salvation-New Life in Christ

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶115 Salvation-New Life in Christ

A new life and a right relationship with God are made possible through the redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ. God, by His Spirit, acts to impart new life and put people into a relationship with Himself as they repent and their faith responds to His grace. Justification, regeneration, adoption, sanctification and restoration speak significantly to entrance into and continuance in the new life.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 1:12-13; 3:3-8; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:9-10.

This article is about who we are in Christ. It is the lead-in article for the next several that look at the different stages of the Christian life listed in the last sentence. As such, I will deal with those topics more fully in the following posts.

Yet this article is also especially poignant at this time in America. This past weekend there was a murder in Charlottesville, Virginia that was perpetrated by someone who almost certainly is a white supremacist. The current President of the United States seems unwilling to denounce this attitude and outlook. Tensions are rising high. Hate is growing.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

America is a young and diverse country. It is a proud country. It has a proud people. Yet her people are divided. When I was young, I was taught America was a melting pot, where a little from every part of the world came together and made something new. It was not true, but it was what I was taught. I thought it was true, because everyone I knew growing up looked like me, talked like me, and had similar families to my own. Then I began to see other groups within America, each with their own backgrounds. I came to know people my age who grew up with people who looked like them, talked like them, had similar families to them, and they weren’t like me. I began to understand that America was more of a stew pot, with chunks that do not melt together. Now I think the stove top has been left on high, and the pot is starting to boil over.

And we have an Article that speaks to new life in Christ.

Here is the dilemma. For Christians, our identity is supposed to be in Christ, and in Christ alone. We are not White Christians or Black Christians. We are not even American Christians. We are not English-speaking Christians. We are not Republican Christians or Democratic Christians or Independent Christians. We are not even Methodist Christians or Baptist Christians or Eastern Orthodox Christians or Roman Catholic Christians or Non-Denominational Christians. If we are in Christ we are new creations, and our identity is now Christian.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we take this teaching from the Bible seriously, no longer do we have a place for any kind of “identity politics” in our lives. I am not defined by my color, ethnicity, political persuasion, denomination, who attracts me, gender, or any of the like. I am Christian. I am a recipient of God’s grace in my life, and by that grace I am growing more into the likeness of Christ every day.

Christ is the original melting pot in which there are no divisions. When we come to faith in Christ, we are all the same new creation. We are all on equal footing before our God, as equal sinners sharing in an equal redemption by him. We still have a diversity of experiences and preferences, but that is what makes the Church so wonderful. It is a place where all of our cultures and contexts meet and are redeemed together–where the fullness of splendor God endowed creation can be on display with love and compassion. The Church is supposed to be the place where heaven and earth meet and human morals, culture, society are elevated to their highest potential.

The fact that we in the Church who call ourselves Christian have settled for less than this in our lives and the lives of our churches is sinful. We need to repent of being just as captive to the identities of this world as those outside of the Church. Moreover, we need to repent for when we have failed to be agents of the Kingdom in bringing peace and reconciliation, salvation and grace, to those around us.

Jesus Christ created a Church out of a very diverse group of people, people who under normal circumstances would literally want to kill each other (zealots and tax collectors, for one unheard of paring). If we as the Church cannot demonstrate that same kind of new identity found only in Christ, if we cannot love in the name of Christ those who go by our same family name of Christian, why would we expect the rest of the world to do what we cannot or will not?

I am not saying that a white supremacist driving his car into a crowd protesting hate is our fault, but I am suggesting that we have done a very poor job of demonstrating in real life that there is a viable option to hating different groups simply because they are different. How are people going to know there is a different way, the Way, if they cannot see it in our own lives?

If we are going to claim the name of Christian for ourselves, we must know that it comes at a high price. This is not usually how we phrase it, reminding ourselves of God’s free grace, yet Jesus was adamant that if we are going to follow him, we must deny ourselves daily. He also said, right after giving us the Lord’s Prayer, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are going to call ourselves Christian, we must remember that we can only do so because we have died with Christ and have been raised to new life. Our previous identity is dead. The new creation is here. “For me, to live is Christ,” said Paul.

As we pray and process what happened this past weekend, as we grieve and get angry at sin, let us remember that we have new life in Christ. That new life is equally shared with ALL CHRISTIANS from EVERY tribe, nation, language, and race upon the earth.

Article XIII-Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

jesus-between-crucifixion-and-who-was-crucified¶114 Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Christ offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction for sin is necessary; none other can atone.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Luke 24:46-48; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8-11; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-3; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:13; Hebrews 9:11-14, 25-26; 10:8-14.

This Article is a very small statement of something that is at the core of Christian belief and theology. It is only through Jesus Christ that atonement for sin can happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only thing in all of history that can provide a way out of the mess of the Fall that we have in creation. Whether someone’s primary concern is guilt over sin or fear over death, Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problem.

Even in Christian circles this seems to be an issue that is not always practically accepted. There are Christian traditions that focus on evangelism to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “out sharing your faith and winning souls to Christ.” Being involved in evangelism is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on social causes to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “on the side of the poor and marginalized.” God does care for the poor, but protesting unjust actions or actively advancing a social program is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on fasting and attending multiple services at the church to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you do not “keep to the fast or attend all the services.” Fasting and corporate worship can help one grow closer to God but they are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on not drinking or smoking or dancing to the point of questioning your salvation if you drink or smoke or dance or go to the movies or read Harry Potter. Any food or drink can be harmful (sugar is worse than much of what we worry about) and any activities can be taken to an extreme and pull us away from our commitment to God, but abstaining from these actions are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

This Article reminds us of the Good News that the work of salvation has already been accomplished for us. We do not need to earn it or work hard enough to be worthy of it. It is a gift. We have to accept it.

Article X-Humankind-Free Moral Persons

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶111 Humankind-Free Moral Persons

God created human beings in His own image, innocent, morally free and responsible to choose between good and evil, right and wrong. By the sin of Adam, humans as the offspring of Adam are corrupted in their very nature so that from birth they are inclined to sin. They are unable by their own strength and work to restore themselves in right relationship with God and to merit eternal salvation. God, the Omnipotent, provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. By God’s grace and help people are enabled to do good works with a free will.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Genesis 1:27; Psalm 51:5; 130:3; Romans 5:17-19; Ephesians 2:8-10.

This Article gives a clear picture of how Free Methodists understand the Fall of humanity. Adam is used as a placeholder for our first parents, as the Scripture in Genesis 3 clearly indicates that both parties were present and participants in the sin of turning away from God and towards themselves.

From here, though, we have a different understanding of the current state of humanity than some Christians. First,there are some who believe that we have inherited Adam’s guilt for this Fall. This is not what our Article states. It says we are corrupted and inclined to sin. Adam was guilty of his sins and I am guilty of mine. I do not get punished for the sins of my family members, and I do not get punished for the sins of Adam. Because Adam’s sin resulted in a broken relationship with God and banishment from Eden, I bear the consequences of his sin, just as a baby born addicted to any controlled substances has to live with the consequences of that sin. The baby is not guilty of the sin of the parents, but the effects of the sin are unavoidable to the next generation. So it is with the Fall.

Second, there are some within the Church today who believe that the original image and likeness of God is totally lost and destroyed by the Fall. In this state, there is no way any human being could choose to follow God. This is because humans, in this line of thinking, are completely and totally depraved people. It is only through God choosing to save these individuals that they experience redemption and salvation, the ability to choose a life for and with God. Because God has to work in this way, almost choosing which individuals to redeem, the idea is that humanity does not have the ability to make our own choices and thus we are foreordained by God to be saved. Free Methodists do not believe this, either.

Instead, we believe that God “provides all the resources of the Trinity to make it possible for humans to respond to His grace…” In other words, we are depraved individuals left to our own devices. Yet God does not leave us alone, even in our sinful state. This is the beginning of God’s grace in our lives as humanity. God gives us grace to counteract the banishment of Eden just enough to enable us to make a “free and responsible” choice to follow God or not to follow, just as Adam and Eve had. Technically, since this grace comes even before salvation (because it is the grace that helps us to make a choice for salvation) we call it previenent grace. Previenent means to go before something, and this is the grace that goes before salvation. God gives this grace to all of humanity even though we are born outside of Eden and the unbroken relationship with God.

Because of God’s grace in our lives, we have the same choice we can make as Adam and Eve did, and we can choose to follow God, accept even more of his grace and mercy in our lives, and experience the reality of salvation–a right relationship with him and a life that never ends. This is all by God’s grace and our response to that grace in our lives. We do not earn it, nor is it a way in which we “merit eternal salvation.” All we do is say Yes to God’s presence in our lives and we experience this reality.

calvin-free-will

Article IX-The Scriptures-The New Testament

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

Greek_manuscript_uncial_4th_century¶110 The Scriptures-The New Testament

The New Testament fulfills and interprets the Old Testament. It is the record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is God’s final word regarding humankind, sin, salvation, the world and its destiny.

The books of the New Testament are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 24:35; Mark 8:38; John 14:24; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Peter 1:16-21; 1 John 2:2-6; Revelation 21:5; 22:19.

This Article is a great reminder that we need the Old Testament to fully understand and appropriately comprehend the New Testament. God did not simply start over and erase everything that happened before Christ. God has been at work throughout history creating and redeeming humanity. What came before Christ set the stage and gives the proper interpretive framework for understanding who Christ is and what Christ did, both in his own day 2000 years ago and today.

The other interesting point in this Article is that we believe that the New Testament is the final complete revelation from God. This means that the Book of Mormon does not count as Scripture for us since it comes after the writings of the New Testament. It also means other religions such as Islam, which claim a further revelation from God to humanity, are also not counted as revelation for us since they came after the New Testament (500-600 years after it in the case of Islam). The theological truths recorded in the New Testament are God’s final revelation to humanity. We stand firmly in the historic understanding of the Church when it comes to the position of the New Testament in our faith and life.

 

Article VIII-The Scriptures-Authority of the Old Testament

2639302-Torah-Scroll-Stock-Photo-ancientContinuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶109 The Scriptures-Authority of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New. Both Testaments bear witness to God’s salvation in Christ; both speak of God’s will for His people. The ancient laws for ceremonies and rites, and the civil precepts for the nation of Israel are not necessarily binding on Christians today. But, on the example of Jesus we are obligated to obey the moral commandments of the Old Testament.

The books of the Old Testament are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 10:25-28; John 5:39, 46-47; Acts 10:43; Galatians 5:3-4; 1 Peter 1:10-12.

This Article continues from the first one referencing the authority of Scripture. Here, specifically, we speak about the Old Testament and affirm that it is just as much divinely inspired as the New Testament and just as much a testimony of who Jesus is as the New. This combats an ancient heresy propagated by a man named Marcion who taught that the god of the Old Testament must necessarily be a different god than the Father of Jesus. He saw nothing but wrath and anger in the Old Testament god and could not reconcile that with the image of a loving Father Jesus proclaimed.

This view is sometimes subtly still taught in churches today. “The Old Testament is about law; the New Testament is about grace.” This is a soft version of Marcion’s heresy. It is also not true. God chose Abraham without giving him a law to follow. God delivered the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt before he gave them the Law. God offered to heal and restore the Israelite nation repeatedly if they would only repent and return to him. There is grace all over the Old Testament.

Two other points to notice in this Article. One is that we make a distinction between the ceremonial and civil laws for the Jewish nation and Jewish worship and the moral laws that apply to interpersonal relationships and actions. This is a classic distinction of what parts of the Old Testament are applicable to the Church today. There is a long history of applying the Old Testament in this way. This is why Christians have no problem affirming (in some of the most adamant ways sometimes!) the Ten Commandments, and yet also not following the laws concerning the kosher diet or wearing clothing of mixed types of fabric.

The other point to notice is that the list of Old Testament books is the Protestant list of them. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox list of books in the Old Testament is longer. Protestant Bibles will print these books sometimes, and include them in a different section called Apocrypha or Deutrocanonical Books. These books were a part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, that was used by the early Church. As such, they were always a part of Christian Scripture. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he decided to use the Hebrew list of books, which did not contain those extra books (or portions of books, as Esther and Daniel are longer in the Greek). There are many reasons why this decision was made, and there are many reasons why the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox retain those books to this day.

John Wesley included one reading from Tobit in his readings for the Lord’s Supper when he first composed a service book for the Methodists in America in 1784. This shows some of the Church’s conflicted opinions about these books. Essentially, they are seen as good for teaching many things about a Christian life. On one level, they can be considered “inspired” in that sense, just as many people have considered What’s So Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey or Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright as inspirational. But at the end of the day, we trust that the books listed above are the ones out of which we draw our understanding of who God is based upon our reading of His self-revelation within them.