Article XX-The Church

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):

¶121 The Church

The church is created by God. It is the people of God. Christ Jesus is the Lord and Head. The Holy Spirit is its life and power. It is both divine and human, heavenly and earthly, ideal and imperfect. It is an organism, not an unchanging institution. It exists to fulfill the purposes of God in Christ. It redemptively ministers to persons. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it that it should be holy and without blemish. The church is a fellowship of the redeemed and the redeeming, preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s instruction. The Free Methodist Church purposes to be representative of what the church of Jesus Christ should be on earth. It therefore requires specific commitment regarding the faith and life of its members. In its requirements it seeks to honor Christ and obey the written Word 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. Matthew 16:15-18; 18:17; Acts 2:41-47; 9:31; 12:5; 14:23-26; 15:22; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 11:23; 12:28; 16:1; Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:19-22; 3:9-10; 5:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 1 Timothy 3:14-15.

The Church is one of the hardest topics for Protestants to discuss. This Article is no different in that stream of the conversation. We are very good at talking about what the Church does, but we are not so good at talking about what the Church is. There are a few opposites held in tension at the beginning of the Article, but besides that and saying it is a living organism rather than an institution, there is not much about what the Church is.

The problem with this is that Scripture is actually pretty clear about what the Church is. Many of the verses are the ones referenced. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the pillar and ground of truth, and the fullness of God. Within the history of Christian tradition, the Church has been identified with four distinct adjectives: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

It is difficult for us to talk about the Church like this because we so often do not see it in reality. We see broken relationships, church splits, unhealthy interactions, and fights over some serious and some not-so-serious issues. It becomes easier to talk about what the Church does, because that is at least attainable by us. We can preach and administer the sacraments. We can be redemptively engaged in our communities. We can have fellowship and restrict actual membership to those who have accepted the truth of the Gospel (whether or not they live out that truth).

This is still one of the burning issues and unresolved theological topics from the last 500 years of the Reformation. Until we can truly affirm what the Church is, and begin to live into that reality, we will come up short.

We are trying. Pray for us.

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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.

Chapel at Central Christian College


I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!

Article XI-Humankind-Law of Life and Love

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):

greatest_command_button¶112 Humankind-Law of Life and Love

God’s law for all human life, personal and social, is expressed in two divine commands: Love the Lord God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. These commands reveal what is best for persons in their relationship with God, others and society. They set forth the principles of human duty in both individual and social action. They recognize God as the only Sovereign. All people as created by Him and in His image have the same inherent rights regardless of gender, race or color. All should therefore give God absolute obedience in their individual, social and political acts. They should strive to secure to everyone respect for their persons, their rights and their greatest happiness in the possession and exercise of the right within the moral law.

¶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 22:35-39; John 15:17; Galatians 3:28; 1 John 4:19-21.

This Article describes how we as Free Methodists ought to look at everyone in creation and how we ought to treat them. It also reminds us how we are to fulfill our civic duty in the countries in which we reside. In America, we have an election tomorrow and this Article reminds us that Christ wants us to make our decisions out of love–love for God and love for others.

It is important to remember that we are called to love. It is too easy to forget that God calls us to a life of love, not a life of being right. It is easier to be right on certain issues than to offer love to others, especially ones we think are completely wrong on certain issues. Imagine how the original apostles felt. Matthew was a tax collector, a collaborator with Rome, and Simon was a Zealot, a terrorist committed to destroying Rome and all who stood with them. These two were brought together in Christ. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were blue collar fishermen, and Philip and Nathaniel were students of Torah, the white collar trade of the day, and these six were brought together in Christ.

If we are not living in a love for God and a love for others, we are not living in Christ. It does not matter what we profess to believe. If we do not have love, we have nothing.

Article V-The Holy Spirit-His Work in Salvation

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):

¶106 The Holy Spirit-His Work in Salvation

The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the salvation planned by the Father and provided by the Son’s death, resurrection and ascension. He is the effective agent in our conviction, regeneration, sanctification and glorification. He is our Lord’s ever-present self, indwelling, assuring and enabling the believer.

¶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 16:7-8; Acts 15:8-9; Romans 8:9, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Galatians 4:6.

5-17-12holy-spirit-dove-e1337277838903The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in our lives, if we allow God to be at work in our lives. In fact, we use the word grace as a shorthand term for what we describe in this Article. Grace is nothing short of the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit active in our lives. We say that by grace we are saved, by grace we are born again, by grace we are sanctified. This is all the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

We have access to the Father through the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son (another shorthand term for all of this is the Christ event). And we have a relationship with the Son through the Holy Spirit. So it is through the Holy Spirit that we encounter Christ, and it is through Christ that we are brought into relationship with the Father. All three persons of the Trinity are at work in our encounter with God.

Of course, all of this is predicated upon belief. If someone does not believe this is true, there will be no way that person can understand it. All of the language we use about the Trinity and how God is at work in us and in the world is the best language we have to explain the reality we experience in Christ. It will make absolutely no sense to someone who does not believe. This may sound like a way to justify an irrational belief, but in actuality all of our facts are based upon prior beliefs. Why do we trust physics? Because we believe there are certain physical laws in the way the universe exists. Why do we trust biology? Because we believe certain things about life.

A wonderful example of this in the realm of biology is when a person who does not believe in a creator looks at a whale’s fin, a bat’s wing, and a human hand. Because of the similar structure of each of these appendages, something called homologous structures, the conclusion will be that the facts point to a common ancestor in the evolutionary process. When a person who does believe in a creator looks at the same fin, wing, and hand, the conclusion will be that the facts point to a single creator common to all life.

If we believe in the Christian God because of our experience of Him in our lives, Trinity, and how Trinity works, will be the best way we have to describe the facts of the reality of God. If we do not believe, it will sound like nonsense. Although he was writing about a different issue, this is the same sentiment when Paul wrote

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

Article IV-The Holy Spirit-His Person

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

¶105 The Holy Spirit-His Person

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, He is one with them, the eternal Godhead, equal in deity, majesty and power. He is God effective in Creation, in life and in the church. The Incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ were accomplished by the Holy Spirit. He continues to reveal, interpret and glorify the Son.

¶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 28:19; John 4:24; 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-15.

This is probably one of the more difficult articles we have seen yet. It is not because we are talking about God, but because we are talking specifically about the Holy Spirit. Father, ok–that sounds like a person. Son, ok–that sounds like a person. The Holy Spirit–sounds like a title of some kind of force, especially since it begins with the.

Another difficulty is in dealing with a pronoun for this person of the Trinity. Since the Son literally became a human man, it is easy to use he as a pronoun. Father, if using this title, is easy, too. (There are lots of people for whom the masculine idea for God is a horrible issue, but that is a different post for a different day). Yet why do we use a masculine pronoun for the Holy Spirit? Actually, most people will bend over backwards doing verbal gymnastics to try and avoid using a pronoun at all for the Spirit. The Hebrew and Greek words (the languages of the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively) for spirit are both feminine, so in the Bible the pronouns (if they are used) would be feminine. In Syriac Christianity there is a very, very long tradition of referring to the Holy Spirit with feminine pronouns. Since God is neither male nor female, either are appropriate.

Just don’t refer to the Holy Spirit as it.

The Spirit is not a force. The Spirit is not love between the Father and the Son. The Spirit is not the power of God in the world. The Spirit is a person. This person connects us to God. Technically, this person connects us to the Godhead, which is theological language for the three persons of the Holy Trinity together. Below is a funny video trying to explain the Trinity.