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.

Philippians 3:12-16 and Becoming a Mature Christian

ChristianPerfectionThe Methodist movement began with its goal as spreading Scriptural holiness across the land. John and Charles Wesley taught this in the form of Christian Perfection–a process of growing into the likeness of Christ. Wesley understood the term perfection as something that was ongoing, not completed, therefore his understanding was that Christian Perfection was an ongoing growth in perfecting a Christian.

When Methodism moved to America, after several years the Wesleyan understanding of perfection was lost. The process of perfecting a Christian became replaced with Entire Sanctification, a state in which the Christian had been perfected and completely (entirely) sanctified. Because this was no longer a process, people began to look for the outward signs that one was perfected–a life full of the Holy Spirit that would naturally prevent one from engaging in sinful actions. The emphasis shifted from the process of growing into the likeness of Christ and became focused on not wearing jewelry, costly clothes, not dancing, not drinking, not smoking, not going to movies, not (fill in the blank).

For the obvious reasons of both making it sound like a person who was entirely sanctified was completely perfect in every way, and the focus on a negative explanation of the faith–do not do this, do not do that–the doctrine of Entire Sanctification has all but disappeared. The original emphasis by the Wesleys on the process of perfecting a Christian is all but lost as well. Yet this does not negate the fact that it is Scriptural. Look at what Paul writes here in Philippians:

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. 15 So all of us who are spiritually mature should think this way, and if anyone thinks differently, God will reveal it to him or her. 16 Only let’s live in a way that is consistent with whatever level we have reached.

Perhaps a better way of explaining this doctrine is to use the same language Paul uses here of being Spiritually Mature. This is essentially what Wesley meant when speaking of the process of being perfected. He was speaking of becoming a mature Christian, one who is growing into the full nature of Christ.

Ironically, because Entire Sanctification and Christian Perfection have fallen out of favor, we have tended to replace this Christian Maturity with conversion as the goal of Christianity. When we do this, the focus becomes preaching and teaching for a decision to follow Christ. When that happens, we end up making a serious mistake. Jesus said that it was the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin and it was our job to make disciples. By making conversion the goal of the faith, we take the Holy Spirit’s job on ourselves and leave our job to the Holy Spirit. I believe this is why we have an anemic Church in America today and why the criticism of being hypocrites can be spot on with us.

The goal of the Christian faith, of our relationship with Christ, is to become mature. It is to grow into the full stature of Christ. And notice what Paul says in verse 15–if anyone disagrees with this assessment of growing into mature Christians, not that their other opinion is also valid, but that God will reveal to that person that s/he is wrong and point that person towards the truth of the matter. Our goal is not the proverbial get out of hell free card. That actually makes a mockery of the biblical vision of the faith. Our goal is Christian Maturity, growing in God’s grace so that we can come to the full stature of Christ in us and experience the fullness of God’s power and presence in our lives.

Philippians 1:27-30 and Christian Victory

PWPaulInPrisonI have listened to many people who want Christian Victory in America. By this they mean that the culture and society will return to Christian values and morals, and that the congregations around the country will be full again. They see Christian Victory as laws being passed in Washington and state capitols that reinforce and support Christian ways of living. Paul seems to have a different vision for Christian Victory. In Philippians, he is writing this letter to a church he loves, and of whom he is proud, while he is chained up in prison. Here is what he says about Christian Victory in that situation:

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Do you see Paul’s understanding of Christian Victory? Christians are struggling under persecution but holding fast to the mind of Christ, loving God whole-heartedly and loving their neighbors as themselves. By not being intimidated by those in the world who are against such actions and attitudes, and who would imprison or persecute those who have perform such actions or have such attitudes, Christians prove their victory and their opponents’ destruction.

We have victory as Christians, according to Paul, when we continue to live and act like Christ in the face of persecution. While the rest of the world would cower in the face of hardship and pain, we continue to serve and love. This is because we prove to the world in such circumstances that our hope and our allegiance are still to Christ and his Kingdom.

There is one other aspect of Christian Victory for Paul here. Christians united together. Those who are in Christ are united together in love and service to each other and the communities around them. No divisions. No one-up-man-ship and political positioning. No cliques or factions. Christians united in love and service.

We must be careful, though, that we do not reinterpret this as a call for unity for the sake of unity. Unity is in Christ and in the Gospel. There are some, mostly those who introduce novel, new interpretations on the Christian tradition and Scripture, who claim that no matter what they preach or teach about changing morality or theology, Christians ought to be united. Unity becomes a god for which all else ought to be sacrificed. This is much of the rhetoric coming out of the United Methodist Church (my former communion) right now (see many of the blogs here). Paul is clear in this passage–our unity is in Christ, which is through our mutual love and service in our faithfulness to the Gospel. It is the Gospel that informs us of the basis of our unity, and then we show the world our victory through our faithfulness to Christ and his Gospel together.

When we are united in our faith, and we show that unity through love and service despite how the world reacts to us or threatens us, then we prove our Christian Victory over the world.

Romans 6:1-13 and The End of Sin

This is an ancient Christian symbol. ICXC are the initials for "Jesus Christ" in Greek. NIKA is the word for "Victor"

This is an ancient Christian symbol. ICXC are the initials for “Jesus Christ” in Greek. NIKA is the word for “Victor”

I have to confess, one thing that truly upsets me is when people who claim to be Christian seem to have no problem continuing to sin in their lives. I do not mean people who do sin, for that would include most (if not all) of us. What I mean is the people who do not struggle against sin. “God accepted me like this when I first came to faith; God will accept me now.” That attitude, while people try to make it sound biblical by speaking of grace, is completely antithetical to the Gospel message. In Christ our past sins are forgiven and we are empowered to live a new life in him.

God does not demand perfection when we first convert, but he expects growth. The same sins that ensnared us in the past ought not be the same sins with which we are dealing today. There should be growth. Sin should be coming to an end in our lives.

Look at what Paul says here:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

Sin will only have power over us as Christians so long as we surrender ourselves to it. Christ came to end sin in us. We have a choice to make in our lives every moment of every day–do we continue to sin or do we fight? Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can have victory over sin if we continue to fight. When we give ourselves excuses and justify our sin, then we have lost and we “present [our] members to sin as instruments of wickedness.”

Christ enables us to overcome, though, and be “instruments of righteousness” because we “have been brought from death to life.”

Make a renewed commitment in your life today to fight against sin, to “no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Romans 2:6-11 and The False Separation of Faith and Works

saint_paulI have heard, even recently, well meaning Christians claim that the Old Testament was all about Law and the New Testament was all about Grace. In line with this, I also have heard it claimed that Paul was all about salvation by faith as opposed to “the Jews” who were all about salvation by works. If that were true, Paul could not have written this passage in Romans:

For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

The reality is that when we try to falsely separate faith and works, we end up with a system that is not completely Christian. No one can earn their way into heaven. This is true. But no one can simply believe their way into heaven, either. Our faith and beliefs have to be strong enough to change the way we live, the way we act and interact in the world.

When people separate faith and works, it gives them an excuse to continue sinning and to avoid the struggle against sin. “After all,” they say, “I am not saved by what I do, only by what I believe.” This leads to an attitude that thinks as long as we have confessed Christ as Lord and Savior, we can act in ways that are explicitly opposed to his lordship and contrary to the salvation he offers, and we will still be fine.

For me, this goes back to my starting point for all theology: God is not dumb. If Christ came to destroy sin and give us new life in him by being born of the Spirit, how can we think we can willingly continue living in the old way and as if we had not experienced that new birth? God does not expect someone to be completely perfect all at once, but God does expect struggle against sin, dependence upon him, and growth in grace. In this way, we live out the reality of being in Christ and having the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon us.