Article XXII-The Church-The Holy Sacraments

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):

¶123 The Church–The Holy Sacraments

Water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ. They are means of grace through faith, tokens of our profession of Christian faith, and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.

¶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 26:26-29; 28:19; Acts 22:16; Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-26; Galatians 3:27.

The next two Articles after this one speak directly to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so I’ll leave the discussions about those specifically for then. Right now it is important to understand our understanding of sacraments in general. First, we stand in the Protestant tradition of defining only two sacraments. This does not mean that we do not see other aspects of life as holy or sacred or even in some sense sacramental, but we only count two specific actions as sacraments.

This is because we take the classic definition that a sacrament must have two parts, a sign and a thing signified by that sign. Another way to phrase it is that a sacrament is “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” We understand the command by Christ to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as the signs he gave to signify something greater within us.

As well, we stand firmly in the Anglican tradition (since Methodism originally came from the Church of England) in that we believe that a sacrament is an actual way in which God gives grace to us. This is what we mean by the term means of grace. They are ordinary channels, or means, by which God conveys grace to us. Specifically, we believe that there is something about the physical elements of water, bread, and wine (or juice) that God uses within the context of worship that truly acts as a medium through which God acts in our lives. It is not just a spiritual reality. The sacraments are physical objects that God uses since we are both spiritual and physical beings.

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Article XXI-The Church-The Language of Worship

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):

¶122 The Church–The Language of Worship

According to the Word of God and the custom of the early church, public worship and prayer and the administration of the sacraments should be in a language understood by the people.

¶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. Nehemiah 8:5, 6, 8; Matthew 6:7; 1 Corinthians 14:12-14.

The history of this short Article goes back to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (something that “officially” began on October 31, 1517–exactly 500 years ago this year!). Prior to the Reformation, and even shortly after it, services were only conducted in Latin. Only the educated knew Latin any more, and the majority of people in Europe were not educated. Therefore most people did not understand one word during a worship service in the Church. Part of the Reformation was to not only have the Bible translated into local languages (English, German, French, etc.), but to have the worship services conducted in those languages. That is why this Article originally was created.

In more recent years it has been used as a basis for not allowing the speaking of tongues in worship or public prayer. In fact, the scriptural reference from 1 Corinthians gets to exactly that point. The Free Methodist Church does not deny the gift of tongues, but it does not encourage it within the context of worship. Most people who feel that speaking in tongues is an essential part of worship are already in congregations that feel the same way, so this still does not have much contemporary relevance on this topic.

The one place where this Article still has a need to speak to us today is with the topic of rhythmic and symbolic language. In other words, what types of music are appropriate for worship, and what types of symbolism or ritual is appropriate for worship? If we take this Article for what it says, our worship services ought to communicate the Gospel in such a way that people understand what is being said/sung/done. If they do not understand those things, then the worship service might just as well be in Latin.

This cuts both forwards and backwards. Younger generations do not understand much of what was in services years ago, and faithful older generations do not understand much of what is in services today. I adamantly maintain that worship is not evangelism–worship is God-focused and evangelism is people-focused–but there has to be pastoral consideration in trying to communicate what is happening in worship for the people who attend. If a group of refugees arrived from Syria in one of our congregations, we would try to communicate in Arabic so that they could worship. If younger people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand. If older people arrive in our congregations we have to communicate in a way they can understand.

This puts the burden of thought, prayer, and action on the pastor and those involved in worship planning. Simply choosing to have a “traditional” or a “contemporary” service is a cop-out when it comes to having a worship service in a language that the people understand.

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.

Article XIX-Salvation-Restoration

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):

¶120 Salvation-Restoration

Christians may be sustained in a growing relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord. However, they may grieve the Holy Spirit in the relationships of life without returning to the dominion of sin. When they do, they must humbly accept the correction of the Holy Spirit, trust in the advocacy of Jesus, and mend their relationships.

Christians can sin willfully and sever their relationship with Christ. Even so by repentance before God, forgiveness is granted and the relationship with Christ restored, for not every sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit and unpardonable. God’s grace is sufficient for those who truly repent and, by His enabling, amend their lives. However, forgiveness does not give believers liberty to sin and escape the consequences of sinning.

God has given responsibility and power to the church to restore penitent believers through loving reproof, counsel and acceptance.

¶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 12:31-32; 18:21-22; Romans 6:1-2; Galatians 6:1; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2; 5:16-17; Revelation 2:5; 3:19-20.

This Article hits upon a topic that seems to have a lot of baggage within it. This is because it deals with the very real issue of sin in believers. There are some who think that if someone is truly in Christ, he or she will not sin again. Ever. There are others who believe that humans cannot help but sin and that it is merely a demonstration of God’s mercy and grace that there is a Church at all because of that fact. Reality lies in the middle.

We are called not to sin. We are called to be holy. And we know that we can fail at this high calling. When we do fail, we must repent and seek healing of our relationships with the people against whom we have sinned and God. There is no way around the fact that all sin requires repentance, especially if we are in Christ. God is not dumb and knows when we sin.

There is also the unfortunate reality that people who were once in Christ can walk away from him and renounce their salvation. I have numerous Christian friends who believe that a Christian can never lose their salvation, but that is not the issue. This is not one of losing salvation, but rather one of voluntarily giving it up. Again, God is not dumb. We may confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord, and even confess with our attendance on Sunday mornings that we believe, yet if our hearts and minds and actions and attitudes are far away from God, God will not ignore the reality of our lives.

The way I usually say it is like this: If our faith is not strong enough to change the way we live, it is not strong enough to save us. We are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. If we accept that call, we must endeavor to walk in the light. If we fail, we must repent. If we do not repent, we will not be forgiven. Without repentance and forgiveness, we are in the dark and only delude ourselves into thinking that our words or attendance mark us as in the light.

Sin is serious. God is equally displeased with sin in our lives before conversion as after conversion (and perhaps more so after conversion). We must confess, repent, and seek forgiveness for the sins in our lives to continue to have a relationship with God.

Think of it in terms of one of the most-used metaphors of our relationship with God in the Bible–a marriage. The wedding ceremony is our conversion and entrance into the fellowship of the Church. The marriage is every day after that. Just as in a human marriage, the wedding might have been perfect and wonderful and beautiful, but that does not mean the marriage will also be those things or continue. Sometimes people who are married grow apart. Eventually the wife confronts the husband and says, “You are having affairs. You are distant. Even when you are home, you are not here. Your attention and your energy are always directed somewhere else and at someone else. I don’t care what you say, you are not here.” And that would be the reality. If human beings can figure this out in our own marriages, do you not think that God may have to say the same things to people with their “relationship” with him?

Our love for God must be not in words only, or in attendance only. It must be active, faith-filled, and true.

Article XVIII-Salvation-Sanctification

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):

¶119 Salvation-Sanctification

Sanctification is that saving work of God beginning with new life in Christ whereby the Holy Spirit renews His people after the likeness of God, changing them through crisis and process, from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ.

As believers surrender to God in faith and die to self through full consecration, the Holy Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin. This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart to God, and empowers believers to please and serve God in their daily lives.

Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves.

¶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. Leviticus 20:7-8; John 14:16-17; 17:19; Acts 1:8; 2:4; 15:8-9; Romans 5:3-5; 8:12-17; 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 12:4-11; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23-24; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 10:14.

John Wesley called the doctrine of sanctification the “grand deposit” God gave the people called Methodist. It is this doctrine that sets us apart from other denominations. It is not because it is new or different. On the contrary. It is because we have been called by God to make it one of the hallmarks of our preaching and teaching.

As one can see by the many Scripture passages above that reference sanctification, this is not a new concept. Another way to describe the same idea is Christian maturity, although sanctification is more traditional.

Put simply, we believe that God can truly conform us to the image and likeness of Christ and enable us to live a holy life in his power here and now in this life. Full salvation from the power of sin is not beyond the power of God, nor is it beyond the purview of humans in this life. As we respond to God’s grace, we are gradually transformed from grace to grace and glory to glory. We see nowhere in the Bible where it states that God can only complete the good work in us at the moment of our death.

As well, we have witnesses of sanctified lives among us. There are numerous stories of people who were truly the salt of the earth. We know people who did truly perfectly love God and neighbors. And we pray that those ranks will increase.

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 XVI-Salvation-Regeneration

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):

¶117 Salvation-Regeneration

Regeneration is a biological term which illustrates that by a new relationship in Christ, one does in fact have a new life and a new spiritual nature capable of faith, love and obedience to Christ Jesus as Lord. The believer is born again and is a new creation. The old life is past; a new life has begun.

¶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. Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 5:24; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Titus 3:4-5; 1 Peter 1:23.

The last Article we had dealt with salvation as justification, which is a legal term and speaks to our guilt of sin and freedom from judgment because of that guilt. This Article deals with salvation as a brand new creation. This is important. Our salvation is not just about moving from guilty to not guilty. That is one, vital aspect, but it is not all there is.

Regeneration reminds us that our salvation is also about moving from death to life. All of creation is dying. Many insightful people have said that the moment we are born we begin to die. The arrow of time for physicists is entropy, the natural process of decay in the universe. Everything and everyone dies. Salvation is the antidote to that seemingly inevitable process.

Because a saving relationship with Jesus Christ involves new creation, we human beings are restored to our immortal selves we were supposed to be. Obviously, this statement can be argued against very vehemently, since all of the Christians who have ever lived still died. Yet we hold by faith this very important concept that without Christ, without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in our lives because of salvation, we are spiritually dead and condemned. With the regeneration that comes from salvation, we have passed from death to life and even though our bodies still hold the consequences of sin in them, resulting in them either burning out or rusting out and ceasing to function, our spirits have been awakened. Because our spirits are now alive in Christ we will continue on long after our bodies do not, and we will receive a new body that will never perish. Regeneration leads directly to one of our later Articles on resurrection and eternal life.

Practically speaking, this means that if we are in Christ, we do not just revel in the idea that we are now forgiven and not guilty. We also know that we have been given a new life in Christ and we are called to live out that new life by the standards Christ has set. We are called to live as if we truly are citizens of the New Jerusalem here and now. And we are called to live as faithful ambassadors of the King whom we serve.