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.

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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 XII-Humankind-Good Works

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):

¶113 Humankind-Good Works

Good works are the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, but works cannot save us from our sins nor from God’s judgment. As expressions of Christian faith and love, our good works performed with reverence and humility are both acceptable and pleasing to God. However, good works do not earn God’s grace.

¶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 5:16; 7:16-20; Romans 3:7-28; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Titus 3:5.

In this Article, we try to show the distinction between living a Christian life and how we are saved. Free Methodists stand firmly in the tradition of the Reformation and boldly declare that we are saved by grace alone. Yet we also know that this salvation is for a purpose, and it is to live a holy life in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we also boldly proclaim that our lives ought to exhibit good works because of our faith.

faithworksTo put this very simply, and to try and avoid a lot of debate on the nature of good works and faith, we believe that we need faith in Christ to be saved, but it must be a faith that is strong enough to change the way we live. If we say we have faith but continue to live a life as if we were never brought into contact with God in Christ–never having an experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives–then it really is a faith in words only. If my faith does not prompt me to yield my life to God and allow God to transform me from the inside out into the new creation God wants me to be, then it is not a faith that is worth anything.

John Wesley said essentially the same thing when he said that we are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them. Our good works become the result of our saving faith as we are transformed more fully into the image and likeness of Christ.

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 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.

Article VII-The Scriptures-Authority

bible-06Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶108 The Scriptures-Authority

The Bible is God’s written Word, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit. It bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word. As attested by the early church and subsequent councils, it is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms. It has been faithfully preserved and proves itself true in human experience.

The Scriptures have come to us through human authors who wrote, as God moved them, in the languages and literary forms of their times. God continues, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to speak through this Word to each generation and culture.

The Bible has authority over all human life. It teaches the truth about God, His creation, His people, His one and only Son and the destiny of humankind. It also teaches the way of salvation and the life of faith. Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation.

¶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. Deuteronomy 4:2, 28:9; Psalm 19:7-11; John 14:26; 17:17; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:21.

The Bible is a central aspect of the Christian faith. It does not matter what Church or denomination (or non-denomination) one attends, the books that comprise the Bible will be at the core of that group. In some instances that centrality of Scripture will look like quotations and allusions throughout the liturgy. In other instances that centrality will look like multiple readings of Scripture within the context of the worship service. In still others it will look like extended commentary on a single passage. Whichever format, the Bible will be referenced. This is because, as we say in Free Methodism, the Bible “bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ.” As Christianity is ultimately about a relationship with Jesus, that which points us to Christ and helps make Christ known to us must be central.

We believe that we can trust what the Bible has recorded because it is the Holy Spirit who has been involved in the composition process, the transmission process, and the reception process of Scripture throughout history. By saying this, though, we have to make a logical leap. It is extremely obvious when I followed the format for this blog that I have for the previous Articles of Religion. In Free Methodism, we do not create our theology out of thin air. We base our beliefs on the biblical record. In this instance, then, we are basing our belief of the authority of Scripture on the very Bible itself. Logically, that is like using a word to define itself. That would be like saying glotification is the state of having been glotted. It is something we are taught not to do, yet we say the authority of Scripture is revealed in the Bible.

This is why many people will reject Christianity as inherently illogical and problematic. But that is because belief is not logical. We cannot logically explain a lot of things we believe. For example, why does a lever work? There are many, many good explanations of how a lever works, but no one can explain why a lever works. We know from experience it does work. We even know the mathematical formula for how it works, where to place the fulcrum, and the amount of force needed to exert based upon the length of the lever and placement of the fulcrum to achieve the desired output. Yet we cannot explain why it all works the way it does. So too with Scripture. We know, based upon personal experience over two thousand to four thousand years, the truths attested to in Scripture. And based upon that experience, we can conclude that Scripture is true, and therefore has authority over our belief systems.

Does this mean that we take everything absolutely literally in the Bible? Can one be a Free Methodist and believe that creation was either six days or billions of years? What I tell my students is that I want them to read the Bible literally. When it literally uses metaphor and symbolic language, I want them to literally understand those passages metaphorically and symbolically. What determines which passages are to be read metaphorically and symbolically? For this, I point people to the grand history of biblical interpretation that spans 2000 years. How have people down through the ages understood and interpreted particular passages? Then I include those opinions in my deliberations on Scripture.

I like to appeal to what is called the Vincentian Canon, named after St. Vincent of Lerins. He essentially stated that which has been believed in the most places, over the most time, by the most people is true. And in cases of monumental error, appeal to antiquity. This means that the Holy Spirit guides the Church with the same voice over time. What I believe today ought not to be radically different from what was believed by Christians 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago. And if there is an error in our belief today that is in lots of places, we look to what the early Church believed and taught for our corrective on the matter. This approach to the Bible helps us avoid the biases of our own time and culture. It helps us understand that biblical truth can be a corrector and teacher for the present.

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).