Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

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

¶124 The Church–Baptism

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

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

¶131 Scriptural References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Article 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 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 XV-Salvation-Justification

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):

¶116 Salvation-Justification

Justification is a legal term that emphasizes that by a new relationship in Jesus Christ people are in fact accounted righteous, being freed from both the guilt and penalty of their sins.

¶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. Psalm 32:1-2; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:21-26, 28; 4:2-5; 5:8-9; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Philippians 3:9.

Justification is good news. It means that our guilt is gone and our slate has been wiped clean. It means that we have been declared in the right by God. This is by virtue of being in relationship with Christ, not by what we have done or what we have learned.

The age-old adage is actually true when it comes to justification: It is not what you know, but who you know, that counts.

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 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.

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