Article XXVI-Last Things-The Return of 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):

¶127 Last Things–The Return of Christ

The return of Christ is certain and may occur at any moment, although it is not given us to know the hour. At His return He will fulfill all prophecies concerning His final triumph over all evil. The believer’s response is joyous expectation, watchfulness, readiness, and diligence.

¶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 24:1-51; 26:64; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 17:26-37; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16; 22:6-7, 12, 20.

This Article  is one in which the entire Church has affirmed from the beginning. Jesus Christ is coming back at some point in the future and those of us who are here need to be ready for that fact. One problem with this particular Article, however, is that we have waited for so long, we have lost the sense of urgency in the world and our lives.

It is interesting. Creation has continued for the last 2000 years (give or take) since Christ and he did not return yet. Because of this, lots of Christians tend to forget that he is going to come back. “It didn’t happen yet, therefore I’m not going to trouble myself with the idea of his return,” seems to be the attitude. There is a logical fallacy in this line of reasoning, though. The world may have continued for 2000 years since Christ, but individuals do not.

Every day I am alive I am one day closer to the return of Christ. And even if he does not return in my lifetime, I am one day closer to my death. This means that each day I am one day closer to the end of all things, either for the world in general or myself in particular. I can get lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that Jesus will not return for another 2000 years, but I have no clue how much or little time I have left in this world. I could live until I am 104, or I could be hit by a car today and die. Either way, my time is much shorter than what has gone on in the past waiting for Christ’s return.

If I am going to be faithful and honest with myself and God, I am going to try and live my life in such a way that I am prepared for the end, whenever it may come. Jesus may not return for another 2000 years, or he may return in the next five minutes. I may live for another 50+ years, or I may die in the next five minutes. Either way, I need to be ready in my own life for meeting my maker.

Another byproduct of this kind of thinking about the end is that it renews my compassion and passion for the people I know who are not ready for Christ’s return. The mission statement of the Free Methodist Church is Love God, Love People, Make Disciples. I cannot profess that I love people if I keep the reality of Christ’s return and coming judgment a secret. If I never share the reality of Christ’s return with those whom I know are not ready for it, how much could I love them?

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Article XIII-Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

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

jesus-between-crucifixion-and-who-was-crucified¶114 Salvation-Christ’s Sacrifice

Christ offered once and for all the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. No other satisfaction for sin is necessary; none other can atone.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Luke 24:46-48; John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:8-11; Galatians 2:16; 3:2-3; Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:13; Hebrews 9:11-14, 25-26; 10:8-14.

This Article is a very small statement of something that is at the core of Christian belief and theology. It is only through Jesus Christ that atonement for sin can happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only thing in all of history that can provide a way out of the mess of the Fall that we have in creation. Whether someone’s primary concern is guilt over sin or fear over death, Jesus Christ is the only answer to the problem.

Even in Christian circles this seems to be an issue that is not always practically accepted. There are Christian traditions that focus on evangelism to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “out sharing your faith and winning souls to Christ.” Being involved in evangelism is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on social causes to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you are not “on the side of the poor and marginalized.” God does care for the poor, but protesting unjust actions or actively advancing a social program is not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on fasting and attending multiple services at the church to such an extent that people will question your salvation if you do not “keep to the fast or attend all the services.” Fasting and corporate worship can help one grow closer to God but they are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

There are Christian traditions that focus on not drinking or smoking or dancing to the point of questioning your salvation if you drink or smoke or dance or go to the movies or read Harry Potter. Any food or drink can be harmful (sugar is worse than much of what we worry about) and any activities can be taken to an extreme and pull us away from our commitment to God, but abstaining from these actions are not a prerequisite for salvation; only Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is that.

This Article reminds us of the Good News that the work of salvation has already been accomplished for us. We do not need to earn it or work hard enough to be worthy of it. It is a gift. We have to accept it.

Chapel at Central Christian College


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

Article VI-The Holy Spirit-His Relation to 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):

¶107 The Holy Spirit-His Relation to the Church

The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church by the Father and the Son. He is the church’s life and witnessing power. He bestows the love of God and makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ in the believer so that both His gifts of words and service may achieve the common good and build and increase the church. In relation to the world He is the Spirit of truth, and His instrument is the 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. Acts 5:3-4; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 2 Peter 1:21.

This Article reminds us that it is only by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we do anything, either individually or together as the Church. Many human organizations can do lots of good in the world and even effect major change in actions and behaviors, yet it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Church can be something more than simply another charitable organization that does good.

Because the Holy Spirit enlivens the Church, the body of believers together become more than they are apart from one another. The Holy Spirit not only creates individual people who are living in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, He also creates a community that is the very presence of God on earth. This may sound way too self-aggrandizing, yet it is what we believe because it is what we have experienced in history. This does not mean that every congregation that calls itself Christian is the presence of God on earth. It is believers who are committed to having Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that fall into this category together.

As well, there is a check and balance to this whole idea. I know pastors who speak as if they are the mouthpiece of God and that in them, personally, dwells the direct connection to God that the congregation needs to acknowledge, follow, and unify around. Yet the last sentence of this Article gives us the balance needed to combat such spiritual narcissism. The Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to the whole Church. As such, for something to be obviously from God, it has to be understood through Scripture and it has to be the same message to all of the Church. This means that for the narcissistic pastor, if the decisions are not confirmed in the congregation, the idea is the pastor’s, not God’s. The same Spirit does not speak radically different ideas to different people in the same congregation. This is because the Spirit “makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ”–a lordship that is followed by pastors and laity alike–and He speaks for “the common good” and to “build and increase the church.”

unnamedOne last item from those phrases. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to “build and increase the Church.” Too many times we think it is our job to grow the Church. We try new programs (although we don’t call them programs because we give lip-service to the idea that programs don’t grow the Church), new worship styles, new times, new logos, new advertising, new bulletins, new projectors, new pastors, all in the attempt to “build and increase the church.” Jesus was adamant. Our job is to make disciples. God will grow the church when we are faithful in making disciples. Any time you see a congregation more concerned with growing the church rather than making disciples, you can know that its priorities are misplaced.

Article III-The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

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):

Empty_Tomb¶104 The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

Jesus Christ is risen victorious from the dead. His resurrected body became more glorious, not hindered by ordinary human limitations. Thus He ascended into heaven. There He sits as our exalted Lord at the right hand of God the Father, where He intercedes for us until all His enemies shall be brought into complete subjection. He will return to judge all people. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

¶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 25:31-32; Luke 24:1-7; 24:39; John 20:19; Acts 1:9-11; 2:24; Romans 8:33-34; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-4.

Free Methodists believe that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. This means that the tomb was truly empty and when he had his encounters with the apostles and disciples for the next forty days, it was with that physical body. This was the same body he had when he was born from Mary, grew, and traveled around Galilee and Judea preaching and teaching. Of course there were some differences–the biggest being that he is no longer dead!

This doctrine of a bodily resurrection has profound implications for us. First of all, we remember that not only did God create us as physical beings (we are not spiritual beings having a physical experience), he cared enough for us in our physicality that he took it on as well. He became a physical being like us. But wait, there’s more! God still valued the physical body enough that he re-created it in a glorified state in the resurrection.

Think about this for a minute. If all we needed was a sacrifice for our sins, then Jesus could have shed his physical body after the crucifixion and just been God once again. He could have been done with the human body and left it to rot in the grave. That is not what happened, though. God is profoundly interested in not only our souls, but also our bodies. The resurrection proves that he is still interested in our physical being. If God is that concerned about our physical bodies, ought we not be as well?

The other point that seems to stand out in this article is the language about enemies and judgment. Read out of context of the entire Christian experience, this could sound like any other call for an us/them outlook on the world that has the potential of becoming justification for holy wars. Yet we have to look at this article more closely. First of all, enemies and people are two different categories. People are not usually enemies of Christ. Why? Because all human beings are created in his image and he wants to have a relationship with them all. The enemies are the intelligent beings in the universe who are in rebellion against him–fallen angels, or demons. Now it is true that people can choose to be in rebellion against Christ and side with the demons in this cosmic war, but human beings are not now, nor are they ever, intrinsically enemies of Jesus.

Because of the reality of sin and fallenness and rebellion in the world, however, there will be a time when there will be an accounting for all that we do. This is actually good news. It means that there will be justice for us. It means that all of the hurt and horrors that people endure in this world will be made right. It means that children who are abused, even if no one ever finds out it happened, will have justice. It means that displaced refugees will find justice. It means that elderly people who are scammed out of their livelihoods will find justice. It means that racism and murder and even revenge will meet justice. Jesus Christ as judge is good news. It means there is a right and a wrong in the world and someone will hold us accountable for it.

When we are in some of our most introspective times, or even our most frustrated times looking at the evil in the world today, the doctrine of the last judgment of Christ is good news because it says that evil will not ultimately triumph and the guilty will not escape justice.

Article II-The Son-His Incarnation

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

¶103 The Son-His Incarnation

God was himself in Jesus Christ to reconcile people to God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, He joined together the deity of God and the humanity of humankind. Jesus of Nazareth was God in flesh, truly God and truly human. He came to save us. For us the Son of God suffered, was crucified, dead and buried. He poured out His life as a blameless sacrifice for our sin and transgressions. We gratefully acknowledge that He is our Savior, the one perfect mediator between God and us.

¶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 1:21; 20:28; 26:27-28; Luke 1:35; 19:10; John 1:1, 10, 14; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:17; 9:14-15.

One of the first things to recognize when reading this Article is that we link a lot of titles and names together and use them as synonyms for the same person. The Son, Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Savior. All of these names, and there will be others in other Articles, refer to the one Jesus. For Free Methodists, there is no distinction between the human Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Son of God. They are one and the same being. Some theologians in the twentieth century tried to separate the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” We do not believe in such a separation. We worship God who became human.

In theological terms, Jesus was something utterly unique and yet also utterly the same in creation. He is God. Divinity was not assumed by a human being. A Jewish man did not attain to a higher state of being or consciousness. If we were to draw a line between creator and created, he would be completely on the side of creator. He is man. God did not appear to be a human being, sending a kind of avatar into creation. He was fully and completely human. The same as God, the same as man. Yet this existence is completely new and unique. It is so radical that theologians had to come up with a new term for it. Jesus is theanthropos. This is a combination of two Greek words (theos and anthropos) that mean God and man. In English, it would be that Jesus is God-man. Completely God and completely man. Not semi-divine like a demigod. Not an enlightened man. Both God and man.

How this works, being fully God and fully man, is really beyond much of our understanding. The Church struggled to explain exactly what this means for centuries, and we still have a hard time with the concept. Some people say that just proves that we are wrong, since it just doesn’t make sense. Yet how do we explain love? How do we explain thought? How do we explain imagination, poetry, music, and hope? Some things in this life with which we are intimately aware still defy explanation. It should come as no surprise, then, that trying to describe and define God can fall short on verbiage, as well.

Another point to recognize in this Article is that the God-man came to save us. We are stated as having sin and transgression from which we need to be saved, and Jesus does this by becoming the mediator between us and God. This means that we have a problem that we cannot eliminate on our own. Later Articles delve into the human condition more fully, but the stage is set to understand that our problem of sin and transgression cannot be solved on our own.

This is a major point! This means that our problem is not a lack of education, or inequitable distribution of wealth, or exploitation of the 99%, or racism, or sexism, or discrimination of any kind. Those things may be results of our problem, but they are not the problem. They are not the problem because we could fix those problems ourselves. It may be painful and it may take time, but all of those problems can be solved by more education, or better laws, or sensitivity training. No, our problem cannot be solved on our own. We need someone who can redeem us from our sins and transgressions.

As we continue through the Articles, we will see a more full picture of the human condition and how Jesus is the only one who can solve our problem for us; he is the only one who can bridge the gap between God and us.

This is what we believe about Jesus.

Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.