Article XXVII-Last Things-Resurrection

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):

¶128 Last Things–Resurrection

There will be a bodily resurrection from the dead both of the just and the unjust, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. The resurrected body will be a spiritual body, but the person will be whole and identifiable. The Resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of resurrection unto life to those who are in Him.

¶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 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 51-57; 2 Corinthians 4:13-14.

This Article is a very healthy reminder that the goal of our life is not floating around on some cloud playing a harp. When the end of all things occurs, there will be an everlasting physical existence. We will have bodies because of the resurrection of the dead. Christians in general, and Free Methodists along with the consensus, do not believe in a disembodied existence for eternity. We believe that eternity will be bodily. Jesus took his body out of the tomb. We will have bodies as well.

The confusion comes with the term spiritual body, from 1 Corinthians 15. In that passage Paul is contrasting the flesh with the spirit, but he is using the terms theologically. Flesh, in this case, is for the sinful tendencies and nature we have. Spirit, then, is what is renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit. A fleshly body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the flesh. A spiritual body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the Spirit.

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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 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 IX-The Scriptures-The New Testament

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):

Greek_manuscript_uncial_4th_century¶110 The Scriptures-The New Testament

The New Testament fulfills and interprets the Old Testament. It is the record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is God’s final word regarding humankind, sin, salvation, the world and its destiny.

The books of the New Testament are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.

¶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 24:35; Mark 8:38; John 14:24; Hebrews 2:1-4; 2 Peter 1:16-21; 1 John 2:2-6; Revelation 21:5; 22:19.

This Article is a great reminder that we need the Old Testament to fully understand and appropriately comprehend the New Testament. God did not simply start over and erase everything that happened before Christ. God has been at work throughout history creating and redeeming humanity. What came before Christ set the stage and gives the proper interpretive framework for understanding who Christ is and what Christ did, both in his own day 2000 years ago and today.

The other interesting point in this Article is that we believe that the New Testament is the final complete revelation from God. This means that the Book of Mormon does not count as Scripture for us since it comes after the writings of the New Testament. It also means other religions such as Islam, which claim a further revelation from God to humanity, are also not counted as revelation for us since they came after the New Testament (500-600 years after it in the case of Islam). The theological truths recorded in the New Testament are God’s final revelation to humanity. We stand firmly in the historic understanding of the Church when it comes to the position of the New Testament in our faith and life.

 

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 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 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).