Covenant: Crown or curse?

Have you ever read the full statement from which the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition is adapted?

Directions for Renewing Our Covenant with God

In the second section of the pamphlet, Wesley lays out the choice in clear terms:

Turn either to the right-hand or the left; lay both parts before you, with every link of each; Christ with his yoke, this cross and his crown; or the Devil with his wealth, his pleasure and curse: and then put yourselves to thus: “Soul, thou sees what is before thee, what wilt thou do? Which will thou have, either the crown or the curse? If thou chose the crown, remember that the day  thou take this, thou must be content to submit to the cross and yoke, the service and sufferings of Christ, which are linked to it. What sayest thou? Hadst thou rather take the gains and pleasures of sin, and venture on the curse? Or will thou yield thyself a servant to Christ, and so make sure the crown?

Suffice it to say, Wesley was not schooled in seeker sensitive ministry.

Read the entire pamphlet for the full scope of the meaning of covenant in the Wesleyan tradition that is suggested and hinted at in the prayer from the United Methodist Hymnal.

‘He that committeth sin is of the devil’

I used to ask this question all the time, and so here it is again. Could John Wesley actually preach in any of our pulpits if he were a young seminarian today?

This hit home when I was reading his sermon “The First Fruits of the Spirit.” The sermon is largely taken up with questions about sin and the freedom from condemnation that comes from Jesus Christ. At one point, he considers the case of a person who had a “come to Jesus” experience at some point in the past, but is now living in willful sin. Wesley says he can make no judgment about whether or not the hypothetical person really was justified in the past.

But this I know, with the utmost degree of certainty, “he that committeth sin is of the devil.” Therefore, thou art of thy father the devil. It cannot be denied: for the works of thy father thou doest. O flatter not thyself with vain hopes! Say not to thy soul, “Peace peace!” For there is no peace.

And he does not hold back are suggesting a cure.

Cry aloud! Cry unto God out of the deep; if haply he may hear thy voice. Come unto him as at first, as wretched and poor, as sinful, miserable, blind and naked! And beware thou suffer thy soul to take no rest, till his pardoning love be again revealed; till he “heal thy backslidings,” and fill thee again with the “faith that worketh by love.”

This preaching was not popular in Wesley’s day. The most common reaction to his preaching in a church pulpit, especially in the early years, was to be told not to bother ever coming back to that church.

So, of course, we should not expect him to be popular in today’s church. So the question I find myself struggling with is whether this kind of preaching is necessary, whether it is popular or not.

The stages of faith, Wesleyan style

I see from time to time on Christian bookstore shelves a book called Stages of Faith. I gather it is still read fairly widely and is deemed helpful to many in ministry. I have not read it. But stumbling over it recently reminded me of the Wesleyan outline of the stages of faith.

Here is my summary, as Wesley explained in his sermon “Salvation by Faith.”

Stage 1 Faith – Awareness that there is a god or gods and that they interact with the world. We seek to know and please the god or gods by giving them glory, thanking them for the blessings they bestow, and practicing moral virtues, including the showing of justice, mercy, and truth to all. The god or gods reward those with whom they find favor, and they punish those whom offend or reject them.

Stage 2 Faith – Trust that the one God has revealed himself through the life of his chosen people and the revelation witnessed to in the Holy Scriptures, and that God was incarnate in the flesh and broke the power of all evil and the enemies of God.

Stage 3 Faith – Trust enough to leave all that we have and cling to so we might follow Jesus. The witness and receipt of the power of the Holy Spirit to heal and strengthen those beset by the enemies of God. Faith sufficient to preach the kingdom of God and proclaim Jesus is Lord.

Stage 4 Faith – Or saving faith. Faith in Christ. Faith that moves not just the mind, but heart. Faith that acknowledges the necessity of Jesus’ death for our good and the power of his resurrection for new life. It is not something we attain by effort, but we receive. An assurance that Jesus Christ by his life, death, and resurrection has saved me, even me, from the power of sin and death. That he was given for us and now lives in us.

It would be imposing something on Wesley that I do not think was his aim to describe these stages as developmental ones. He did not teach that we necessarily move through these. He offers them more as historical alternatives, I think, than a personal pathway. But I do find the “stages” he outlines helpful in thinking about my own faith and in trying to reflect prayerfully on the faith of others.

‘No one is to stone anyone until I blow this whistle’

Asbury seminary president Timothy Tennent responds to Adam Hamilton’s exegesis over the question of why we no longer stone sinners.

[I]t is important to understand the reason the New Testament does not command Christians to stone sinners. It is not because of a relaxation of the moral demands of God, nor even, quite frankly, because of any relaxing of the consequences of sin.

On the contrary, the New Testament teaching is that we do not put sinners to death because Christ has already been put to death for every act of human sinfulness. It is in the face of Christ that we see the full extent of how God’s mercy meets God’s righteousness. It is not that “stoning” is culturally bound and therefore we can draw a red line through it. It is not because God has now relaxed the consequences of sin. Rather, it is that Jesus Christ has already borne the full penalty of our rebellion against God and neighbor on the cross. Just as we say, “Christ died for us” so we could also say, “Christ was stoned for us.”

After the Rev. Tennent’s eloquent argument, I deserve to be stoned for the following link, but I cannot write about this topic without thinking of something completely different.

Manskar: ‘Keep church’s focus where it belongs’

Steve Manskar on Wesleyan leadership:

Too much of what I am reading and seeing about leadership in the church today is focused on church growth. When the focus of leadership is the church and increasing membership, we end up emulated consumerist standards. If we look to Scripture and tradition we see that leadership is centered on Christ and his mission in the world. They teach that one of the essential roles of leadership is to keep the church’s focus where it belongs: Jesus Christ and his mission in the world. When we focus on what God loves (people, justice, righteousness, and the world) then church growth will take care of itself.