This is the reason why the Three Simple Rules phenomenon in United Methodism has always confused me:
Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, “Yes, he is; for he thinks ‘we are saved by faith alone:'” I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it? Is this placing a part of religion for the whole? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.” We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God. No, not in all of them together; wherein we know by experience a man may labour many years, and at the end have no religion at all, no more than he had at the beginning. Much less in any one of these; or, it may be, in a scrap of one of them: Like her who fancies herself a virtuous woman, only because she is not a prostitute; or him who dreams he is an honest man, merely because he does not rob or steal. May the Lord God of my fathers preserve me from such a poor, starved religion as this! Were this the mark of a Methodist, I would sooner choose to be a sincere Jew, Turk, or Pagan.
These are words from John Wesley’s “The Character of a Methodist.” They raise serious questions for me about the movement with United Methodism in recent years to offer the three rules laid out above (do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God) as a formula for Christianity. Rueben Job’s little book and follow-on materials have been hawked throughout United Methodism and commended by many within the denomination. But they seem to be offering a false religion, if Wesley is any guide.
Don’t get me wrong. I am aware that Wesley did not say these three things were bad. Indeed, he taught that a Christian would do all three out of love for Christ, and these three simple rules are the basis of our General Rules — which are supposed to be binding on all United Methodists.
But Wesley was quite emphatic in not letting early Methodists confuse these outward actions for inward faith. You can follow the Three Simple Rules, Wesley taught, and have no more true religion than a stone.
True religion, you see, is about an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is something that changes your heart. It is something that comes by faith.