Taking his lead from the official doctrine of the Church of England, John Wesley wrote that the visible Church includes three essentials:
Living faith – “without which, indeed, there can be no Church at all, neither visible nor invisible.”
Preaching and hearing the pure word of God — “else that faith would languish and die.”
Due administration of the sacraments — “the ordinary means whereby God increasetth faith.”
Of course, these ideas are nothing new to United Methodists. Our Articles of Religion say the same thing, which is no coincidence as they are adapted from the Church of England.
But what is this faith that is essential to the presence of the church?
Quoting the Homilies of the Church of England, Wesley reminded his readers that the living faith is “a sure trust and confidence in God, that through the merits of Christ my sins are forgiven, and I reconciled to the favour of God.”
We like to count warm bodies and buildings. Even now, there are men and women gearing up for a possible fight over those buildings and trying to hold on to as many of those warm bodies as possible. We round our numbers up and say that in the United States we have 8 million members.
But how many do we really have?
What is the actual size of the United Methodist CHURCH if we use these standards?
What is the size of the congregations that I serve?
Is my preaching the kind of preaching that preserves and fosters living faith?
Does my administration of the sacraments — and I’m fully aware here that as a licensed local preacher Wesley would not have permitted me to serve at the table — does my administration of the sacraments and my teaching about them ensure that people approach them and experience them as true means of grace?