When Francis Asbury arrived in America, he was distressed by the state of Methodism in the northern colonies. Joseph Pilmore and Richard Boardman – who Wesley had sent before – had confined their ministries to the urban centers of Philadelphia and New York and let Methodist discipline slacken.
In his biography of Asbury, John Wigger describes Pilmore as worried by the spectre of sectarian religion and reluctant to close the door to anyone. Asbury, on the contrary, thought that Methodist discipline about class meetings and love feasts were crucial to the spiritual work of Methodism. Only a disciplined society could foster the spiritual atmosphere necessary to nurture growth. Only in a love feast where all had proven their desire for higher spiritual gifts could true sharing and unburdening of hearts take place. When everyone was let in, the function of the feast was destroyed.
Pilmore looked over a church whose pews had been emptied by Asbury’s insistence on discipline and lamented the loss. Asbury said he would rather have a small but truly Methodist gathering than a large but undisciplined one.
Are we more like Pilmore or Asbury today?
(This post was original published in 2009. Question still seems relevant to me.)
Preacher Rich answers the question: What do you do with a church that wants to die?
This post by Ellen Martin at Seedbed has some links to other good resources regarding healthy sexuality and talking about it in the church.
The post also includes some of Martin’s experiences when she was seeking guidance, correction, and support from the church during a time of bondage to sexual sin.
Six years later when I came to the church to be a part of the body of Christ, I lived in sexual bondage. I sought guidance and understanding about my sexual temptations and sins. I wanted to know the voice of Christ. I asked a young adult ministry leader. I was told it wasn’t one of the top 10 sins and to not be so hard on myself. I never went back. I did find a wonderful congregation, but I wandered for weeks and months alone in bondage and shame as I worshipped with no help from the church. I quit asking because it seemed clear that this was not a conversation the church wanted to have. It seemed I would have to go at this part of discipleship alone with Jesus. The world celebrated and offered every opportunity for me to embrace my sexual desires. The church either condemned my sin, abstained their voice, or belittled my bondage.
Francis Asbury’s views on the material needs of itinerant clergy, quoted in John Wigger’s biography.
[T]he equipment of a Methodist minister consisted of a horse, saddle and bridle, one suit of clothes, a watch, a pocket Bible, and a hymn book. Anything else would be an encumbrance.
A question for my brothers and sisters who claim an ongoing connection with Wesleyan theology: Do you affirm the doctrine of Christian Perfection?
Huge numbers of Christians do not. As I understand Lutheran and Calvinism, they reject the doctrine. Everyday non-reflective American Christianity does as well. Even the early Methodist movement in John Wesley’s day resisted the doctrine.
Do we who sing the final verse of Charles’ hymn that provides the title of this post, join the critics or the hopeful teachers of this doctrine?
Do we believe that men and women can be made perfect in love?
Of course, to answer that we need to be clear about what we mean. Christian perfection does not mean we are free of ignorance or weakness, so we still might harm others or fail in our duty as a result. Neither does being perfect in love mean we feel no impulse or temptation to sin. That we will not be free of while dwelling in this house of clay, but Christ has broken the power of sin. We can overcome sin if we rely on Christ’s strength and not our own. We can love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can have the same love that Christ poured out for us pour out for others. Love can be the center of all we do and say.
At least, that is what Christian Perfection claims. And it does not claim these things merely as some higher or better way of being a Christian. It believes that we can be made perfect in love because it believes that without holiness no one will see the Lord. It answers the question “How do sinful humans become holy enough to live with God for eternity?” By the grace of God, we are made holy in heart and life.
Here has been my experience. It is easier to sin and ask for forgiveness than to grow in holiness. It is easier to say “I cannot change” than it is to put to death the things of the flesh.
So those strains of Christianity that deny Christian Perfection come up with doctrines explaining how unholy people arrive in heaven.
Are we among them?
Or do we sing our own hymns with integrity?