Ahhhhhhhhh. Deep breath… relax.
That’s the feeling I have right now though that is not me in this photograph. It’s surprisingly hard to find a picture of a man taking a deep breath. (I wonder if that’s because we so rarely do it.)
I’ve just finished with my January term class, TH601 – The Theology of John Wesley taught by Dr. Kenneth Collins. For those of you who do not know, John Wesley was an ordained Anglican Priest, who is credited with founding “Methodism.” Though you should also know that he was vehemently opposed to the Methodists splitting apart from the Church of England to form their denomination (the Methodists would wait until a few days after his death to make that jump).
This class was a new breed of learning for me; it is aptly named “intensive.” The format is one week of lectures on campus, one week of prep for the mid-term exam, and then one week of prep for the final exam. The mid-term was just two questions while the final was only one. My mid-term answers were seven pages long, and my final was four (still waiting for grades to be posted for the final). Interspersed through all of the lectures and exam questions was the required reading. This required reading consisted of four books all written by Dr. Collins, as well as 49 Wesley sermons.
Oh, and did I mention the class assignment? It was outlining 16 of Wesley’s sermons. Sounds easy right? Yeah…about that. John Wesley lived for most of the 1700’s. His writings are appropriately 18th century English. Our assignment was to summarize each paragraph of each sermon and put it into our words, in modern English, naturally. I finished my assignment with just a few hours to spare, and it was 11,000 words covering 43 pages (single spaced).
I am seriously considering not taking an intensive next January!
The good news is that this class, while an incredible experience, is now behind me. I have the next eleven days to take a few deep breaths and relax. I’m already getting antsy, though. I keep eyeing my syllabi of the three classes I’m taking for the Spring semester that starts February 8th. I can’t help but think I’m missing a great opportunity to work ahead on those class assignments…
Reflections from the class:
Wesley was a wreck in his early life. Theologically his beliefs were all over the place. He would get started down a particular path of thought, following in the teachings of Luther, a’ Kempis, the Moravians, and many others, only to reverse course after discovering the truths as he saw them contained in Scripture. In his early life he was a Christian in word and deed, but not in his heart, and not from a place of love.
That all changed for him one evening at Aldersgate in England. That night Wesley would experience his profound conversion experience and set off down a path that led to his theological ordo salutis… his order of salvation. This doctrine of salvation would serve as the basis and framework for the group called “Methodist.” In this order is spelled out; how to seek one’s salvation from sin, how to seek one’s freedom from the bondage of sin, how to become liberated in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and how to become entirely sanctified (holy).
We Methodist don’t hear much about John Wesley’s theology in our churches now. We’ve drifted far from where he wanted us to be. That being said, we do some of the things he wanted us to be doing well… we feed the hungry, help the poor, and clothe the naked. But despite the politics, despite the press, despite the views of some of our leaders, we must get back to Wesley’s message… correction… the Gospel’s message… of the reconciling power of Jesus Christ.
In his early years, John Wesley was thrown out of nearly every church, he preached in. He was thrown out because he questioned the direction of his church. He was thrown out for confronting the hypocrisy he saw coming from the pulpit and the people. He faced those people he regarded as marginal Christians, those Christians that went to church every Sunday out of habit than out of an act of love and worship. He did this not to be a jerk, or because he thought he was better than others. He did this out of love. He didn’t want people to be content where they were, with the little they were doing. He called others to grow in their holiness to glorify God.
And when he was thrown out, when he was persecuted, God blessed him. He noted in his memoirs of those early days that when he started preaching on the atoning blood of Christ, and that Christ was the only way to salvation, the Spirit blessed, and the people came. The very first time he stepped up on a tree stump, the very first time he did “field preaching”, three thousand people showed up.
What do we do to revitalize and bring people to our churches of any denomination?
We preach about Jesus Christ. With every breath, we sing his praises. With every word we push people to be more than they are at this moment, but more humble than they were yesterday.
Jesus Christ is the source of this power. Jesus Christ is the source of this love.
Following Wesley’s conversion, he never waivered from his overriding theme of Holy Love and Sola Fide (Faith Alone)… that being it is only through the utterly free grace of God, and our faith in him, that we are saved. It is God’s love for us, and not our works that will provide our salvation, our “new birth” as a child of God, freed from the Spirit of bondage and liberated in the Spirit of adoption.
God is Love.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV)