Tag Archives: Three Simple Rules

Luther’s Reformation. Wesley’s Methods. Today’s Revival?

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is the sermon given on Sunday, October 29, 2017.  

This week, on Halloween, October 31, 2017, there is a Christian milestone to celebrate—the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses challenging the problems of the Catholic Church. This is historically identified as the beginning of the Protestant movement.

Trying to summarize the 95 statements is challenging, but primarily Luther had become so incensed to the practices of the Catholic Church, especially paying for one’s penance, that he wrote out the concerns and nailed them to the church door. This one act developed the Protestant church movement that continues today, alongside the Catholic Church.

In Germany, where Martin Luther served as a priest and led the reformation, a unified group of churches under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) published a booklet that outlines the reason and the rational behind the Reformation. The purpose of remembering this event is clearly stated:

Christianity, and indeed human society, always lives from the memories of its history. An honest engagement with the Reformation is always informed and enlightened by historical critique. A genuine understanding of history will presuppose an educational process distinguishing between historical events in the 16th century and what this history means for us today. Such an understanding will avoid any non-historical glorification or naive instrumentalization of those events. (Page 6).

 

The EKD goes on to state the earliest Christians who are now referred to as “Reformers” continued what Luther began:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The explanation includes the consequence of the Reformation movement that continues even today, 500 years later:

The Reformers wanted to renew the church of Jesus Christ in the spirit of the gospel, not to divide it. (Page 11).

 

The Reformation as a movement continues yet today. It led to John Wesley and his work, along with so many theologians who are recognized as leaders of various Protestant denominations. The EKD publication states:

This Reformational approach is one in which the search and longing for God, for the holy, for spirituality and inwardness, goes hand in hand with responsibility for our neighbour, the world and the future. (Page 16).

 

As part of the Protestant arm of Christianity, these goals echo the basic premises of the Methodist movement that began with Wesley, who was born in 1706 and began his style of ministry about 30 years later.

Wesley’s movement focused on personal spiritual practices and on social responsibility. He established the small group method that demanded that each person be included in a class that met regularly and required Bible study and accountability. Bishop Rueben Job has simplified Wesley’s expectations to three rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

The often-repeated quote attributed to Wesley really says it all:


“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

 

The question today, though, takes the Reformation movement and turns it to a personal level: Do you need a revival?

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-46, NLT)

Again, Do you need a revival? Considering the anniversary of the Reformation and Wesley’s movement about 200 hundred years later, we are reflecting on major shifts in how Christianity is a personal lifestyle, not one dictated by a government or even a particular priest or minister.

Returning to the booklet published by the EKD concerning the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a series of key points are included under the heading “Reassurance.”

The following seven basic dimensions describe this approach. Although each person will develop it in his or her own way, it reflects the one spirit that God has given us, not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self-control«. 2 Tim 1:7 (RSV) (Page 16).

 

The seven dimensions are

  1. Trust in God.
    • A Reformational approach to life knows that faith is a gift. Faith does not live from holding to church doctrines, or observing ritual acts, or following moral precepts.
    • From a Protestant standpoint, faith does not fear rationality.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities.
    • It can therefore ally itself with a worldview shaped by the Enlightenment, the sciences and the humanities. (Page 17).
  2. Being humble.
  • The root of every demeanour and all hopes is the cross. (Page 18).
  • The Cross cuts across established certainties. It makes the soul ready for God’s mercy and, at the same time, humble and willing to defend all those suffering humiliation. (Page 18).
  1. Living our freedom.
  • Reformation piety is not withdrawal from the world, but turning towards it and attending to the needs of our neighbour. . . . – from music to literature, the fine arts, education and research, not to mention the culture of debate in politics and civil society. (Page 19).
  1. Being resistant.
  • a Reformational approach to life stands for a culture of resistance to the abuse of power, fundamentalism and attacks on social minorities. Protestantism participates constructively in societal debates and champions the freedom of individuals to make decisions about their own lives. (Page 21).
  1. Remaining sensitive.
  • Faith lives from our relation to God and becomes practical in love of our neighbour both near and far.
  • . . . basic Reformation insight that education fosters value orientation and personal development. It broadens our horizons, sheds light on other approaches to and ways of life, and makes us sensitive to the cares and sufferings of others. (Page 22).
  1. Finding a home.
  • Faith presses towards community in which there is mutual stimulus and empowerment. (Page 23).
  1. Taking a break.
  • A Reformational approach to life is certain that creation and world history, the present and the future, do not depend alone on what we do, or what we leave undone.
  • . . . puts trust in God and not in the illusion that happiness can be created by human hands.
  • It takes each day as it comes, with its own joys and sorrows. (Page 25).

 

One is free to find a Christian denomination that fits them personally, but the foundation remains in the lessons that Jesus taught as recorded in the New Testament. Reading the lectionary each week does not always provide insight into one’s life for that particular week, but there are gems of messages that can help each one of us live a Christian lifestyle that makes sense in our personal world.

What the EKD does may not be the celebration we plan this week, but the message of how the Reformation transformed The Church 500 years ago, can serve as a self-evaluation for our church today, but more importantly as a self-check for each one of us individually.

Do you need a revival?

Last week’s commentary on the lectionary certainly forced me to consider this question. Reading through the seven points of reassurance, considering Wesley’s methods for Christian living, and then remembering Job’s three simple rules, the need for a revival seems evident.

Today’s Methodist church is facing the need for a revival and that means each one of us needs to consider the need for a personal revival. Attending the New Wineskins conference a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to learn that many growing congregations that have either been a restart or a new plant are not using any reference to the denomination in its formal name. One speaker noted that it seemed to help not using the term ‘Methodist’ and yet another one said that using the identifying term did not seem to have a negative effect.

Today, our denomination is being challenged to live its very fundamental life style as visibly as any organization. The use of social media, advertising, high-quality graphics and signage all place our Christian values in full public display. If we as Methodists, as a Methodist congregation, do not reflect the image of Christ, then we are in need of a revival.

Paul was clearly supporting the new congregations struggling to live a Christian lifestyle while living in communities that were filled with pagan practices. Christianity was a reformation movement from the beginning and has always adapted to cultural changes one way or another. The Protestant movement that spun out of Martin Luther’s actions as he hung up the 95 Thesis on the door of the church in defiance of the Pope has carried God’s message throughout the world and forward through the centuries.

We must honestly address the question of whether or not we need a revival, and then we must move forward to make sure that we are living out Jesus’ message of loving God and loving one another. Imagine how maintaining those two commandments can transform our world, but most importantly how it can transform our own lives.

The final page of the EKD’s booklet simply states:

A Reformational approach to life – nurtured by historical commemoration, trusting in God, rooted in Scripture, bearing responsibility in the present – is a wellspring of humanity for every society.

 

After all, a wisdom refined by spirituality teaches us to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world. Tit 2:12 (RSV) (Page 36).

 

The verse from Titus 2 is part of Paul’s words of instruction to Titus as he is left to serve the church in Crete. The context includes more advice that we need to consider when wondering if we are in need of a revival:

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God ,13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14, NLT)

As a closing prayer for this anniversary, I used the following from http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2011/10/prayer-for-reformation-sunday.html

Here we stand, Lord,
The people you have redeemed.
Here we stand, Lord,
giving thanks to you for you are good.
We give thanks that your love lasts forever.
We thank you that you free those who are oppressed.

Here we stand knowing that it is you
We all can cry out to for help in times of trouble.
We know that you will not only deliver us but
That you will lead our way to where we need to go.

Here we stand by the living water
That you set flowing for all.
We drink freely from your waters
That gratifies everyone who is thirsty.
And we thank you that you also
Give plenty to eat for those who are hungry.

Here we stand with those who reformed the church so long ago
And with those who still are reforming the church today.
Here we stand witnesses to your good news for all.
Here we stand your servants, your followers, your children.

–by Abigail Carlisle-Wilke

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Rule No. 3: Stay in love with God.

given on Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rule No. 3:  Stay in love with God.

based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules:  A Wesleyan Way of Living

 

What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you hear the rooster’s crow?  Is it that it can’t be time to get up!  Or maybe you think something is wrong, the rooster’s crow could be a warning.  Does it ever cross your mind that the rooster’s crow is asking a question for God?  God asks, “Do you love me?”

Oddly, that question is the one test that God asks of us over and over.  We just do not hear it.  “Do you love me?”  Not only once does he ask it, but he asks it over and over and over.  Peter heard it three times.  Peter could answer it with words, but actions do not always match our words.

While reading these three simple rules, the order of them seemed backward.  Shouldn’t the last, the third rule, be the first:  Stay in love with God.  In fact, I think it seems more logical to completely reverse the three rules:  1. Stay in love with God.  2. Do good.  3. Do no harm.

This third rule even lead me to ask our district superintendent about its wording and inclusion in the three rules.  The answer was the typical Jesus-style answer:  How else do we hear God?  How do we do the other two rules?

To stay in love with God seems so simple, but by now I know that simple wording certainly does not mean simple practices.  Bishop Job even begins the explanation with the word “ordinance.”  With a background exposure to a military academy, the word ordinance triggers images of weapons.  Ordinance certainly was not a word I expected in a theological discussion.  But, the Bishop begins rule number three with that word:

Ordinance is a strange word to our ears.  But to John Wesley, it was a word that described the practices that kept the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing.  (p.53)

Another words, there must be ‘weapons’ to use for keeping us following God.  The Bishop continues to clarify that:

. . . He names public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible study, and fasting as essential to a faithful life.  . . . these practices can become a life-giving source of strength and guidance for us.  . . . these disciplines [are] central to any life in faithfulness to God in Christ.  (ibid)

Let’s go back to the rooster’s crow.  Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.  Peter refused to believe it.  Yet sitting with the crowd outside the palace, three times he was asked if he knew Jesus.  Three times he answered no.  Imagine what he felt when the rooster crowed!  He knew he had denied Jesus three times right there that night. (John 18:25-27)

Rule no. 3:  Stay in love with God.  Peter loved God, yet even he denied knowing Jesus.  If Peter can slip and deny Jesus at that very critical point in the story, why shouldn’t we be concerned with our ability to stay in love with God?

Maybe we are doing no harm and we are doing good, are we still in love with God?  How can we be sure that we stay in love with God?  Even after all these years as Christian, why should we be concerned about staying in love with God?

Maybe we are doing just fine, but we also know that the world around us continues to change and usually we are not too happy about it.  We complain, but we do not seem to have a solution.  We are comfortable in our daily routines and our typical weekly schedule.  Is not that enough to show that we are still in love with God?  The question possibly could be worded a bit differently, too:  Are my personal practices enough to maintain my love for God in the 21st century culture?

Here is Bishop Job’s checklist, which comes straight from John Wesley:

  • public worship of God,
  • the Lord’s Supper,
  • private and family prayer,
  • searching the Scriptures, Bible study,
  • and fasting.

Stop and review those practices—or ordinances—to keep us in a solid relationship with God.  Are we able to affirm that we are participating in those six practices?  Maybe we practice part of them, maybe three or four; but are our practices strong enough to convince God and others we are still in love with God.

The third rule needs to be the first as it leads to the other two rules as automatic results from this third rule.  Bishop Job provides the reasoning:

[1]  It is in these practices that we learn to hear and respond to God’s direction.

[2]  It is in these practices that we learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

 [3]  It is in these practices that we learn of God’s love for us.

 [4]  It is where our love for God is nurtured and sustained.  (p.55)

The argument that rule no. 3 should be rule no. 1 is becoming more solid—at least in my mind.  If maintaining these practices keep us in a strong relationship with God, following his direction to do no harm and to do good will follow.

These ‘ordinances’ are not new.   These practices or methods or disciplines are designed to keep us in love with God, but they also result in doing no harm and in doing good even in the 21st century.  Jesus and his Apostles were using these practices.  Wesley used them.  And today we use them.  The methods to stay in love with God have not changed.  The cultures around us continue to change, but maintaining these practices is essential.

Granted the cultural changes lead us to modify or to adapt the practices in many cases, but the practices do arm us against the onslaught of a 21st century culture that seems to turn fire at us every moment of our earthly lives—even in those quiet sleeping moments at night.

The very constitutional amendments designed to preserve our religious freedoms here in the United States are challenged and adapted to social standards that are no longer the primary Christian ones that established the Constitution.   Yet there can be no excuse for not maintaining the practices of our faith.  For example, one individual tested prayer in our schools.  The Supreme Court ruled that we may not force someone to pray out loud at schools or other public functions.  But no one can legislate our silent prayers whether in school, in our homes, or on our jobs.

  • We continue to meet weekly for public worship.
  • We have no excuse to avoid reading the Bible in search of answers or simply for continual study.
  • We include communion in our worship.
  • We can choose to fast in a manner that works for us, too.

The truth is that we honestly need to review our practices.  Are we using these practices, often referred to as Wesley’s Works of Piety?  Again, Bishop Job points out that rule no. 3 leads to Wesley’s Works of Mercy that covers rules no. 1 & 2.

Holy living will not be discovered, achieved, continued, and sustained without staying in love with God.  And while staying in love with God involves, prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s Supper [ i.e. works of piety], it also involves feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and providing for the needs of others . . . [those] are the signs of love that we exchange with God.  And they are signs of the love that the world can understand.

Sadly, we live in a world that challenges us to maintain our works of piety.  Bishop Job quotes the theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”      With that statement, when we fail to maintain our Christian principles or to follow our practices, we have to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”

And like Peter, when the rooster began crowing on that fateful morning, we have to turn to God and ask for forgiveness.  Remember, God forgives us “70 times 7” or forever.  Peter denied his love of God, and there are times we do, too.  We may not use words, but we use actions.  Fortunately, as Bishop Job adds,

“The failures of the past are to be forgotten and the new possibilities are to be embraced. . . . Each of us has our own litany of failures to recite, but the good news is that we can start again.  . . . [our answer to ‘Do you love me?’ is] When we respond in the affirmative, the response from God is always the same, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” (p.59-60)

The three simple rules are all wrapped up in on:  “Stay in love with God.”  By following the disciplines laid out by Wesley as the works of piety–prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s supper—then we answer with the works of mercy—actions that heal the pain, injustice, and inequality of our world.  We do no harm and we do good as means or ways to stay in love with God.  To end, Bishop Job writes:

“It’s a way of living that can guard your life from doing evil and enable you to do good.  A way of living that provides a way to stay in love with God in this world and the next.  A way of living that promises a way to claim and enjoy your full inheritance as children of God. (p.61-62)

I believe that staying in love with God leads to the quality of life that I dream of living.  The end result, too, is continued life even after death.  Peter heard that rooster crow, but even after denying his relationship with Jesus, he was forgiven and continued to spread the Word.  God loves us, we love him.  Let us share the news, too, so others may know that love and the world can be transformed.

And to close, using the words of Bishop Job, let us pray:

Dear God,

Teach us today

to do no harm,

to do good,

and assist us

so that we may

stay in a loving relationship

with you and our neighbor.

Help us today

to be an answer

to another’s prayer

so that we may be one

of your signs

of hope

in the world you love.  –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion