Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wesley Sermon #19

There is therefore now no condemnation
to them which are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

A major mark of the new birth is the lack of condemnation experienced by those who are in Christ. They actively trust that Jesus frees them from sin/sins.

There is no condemnation over past sins because they have been dealt with, once and for all, in Christ Jesus.

There is no condemnation over present sins because those in Christ do not presently sin.

There is no condemnation over inward sin because the believer does not yield to it.

There is no condemnation over imperfection, since these simply serve to remind believers of our need for Jesus.

There is no condemnation for involuntary sins since such are not even properly counted as guilt-inducing sins.

There is no condemnation for anything that one wasn’t empowered to avoid, since guilt is connected to choice.

There is not even necessarily condemnation for so called sins of surprise, insofar as it is not linked to negligence.

God does not condemn such, for God is forgiving, wise and compassionate. And it is a sin for a believer to condemn oneself when God condemns them not. It is foolishness to allow sin to masquerade as an entity more powerful than God. God’s love is higher than all my sins.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What are We to Think of Mediums?

A medium is someone said to have an intuitive ability to communicate with the dead. For Christians, two key questions emerge: First, are mediums legitimate (do they actually communicate with the dead?). Second, what does the Bible say about mediums?

A “Yes” or “No” answer to the first question is inadequate. Let us assume, for a moment, that it is hypothetically possible to communicate with the dead. In such a case, it STILL wouldn’t demonstrate that just anyone claiming to be a medium is actually communicating with the dead. There are other possibilities.

For instance, they could be purposefully deceiving their cliental in order to make money in a lucrative industry (taking advantage of people’s desire to communicate with lost loved ones, for example). Or, perhaps, they could be deceived themselves (believing that they are communicating with the dead when they are, in fact, not. They may even be communicating with the demonic realm). Worse still, they could be intentionally communicating with the demonic realm.

But, hypothetically, it is possible that some people do, somehow, acquire the ability to communicate with the dead (most Christians do believe, after all, that the dead exist somewhere). The Bible, it could be argued, assumes that there are such people who ‘consult with the dead.’ (they are not simply condemned as frauds). Biblical scholars debate whether Samuel, for instance, was actually consulted by the medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28).

Our second question, the Scriptural one, is much more black & white. The Bible clearly forbids God’s people from turning to mediums: “Do not turn to mediums” (Leviticus 19:31). Doing so would result in being cut off from God’s people (Leviticus 20:6). In fact, under the Old Covenant, this practice was considered so serious that anyone found guilty of doing it was subject to the death penalty (Leviticus 20:27).

The practice was considered one of the detestable ways of the nations (along with activities like child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, spell-casting, etc. See Deuteronomy 18:9-13). These are things that people of the world do, but God’s people refuse to participate in. Saul was right to expel the mediums from the land of Israel (1 Samuel 28:3), but wrong to consult one (1 Chronicles 10:13).

As it turns out, then, the Christian approach to supposed mediums is not overly complicated. Either they are really not contacting anyone (it’s a hoax); contacting the devil and/or demons (knowingly or ignorantly); or they are legitimately contacting the dead (which is forbidden by God). None of those scenarios are favorable, to say the least.

When Christians find themselves interested in such practices, it begs a bigger question... what is the motivation behind such interest? Are we looking for comfort and/or answers? Go to God! As it says in Isaiah, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wesley Sermon #18

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin”
(1 John 3:9)

It is the great privilege of the children of God that they are freed from the power of sin. The new birth changes us so fundamentally that ‘whosoever is born of God… doesn’t sin.’ This Scriptural statement, however, has resulted in much confusion. I shall clarify both parts.

To be born of God is to experience drastic change (that is why ‘birth’ is an apt analogy). Previous to birth, the child has little to no awareness of his/her dependence on the world around them, but once born they begin to experience life in that world. So, too, with us. The new birth allows us to experience life in God.

What better privilege than power over sin? Those who are born of God do not sin! By sin, I mean a voluntary transgression of a known law of God. By do not, I mean that while they remain in step with God, they never sin. It is possible to fall out of step with God, but it is impossible to stay in step and sin.

David and Peter are good examples of godly men who fell out of step with God. David was a man after God’s own heart, but when temptation came he fell out of step with God and sinned. Peter was a Spirit-filled Apostle of Christ, but he, too, gave way to temptation. When we fail to stay in step with God, our faith fails. And when our faith fails, all sin is possible. So… stay in step with the Lord!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wesley Sermon #17

So is everyone that is born of the Spirit (John 3:8)

I propose to lay down the marks of the new birth in the plainest manner, just as I find them laid down in Scripture. The marks of the new birth are faith, hope, and love.

Faith is the foundational mark of the new birth. By faith we do not mean mere assent to the proposition ‘Jesus is the Christ,’ but also a disposition of the heart. It is a rejection of the flesh and an active trust in Christ. It yields power over sin, so that whoever is born of God does not commit sin. It also yields peace which passes understanding.

There is such a thing as false hope, but true hope is a mark of having been born again. This is the assurance of salvation. The Spirit bears witness that we are, indeed, children of God. Present sufferings cannot destroy such hope.

The greatest of these marks is love. Primarily, this is a love for God, but this produces a love for all people (neighbors and supposed enemies). We are willing to die for them. This love exists, first and foremost, in the heart. But if plays out in actions towards God and people.

Each of us knows if we are presently experiencing this faith, this hope, and this love. Is this your present experience? If so, you bear the marks of new birth.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Anabaptizing The Wesleyan Church

I'm an ordained Wesleyan minister. But let's be honest... a lot of that is happenstance. Soon after their conversions, my parents started attending the local Wesleyan church. That was almost 30 years ago. I'm still there. I love my home church. And I love The Wesleyan Church (TWC). Almost a decade ago I read through this handbook of denominations and determined that TWC was my 2nd favorite denomination behind only the Church of God (Anderson, IN). 2nd place out of so many is pretty great. In other words, nobody should interpret this blog-post as an anti-Wesleyan Church rant. I love my branch of Christianity and have every intention of spending the remainder of my earthly life there.

That being said, I do think The Wesleyan Church needs a bit more Anabaptism in its blood. Over the last decade I've become a lot more Anabaptist in my theology/doctrine. But I don't think TWC should become more Anabaptist because I did. I think TWC should become more Anabaptist for its own sake (surviving post-Christendom) and for Jesus' sake.

One of the go-to places to discover the basic elements of Anabaptism is the Schleitheim Confession. It lists 7 core convictions of Anabaptists:

1. Believer's Baptism
For the most part, Anabaptism has already won the day on this front in TWC. It is my impression that MOST (not all) Wesleyan pastors either highly prefer or exclusively practice only believer's baptism (as opposed to infant baptism). That being said, I definitely do sense a movement within TWC arguing FOR infant baptism. And, of course, that argument goes right back to John Wesley himself. Recently I've been leading a group through 60 of Mr. Wesley's sermons. One thing I've found is that Wesley seems to have had an intense internal debate about the practice. He was beholden to his (infant baptizing) tradition while hating some of its results. I'm not suggesting that we end the debate, but I do feel strongly about believer's baptism.

2. The Ban (Church Discipline)
Church discipline is in The Discipline, but it is generally not in the churches. Of course, it's super difficult to do church discipline in a culture where people can (and do) just change churches upon their first grievance. But I wholly believe that we need to find some way to discipline (in love) members who are falling away from the faith.

3. The Lord's Supper
Now, here's proof that I'm not just following Anabaptism step for step. In my readings of Wesley sermons, I really enjoyed his take on communion. He seemed open to anyone who was taking a step toward Christ participating in the sacrament. It was truly a means of grace (maybe even saving grace) for Wesley. Anabaptists seem more adamant that participants must be saved & baptized believers. I'll side with my understanding of Wesley here.

4. Separation
This is the area that stands behind my motivation for posting this today. It seems that lately (maybe its because I just attended a conference with Bruxy Cavey, Greg Boyd, and Brian Zahnd) I can't help but seeing as ugly the blending of church & state in America. Often, our local church are more passionate about patriotism than the Kingdom of God. Anabaptists, rightfully in my opinion, see themselves as a counter-cultural movement. I get the impression, however, that TWC sees itself much more as a para-culture ministry. I'll give one example. Today I was on the Wesleyan Pastor's page (Facebook) and found out that a number of pastors would be unwilling to marry a couple that didn't want a state license, but would have no problem recognizing a couple as married that did the whole deal before a secular judge. Something is backwards here! I'm not sure if we've nationalized our faith... or faithified our patriotism. I think all Wesleyan pastors should read this post from the Dean of Wesley Seminary.

5. Pastors
The Schleitheim Confession speaks of the importance of pastors. I don't think there's too much difference, here, between Anabaptists and TWC. I'm probably different from both of them. I feel like the ideal situation for any pastor would be to work their way out of a job! But that's another blog post.

6. The Sword
I don't anticipate the peace-making position to become a majority view within TWC. Personally, I don't believe Christians should participate in violence. I believe we are called to play a different role in conflict (prayerful peace-makers). But I try to be a realist. TWC isn't an Anabaptist denomination. It is enough, for me, that it allows those with Anabaptist convictions in its ranks (and promises to support them in their convictions). But I long for the day when we, as TWC, actually have confidence in the power of sacrifice. I long for the day when I stop hearing Wesleyans say things like 'Just nuke em.' I long for the day that when we talk about 'our' response... it's not the response of the nation that we have in mind... but the response Jesus wants to make through the church.

7. The Oath
Anabaptists are against taking oaths. TWC is against secret oaths. Close enough. This post is getting pretty long and I don't feel passionately enough about this issue to make a big deal out of this point.

To summarize, I feel that the Anabaptist tradition raises important issues for Wesleyans to consider. They make strong arguments for believer's baptism, the practice of church discipline, viewing the church as a radical counter-culture, and the peace-making position. These are all areas that I think TWC needs to seriously consider in order to survive in post-Christendom and, even more importantly, in order to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

I have no desire to leave The Wesleyan Church for an Anabaptist denomination, but I have every intention to bring these beautiful and powerful elements of the Anabaptist tradition more and more into The Wesleyan Church.