Faith and the “Inward Witness”
Several years ago I read a column by Donald W. Haynes — and its content has stayed with me. Haynes used to write a regular “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter. (I always appreciated what he had to say.)
The one I’m thinking of was titled “Like Wesley, do we seek an ‘inward witness’?” It appeared in November of 2012. It was about the experience of the assurance of salvation. First, Haynes talks about Wesley’s religious life prior to his famous Aldersgate experience. Was he seeking God? Certainly. Was he seeking a holy life? Certainly. Did he have faith? Yes. But, there was a vital and missing element: an experience of inward assurance. It was this that he found at the prayer meeting at Aldersgate. Haynes writes:
Wesley’s doctrine was sound and his self-discipline was exemplary, but he still lacked what Paul called “witness of the spirit.” Wesley admitted later that he did not understand his father, when the old Anglican on his death bed in April 1735 told him that “inward witness” was the “strongest proof of Christianity.”Surely, many of us know how Wesley must have felt. In the years since revival altar calls gave way to confirmation classes, very little has been said in most United Methodist churches about an experience of assurance that one’s sins are forgiven. Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist children once learned a little chorus: “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart . . . down in my heart today.” The second stanza was the same except the last line, “down in my heart to stay.”
How many of us must confess—while we believe that God loves us, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we are to reach out with deeds of kindness and acts of mercy—we still have a missing link in our relationship with God? Deep in our soul, there is an empty spot which only the Holy Spirit can fill. Is this not the Achilles heel of multiple millions of Christians? Is this not one important clue to the net loss of 650,000 United Methodists already in the 21st century?
Church is Not an End in Itself
Someone recommended an out-of-print book to me as the best thing she had read on pastoral care. I am not so actively involved in pastoral care anymore, but I was interested in the book and found a used copy through Amazon.
In the early chapters of the book I read this:
Religious communities do not exist as an end in themselves, they are created in response to a call. Faithfulness to the call comes first. Community follows. Religious communities share a common vision or goal that is supported by theological understanding and nurtured by religious observance and spiritual practice. Secualr communities, too, bond through shared missions that are reinforced through ritual.
While religious communities differ in their theological expression and religious practice, Christians and Jews believe their communal experience is intrinsically rooted in their faith experience. Both groups study the Hebrew Scriptures and other sacred writings for guidance in their communal life. Both Christians and Jews acknowledge that those in their communities are able to love and accept each other and care for the world because God first loved them.
— Margaret Kornfeld, Cultivating Wholeness, A Guide to Care and Counseling in Faith Communities (page 17).
This is a valuable and important statement — and when churches loose sight of this they also lose their continued reason to exist. (more…)
John Wesley: Can Any Christian Revival Continue?
I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
Evangelical, Wesleyan, Egalitarian
Some time back I posted this list compiled by Kevin Jackson of the Wesleyan-Arminian blog: Women Leaders in the Wesleyan Movements. I did it to make a point: support for Women in Ministry in the Wesleyan movements goes back to the days of Wesley himself — back to the very beginning of the movement. And, in this regard to holiness denominations were (generally speaking) more radical and far ahead of the Methodist Episcopal —> Methodist —> (+ EUB) —> United Methodist Church. Though, of course, the Methodists got on board too.
The revivalists were there first.
That is a paradigm shift for a lot of people. The acceptance of women in ministry in the Wesley-related movements was well ahead of the modern, secular feminist movement — and is, in that sense, unrelated to it! The more radical, Bible-thumping, revivalistic branches of the Wesleyan movement accepted the idea of women in ministry long before the official acceptance of this by the United Methodist Church. (more…)
Where’s the Revival Now?
I think I must be some kind of Methodist “throwback” or something. But, I’m actually rather glad about it. My early experiences in the faith included Revival meetings and Camp Meeting and Prayer Groups and Evening Worship Services and Midweek Prayer Meetings, etc. They were all aids to discipleship. They were important.
But, I don’t mean that the “form” was important.
I know many of these are considered to be the evangelistic techniques of the past. It is felt that they need to be laid aside for new techniques. And, I’m fine with that. Really. I strongly believe in function over form. Times change. Strategies change. They should. Great. I’m all for new and better strategies.
But, here’s my (major) gripe about the present state of United Methodism: what has replaced the old techniques? (more…)