All posts in John Wesley

The Wesleyan Operating System

When visioning the way forward for the church, sometimes it’s helpful to first go “back to the future…”

wesley with bible

John Wesley, who sought to form a people who strived for “holiness of heart and life.”

We have just finished a process to discern God’s unique vision for Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church, and we’ll be revealing the full scope of that vision in a few weeks. A team of ten laity and I used Will Mancini’s excellent Church Unique resources to drill down on what this church’s unique contribution to the kingdom in our region might be. The operating question Mancini uses in his process is this: “What can this church do better than 10,000 others?”

We have a lot of great discussion about that in our meetings, but the overall sense of the team was that our uniqueness is bound up in our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage, theology, and practice. There are lots of United Methodist churches, but very few are actually intentionally Wesleyan in doctrine and practice, while the vast majority of churches in our region come from the Reformed tradition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that– the Body of Christ is a mosaic of different emphases and skill sets. Indeed, to be Wesleyan is not to be a completely unique kind of Christian. In his sermon The Character of a Methodist, Wesley said that Methodists aren’t marked by any outward appearance, unique practice, or unusual set of Christian doctrines. To be Methodist, in other words, is to embrace the historic, apostolic, and Scriptural Christian faith. Wesley remained an Anglican all of his life and thus the doctrinal statements of Methodism were essentially the doctrinal statements of the Anglican Articles of Religion (with some modifications).

But there is something deeply unique about our Methodist DNA that speaks to a very specific purpose for the church–an emphasis on making disciples of Jesus in an intentional, systematic way using a particular “method “ (or operating system). It’s a tradition that takes both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Though Wesleyan theology differs on some points with other traditions, we have traditionally been about the goal of building people into Christian disciples. AsWesley put it in The Character of a Methodist, a disciple of Jesus will demonstrate:

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Book Review: The Sermons of John Wesley

ken-collins-the-sermons-of-john-wesleyJust received a newly published collection of The Sermons of John Wesley edited by Ken Collins and Jason Vickers. This collection is unique from the ones I’ve collected over the years (including an 1847 two-volume set I got from a retired pastor when I started in ministry) in that it’s not ordered chronologically, as most volumes tend to be. Instead, Collins and Vickers have put the sermons together according to the Wesleyan Order of Salvation, starting with Original Sin, progressing through Justification by Faith, New Birth, and Christian Perfection, and all the way toward New Creation. Each sermon comes with a commentary and a helpful outline that makes for easy study.

It’s always been interesting to me that Wesley focused much less on the traditional question-answer catechism that I grew up with in the Reformed tradition, and instead relied on the Anglican Articles of Religion and this collection of his own sermons as the theological grounding for the early Methodist lay preachers. Every Circuit Rider would have had a volume of these sermons next to their Bible in the saddlebag and he rode from town to town either in the English countryside or the American wilderness. Wesley’s theology was inherently practical, designed to be preached and lived out more than memorized or debated.

It’s also interesting that while most of us Methodist preachers study Wesley’s sermons in seminary, rarely have we leaned into them as a framework for our own preaching in the Methodist tradition. As I look at the way this collection is put together, it strikes me that it provides a great outline for a preacher to use in putting together a sermon series on the theology of Methodism, updating Wesley’s 18th century language and style for the 21st century.

Grab a copy of The Sermons of John Wesley and you’ll see what I mean!

The Surgical Scriptures

Artist Brian Dettmer carves old books. When happens when an old book carves us?

The book art of Brian Dettmer

The book art of Brian Dettmer

Brian Dettmer approaches a book like a surgeon. Now, you might think that’s a metaphor for the way he dissects and exegetes the text but in his case it’s actually quite literal. See, Brian approaches every book with an actual scalpel and does some actual textual surgery, carving old books into masterpieces.

Dettmer is an artist and his three-dimensional book carvings are truly stunning. He cuts out certain parts and pages of old encyclopedias, medical journals, dictionaries, or illustration books with exacting precision and leaves behind a deep visual feast of words and images that bring the book back to life in a new way. Where editing is a chore for most of us, he has turned it into an art form.

Dettmer’s work is a painstaking process done one page at a time with the scalpel, tweezers, and a knife. He also bends and manipulates the spines and covers of the books, rolls back pages, and puts together stacks of books to create these original literary sculptures. Nothing inside the books are relocated or implanted — only removed. “My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception,” says Dettmer. “The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered as the monopoly of the form and relevance of the information fades over time. The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge.”

Sounds like a guy who not only carves books but reads them, too.

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The Almost Christian


Almost-thereMark 12:28-34

When I was a kid we used to take long car trips to my
grandparents’ place several times a year. While it was only about an hour and a
half drive, to my sisters and me it was an eternity. I remember my youngest
sister was the most impatient and just about every time we got in the car she
had the same exchange with mom. “Are we there yet?” she’d ask. “Almost there,”
said mom. “But I wanna be there,” my
sister would whine.

Almost there. When I got a little older and started to
understand the concept of time and distance a little better, I used to chuckle
because mom’s “almost there” could mean anything from 5 minutes way to an hour
and 5 minutes. “Almost there” was always relative.

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The Case for Weekly Communion

Communion1Beginning September 9, Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church will offer Holy Communion every
Sunday at all three of our worship services. As part of our movement toward
becoming a church focused on “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the work of
his kingdom,” regular weekly communion provides us with an opportunity to hear
the Word of God read, preached, and sung, and then respond by coming to the
Table to open ourselves and receive the gift of God’s grace, love, and
forgiveness through the Sacrament.

Here
are some Frequently Asked Questions about instituting weekly communion at
TLUMC:

Why are we beginning
weekly communion?

            The
early church partook of the Lord’s Supper when they gathered together, as in
Acts 2:46 where the community “broke bread” in the fledgling churches meeting
in homes. Luke gives us this image earlier in his writing when he says that
Jesus was made known to two of his disciples after his resurrection “in the
breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:28-35). The early church believed that the
sacrament was a means of communing again with the risen Christ, proclaiming his
saving death and anticipating the coming of his kingdom (1 Corinthians
11:23-26). The sharing of the Lord’s Supper (which was actually part of a
larger meal) was the centerpiece of the worship life of the early church along
with the teaching of the apostles and prayer.

            In
our own Methodist tradition, John Wesley understood this pattern of the early
church and urged the early Methodists to hold fast to communing weekly.
Wesley’s primary reason for doing so was because Jesus himself commanded it
(“Do this in remembrance of me.”), but there were other reasons as well. Wesley
believed that the practice of weekly communion reminded people what Christ had
done for them in a tangible way and also gave them a tangible way to receive
the grace of Christ himself for the forgiveness of their sins. As Wesley put it
in his sermon The Duty of Constant
Communion
:

 As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our
souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our
souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection.
If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire
the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey
God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord's Supper; then
we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us.
We must neglect no occasion which the good providence of God affords us for
this purpose. This is the true rule: So often are we to receive as God gives us
opportunity. 

            To
put this another way, Holy Communion acts, in effect, as our weekly “altar
call”—an opportunity to respond to the Word, to deal with our sins, to rejoice
in the free grace of God offered to us in Christ, and to remember that we are
part of a community gathered around the table of Christ. We come to the altar
broken and hungry and we leave filled with the grace and assurance of Christ’s
love for us. We rise from the table strengthened for the task of following
Christ as his disciples. 

           In
2004, the United Methodist General Conference approved a study called This Holy Mystery which urged, but not required, United Methodist
Churches to consider reinstituting the practice of weekly communion as part of
the Service of Word and Table. Many churches are rediscovering that this
regular practice adds a depth of meaning and response in worship that preaching
and music alone cannot give.

            I
truly believe that weekly communion is an essential part of growing disciples
who seek not only to have knowledge about Christ but who also seek a regular
opportunity to receive again the grace of Christ.

How will we physically be able to share
communion each week with such a tight time window between our services?

            We will be adding two stations to our
regular communion service for a total of four stations. We will also adjust the
timing of the rest of the worship service to accommodate for weekly communion
(including a more concise sermon!). We also see this as an opportunity to get
more people involved in leading worship with the addition of more communion
servers, including some of our senior high youth. We will train our servers and
ushers to facilitate the process while allowing ample time for people to pray
at the altar after they commune if they feel led to do so. We will also add a gluten free option at one of the stations for those who need it. 

If we serve communion every week, won’t
that make it feel less “special?”

            Most
people eat supper every day. Sometimes that meal is a special occasion,
sometimes it feels pretty ordinary. Whether it feels special or ordinary,
however, we recognize that the primary purpose of supper is nourishment! We eat
meals because we need them and because we also see them as an opportunity to
gather with others around the table whenever we can.

            Holy
Communion nourishes us weekly with a diet of God’s grace, which all of us
desperately need. Sometimes the meal will feel quiet and solemn, sometimes it
will be eaten in the mood of celebration. Sometimes we’ll be communing beside
old friends and sometimes we’ll share the meal with people we are meeting for
the first time. As we commune weekly, I believe that you will begin to see it
as something to anticipate all week as you spend time with God on your own. As
we come to the table on Sunday, we come anticipating the promise of God will be
made known to us in the breaking of the bread once again: Christ has died,
Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

Who is allowed to partake of
communion in the United Methodist Church?

            Our
communion liturgy tells us up front: “Christ invites to his table all who love
him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one
another.” To put it another way, anyone—regardless of their age, their status,
their church background—is welcome at the table so long as they come out of love
for Christ and with a repentant heart that seeks God’s grace and forgiveness
through Christ. John Wesley believed that the sacrament was an opportunity for
those who may be seeking Christ, even for the first time, to come and
experience his saving grace in the breaking of the bread, thus we do not
exclude anyone who seeks Christ. In this sense, again, communion is a weekly
“altar call” that extends an invitation to all to receive Christ and all his
benefits. It is an “outward sign of an inward grace” that reminds us of what
Christ has done for us, what Christ
can do in us, and what Christ will do
for the world.

As we
begin weekly communion, I want to urge you to come to the table each week
expectantly, seeking Christ and his grace. This small article is by no means
the entire witness about weekly communion, but I hope it will provide you with
an opportunity to consider how you will approach the table each week. I will
share more about the theology and practice of the table each week as we gather
together.

            May
we know Christ through the breaking of the bread!

Sources:

You can
find a copy of Wesley’s full sermon The
Duty of Constant Communion
here.

You can
read the full text of This Holy Mystery,
the United Methodist study on Holy Communion, at this link