Reading Summaries & Reflection Questions
“REVIVAL means to reinvigorate, to restore to life, to become strong and healthy after a period of decline, to renew or revitalize.” - from Intro
We come to this study to consider our faith LEGACY. We come from the Wesleyan tradition known as Methodism. It spread like wildfire in the time of John Wesley. What does our 18th century legacy have to teach us that we may revive our faith as individuals and as the Methodist Church?
We’ve learned that Wesley believed the goal of Christian life was sanctification, which is being perfected in Christian love. There are two sides of sanctification; loving God, and loving neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus said these summarized the law and the prophets. These two dimensions, taken together, constitute the holistic gospel that Jesus taught and preached, and the gospel Wesley insisted was the scriptural way of salvation.
Wesley spoke of pursuing love of neighbor through good works in two senses. First is the ordinary expression of love summarized in the golden rule. As we grow in sanctification, evidence of our love toward others should be evident. If we are not consciously praying for and seeking these fruits of the spirit, they may diminish.
The second sense is works of mercy. This include acts by which we intentionally care for and assist those who need God’s help. With these acts, God is working in and through us. These acts themselves are means of grace; we the servant avail ourselves of God’s grace. Our actions become the instrument God uses to change us. If you have served, you no doubt have experience this. When churches stop actively serving others, like the elderly, young, sick, the prisoner, the hungry, the poor, and those on the margins, something in those churches begins to die.
Wesley’s diaries show that the early Methodist societies were involved in serving the needs of the community, nearly daily. Early, Methodists became involved in educating children in poverty because education is the key instrument out of poverty. This included starting public schools in the basements of Methodist churches and for Native American children. Methodists also started hundreds of colleges and universities. Many of those great universities still exist today!
Upon returning from America, Wesley spent much of his time in London, 1738. He was helping to form a religious society that became known as the Fetter Lane Society. Religious societies, as you remember, were organizations of like-minded Christians who sought to encourage one another toward spiritual health and maturity. They met once a week. This was the third rise of Methodism; the first being at Oxford and the second being the fledging groups in Georgia.
The Fetter Lane Society grew and grew. An old foundry building was purchased and would become the home of Methodism in London for the next 38 years. The new society was known as the Foundry, and included thousands. At the Foundry in the 1740s, the Methodist works of mercy saw new expressions. Wesley started to fund small loans akin to today’s micro lending. Care for the sick increased. The Foundry leased two houses for the poor and elderly widows and their children. They started a school for children who roamed the streets. Since then, city ministries, medical clinics, hospitals, orphanages, and more have been started and have carried on the Foundry legacy. Mission trips to serve, particularly getting health care access to the poor is also in the legacy of The Foundry.
For Wesley, evangelism and ministries to the poor were inextricably linked. Loving God and neighbor is the Kingdom of God. When that kingdom comes, all will be treated with respect, no one will have less or more, there will be no more tears, etc. Christians are meant to work to close the gap between the realities of the world we live in and Christ’s Kingdom vision. Young people who have left the church join organizations, often non-religious organizations, which seem to embody Christ’s Kingdom work. If the church is to be the church, it must embody Christ’s Kingdom work.
Again, Wesley held love of God and neighbor together. He held what might be called a dialectical approach to faith. Dialectical means holding in tension two things which appear to be opposites and forging a synthesis of the two that makes for a stronger and more complete faith. In the 20th century, there is a tendency to separate love of God and love of neighbor. “Liberal churches” have been cast as those who focus on serving others. This is often called the social gospel. “Conservative churches” have been cast at those who focus on a personal relationship with God through sharing the Word. This is called the evangelical gospel. Wesley’s approach was not the either/or approach. But instead, the both/and approach. Both social gospel and evangelical gospel. Both loving God and loving neighbor. Both faith and works. They are integrally connected sides of the gospel. Do you have a both/and faith? Do you support a both/and faith in your life, the church’s life, and the life Christians supports in living the Gospel outside the walls?
1. The goal of the Christian life, according to Wesley, is to be perfected in Christian love. This includes loving your neighbor in two senses.
a. What are the two Wesleyan senses described by Hamilton? (see summary or chapter 5.)
b. How does one grow or diminish in these two senses of loving our neighbors?
c. Wesley believed that pursuing acts of mercy towards your neighbors was a means of grace for the one serving others. Do you agree with this?
d. When was a time that serving another in need offered you an experience of God’s love and grace?
2. Read James 2: 14-18.
Martin Luther dismissed the Letter of James as an “epistle of straw” because Luther believed it derided Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and that it emphasized works as salvation. Wesley saw it differently by understanding James to say that God’s salvation was not just from sin but to godliness and works of compassion and mercy.
a. How do you read this passage? More like Luther or more like Wesley?
b. Wesley talks about being saved FROM sin and death and being saved FOR righteousness and godliness which means love and service. What do you think about this idea of being SAVED FROM and being SAVED FOR? Do you believe salvation through Christ includes both? Why or why not?
3. Again we come back to Wesley’s belief that two sides are held together in scriptural Gospel and in faith life. Love of God and love of neighbor are held up in this chapter. In the 20th century churches made a habit of splitting or over emphasizing one or the other. In fact, those that emphasize serving/loving neighbor and working for God’s justice (the social gospel) have been labeled “liberal.” Those that emphasize loving God and sharing the Word (the evangelical gospel) have been labeled “conservative.” Today Wesley would hold both together and likely be called both things.
a. Why do you believe those labels have come about? Are those labels scriptural?
b. Why do these understandings of faith seem to now be attached to American political parties?
c. As Wesleyans, what does it mean to hold up both social gospel and evangelical gospel as part of our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven to which we belong above our citizenship in our country?