Recently, I wrote a post about the General Conference decision to take a “pause” on decisions regarding the language in our Discipline concerning human sexuality. I know that there are many that are pained in one way or another about this pause. However, I for one am able to breathe again, for two reasons.
First, a parishioner passed this little tidbit on to me yesterday concerning the idea of taking a pause.
Practice the pause.
When in doubt, pause.
When angry, pause.
When tired, pause.
When stressed, pause.
And whenever you pause – Pray!
Great words of advice for any of us but especially for the “group thinks” that make up my beloved UMC right now. Pause. Pray. Pray some more while we pause.
The second reason that I like this period of pause is that it will allow us to become very intentional about the conversations that we have with one another. Already, I have been disappointed to see some unusually smug words about “victories” at General Conference. However, I don’t see how talking about the decline of the United Methodist Women could ever be considered a “victory.” Still others are talking about the schism of the United Methodist Church as if it is a done deal and we are just waiting for the pieces to fall into place. And yet still others are posturing in such a way as to try and force our episcopal leaders into a particular path that they see as absolutely necessary. And of course, we have those who are in hired positions of authority telling us that we should ignore the duly elected and consecrated authorities we have in our denomination and come join them for a gathering that is not a new church (wink, wink) just a gathering of good Wesleyan believers. (Granted Rev. Tennant wrote an apology for this post, the apology is limited to those bishops Tennant finds “faithful”. I also did not see him take away the invitation to join that event which isn’t an attempt to start a new denomination. That phrase is just, oh, so Wesleyan, you must love it!) There is plenty of blame to go around. Plenty.
I am not one who typically thinks of himself as a scholar on John Wesley. I am not even absolutely sure that there should be anything known as Wesleyan Theology especially given the fact that Wesley himself wasn’t to fond of describing the people of the Methodist Societies as anything other than Christians. Furthermore, I think it is absolute laziness on our part to back up 200+ years and stop at a theologian for our current understandings. He never did that. He learned from early Christians, the tradition as it developed and what he was experiencing around him while he read Scripture and tested all things with God’s Word. It’s pure laziness to think that Rev. John Wesley was any more holy than we should strive to be or any more intelligent in matters of theology for that matter. Lazy.
However, I have got to admit, I get lazy at times too and lean upon and learn from this great leader in the Anglican Church. (Nah, he never became a Methodist. He left that up to Asbury and Coke, but that’s another story and another line of thought that is just going to upset a few people.) I also enjoy learning from Rev. Wesley. Especially in these days of heated debate about religion and the practice thereof.
According to Richard Heitzenrater (be warned, he’s a more modern historian than Wesley) and Albert C. Outler (God forgive me, I’m pulling out all the stops here) Rev. Wesley wrote a sermon on Mark 9:38-39 that is especially timely for our day. In their introduction to said sermon they write, “Part of the price of peace in eighteenth-century Britain, after the bitter quarrels of Civil War and Restoration, was a general lessening of partisan zeal and bigotry. The main concern of all, in both church and civil state, was surcease from religious turmoil. It was, therefore, inevitable that the Methodist Revival should revive fear of new religious disruptions;” Heitzenrater and Outler go on to say, “In much the same way that the Methodists had come by the lable ‘enthusiasts’, they also had come to be regarded as ‘bigots’ in the current general sense of ‘excessive or irrational zealots’…In this sermon (‘A Caution Against Bigotry’) Wesley studiously avoids an apologetic stance…In effect, he gives a positive, if also indirect, plea for a carefully considered religious pluralism both in theology and praxis.” (Heitzenrater and Outler, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, page 287, emphasis addded.)
I’m not asking you to bow to Wesley or rip your robes in repentance as you read some of what he wrote here, but I do hope you hear some prophetic utterances for our day and time. Look at these excerpts from “A Caution Against Bigotry” as we take this time to pause within our own denomination and see if they have anything to say to us during this pause. You may read the whole sermon, here. Below is what I found especially interesting.
3. Perhaps more nearly than is commonly imagined; the case proposed being no uncommon case. That we may reap our full advantage from it, I design to show, first, in what sense men may, and do, now cast out devils: secondly, what we may understand by, “He followeth not us.” I shall, thirdly, explain our Lord’s direction, “Forbid him not;” and conclude with an inference from the whole…
3. It is, therefore, an unquestionable truth, that the god and prince of this world still possesses all who know not God. Only the manner wherein he possesses them now differs from that wherein he did it of old time. Then he frequently tormented their bodies as well as souls, and that openly, without any disguise: now he torments their souls only (unless in some rare cases), and that as covertly as possible. The reason of this difference is plain: it was then his aim to drive mankind into superstition; therefore, he wrought as openly as he could. But it is his aim to drive us into infidelity; therefore, he works as privately as he can: for the more secret he is, the more he prevails.
It would appear to me that in Wesley’s analysis of demon possession in the Bible and in his time, he allowed for a difference not just explained by science or critical analysis of the Scripture, but also allowing for what “evil” wished to accomplish in our world. This has powerful implications if we think about evil at work to destroy many Protestant denominations, including our own, by allowing “bigotry on both sides of theological debates” to tear us apart.
I could go on with other powerful sections of this sermon and I once again encourage you to grab both the coffee and courage needed to read it all and do so.
Eventually, Rev. Wesley turns to what makes this man casting out demons “different” than “the disciples.”
3. That expression may mean, Thirdly, –he differs from us in our religious opinions. There was a time when all Christians were of one mind, as well as of one heart, so great grace was upon them all, when they were first filled with the Holy Ghost! But how short a space did this blessing continue! How soon was that unanimity lost! and difference of opinion sprang up again, even in the church of Christ, –and that not in nominal but in real Christians; nay, in the very chief of them, the Apostles themselves! Nor does it appear that the difference which then began was ever entirely removed. We do not find that even those pillars in the temple of God, so long as they remained upon the earth, were ever brought to think alike, to be of one mind, particularly with regard to the ceremonial law. It is therefore no way surprising, that infinite varieties of opinion should now be found in the Christian church. A very probable consequence of this is, that whenever we see any “casting out devils,” he will be one that, in this sense, “followeth not us” –that is not of our opinion. It is scarce to be imagined he will be of our mind in all points, even of religion. He may very probably think in a different manner from us, even on several subjects of importance; such as the nature and use of the moral law, the eternal decrees of God, the sufficiency and efficacy of his grace, and the perseverance of his children.
4. He may differ from us, Fourthly, not only in opinion, but likewise in some point of practice. He may not approve of that manner of worshipping God which is practised in our congregation; and may judge that to be more profitable for his soul which took its rise from Calvin or Martin Luther. He may have many objections to that Liturgy which we approve of beyond all others; many doubts concerning that form of church government which we esteem both apostolical and scriptural. Perhaps he may go farther from us yet: he may, from a principle of conscience, refrain from several of those which we believe to be the ordinances of Christ. Or, if we both agree that they are ordained of God, there may still remain a difference between us, either as to the manner of administering those ordinances, or the persons to whom they should be administered. Now the unavoidable consequence of any of these differences will be, that he who thus differs from us must separate himself, with regard to those points, from our society. In this respect, therefore, “he followeth not us”: he is not (as we phrase it) “of our Church.”
5. But in a far stronger sense “he followeth not us,” who is not only of a different Church, but of such a Church as we account to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian, –a Church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of gross superstition as well as idolatry, –a Church that has added many articles to the faith which was once delivered to the saints; that has dropped one whole commandment of God, and made void several of the rest by her traditions; and that, pretending the highest veneration for, and strictest conformity to, the ancient Church, has nevertheless brought in numberless innovations, without any warrant either from antiquity or Scripture. Now, most certainly, “he followeth not us,” who stands at so great a distance from us.
6. And yet there may be a still wider difference than this. He who differs from us in judgement or practice, may possibly stand at a greater distance from us in affection than in judgement. And this indeed is a very natural and a very common effect of the other. The differences which begin in points of opinion seldom terminate there. They generally spread into the affections, and then separate chief friends. Nor are any animosities so deep and irreconcilable as those that spring from disagreement in religion. For this cause the bitterest enemies of a man are those of his own household. For this the father rises against his own children, and the children against the father; and perhaps persecute each other even to the death, thinking all the time they are doing God service. It is therefore nothing more than we may expect, if those who differ from us, either in religious opinions or practice, soon contract a sharpness, yea, bitterness towards us; if they are more and more prejudiced against us, till they conceive as ill an opinion of our persons as of our principles. An almost necessary consequence of this will be, they will speak in the same manner as they think of us. They will set themselves in opposition to us, and, as far as they are able, hinder our work; seeing it does not appear to them to be the work of God, but either of man or of the devil. He that thinks, speaks, and acts in such a manner as this, in the highest sense, “followeth not us.”
There’s a lot there. I know. Read it and let it sink in. Rev. Wesley knew that Christians could disagree to the point that they might not even see each other as Christians. Wow. And he had to warn the early Methodist Societies of this? I would have figured it would take a hundred years or so for that kind of certain thinking to take root, but alas, these words were not originally for us.
How does Wesley say we should treat those who have obvious fruits of the Spirit working in them but are so different from us in either theology or praxis?
IV. 1. If we willingly fail in any of these points, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him, “because he followeth not us,” then we are bigots. This is the inference I draw from what has been said. But the term “bigotry,” I fear, as frequently as it is used, is almost as little understood as “enthusiasm.” It is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party. opinion, church, and religion. Therefore he is a bigot who is so fond of any of these, so strongly attached to them, as to forbid any who casts out devils because he differs from himself in any or all these particulars.
2. Do you beware of this. Take care (1) That you do not convict yourself of bigotry, by your unreadiness to believe that any man does cast out devils, who differs from you. And if you are clear thus far, if you acknowledge the fact, then examine yourself, (2) Am I not convicted of bigotry in this, in forbidding him directly or indirectly Do I not directly forbid him on this ground, because he is not of my party, because he does not fall in with my opinions, or because he does not worship God according to that scheme of religion which I have received from my fathers
3. Examine yourself, Do I not indirectly at least forbid him, on any of these grounds Am I not sorry that God should thus own and bless a man that holds such erroneous opinions Do I not discourage him, because he is not of my Church, by disputing with him concerning it, by raising objections, and by perplexing his mind with distant consequences Do I show no anger, contempt, or unkindness of any sort, either in my words or actions Do I not mention behind his back, his (real or supposed) faults –his defects or infirmities Do not I hinder sinners from hearing his word If you do any of these things, you are a bigot to this day.
4. “Search me, O Lord, and prove me. Try out my reins and my heart! Look well if there be any way of” bigotry “in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In order to examine ourselves thoroughly, let the case be proposed in the strongest manner. What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still.
5. O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that casts out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give himself wholly up thereto. Speak well of him wheresoever you are; defend his character and his mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, his sphere of action; show him all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in his behalf, that he may save both himself and them that hear him.
6. I need add but one caution: Think not the bigotry of another is any excuse for your own. It is not impossible, that one who casts out devils himself, may yet forbid you so to do. You may observe, this is the very case mentioned in the text. The Apostles forbade another to do what they did themselves. But beware of retorting. It is not your part to return evil for evil. Another’s not observing the direction of our Lord, is no reason why you should neglect it. Nay, but let him have all the bigotry to himself. If he forbid you, do not you forbid him. Rather labour, and watch, and pray the more, to confirm your love toward him. If he speak all manner of evil of you, speak all manner of good (that is true) of him. Imitate herein that glorious saying of a great man (O that he had always breathed the same spirit!), “Let Luther call me a hundred devils; I will still reverence him as a messenger of God.”
Edited anonymously at the Memorial University of Newfoundland with corrections by Ryan Danker and George Lyons of Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, Idaho) for the Wesley Center for Applied Theology.
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I think I will just leave it there. Right there for us to think about as we enter this pause provided by our General Conference. And during this pause, I for one will be praying that none of us would continue or start any new bigotry in the name of Jesus.