Things That We Hold in Common; Things That Make Us Unique

prayer-christian-unityI was teaching a class recently and had a long talk about theology. I shared with them that I’m a theological mutt, I’ve been influenced by a lot different Christian denominations and traditions, and because of that, I see lots more similarities between believers that I do difference. As part of that, I had put together a document talking about that the things that we hold and common, and then some of the distinctive parts of our faith. I’ve revised and updated it, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Things in common with all Christians

  1. The Creeds – all Christians, whether they “say” the creeds in worship, hold to Orthodox theology as found in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. These are a great benchmark of what we all believe.
  2. The Sacraments – There can be disagreements about when and how they are done, but Christians hold to the belief that Baptism and Communion (the Lord’s Supper) are incredibly important to our faith.
  3. Scripture – All Christians believe that Holy Scripture is the foundation of our belief, it is how we know God, His will, and understand who He is. We may disagree on interpretations, but we all believe it’s important and foundational.

Note – the following similarities don’t include every tradition within the faith; just the ones that most of us within Mississippi are familiar with.  I may be working on this in the coming days to include others.

What Methodists holds in common with Baptist Churches

  1. Conversion – One of my favorite quotes attributed to John Wesley was this – Do not tell me of your baptism, tell me of your conversation.  Personal conversion and salvation, these are the foundations of our faith and our walk with God. (John 3:1-6)
  2. Evangelism – we believe that as followers of Christ, one of our most important callings is to take the Good News of Salvation through Jesus to all the world.  (Matthew 28:16-20)
  3. Mission – We are called to serve the least, the last and the lost.  As we do  unto others, we have done unto Jesus.  (Matthew 25:31-46)
  4. The Preaching Event – the sermon matters. While it is not all the matters within worship, it is very important.  (Romans 10:14-17)

Roman Catholic Church

  1. Tradition –  The faith that has been handed down to us for over 2000 years matters.  The teaching of the universal church has much to teach us and is very important to our faith and theology.
  2. Nature of salvation – Salvation begins with God’s Work of Grace towards us, but we must respond and then throughout our life, we aren’t saved by our works, but as believers, we are called to faithful in all things.

Anglican Church

  1. Doctrine – Our foundational beliefs are the Articles of Religion which were pulled directly from John Wesley’s church – the Church of England
  2. Organization – Our structure models that structure with common words like “parishes” and “bishops.”
  3. Liturgy – Many of our formal prayers and liturgies resemble the prayers and liturgies of the Anglican Church.
  4. Heritage – The Anglican Church is our Mother Church. So we have a shared history with them.

Presbyterian Church

  1. Covenant thought – God reaches out to us through covenants.  We are children of the new covenant, and the covenant relationships of the Bible of are great importance to our faith.
  2. Power of sin – We are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  We are fallen.  We are sinful. And apart from Jesus, we stand condemned.

Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches

  1. The Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit is the power of God at work in the world, and while we experience differently, you can’t confess Jesus as Lord apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Common Heritage – Just as the Methodist Church came from the Church of England, many (most) Pentecostal/Charismatic churches trace their roots back to the Methodist movement

“Distinctive Beliefs” We believe there are Four “Ways” that we can better understand God.  We call them The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

  1. Scripture – The Bible is the foundation of our doctrine and what we believe.
  2. Tradition – The Faith and teaching handed down to us for over 2000 years really matters to our faith.
  3. Reason – We’ve been given intellect.  We have the ability to know and understand what God has revealed to us through Scripture.
  4. Experience – Our lives and our experience info how we know and understand God.

Emphases at Asbury

  1. Know Jesus – it all starts with personal conversion.  We have to know Him as Lord.
  2. Know Jesus Better – no matter where we are, we are called to (each day) know Him better.  How do we do that?  At Asbury we say
    1. Read Your Bible – Spend time daily in His Word.
    2. Pray – Seek Him through Prayer.
    3. Go to Church – Be part of the Body.  We understand that as a commitment to weekly worship, weekly small group, and daily service.  We are called to be a part of something bigger than us. As we that, we become Salt and Light.

Other Key Beliefs

  1. Connection – We believe that all of us are connected as believers and part of one body. Each church is connected and part of the greater Body of Christ, made up of all believers.
  2. Grace – It all starts with grace, God’s action and mercy towards us to call us, save us, and change us.

The image of God and the effect of original sin We are made in the image of God, but sin entered in and corrupted that. Salvation’s ultimate purpose is about recovering that which sin took.  It will be completed in heaven, but here on the earth, God’s grace works to restore and recover what sin has taken. To says we are made in God’s image means three things.

  1. The natural image of God – That means we have freedom will and we have reason
  2. The political image of God – That means that we as humans will organize ourselves and live in communities with structure
  3. The moral image of God – This means that all humans have in them in a sense (through corrupted) of morality, love, justice, and mercy.

These things are responded through salvation and the relationship with God. The way of salvation This is what salvation looks like. We are saved by grace through faith.  Here is how we understand that salvation through grace to play out.

  1. Prevenient grace: – God reaches out to us, calling us into salvation.
  2. Justifying grace and assurance: – God gives us grace by which we are saved.
  3. Sanctifying grace: – God’s grace draws us closer to Him, making us more faithful, calling us to love God and love our neighbor.

Christian perfection The goal of faith is to make us more like God.  What does that mean?  God is Holy. And our faith calls us jerusalem.jpgw630to be more holy.  What does that holiness look like?  His holiness is shown through His love.  So, we are called to, above all else love of God and love of our neighbor.

  1. Works of piety – This is our love of God This is done publicly through worship and personally through devotion
  2. Works of mercy – This is our love of Neighbor. This is done publicly through working as a church body and as believers to confront the evils of the of the world and done personally by individual acts of service.

The Goal

Yesterday at Asbury, we spent some time teaching what it is that Christians believe? What is that we hold to? What is the foundation of our beliefs? We didn’t dig into specific “doctrine” but looked at the basics of what Christians believe and hold to.

And we talked about how we are not “saved” by doctrine, but saved by grace through faith, lest no man can boast. So, if you have to believe just the right thing to be a Christian, guess what just happened. You had to “do” something to be a Christian and thus you earned your salvation. You salvation is dependent on you doing something right, not through faith. So, as important as doctrine is, it doesn’t save us.

So then, what is the point? Listen to what Paul writes to Timothy today in 1 Timothy 1:3-5:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

GOAL-BLOCKPaul tells him to make sure that people aren’t teaching false doctrine of things that don’t matter. Why is this? The goal or aim of the command is this – that love arises from a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith.

The goal of belief, the goal of theology, the goal of doctrine is to make you a better disciple. Is to make you love God and love your neighbor better. Is to help you to be faithful in knowing His grace and sharing His grace.

That’s the point of it all. That’s why we do it. That’s what we are here for. To know grace and show grace. To share God’s love. To point folks to the freedom and power in Jesus Christ.

Today, don’t let differences in small things separate us a Christians. Let’s hold to Jesus. Let’s hold to things that truly matter. And let’s point others to Him.

Today, the goal of our beliefs is to love God. And love neighbor. That’s why we hold them. That’s why we believe them. That’s what they are about and for.

Today, may we be faithful. May we show that love to all that we meet.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.

A Wesleyan Appreciation of Calvinism

I am a Wesleyan. There is no doubt about it. While our polity and some things within our United Methodist Church may frustrate me, I am a Wesleyan.

I am a United Methodist.

By family. (I was raised United Methodist.)

And by choice. (I returned to the UMC after college after worshiping in a variety of churches, and after having joined a Southern Baptist Church, and serving as Youth Pastor in a Southern Baptist Church.)

I returned home because of many factors, but mainly because of the Wesleyan notion of grace to all and for all, and the Wesleyan notion of holiness of heart and life.

So, I am a deeply committed Wesleyan.

That said, in today’s theological landscape, I have a growing admiration for many of the dominant evangelical thinkers of this day, who also happen to be Calvinist. I have a deep and abiding respect for Calvinism. While at Mississippi College, probably my most meaningful and enjoyable religious experience was as part of the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship). I actually audited a class at RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) in Jackson, and worked on staff at Twin Lakes Camp, which is owned and operated by First Presbyterian Church, Jackson.

So, have been exposed in many ways and through many years to Calvinist thought. And while I do not agree with it, I deeply respect it.

In today’s evangelical world, Calvinism is becoming the dominant strain of theology. From such noted preachers and authors as John Piper, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll to large-scale college events such as Passion, and even to Christian artists like Lecrae, Calvinist theology is the one that is being espoused.

And as Wesleyans, we don’t like it. We don’t understand it. Because we feel (and in my opinion, rightly so) that our theology is better. More hopeful. Just a better theology.

So, it’s easy for us to say, well, the only reason why folks like Calvinism is because it gives “easy answers.” It’s easy to lay everything at God’s feet. No work required by us. And while I do think there is some truth that, I think that misses what’s going on. I see my students at Asbury being attracted to it, and frankly, my favorite author and preacher at this point is Tim Keller. I give his book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” to everyone that I can. It’s probably the best book on marriage I’ve ever read.

So, I just wanted to share what I think is happening, and why Calvinism is so appealing to so many folks.

First, I think one of the things that is attractive to Calvinist theology is that they truly take the reality of sin and depravity seriously. Now, do they go overboard? Yeah, they take it too far. But, they stress over and over again that we are each sinful. We are each broken and in need of salvation and grace.

We can’t earn it. And sin affects everything, all of creation, every act of our lives, every thought we take, all of it.

They nail down the fact that we are sinful.

And that hits folks were they are. People, especially teenagers today, are living a life of excess, and they really do understand that all is not right. At the end of the day, they are broken, they are in need. The lives that they live leave them empty. They make wrong choices. They are sinful.

So am I. I am a broken, sinful man in need of God’s redeeming grace. They talk about sin and the reality of its affects on humanity it personal terms. We don’t, or if we do, we do it badly.

Calvinists spend time reflecting on their sin and need for Christ. We spend time talking about how good we are. Calvinists feel as though they are undeserving of God’s grace. We can sometimes act like God is sure lucky to have us on His team. Boy, He sure lucked out when we chose Him.

I’m not saying that we need to hammer sin. But, if we are not really sinful, then what did Jesus come to “save” us from?

Second, closely linked to sin, is their emphasis on Jesus. I really don’t like Mark Driscoll. He’s arrogant and is often in need of a huge dose of humility. But you know what he does time after time after time? He takes it back to Jesus. He takes everything back to Jesus and our need for Him and His grace and salvation. It all comes back to Him.

And as much as I don’t care for Driscoll, he’s right. It all comes down to Jesus. And our Calvinist friends do that so much better than we do. You can come to Annual Conference, and many local churches, and not hear one word out about our absolute need for Jesus. Sometimes we focus on Jesus’ call to us to help others, which is so important. But, as much as we are the hands and feet of Jesus, there are some things (many things, like the problem of human sin) that we can’t fix or really even help. If Jesus is mainly a great moral example and an example of God’s love, then He is symbol that offers no practical hope. If He is the Son of God and the Savior of humanity then He offers hope in every situation.

We don’t talk about how Jesus truly and utterly changes lives. They do. I have put it like this: To the mother of three who’s losing her job and her family, her question is this, can Jesus help this?

We have to be able to answer that question. They can. That’s why they are “winning.”

And last, whether they do or not, it appears to many that our Calvinist friends take scripture more seriously than we do. They tend to approach scripture and let it “speak for itself,” while we tend to come to scripture and an attitude of “yeah, but.” It can seem like we try to explain it away and show our superior intellect, while many Calvinists just say, “It says this. So let’s just try to do that.”

And that is attractive to many, many people.

So, to say that people are attractive to Calvinism because of “easy answers” is, I think, a great misreading of the situation.

There is much that we can learn from Calvinism to spark a revival of Wesleyan thought. My prayer is that with all that we do, we can point folks to Jesus Christ, for He is where life is found!

What Matters

I’ve never been one for arguing about theology. I’ve never been one to really want to fuss with others about what I believe and what they believe.

Now, I’ve got a theology. I know what I believe about God. And I really like what I believe about God. I think what I believe about relates well to what scripture says. And I’m pretty happy with it.

But you know what. You may not agree with it. You and I may have some real differences about what we believe. And you know what I’ve learned?

That’s ok.

Look at what Paul writes today in 1 Corinthians 15:12-17. He writes about what matters.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

Jesus. His life. His death. His resurrection. I would add to that His return as well (which Paul does later). These are what matters. That’s what it’s all about.

Paul says that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then we are still in our sins. And our faith is worthless.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not still in my sins. My faith has changed my life. It has made me a new person. I am new, I am changed, I am different.

And it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about what He’s done.

That’s what matters. Jesus.

You and I may not always agree on everything. I am totally fine with that. But, if Jesus is your Lord and He has changed your life, that’s what matters.

That’s what matters. His life. His death. His resurrection. His return. Today in our lives, lets love as He would have us to love, let’s serve as He would have us to serve.

And let’s keep Him the main thing.

And if He’s the main thing, everything else will fall into place. Today, let’s focus on what matters.

Jesus.

Don’t forget, you can click here to download Asbury’s mobile app and read these devotionals, as well as listen to my sermons on your smart phones.