Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #12 ©

The Union of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy or Holiness of Heart and Life Reconsidered

As we move into the new year, I want to pick back up on a theme, a series of blogs, I started early last fall. I wrote on the subject “Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way.” At that time I outlined a series of blogs that would conclude with blog number 15. Last fall I wrote through blog #11 and then moved to other (related) topics. With the United Methodist Church facing a possible schism, or splintering, at an upcoming Called General Conference in February of 2019, I am convinced now more than ever that it is important we go back and reclaim our original roots.

I cannot shake a series of conversations I have had with a variety of different people over the past year. One particular interchange is lodged in my mind. Last October I shared insights from a meeting with Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in the Vatican offices across the street from St. Peter’s. Bishop Farrell shared a conviction that different parts of our larger Christian family had insights that we all need to learn from. He explicitly commented that the Methodist movement brought to the wider Christian dialogue a sense of the importance of holiness and holy living.

For John Wesley and the early Methodists, this deep sense of holiness of heart and life was a core element of the Christian faith. In fact, so methodical were the “Wesleyans” about pursuing holiness of heart and life that they were called “Methodists.”

Recently I preached on an important passage from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

To the best of my knowledge only one other time does the Apostle Paul use the phrase “of most import” or “of first importance” or some other equivalent. The other occasion is found in 1 Corinthians 15, the third and fourth verses when he writes to a letter to the church at Corinth. “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). On that occasion he writes of a central, core, cardinal doctrine (that means “teaching”) of the Christian faith – the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ. He spends a chapter arguing that if you don’t buy the doctrine of resurrection, you can throw the rest of this away; it is a waste of your time – “If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless;” he write a few short verses later, “you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

There (in 1 Corinthians 15) the issue is of critical belief – doctrinal importance (orthodoxy = right belief). In this passage from Philippians the issue is of critical practice – the way we live (the technical term is orthopraxy). The two – orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice) are inseparably linked. Break one and the other soon will fail. The original Wesleyan movement took this connection so seriously that Wesley linked living “together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel” (Philippians 1:27) with the Articles of Religion as a doctrinal core he established for the Wesleyan way of faith. (See Paragraph 104, Section 3 – Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2016.)

Those early “Methodists” arnchored this crucial connection on the teaching of Jesus. Jesus uses the reference of the word “important or importance” always to refer to the issues related to the Great Commandment. For example in Mark 12 when asked by a legal expert which commandment is the most important “Jesus replied, ‘The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31).

Every time our Lord and Master references what is most important, he points back to behaviors that reflect the theological heart of the Christ faith. The doctrinal bedrock of monotheism is welded to holy living. When the Apostle Paul instructs the infant struggling church at Philippi to “Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel,” (Philippians 1:27) he is reflecting the very heart of the teaching of Jesus.

Professor Scott Kisker writes: “As he [John Wesley] read the works of the early Church Fathers, and English devotional works his mother recommended, a particular vison of the Christian life and of the Church captured John – one he carried for the rest of his life. It was a vison of simplicity, of holiness” (Scott Kisker, Mainline or Methodist?, pp. 29-30). The essence of holiness of heart and life shakes out in what is called the doctrine of sanctification.

The conviction that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are welded together is at the heart of the Wesleyan Way. Confessing Christ as Lord and Savior necessarily involves us in the deeds and actions of love justice and mercy. In today’s language, Wesleyans are by their very being involved in personal and social holiness. This, we believe, is not the just the way of a faithful church, it is very way of Christ. In doctrinal allegiance to Jesus as Lord, we commit ourselves to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ! The so called social gospel is inseparably linked to the very heart of the Christian faith and specifically to the Wesleyan Way.

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