Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #14 ©

Practical Christianity

Last Saturday I was sitting at the First Steps: How to Big Your WIG Journey gathering in the Fellowship Hall of University UMC.  The gathering wrestled with the goal of how we reach out to a new generation. The WIG (Wildly Important Goal) is our stated mission – “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The group was investigating how to engage missional evangelism. In particular, they were struggling with how to get beyond faith sharing as simply invitational (i.e. knocking on doors and inviting people to church) and missional engagement (the deeds of love, justice, and mercy) as having an explicit faith element that introduces Christ as Savior and Lord to people. In the midst of what felt like a tired old (albeit heartfelt) discussion, one pastor stood up.

“Instead of knocking on doors and inviting people to come to church,” he said, “I go where they are. I go to Starbucks and get involved in conversations with people about what really matters in their life.” Instead of offering an attractional model, he went where people were.

This notion of going where people are is at the heart of the reclaiming the Wesleyan Way. Famously, John Wesley wrestled with just such a public “embarrassment.” Prodded by his friend George Whitfield, Wesley finally left the safety of the church sanctuary to go where the people were. He writes in his Journal “At four in the afternoon I submitted to ‘be more vile’ [2 Sam. 6:22], and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. The scripture of which I spoke was this . . .: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor’ (John Wesley, Journal, April 2, 1739).

Professor Scott Kisker writes of this central “Wesleyan Way”: “The market place was Wesley’s most frequently used post for this preaching – often the market cross. This stone monument at the center of a market town provided symbolic focus for the intersection of the sacred with the secular. Here the salvation of God met the everyday lives of the people. Here consumers, thieves, merchants, slaves, saints and sinners gathered for the business of the day” (Scott Kisker, Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission, pp. 76-77).

                          

At its heart Methodism, what I have chosen to call the Wesleyan Way, is about practical Christianity. In fact Wesley’s theology is often labeled “practical divinity.” It is about both where and how the Christian faith intersects everyday living. Doctrinal teaching (“orthodoxy”) is inseparably linked to correct practice (“orthopraxy”) of the Christian faith. Check out a website of Methodist beliefs and this crucial concept of practical Christianity virtually always shows up.

The website http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-wesleyan-heritage puts it way: “Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. They placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as ‘practical divinity’ has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.”

Ironically enough much of our practice of Christianity has reversed the emphasis and retreated into the church. Both missions and evangelism have been tragically divorced from each other. The heart of the Wesleyan Way is to put missions and evangelism together in a practical Christianity at the market place cross!

Back in my seminary days, I wrote a paper on the adoption of the Methodist Social Creed. It is anchored in this central tenant of the Wesleyan Way, in a practical Christianity that is lived out at Starbucks and not just in the church sanctuary.  One of the authors of the early Social Creed was Rev. Frank Mason North. He wrote a famous hymn which passionately lays out this emphasis, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.” The first verse is:

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan,
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear your voice, O Son of man.
(The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 427, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life“)

We are called to go and share the gospel of Jesus Christ by both word and deed where people are! Under the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we offer a practical Christianity “turn-key” ready for everyday living.

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