John Wesley’s Ecumenism

“By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labour to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world from all those whose minds or lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ. But from real Christians, of whatsoever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to be distinguished at all, not from any who sincerely follow after what they know they have not yet attained. No: ‘Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ And I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that we be in no wise divided among ourselves. Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thine? I ask no farther question. If it be, give me thy hand.”

+ John Wesley (1703–1791), the founder of Methodism, played a leading role in the development of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements. He wrote prolifically on diverse subjects such as salvation, the power of music, and anti-slavery, and his tracts were widely distributed. In “The Character of a Methodist” he refers to the “marks” of a Methodist as loving God and loving neighbor, praying without ceasing, rejoicing always, giving thanks in everything, and desiring only to please God. At his death Wesley was considered by some the “most loved man in England.”

Source: Ways Forward for Western Evangelicals – Fuller Studio

The Downside of Christendom

In case you are in the mood for a little theology, here is something I ran across during my reading today that is worth thinking about:

“Certainly the reduction of mission in Western theology has to do with the so-called Christianization of Western cultures. Once the Christian religion had become the only allowed religion within the boundaries of Christendom, mission was not seen as the central task of the church. Rather, her theological definition gradually came to focus on the care and tending of the salvation of her members […] Further, the eschatological shaping of the Gospel, so central to the New Testament, was distorted and reduced. Jesus’ message was the inbreaking reign of God, and the early church confessed him as the one who is and brings that reign into human history. […] That sense of radical and transforming anticipation of living hope that profoundly shapes the ‘now’ of the corporate Christian witness, was gradually reoriented to an individualistic emphasis on the second coming at the end of time with its threatening judgment that determines where each soul will spend eternity. The biblical emphasis on the ‘resurrection of the body’ is replaced by the Hellenistic concept of the immortality of the soul, which changes the nature of Christian eschatology and diminishes the strong biblical emphasis upon the integrated wholeness of the human person as body, spirit, and soul. Life now was understood not so much as faithful witness in hope but as wearisome and often anxious preparation in this vale of tears for what must come hereafter. Salvation is a question of where one spends eternity rather than the larger biblical witness to the restorative and salvific reign of God breaking in now, whose consummation is yet to come. […] The individualism of such a reductionist soteriology has only intensified in the self-centered and consumerist culture of present-day North America. The church’s focus on the tending and maintenance of the ‘saved’ is well attested today in churches that advertise themselves as ‘full-service’ congregations and function as purveyors of the religious programs and products their member-consumers want. The partnership of church and state, has, after the end of Christendom, effectively been replaced with the partnership of church and marketplace.”[1]

Happily, Guder also recounts,

“the wise words of the pastor from Malawi who told my class one day about all the changes the gospel had brought when the missionaries came to his tribe. ‘And,’ he concluded, ‘you must realize that we could always tell the difference between Jesus and the missionaries.’”[2]

Bibliography

Guder, Darrell L. “The Church as Missional Community.” In The Community of the Word : Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, edited by Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier, 114-28. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005.


[1] Darrell L. Guder, “The Church as Missional Community,” in The community of the Word : toward an evangelical ecclesiology, ed. Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2005), 118-20.

[2] Guder, 120.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Missions and Ministry

I read a great ebook this morning written entitled, “Global Transmission, Global Mission: The Impact and Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” [1] by Jason Mandryk. He is the current editor of the renowned Operation World global prayer guide. Mandryk outlines his thoughts on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Christian ministry, especially global missions. I highly recommend every Christian leader take the time to read and reflect on his perspective.

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

“As the wealthy elites and pagan masses fled the plague-ridden cities of the Roman Empire, Christians would pass them going in the other direction – into the cities to care for the sick and bury the dead. It came at great cost to themselves, but such actions turned formerly hostile people into increasingly sympathetic ones, and turned this tiny offshoot of an odd Jewish religion into a faith that won over an empire.”[2]

“The poor disproportionately suffer from communicable diseases. Consider the Global North playbook for combating CoVid-19: social distancing, working and schooling from home, buying weeks’ worth of food/amenities at a time, pivoting to digital existence, frequent handwashing with soap and water, business loans, stimulus cheques, quantitative easing, and even universal basic income – all to ‘flatten the curve’ of the stress on the health care infrastructure. What if none of these were possible? What if you stay in a two room house, with eight other people, including your vulnerable elderly parents or grandparents. What if your only source of income is small scale cash transactions, made daily, in a crowded street market, with your inventory obtained through a relationally face-to-face supply chain, and if you don’t sell enough on a given day, then that night your family goes hungry? What if access to water requires gathering around a communal well a mile away from your shack, and soap is a luxury of the affluent? What if there is no public health care infrastructure to even protect? Reports coming in from both journalists and Christian workers tell of escalating hunger and desperation in many Global South contexts. When the cure is in fact worse than the disease, other approaches become necessary.”[3]

“I have never met a missionary who had extraordinary impact in their ministry if their life did not include extraordinary surrender to the principle that to live is Christ and to die is gain.”[4]

“At times, it feels like there is a conflict between the prioritization of reaching the least-reached with the message of Jesus and the emphasis on addressing injustices around the world (economic, social, racial, sexual, etc.) as a Kingdom mandate. I believe the research indicates the places that are least evangelized tend to be the places where human suffering is most widespread and where the most forms of injustice are felt most intensely. There is no conflict here, but great potential for synergy.”[5]

“Suffering does not exist by God’s intent, but He gives much of it a redemptive purpose, He entered into it Himself in Jesus, and He promises a day when all the tears will be wiped from our eyes (Rev 21:4).”[6]

“Can we proclaim a slogan like ‘Our buildings may be closed, but the church is alive’ and in doing so (correctly) assert that the Church is not about buildings, but then also agitate for those same buildings to be opened as soon as possible, or even defy the law to meet in them?”[7]

“As much as we may resent it, even in mission, money talks. The ones who write the cheques still tend to set the agendas. CoVid-19 damage suffered economically to Western missional generosity in particular, combined with the decline of mission sending from Western countries, will have a direct and profound impact upon the perceived missiological authority of Wester missionary enterprise.”[8]

“Even the normally agile Business As Mission (BAM) framework is problematic if the effectiveness of the mission part depends on the success of the business part. Businesses are shut down all over the world right now. Developing sustainable models of not just doing mission on the field, but sending workers to the field from the less affluent nations, and then keeping them on the field, is essential for the future of global mission.”[9]

“That ‘sweet spot’ in the transition from highly dependent mission fields to indigenously self-sustaining, self-replicating, self-theologizing church movements often occurs earlier than most foreign missions tend to find comfortable.”[10]

“How is it that those who follow one claiming to be the way, the truth, and the life are among the most naive adopters and enthusiastic disseminators of falsehoods? Having faith in the unseen does not excuse us from the responsibility to be mature in our thinking. Anticipating a new heaven and new earth does not give us license to endorse the destruction and suffering of this one. Understanding that the world system and the powers and principalities operate beyond the mundane does not mean that every wild postulation is therefore true! […] When we spread such untruths, we are bearing false witness and break the ninth commandment. […] We shouldn’t buy uncritically into the mainstream narrative that the unbelieving world wants us to adopt, either. We know that it, too, is predicated on lies. So there most definitely is a time and a place to consider alternative ways of understanding the news and interpreting current affairs. However, this needs to be subordinate to maintaining our testimony as people of truth and love. My bottom line with those presenting conspiracy theories to me is usually “So what?” Even if every speculation and assertion is 100% true, how does it change what Jesus called me to do, who Jesus called me to be, and how Jesus called me to live? It doesn’t.”[11]

“Intercession is truly universal work for the Christian. No place is closed to intercessory prayer. No continent – no nation – no organization – no city – no office. There is no power on earth that can keep intercession out. In Stephen Gaukroger’s words, ‘Prayer needs no passport, visa or work permit. There is no such thing as a “closed country” as far as prayer is concerned…much of the history of mission could be written in terms of God moving in response to persistent prayer.’”[12]

“Prayer, as a biblical study of the subject quickly reveals, is not the activity of people who are in reasonable control of their lives. It is the resort of the weak, overwrought, desperate people whose life circumstances call for resources beyond their own.”[13]

“The surge of missionary sending that saw the Moravians, William Carey, Adoniram Judson and the Student Volunteer Movement thrust into the harvest field all happened after a surge in global intercession in their faith communities.”[14]

“In the UK, a recent survey indicated that 1 in 20 adults have started to pray, having never prayed before.”[15]

“’Do not be afraid’ is the most frequent command in Scripture – there are 145 verses to that effect. Whether it is about an unknown future or a turbulent present, we are able to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for us. (1 Pet 5:7).”[16]

“The boldness of the first Christians to fearlessly proclaim the good news of Jesus was in fact an answer to their own prayers. In Acts 4, in response to persecution and threats, the believers prayed for God’s enabling to speak His word with great boldness. Let that be our prayer today.”[17]


[1] Jason Mandryk, Global Transmission, Global Mission, Kindle ed. (U.K.: Operation World, 2020), http://covid-19.operationworld.org/global-transmission-global-mission.

[2] Mandryk, loc. 867.

[3] Mandryk, loc. 281.

[4] Mandryk, loc. 636.

[5] Mandryk, loc. 777.

[6] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

[7] Mandryk, loc. 475.

[8] Mandryk, loc. 712.

[9] Mandryk, loc. 728.

[10] Mandryk, loc. 814.

[11] Mandryk, loc. 352-70.

[12] Mandryk, loc. 968.

[13] Mandryk, loc. 1004.

[14] Mandryk, loc. 1020.

[15]  Mandryk, loc. 986.

[16] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

[17] Mandryk, loc. 1062.

Spiritual Encounter As A Path to Truth

Going through some of my past papers, I came across this paragraph from one of the essays I wrote during my Master’s degree at the University of Birmingham, U.K. I believe this now more than ever concerning those of us who are Holy Spirit-friendly Christians:

Pentecostal theology is inherently pragmatic, focused above all else upon fostering, understanding, and commending a personal, transformative encounter between the individual and Almighty God through the agency and power of the Holy Spirit that results in a life of fruitful activity. In contrast to the Westminster Catechism which answers the vital question, “What is the chief end of man?” by replying, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” a full-throated Pentecostal response to the same query might be, “To encounter God and serve Him forever.” While human beings in some instances are of course prompted to seek the Lord or to dedicate their lives to furthering His purposes on the earth as a result of learning some particular truth or truths about Him, Pentecostals believe the human journey towards understanding and serving God ideally begins in a personal, supernatural encounter with Jesus by means of Holy Spirit baptism. In other words, while many non-Pentecostals tend to believe right gnosis is the surest path to right praxis, most Pentecostals intuitively sense that authentic spiritual experience provides the best fuel to power any quest for spiritual truth.[1]

[1] Brand, Mark. “Spirit Baptism – Historical Distinctive or Essential Doctrine?”, University of Birmingham, 2018.

The Gracious Gift of God’s Spirit

Came across this while preparing to preach from John 14:

“Jesus’ first disciples were not superdisciples deserving the gift of the Spirit because of their extraordinary faith and obedience. They didn’t understand things; their thoughts were often the thoughts of mere humans, not the thoughts of God. At the time of Jesus’ greatest need, they forsook him and fled, and Peter even denied that he knew Jesus at all. But in contrast to those of the world, who did not love and obey Jesus, they did love him and in their own imperfect way they did obey him. It was to disciples like these Jesus promised the Counsellor.”

Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 300–301.

Scripture and Culture

Here’s a thought-provoking quote from a great article about the interplay between Scripture and culture:

“We are not blank slates. We bring our own theological interpretive grids to the Bible. For example, in John 4, when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman she had five husbands and the man she is with isn’t even her husband, what do we think of the woman? We automatically think she’s an adulteress. She’s a sinner.

But in other cultures, they might interpret the story to mean that she has been abandoned unfairly by five men, one after the other. And she now lives with another man for protection. But this man won’t even honor her by marrying her. She’s been sinned against.

There’s nothing in the text to tell us whether she’s a sinner or sinned against. We come to our interpretations based on the theological systems that we have brought to the text.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/june/evangelism-culture-you-cant-just-give-them-gospel.html?share=%2fD%2bnuKyuY4dVGBddICHy9xpc776aShIw

Is Europe A Godless Civilization?

The West as a whole, and not just Europe, faces a double political challenge from religion today. One is to realize that the world is full of peoples whose genuine faith in the divine gives them a precise, revealed blueprint for political life, which means that for the foreseeable future they will not enter into the family of liberal democratic nations. Only if we give up the fantasy of a universal historical process driving all nations toward a secular modernity can we face this fact squarely and humanely.

The other challenge is to learn how to distinguish between those whose political programs are inspired by genuine faith, and those whose defense of religion is inspired by a reactionary utopianism having less to do with God than with redirecting the faulty course of history. In radical Islam we find both phenomena today, authentic faith and antimodern fanaticism, shaken together into an explosive cocktail.

And even in the United States we are witnessing the instrumentalization of religion by those who evidently care less about our souls, or even their own, than about reversing the flow of American history since the “apocalypse” of the 60’s.

– Mark Lilla

God and Suffering

If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know.

Keller, Timothy (2008-02-14). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (p. 23). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Relativistic Arrogance

There is an appearance of humility in the protestation that the truth is much greater than any one of us can grasp, but if this is used to invalidate all claims to discern the truth it is in fact an arrogant claim to a kind of knowledge which is superior to [all others]… We have to ask: “What is the [absolute] vantage ground from which you claim to be able to relativize all the absolute claims these different scriptures make?” How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole truth unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?
From “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller

http://a.co/baiDPPL