Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives (Part II)

This is the 2nd of a 3 part series. Read Part I and Part III.

It is in this context alone that we can now speak properly of Wesleyan distinctives.  Without understanding the four interlocking foundations we improperly think of our distinctives as weapons which we wield against other Christians.  Distinctives should never be viewed as ammunition against the five points of Calvinism, or as weapons to attack the Lutherans because we don’t agree with their understanding of the relationship between the two wills of Christ.  If you think of Wesleyan distinctives that way, then you fall into the pit of sectarianism.

There are, of course, real disagreements between Christians and there is a place to speak freely and even passionately about those.  Wesley does that.  But we should never forget our shared foundations.  Wesleyan distinctives should be viewed as gifts or offerings which we bring to the body of Christ, like bringing a special dish to a great banquet.  We are not the only ones with gifts to offer at the great banquet, but we do have gifts to offer.  Wesleyan distinctives are meant to be celebrative offerings, contributory gifts given to the whole body; not our own private stash of weapons to use against our brothers and sisters for sectarian purposes, or merely to help us in some ecclesiastical version of intermural sports.  That puts us on the wrong road.  None of the gifts we offer to Christ will be complete without the gifts of others in the Body.  The light of Christ will, of course, bring searing correction and illumination to all gifts, but that will be His work to which St. Paul mysteriously points to in I Cor. 3:10-15.

I would like to explore four great distinctives which we humbly offer to the Body of Christ, the loss of which would be grave for the church of Jesus Christ.

First, the Wesleyan view of grace.

Wesley accepted the Reformation emphasis on justifying grace, but lovingly reminded the church that to equate salvation with justification was a great loss to the biblical doctrine of salvation. Wesley saw God’s grace punctuating the whole of our lives within an expansive understanding of biblical salvation.  God’s grace comes to us before we even become Christians.  It is prevenient grace which enables us to respond to the gospel.  This is why although we describe this as free will, we really mean freed will, i.e. God has taken the first step and sovereignly acted to free us from Adamic guilt and sinful depravity, thereby enabling the whole human race to hear the gospel and respond.  For Wesley, all spiritual formation begins with God’s prior action on behalf of the sinner.  Prevenient grace is the bridge between human depravity and the free exercise of human will.  Jesus declared that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).  This clearly refers to a drawing rooted in the Triune God which precedes our justification.  It is God’s act of unmerited favor.  It is God’s light “which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9) which lifts us up and allows us to exercise our will and respond to the grace of Christ.  Prevenient grace is God’s  universal grace to the entire human race, situating Wesleyanism between Augustinian pessimism and Pelagian optimism.  Because prevenient grace means that which comes ‘before’ some Wesleyans mistakenly think that this is grace which only comes to us prior to justifying grace.  However, prevenient grace also includes all the ways God moves in sovereign prior action calling us to respond throughout our Christian experience.  Again, Wesley manages to perfectly balance the classic tension between monergistic and synergistic views of salvation.  Prevenient grace is a testimony to monergism, whereas the full collaboration with God through our freed wills is a testimony to syngergism.

In addition to prevenient grace, Wesley speaks of sanctifying grace.  Just as God in Christ meets us to justify us, so the Spirit of God meets us to sanctify us and make us holy.   Prevenient and justifying grace enables you to become a Christian, but it is sanctifying grace which enables you to be a Christian.  Finally, it is glorifying grace which enables you to be fully conformed to the image of Christ in the New Creation.  So Wesley unfolds for us a great vision of God’s grace which is rich and textured and punctuates the whole of our pre-Christian and Christian lives stretching even into the New Creation.

Wesley developed a whole doctrine of the “means of grace” which he defined as “outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God…whereby he might convey preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Sermon 16, Means of Grace).  Like a trail of bread crumbs, Wesley saw that however far we stray God leaves little markers of his grace so we can find our way home and reorient ourselves to Jesus Christ.  Wesley identified three primary “means of grace”:  prayer (private or public), Scripture (reading or listening), and the Lord’s Supper.  Now most Christians accept the general idea that prayer, Scripture and the Lord’s Supper are “means of grace” to help us grow in Christ.  However, Wesley has a much broader understanding of the means of grace.  What makes Wesleyan thought distinctive is that he sees these means of grace as a channel to convey not just sanctifying grace, but also prevenient, and justifying grace.  In other words, Wesley understood that prayer, Scripture reading and even the Lord’s Supper can be used by God to convert someone to the faith.  This is why we practice open communion.  Wesley understood this because the “means of grace” only have power because of Christ’s presence in them.  Christ is the only true “means of grace” and He meets us at the Table, in prayer and in the reading of Scripture.

Second, the Wesleyan view of the community.

Wesley had the distinct advantage of living over 200 years after the Reformation. This allowed him to view the Reformation from a distance and to see not only the great strengths of the Reformation, but, frankly, the trajectories in certain areas which were not helpful, even revealing crucial areas the Reformation had neglected.  So, just as he embraced the restoration of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith but saw that grace was far more expansive than that, we see a distinctive Wesleyan contribution regarding how we understand the cross.  The Reformers rightfully positioned us as condemned sinners needing salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.  However, over time it became clear that even committed Christians were viewing the cross from the perspective of a solitary condemned sinner who needed to flee to the cross to be saved.  Wesley saw that we must not only look forward to the cross as individual, condemned sinners, but we must also look back on the cross from the New Creation along with all the saints who have gone before us.  To put it bluntly, the cross not only draws condemned sinners to justification, but it also empowers justified sinners into a corporate life of holiness as the church, the people of God.  This not only gives Wesley a doctrine of assurance, but it is the basis for his whole understanding of ecclesial catechesis.

Wesley was committed to a form of community catechesis which is remarkably distinct.  For Wesley, catechesis is not merely learning the correct answers to doctrinal questions or saying “yes” to a particular Christian formula for salvation.   For Wesley, catechesis was learning to echo the entire rhythms of the Christian life within the context of the church.   Wesley learned this from the Patristic mystagogy model (this was catechesis after baptism, between Easter and Pentecost which brought you into the mystery of the church), but he united the idea with the community model of the early Celtic Christians.  Later Wesley developed the entire “class system” which put all believers into small discipleship bands.  The leader would report to the pastor on the spiritual state of those under his or her care.  They would meet and give an account of their week, sustain each other in prayer, and transparently confess their sins.  Members in sin would be disciplined.  They would also be instructed in the Apostolic faith.  They would worship together and go forth to serve the poor.[1]

The community emphasis for Wesley is not a technique or program the way we understand such things today but an insight into the very rhythms of faith and practice which re-orients us to the Triune God.  Wesley never distanced himself from the Christocentric emphasis of the Reformation.  However, he longed for us to see that salvation was the work of the Triune God!  The ultimate community to which the church and family conforms and reflects is, of course, the blessed community of the Trinity.  Remember, it was the Puritans who said “God in himself is a sweet society.”  The Father creates us, calls us and send us; the Son translates God to us in human terms, redeems us, and embodies the mission of God in the world; the Spirit catechizes the church into the realities of the New Creation, sanctifies us, endows us with discernment and God’s wisdom, and empowers us for effective mission in the world.

Stay tuned for the following distinctives next week.

[1] Kevin Watson, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience (Seedbed:  Wilmore, Kentucky, 2014).  This is an excellent contemporary treatment of the class meeting and how it can be adapted to our own time.

Holiness: Personal, Social and Global

There are few more established routines in life than the famous bedtime story. When our children were small it was the only way a day could be brought properly to an end. The number of stories which we read, remembered from our own childhood or, quite frankly, made up on the spot during that sacred nightly ritual, must number in the thousands. It was Eugene Peterson who gave us the classic version of the expectant question, “Daddy, tell me a story and put me in it.” Story telling is the most basic human activity. All of our memories are built around stories. When we get together with our friends, what do we do? We tell stories. We exchange little narratives with each other. We laugh and we tell more stories. Life is not just filled with facts and information like much of our e-mail, it is an unfolding story – a narrative. The gospel itself is like this, isn’t it? It is a grand narrative. We call it the “meta-narrative” – the grand story – the story of God’s mission. “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare famously wrote. But, history is more than merely a stage for our stories, our “exits and entrances.” For Christians the whole of history is a grand stage for God’s mighty acts – our exoduses and his entrances! Elizabeth Browning said, “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God, But only those who SEE take off their shoes. The rest sit around eating blackberries and daub their natural faces unaware.” Most people don’t get it – they’re sitting around eating blackberries! We live our whole lives in light of this grand story! “Daddy, tell us a story and put us in it!” God is unfolding a grand story and, as the ultimate story teller, he is putting us in it!

God put Wesley’s story into his grand narrative

This is precisely what happened to Wesley on May 24th, 1738 at about ¼ till nine. For convenience sake, let’s call this the May 24th story. You need to have a May 24th story. It may not have happened to you on May 24th – you not even remember the date or that it took place at ¼ before nine! (process versus crisis), but you need a May 24th story. This is your stake in the ground… the point when you “got it”… when you said, “I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation, and an assurance was given to me that my sins, even mine, were taken away, and I was delivered from the law of sin and death.”
So, let’s call it the May 24th story. It’s your birth story! It’s about the foundation… it’s about walking through the front door.
On May 24, 1738 Wesley had a heartwarming, life changing, course altering experience at Aldersgate. Suddenly he discovers the word “faith.” Wesley scholars in our midst can correct my memory, but as I recall Wesley only used the word faith 7 times in his pre-Aldersgate sermons – and always a kind of generic “faith of the church” kind of theme, never in reference to personal, justifying faith. After Aldersgate, his sermons are filled with references to faith. I was on a youth group trip up into the mountains of N. Georgia and we stopped one evening at a boarding school in Rabun Gap (Nacoochee Valley-Rabun Gap) and we, along with a few hundred residents of the school, sat on wooden stools around tables and ate supper in a large, grungy cafeteria. In was the summer of 1975. At the end of supper we were anxious to board the bus and get on home to Atlanta when a man got up to give an after supper devotional. I – if I can borrow the language of Wesley – reluctantly sat back down on my wooden stool to wait out the devotional. The chaplain opened his Bible to Phil. 3 and shared very clearly from Paul’s declaration that he counts all things rubbish that he might be “found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own…, but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:8,9). Something happened as I sat there – I heard the gospel. Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience” like Luther’s “tower experience” or my own “boarding school cafeteria experience,” and you fill in your own story… These are May 24th stories.

There are some stories which you can’t tell until other stories are told. There are some stories in life which are logically prior and, indeed, necessary pre-requisites, to other stories. Your birth story, or your conversion story, or your wedding story are often stories which logically lay prior to other kinds of stories. Your May 24th story is a vital and logically prior story to what I want to share this morning.

This morning I want to tell another story – not the May 24th story, but another one, maybe a new story for some of you. However, I’m acknowledging up front that this new story requires that you already have a May 24th story as a prerequisite. If you don’t have that, then nothing I am about to say will make a bit of sense.

This brings us to New Year’s eve, bringing in the year 1739 (271 years ago). Wesley goes to another society meeting. This one hasn’t penetrated the popular imagination like Aldersgate, but it is essential if you are going to really understand Wesley and the whole Methodist movement. He goes down, not to Aldersgate, but to Fetters lane.

That night, at Fetters lane they have a prayer meeting – a kind of night watch vigil to bring in the new year. It is a long standing tradition among many Christians – pray in the new year – it is a lot more exciting than watching the ball drop with Dick Clark. So they are praying, and around 3:00 a.m. (Wesley was very particular in his journals about recording the time things happened!) January 1, 1739 something dramatic happens to Wesley. He later calls it his personal Day of Pentecost. He received a sanctifying experience where God re-oriented his heart and life. Listen to his own words, “On Monday morning, January 1, 1739, Mr. Hall & my brother Charles were present in Fetters Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. At about three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell down to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’”

Wesley believed in sanctification as a doctrine before 1739, but it is was here that he experienced it. It became a new chapter in his spiritual journey. We’ll call it the Fetters Lane story. There is the May 24th story and there is the Fetters Lane story – both are essential in the life of the believer. Wesley’s life was re-oriented. He became sanctified. He was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Our text is the first of three times in Paul’s letters where he uses temple imagery to refer to the church. Paul is writing to a church which, in many ways, reflects the compromised church of our own day. It is a church filled with division and sin… jealously, quarrelling. “I belong to Paul, I belong to Cephas, I belong to Apollos”… they are missing the Grand Epic – they are caught up in little tiny petty narratives… they are picking blackberries when every bush is aflame with the presence of God! Yet, they proudly assert that everything they are doing is a sign of Sophia, worldly wisdom. This is a sophisticated group. This is the passage – the place – where Paul corrects their view of the church – their vision of what it means to be the People of God! It is not enough to have personal narratives, even personal testimonies… that can only get us to “I belong to Cephas or I belong to Paul.” Paul is helping us to see that holiness is only possible by bringing us into the community, the church.

He begins with the imagery of the field. You are God’s field… some plant, some water, but God causes the growth. He is trying to lift them up to the big vision….it is not about the people planting or watering, it is about God’s work. Then, in verse 9, Paul shifts the metaphor from a field to a building. You are God’s building. Here he makes the same point in a different way. Paul may be the bricklayer, Peter a roofer, and Apollos the plumber, but it is God’s building… He’s the architect… and Jesus Christ is the foundation stone. It is here we meet that great text, one which always makes the “must memorize” list, vs 11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.!” But, as Paul develops the metaphor, it is not just a generic building that God is constructing it is the temple!! Here is where we begin to capture a deeper understanding of holiness. Our tradition regularly focuses on the importance of personal holiness and the importance of sanctification. If you have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit and had your heart re-directed to God’s love then you need to really ask yourself if your salvation is fully Trinitarian. But, holiness does not end with an experience of personal sanctification. For the Apostle Paul holiness cannot be understood in merely personal, private terms. You see, if you eradicate every single sin in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are only half way there… Because the real story of holiness is not the sins which we avoid, but the fruit we produce…. It is not just saying “No”, rather, it is about a lot of “yes’s”!! You can’t be holy without your neighbor!

It is here in this text that we see Paul moving theologically from justification to sanctification. Yet, for St. Paul, it can never be construed as only a personal journey. For Paul, it is a journey in community – it is an eschatological journey which is embodied in community of the church in the present. Jesus Christ is the foundation – that’s justification. We are saved by and through and in Jesus Christ – sola fide, solus Christus – Hallelujah!

But how are we building on that one foundation? The building happens in community. Here Paul recalls the Temple.. are we building on it with gold, silver, and costly stones? Are we using wood, hay or straw? The Corinthians, it is clear, were, though their division and sin and bickering, building with wood, hay and straw – none of it would survive the great eschatological test – the fire of God – which is, remember the Presence of God, the shekinah glory!

Don’t you know, Paul declares, that you are God’s temple. It is not you singular, but you the people of God are God’s temple. Paul uses the word vaos – the actual sanctuary, the place of God’s dwelling, the holy of holies, not merely iepov, the larger temple precincts (LXX distinction). The church – that is, the community of God’s people – is the place where the Spirit of God dwells in his people, the restored temple of Ezekiel’s vision (40-48) where God promises “to live among them.” The “Holy of Holies” – where is it today? It is now wherever God’s people are gathered in His name! Remember the veil in the Temple rent in two; not merely our access in… but God’s presence going forth… “God’s outpost in Adam’s world goes viral – make disciples of all nations… create communities of holiness all over the world. All of the realities of the New Creation breaking into the people of God—forgiveness, reconciliation, holiness.

Holiness become mobile… contrast with Jewish and Islamic view of holy space.. for us, holiness is community based and it is virally mobile. Child prostitution in Thailand, loving Muslims in NY City, hope for refugees in Sudan, creation care.

There were many pagan temples in Corinth… they were used to visiting them.. Paul is declaring to the Corinthians that actually the living God only has one temple in Corinth… and it is them… they are the temple of God.. they are the eschatological community!! The spirit of God dwells in your midst!! The church is the people of the spirit!!

We must reclaim the basic theological point that salvation is the work of the Triune God because that is the root and foundation of all community. We need to be justified through the work of Jesus Christ and be sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit, all according to the purposes and for the glory of God the Father. You need a May 24th story – Your Aldersgate…your justification… and you need a Fetters Lane story … Your sanctification… Sanctification is what re-orients your heart away from sin and towards God. As I noted in my convocation address, holiness is about even more than the eradication of sin. If you were to eradicate every sin in your life, it would only get you half way there! Because sanctification is not just about what we avoid, but what we produce – fruitfulness. In Wesley, “faith and fruit meet and are joyfully wed.” I pointed out that we have been passing on a truncated view of holiness which is forensic, private, negative and static. That becomes legalistic, self-focused, identified by what we don’t do, and even more important it has been non-missional. True holiness focuses on the full range of holiness which is the positive vision… it is not merely forensic, but it is relational; it is not private, but embedded in community, not negative, but is a vision of the in-breaking New Creation; not static, but virally mobile. It is this virally mobile. That is the point of our text this morning: God is building His church – not instrumental, but ontological. Every church should be “an outpost of the New Creation in Adam’s world.” (Sandy Richter). I call it “missional holiness” – holiness which extends to the ends of the earth.. all peoples, all nations. Neo-holiness moves us out from the long night of self-imposed exile whereby the biblical vision of holiness was truncated to either personal holiness or social holiness, rather than it being personal, social and global all made possible through the life and witness of the church, God’s temple in the world.

Many of you this morning have a broken, fragmented view of the church. You think it’s just about you and Jesus. Listen to the songs that our generation sings. You think it’s about being justified. Brothers and sisters, the Word of God declares you wrong! Sexual immorality, greed, enmity, broken relationships…all of these mark the old life… The church is not just the aggregate gathering of all the justified individuals who happen to come together. The church is what God is building in the world. Jesus Christ is the foundation, and He is building His church. You cannot fully enter into holiness unless and until you are rightly related to the church, the people of God. It is possible to become justified by yourself on a deserted island, but sanctification only happens in the context of community. It is the church which is the lens through which you capture and understand the glorious work of God. You (plural) are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you (plural)!! We are more than Luther’s “dung hills covered in snow”…. Simul Justus et peccator—imputed righteousness—we are being made holy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God’s telling a very big story, and he’s putting you in it! His temple is sacred, and you plural are that temple. The story God is telling is the story of the church, the bride of Christ being prepared for that final day when we will be eternally united with Him. Thanks be to God.

Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives (Part I)

This is the 1st of a 3 part series. Read Parts II and III titled “Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives.”

Asbury Theological Seminary
6th Convocation Address
Estes Chapel, September 02, 2014
Florida-Dunnam Campus, September 04, 2014

The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The Taj is located in Agra, the ancient capital of India and it was built in the 1600’s during the Mughal period. The great Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal constructed as a mausoleum for his beloved wife who died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 22,000 laborers 22 years to build this massive marble structure. I have been there several times over the years but I was there again this summer with several of our Trustees who were in India to see one of our global partners and to better understand Asbury’s global initiatives.

The Taj Mahal is made of the highest quality marble in the world, with over ten million precious stones inlaid into it, inside and out. The marble is translucent to light, but is stronger than steel. Its weight is a matter of serious scientific and mathematical calculations among Indian engineers. The Taj Mahal is estimated to be 2.5 trillion tons. The downward force of that much weight is almost incalculable. The fact that such a structure could be built right on the banks of the great Jamuna River and yet has remained unmoved all of these centuries has amazed even contemporary engineers. The entire structure is built on a four layered foundation of interlocking Teak wood. Perhaps the greatest wonder of the Taj Mahal is simply that it is still standing there solid and unmoved.

We could, perhaps, conceptualize the Christian faith as something like the Taj Mahal. Not, of course, a physical building of stones and jewels, but an even more glorious testimony to God’s work in building His church in the world. We are all here this morning because we have been summoned to the feet of Jesus Christ and in service to the Christian gospel. We are mysteriously and redemptively linked to brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the faith throughout the world and back through time. We number far more than the 22,000 who built the Taj Mahal. In fact, when the Apostle John captures a vision of this great company in Rev. 7:9 he says “I looked at there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne. Do you see yourself in that glorious vision?

This morning I want us to capture a glimpse of one part of that vision. I want to look at those of us who have been shaped and formed by the Wesleyan tradition. What is the grand Wesleyan vision of Christianity?

Like the Taj Mahal, the Wesleyan Movement is unintelligible without understanding the deep foundations upon which it is built, without which we would crumble and lose our identity. Like the Taj Mahal, the Wesleyan movement has four major foundations, all interlocking which provides the strength and source of our movement. Therefore, I want to begin by briefly underscoring these four foundations, and then explore four of the grand distinctives of our heritage.

Foundation #1: We are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul says in I Cor. 3:11: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” This is why he says in 1 Cor. 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified” and in Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him.” This is why St. John says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life…” (John 3:36). This is the great and deep foundation which we share with any authentically Christian movement in the world. Jesus Christ is both foundation and cornerstone. John Wesley summed up his common cause with the great stream of Christian orthodoxy concerning Christ when he said, “We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians (denied Trinity) and Arians (denied eternal pre-existence of Christ).”

Foundation #2: We are built on the foundation of God’s Word.

This is the second deep foundation which we share with all Christian movements in history. The Apostle Peter in his first Epistle, chapter 1, verse 25 quotes for all of us that great passage in Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers, the flower falls, but the Word of God stands forever!” We affirm with St. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” that we all may be equipped for every good work. We humbly remember the words of our Lord when he said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall never pass away.” Martin Luther was once asked why he read the Bible through twice every year. He replied, “because the Bible is like a mighty tree and every word a little branch. I have shaken every ones of those branches, he said, because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant!”

John Wesley spoke not just for himself but for Christians all through the ages when he famously said, “I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me that book of God. Let me be a man of one book! Wesley wanted to be known “homo unius libri” – a man of one book.

Foundation #3: We are built on the great ecumenical tradition of the church.

We are rooted and grounded in the communion of the saints back through tine. We understand, against much contemporary Christian practice, that the gospel did not begin last Tuesday. We have no remit to remake Christianity into our own liking; or to re-invent the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The contemporary United Methodist church is particularly vulnerable to this, so be vigilant. We don’t reinvent the gospel, we faithfully pass it down! We stand in a grand tradition which has stood through the ages, marked by Apostles and martyrs and faithful witnesses of which we have the privilege of joining.

It was St. Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century who coined the phrase which best captures this truth: “Semper, ubique et ab omnibus” that which has been believed always, everywhere by everyone. St. Vincent was asserting a great truth in the midst of a seething cauldron of challenges in his day: The Donatists (denied Catholicity), Arians (weak Christology), Photinus (denied incarnation), Pelagius (denied the Fall), etc. But, he reminds us that there really is a great tradition, a core kerygma, which the church through all the ages has affirmed, which is stable and rooted in the Apostolic witness. In the midst of the fragmented world of post-modernity where truth has put on the scaffold and all we have left are tiny personal narratives, it is good to be reminded of this great tradition of faith to which we have been summoned.

We see this grand meta-narrative captured in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. We see it in the seven ecumenical councils from the Council of Nicea in 325 all the way to the Second Council of Nicea in 787 where the church established the broad contours of orthodoxy.

We see it defended by Wesley in his letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton in 1749.

It is all too easy for those of us who live on this side of the Great Schism of 1054; who live on this side of the 16th century Reformation, and this side of the profound disunity which characterizes contemporary Christianity, to forget the deep wells of ecumenical Christianity upon which we are built.

Foundation #4: We are built on the foundation of the 16th century Reformation.

John Wesley was a child of both pietism and the Church of England. His father and mother had been born into dissenting families, but both had somewhat dramatic returns to the Church of England. The Church of England gave them their roots in the ecumenical tradition, but their pietistic upbringing gave them deep roots in the Reformation. Wesley was an avid reader of Luther. Both Charles and John had read Luther’s commentary on Galatians just prior to their respective conversions. Wesley had his famous heart-warming experience at Aldersgate on May 24th 1738 while listening to Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. We are rooted in the five great solas of the Reformation: Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria: Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone!

The First Restrictive Rule at the birth of the Methodist Church established the Articles of Religion, Wesley’s canonical sermons and Wesley’s notes on the New Testament as the doctrinal standards of the Methodist movement. All of these materials clearly demonstrate the orientation of Methodism within the great stream of the Reformation.

It is, therefore, upon these four great foundations: Christ Himself, the Word of God, the ancient ecumenical tradition and the Reformation that the Wesleyan movement arises like a glorious Taj Mahal on the broad plains of Christianity by the great flowing river of Christian faith.