Great Wesleyan Distinctives, Part I

Beloved, we are facing the long and difficult work of rebuilding the church and remembering our heritage. Perhaps it might be helpful to dedicate a little mini series on four of the great themes of our Wesleyan heritage. We will start out with 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. We will dedicate a future article to saying more about this, but it is important for now to see how sanctification fits into Wesley’s larger view of grace. 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.

Reflections on General Conference

Here are a few of my reflections on the recently completed meeting of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

First, we must be aware of how the wider global Christian movement who are not members of the United Methodist Church viewed this final vote. I realize that some may not fully appreciate the importance of these voices, but it is certainly part of our commitment to catholicity to remember that we are not just a struggling mainline denomination trying to become healthy—we are part of the glorious, indestructible body of Christ which stretches back through time and through space around the world. The global church has been overwhelmingly positive about what was decided at General Conference. The affirmation of an historic Christian view regarding marriage and the body is a huge encouragement to so many around the world who have become accustomed to the mainline churches seemingly inevitable march to re-position themselves outside the stream of historic faith.

Second, the vote was also an historic vote in the history of mainline Protestantism. There are five large “mainline” denominations in the USA: United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), the Lutheran Church (ELCA), the Episcopal Church (TEC), and the American Baptist Church (ABC). The United Methodist Church is the only mainline denomination, to date, which has managed to maintain the biblical ethic on the definition of Christian marriage and the sanctity of our bodies as created “male” or “female.” If this vote holds, and, more importantly, it stimulates deeper renewal in biblical fidelity, then we could be a beacon of hope for all of these older churches who are continuing their precipitous decline at alarming rates.

Third, we must listen to what God is teaching us through the pain of those who were so bitterly disappointed in this vote. This is no time for triumphalism. The church is still as deeply divided as it was the week before the General Conference. C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Perhaps we could agree on a slight amendment to the last phrase: Pain is also God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf church. We clearly have a lot of pastoral work to do to extend the love of Christ to those who struggle with their sexual identity or their assigned birth gender. It was right for the church to defend the biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman. To concede this point would have caused not only a fracturing division with the global church, but even more importantly, a serious erosion of the basic Christian commitment that the Scriptures will always be the authoritative and final witness to the faith, life and ethics of the church of Jesus Christ for all time. Nonetheless, the deep cries of anguish by those who were disappointed in the vote always remind us that we have much unfinished business in fully articulating a theology of the body and the grand vision of marriage which the Scriptures so nobly set forth, and to which we have not always been a vibrant witness.

Finally, we are all saddened by the divided nature of the United Methodist Church. I truly believe that this sadness is shared by the whole church. It seems intractable. In my view, it would be a mistake to simply return to General Conference in 2020 and re-fight this same issue all over again, though I have no role in those kind of decisions. However, as a United Methodist clergy person, The One Church Plan, called by different names, has now been voted down four times. I think it would be a poor strategy to expect different results in 2020, especially since the global delegates will have increased. A better approach would be to step back from this issue and try to focus on the underlying sources of our division as a church. From the perspective of how the United Methodist Church is situated within the Christian movement, it would be a tragedy if we were to accept de facto, as has been said quite a bit in recent weeks, that “the way forward” is to follow the teachings of Jesus and not the teachings of Paul and others in the epistles who set forth many of the ethical parameters which are being rejected by those who want to normalize same sex behavior. The idea that Jesus is timeless while Paul and the others are all culture bound and have no voice in the life of the church would be catastrophic in terms of our denominational future as a viable Christian movement. To separate “Jesus” from “Paul” in this way ends up not being true to Jesus or to Paul since both are now being used for our purposes rather than representing God’s revelation to us.

Let me be clear, there are no “winners” and “losers” in this struggle. It is the gospel which must prevail and call us all to die to ourselves and, through spiritual rebirth, be raised up and united with Christ. We all must do a better job listening to the whole of Scripture. We must all do a better job listening to our beloved Wesleyan heritage. We must all do a better job in listening to the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ who is Lord of the Church and has summoned us all as sinners into His glorious presence. For I know that we all agree—the last thing we want to have ringing in our ears at the end of this struggle is that terrifying word of judgment from Christ when He comes to look for fruit on the tree called United Methodism and says, “may no one ever eat fruit from you again.” We all hope for a day when fruitfulness will, once again, be the hallmark of our beloved church.

Final Thoughts Before the 2019 United Methodist Church General Conference in St. Louis

For those who follow my blog, you will be aware of the upcoming 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, called to respond to the report of the Commission on a Way Forward regarding human sexuality. I recently published six reasons why we should reject the so-called One Church Plan. I have also affirmed in earlier blogs the importance of the church standing with the global church and the church throughout time in affirming historic orthodox views regarding the definition of marriage and a Christian view of the body. However, now that this historic meeting is upon us, perhaps a few final thoughts are in order.

First, remember our love for the church. It is easy to be discouraged and disheartened by all of the dysfunction and brokenness in the church. It is demoralizing to even be asked to “vote” on the issue which is before us, since biblical authority is (or should be) the sine qua non of the church. But I cannot forget that the United Methodist Church was the means of grace for me to receive Christ, to receive a call into the ministry, and the place where I have had wonderful opportunities for preaching and pastoral ministry. To quote that beautiful hymn about the church by Robert Stamps, the United Methodist Church was “my waking place, of early call and signs of grace.” It is precisely because we love the church so much that those who are delegates must gather up their courage, go to General Conference, and protect the church from making more steps towards its own demise. There is no inevitability to “mainline decline.” The decline of all the mainline churches is linked to their neglect of biblical authority and theological stability. We can break that link in St. Louis.

Second, we must not be angry, or fall into despair. There is a real possibility that certain decisions (or the lack of decision because the presiding bishops cannot control demonstrations) would force hundreds of thousands of Methodists to find a new church home. Hundreds of thousands more will accept life in a protracted period of ecclesial exile within the denomination until a better day arises. This would be an extremely sad and disconcerting turn of events since most of us have never known any other denominational family, and the United Methodist Church, with all of its flaws, has historically stood on the side of historic orthodoxy. We have stayed and pastored, we have preached and prayed, we have tried to remember our ordination vows, even as we have watched millions leave the church. We are not prone to separation. We have prayed earnestly that we would not be torn asunder.

But, regardless of the outcome, we must not succumb to anger or despair. We must always remember that the deeper foundation of Jesus Christ will never fail us. We must remember that the faithful church of Jesus Christ is indestructible. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). We should have no fear of the demise of the Church. Absolutely none. Of course, particular denominations may rise and fall. Some remain faithful, and some disappear and are lost. But, the true Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ, will last into eternity. Our prayer is that the United Methodist Church will remain faithfully connected to the glorious church of Jesus Christ.

Third, the One Church Plan is not, as advertised, the plan where everyone can have what they want. By this point, most of us have heard the well-rehearsed refrain: “The One Church Plan will not force anyone to change. If you want to stay as you are, you can.” However, in my view, that is a profound misunderstanding of the nature of this legislation. The One Church Plan does, in fact, require two massive changes for every single United Methodist in the country, and every person in every Central Conference around the world united to United Methodism.

First, this refrain obscures the fact that the One Church Plan is but one more step (in their view) in a long hard struggle for the liberation of the church from all sexual mores. It is being sold as the plan that will produce peace in the church, when it will actually be the most divisive act imaginable. The fighting will continue. We will still have fighting at every General Conference, but now it will spread to every conference, and every local church in the country. We used to know that these struggles would be limited to once every four years, and in some distant city in some distant state. Now, the fights will continue, year in and year out, right in our own churches and conferences until the progressives get the “church” they have envisioned.

Second, it requires all of us (regardless of what position we hold) to accept the moral equivalency of the opposing position. For me, this is the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” It is one thing to argue about whether homosexuality is a “sin” or a “sacrament.” It is one thing to argue about whether same sex marriage is “biblical” or “unbiblical.” It is entirely another to actually embrace the view that it is both, depending on the majority vote of a local church or an annual conference. It is this postmodern view of truth which is so objectionable to our entire theological tradition, both as Christians and as Wesleyans. Truth has always been determined by good exegesis of Scripture, and an attentive listening to the theological tradition in which we stand. The One Church Plan forces us to embrace the notion that truth is socially constructed by the various factions and groups within society. Truth as truth has been deconstructed and all we have are endless personal preferences. The very fact that so many bishops, pastors, and delegates have embraced such a postmodern view of truth shows how far we have strayed. It is the formal embrace of this new view of truth which is actually the most destructive threat the United Methodist Church church faces in St. Louis.

Finally, I remain hopeful. I have the privilege of traveling all across the country and, indeed, the world, meeting and talking with those in our Methodist family. In the last three months I have been on every inhabited continent on earth. This spring I am preaching in United Methodist Church congregations and gatherings in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. In the midst of the pain, I also hear strains of hope.

We are hopeful that those who gather in St. Louis will discover a fresh wind of the grace of God and a solid reaffirmation of historic faith. This could be the turning point for a new phase of evangelism, church planting, and discipleship. I still believe that all of the losses we have incurred over the last fifty years can be completely reversed. We need a national strategy for evangelism and church planting. We need a solid re-affirmation of our biblical and theological heritage. We need well equipped laity and clergy for the work which is before us. This vision of renewal and revitalization is still within our grasp. It will require a turn from the waywardness of our recent history. But, it is still possible that the turn could happen in St. Louis, and after the final gavel has sounded, we could break out and sing, “And Can it Be?” May it be so.

One Church Plan: Key Issues to Think About Before You Vote

The United Methodist Church will be meeting in General Conference on February 23-26 in St. Louis, Missouri. The General Conference has been called specifically to act on the report of the Commission on a Way Forward which was authorized at the 2016 General Conference. This 32 member commission has not produced a single “solution,” but have outlined three possible ways ahead.

The three plans are as follows:

Traditionalist Plan: This plan would affirm the current language about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline and seek to strengthen enforcement for violations of church law.

One Church Plan: The one-church model would allow different United Methodists in different places to make different decisions regarding ministry with or by LGBTQ persons rather than maintaining a single standard that operates everywhere throughout the worldwide church. This plan would remove all restrictive language from the Book of Discipline and give conferences, churches and pastors a “local option” to decide what they determine is best.

Connectional-Conference Plan: This plan would create three connectional conferences based on theology or perspective, each having clearly defined values (accountability, contextualization and justice). The three connectional conferences would function throughout the worldwide church and the five existing U.S. jurisdictions would be abolished.

The Council of Bishops has thrown their support behind the One Church Plan and they are actively supporting it through blog articles, websites (, and various video releases. The Traditionalist Plan has the support of a minority of bishops, who have struggled to have their voice heard. I endorse the Traditionalist Plan because it moves us closer to historic orthodoxy and has the most overwhelming support from Scripture, our Wesleyan heritage, and the global church. The One Church Plan, in contrast, has a number of serious problems. This essay seeks to highlight six of the key issues which are before us as we are asked to contemplate this solution as “the way forward.”

Issue #1: The Nature of Church Unity

The framers of the One Church Plan are clear that they are motivated primarily over a desire to maintain church unity. The One Church Plan is widely regarded as the only way to keep the church from hopelessly splitting into three or more factions. Therefore, this proposal is widely regarded as the greatest hope for “church unity.”

Our Episcopal leaders often remind us that they have sworn in their consecration vows to “uphold the unity of the church.” However, there seems to be confusion about what is meant by 
“church unity.” When some hear the phrase, “uphold the unity of the church” they think this is referring to the organizational and bureaucratic, churchly machinery known denominationally as the United Methodist church. This is not true. When Jesus said “I will build my church” He was referring to the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ throughout space and time of which He is the Lord and head. Our unity is rooted in that sacred unity. Our unity is in Jesus Christ. Our unity is in the gospel. Our unity is with the people of God around the world and back through time. If keeping the unity of the church was an organizational, denominational mandate, then there would never have been a Reformation. The Reformation was not fundamentally a schismatic movement – but the church’s greatest act of catholicity. It was a remembering of the ancient faith and a return to the apostolic message.

The word “unity” has a clear and compelling definition found in our Discipline which is quietly ignored. (See, par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Our unity is not found in our ecclesiastical structures, but in the gospel which is given to us in God’s Word. Every Bishop and Elder in the United Methodist church has promised before God to uphold the Discipline and to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” That is the basis of church unity. We must not forget this.

Issue #2: Biblical Authority

The second issue at stake with the One Church Plan has to do with the nature of Scripture itself. In short, is Scripture authoritative in the life of the church, or not? This is not a question intending to nullify the role of tradition, reason or experience. The question is whether Scripture is one of several sources of authority, or if Scripture has a final voice in deciding doctrine among the people called Methodists. This leads to a second, but equally important question. If Scripture is authoritative, then how is the meaning of Scripture known and received in the life of the church? I am not convinced that the “crisis” within United Methodism is about who can have sex with whom. That is, of course, the leading presenting issue; but it has always been evident to many that the deeper issue has to do with the authority of Scripture and how we interpret and apply Scripture to the various issues which are before us.

The November 9th release from the Council of Bishops notes several “values” which are guiding the process. The three primary values noted were unity, space and contextuality. There is the notable omission that there is no reference to the value of the final decision being biblical or that, in the end, Scripture has any role in deciding this crucial issue. Am I the only one, or was anyone else absolutely stunned that the Council of Bishops would put out a pastoral letter about such an explosively contentious issue which needs to be resolved and threatens to tear our church asunder, and never mention the Bible or Scripture in the entire document?

Throughout my thirty-three years of ministry as an ordained United Methodist Church pastor there has been a notable and consistent lack of interest in Scriptural references to matters of human sexuality, not to mention the deep theological structures which underpin marriage in the Bible (e.g. creation account, theology of the body, body of Christ imagery, marriage supper of the lamb, etc.). To be fair, theologians and biblical scholars have been invited to deliver papers to the Commission. However, the influence this has had on conversations and proposals and blog postings, etc. in the wider church has been tepid. There are, of course, passing references to how certain broad biblical themes such as justice or mercy, but not the deep, thoughtful theological and biblical engagement with specific texts which is required.

The paucity of biblical engagement is due, perhaps, to a misunderstanding about the so-called “quadrilateral” which has been popularized in our denomination. The quadrilateral, rightly understood, is about the primacy of Scripture and the secondary role which tradition, reason and experience should play in our deliberations. We are, after all, the “people of one Book.” What the quadrilateral is not, is a statement of four equal values. Yet, in our deliberations one sometimes gets the impression that the quadrilateral has been flipped on its head. In our conversations, pastoral considerations and anecdotal stories tend to “rule the day.” In other words, we have turned the quadrilateral on its head and we often end up using experience as the definitive lens through which we understand scripture and tradition. It would be very helpful if our commitment to the primacy of Scripture as the final authority in the life of the church were to be made clear. Our Discipline says, “United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine” (p. 83). There is nothing wrong with highlighting values like “contextuality” and “space” but neither should be understood as primary values. The church deserves to see the biblical and theological evidence which supports the One Church Plan. It is very disconcerting that the website which the Council of Bishops released to support the One Church Plan ( contains no section on how this proposal relates to our biblical, theological or historical heritage as Christians.

Issue #3: Biblical Teaching Regarding Homosexuality

The New Testament contains numerous prohibitions against unauthorized sexual behavior. On this point, there can be no dispute. The question is whether any of these prohibitions would include homosexual acts, especially between consenting adults.

There are a number of passages, especially the so-called “sin lists” in the New Testament, which employ a range of Greek words which need exploration. The primary terms are as follows: porneia, akatharsia, malakos, komos, and arsenokoites. As I understand the “progressive” argument, they insist that what is condemned in the New Testament sin lists is not consensual, committed sexual activity between two men, but exploitative sin such as pederasty (sexual activity between a man and a boy). This argument is not entirely false. The New Testament does condemn a practice reflected in the Greek word “malakos” which refers to “effeminate call boys” which was a form of prostitution in the ancient world which was exploitative and would clearly fall under the category of pederasty. It is also true that there are some broad, more general words for sexual immorality used in the New Testament which do not specifically name any particular sexual behavior. The two most prominent examples are the words “porneia” (where we get our word pornography from) and “akatharsia.” Porneia means “sexual immorality” – a broad term for a whole range of sexual sins without specifically naming what those sins are. The word akatharsia means “sexually impure” or “immoral sexual sins.” Again, it is a broad term without specifically citing what sexual sins fall into that category. There are other broad words like komos which is used quite broadly to refer to everything from excessive eating, to general carousing, to sexual orgies, and so forth. Thus, the progressives are correct in noting that several of the terms in the New Testament do, in fact, refer specifically to pederasty or to broad terms which cover a range of sexual misconduct without specifically mentioning homosexuality.

The difficulty with this argument is that it ignores a mountain of other biblical evidence which makes it exceedingly difficult for progressives to, in the end, offer a convincing case. First, the word “arsenokoites” is also used in the “sin lists” of the New Testament. Arsenokoites means a “man who practices homosexuality.” There are several reasons why it is difficult to argue that this word refers only to pederasty. Arsenokoites appears in the Pauline sin list right along with the other terms. In other words, in I Corinthians 6:9,10 Paul specifically condemns “porneia” and “malakos” as well as “arsenokoites.” It is clear that “malakos” and “arsenokoites” are not interchangeable words. Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Furthermore, Paul would have been familiar with the Greek Old Testament (known as the Septuagint). It is this Greek word “arsenokoites” which is used in texts in the Old Testament such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 which quite explicitly condemn homosexual activity. This happens again in I Timothy 1:10 where he identifies both the general word “sexual immorality” (porneia) as well as homosexual practice (arsenokoites). (By the way, this passage is also where Paul condemns slave holding, dispelling the other common argument made by some of our leaders that the Bible somehow endorses slave holding and we now have better insights than they had). Of course, once it is clear that arsenokoites is forbidden by the New Testament, then it also would fall under the general categories of “sexual immorality” (porneia) and “sexually impure acts” (akatharsia).

Second, we also must not overlook Paul’s argument in Romans 1:26 where he states that “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” While there is legitimate debate about the full scope of the phrase “dishonorable passions” it is quite clear that Paul is not limiting the discussions to pederasty since he is referring more generally to departures from God’s natural design. In short, the New Testament is consistently negative about normalizing same-sex behavior, and nowhere in the Bible are there positive or affirming portraits of same-sex behavior.

Third, we must not forget the positive teaching from Genesis 2 which is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:5, 6: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.’” The New Testament only explicitly condemns 67 “named sins” even though we realize that sin is a much bigger category. Just because the New Testament never explicitly condemns polluting a river does not mean that we have license to do it. The New Testament theologically enshrines biblical marriage between a man and a woman and, as shall be developed in a future blog, all other sexual acts are disallowed. However, the theological case for marriage as between a man and a woman will have to wait.

But, for now, it is clear that the One Church Plan requires that we consider all of the language around sexual immorality in the New Testament as either generic, non-specific or only referring to a very tiny slice of sexual immorality; namely, pederasty. Yet, as we have seen, the exegetical case for this is not defensible. If we are being asked to sign off on this option and “agree to disagree” on this issue, then we will need to have a much better conversation about the biblical data which pertains to this question. I, for one, remain completely unconvinced by the progressive argument and am actually disappointed that they would argue so strongly about their commitment to biblical authority and yet provide no serious exegetical argument for the dramatic changes they wish to usher into the life and faith of the church. To move a named sin from a New Testament “sin list” and declare that we are now to regard it as a “sacrament” is unprecedented. Christians have every right to resist this doctrinal innovation which is being embraced by a few declining mainline denominations in the western world.

Issue #4: A Christian View of the Body

The 2016 General Conference established the Commission on a Way Forward to help the church resolve our differences over homosexuality. However, very quickly, the bishops moved the conversation beyond the issue of same sex marriage and broadened it to include allowing the church to permit the ordination of homosexual, bi-sexual, transgendered and gender non-conforming people. This appeared as early as the November 9 letter from the Council of Bishops which calls for a “way forward” for “LGBT inclusion.” By removing all prohibitive language from the Discipline, it renders the church silent on a whole range of issues. Indeed, the One Church Plan would allow any annual conference to ordain not only lesbian and gay persons (LG), but also bi-sexual (B), transgendered (T), and queer or gender non-conforming (Q) people.

This is entirely new ground and raises a range of new questions. It also demonstrates that the normalization of same sex relationships was never the “end” of any debate, but just the beginning of a whole new range of affirmed states, the end of which we do not yet know. If LG, then LGBT, then LGBTQ, what possible objection would the church raise against LGBTQIA, as so on. The point is, once the church is prepared to relinquish the natural gender distinction established in creation, then no other boundary can possibly hold.

Ordination for any ecclesial body is the highest and most sacred act of “setting apart” for ministry. Ordination is intended to embody and display holiness to the world through human vessels set apart for word and sacrament. It is surely among the most sacred honors a church bestows. The One Church Plan would invite bi-sexual and gender non-conforming persons into ordination without a clear explanation of how, or if, this might challenge our traditional theology of the body and human sexuality. We have spent 45 years discussing gay and lesbian relationships, but not 45 minutes on this. I could explore these in more detail, but I would like to focus on the ordination of transgendered persons. It is here that we see with greater clarity that our struggle has never actually been about who can have sex with whom. Our struggle is over the Christian view of the body. The affirmation of one’s decision to change their gender, either through hormonal therapy, or through various operative procedures, moves us towards a gnostic view of the body.

One of the fiercest theological struggles of the early church was the struggle against gnosticism. Gnosticism refers to a wide range of movements which claimed that they had special “knowledge” about reality. The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” for “knowledge.” One of the doctrines espoused by gnostics is that the material world is evil. The “spirit” or “inner light” of a person is trapped inside a body, which is regarded as untrustworthy or evil. The early Christians fiercely resisted gnosticism, as this struggle is found in many passages in the New Testament. The idea that a person might be a male trapped inside a female body, or a female trapped inside a male body reflects a low view of the body. The notion that someone who is biologically male or female can decide that they really are another gender, or no gender at all, because of some insight “on the inside” has enormous theological and ethical implications related to the Christian view of the body. Gnostics say, “you cannot trust your body, but your heart is pure.” Christians say, “your heart is deceitful, but your body can be trusted.” Indeed, for the Christian, the whole physical world has been declared “good.”

Any disassociation of the “real you” from your biological, God given, bodily identifiers has historically been regarded by Christians as a grave error because, in one stroke, it erodes two major Christian doctrines. First, it erodes the doctrine of creation. Creation, for the Christian is good and can be trusted. This is what makes scientific enquiry possible. Christians have always believed that there are moral boundaries inherent in the created order and one of these is that God created us “male and female.” This is declared in the creation account (Gen. 1:27), and reaffirmed by Jesus himself in his discourse on marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:4-6). Christians have never accepted the notion that we can autonomously decide what gender we are, or declare that we have no gender. Second, it erodes the doctrine of the incarnation. Christians fiercely opposed the gnostic view of the body because, in the end, it disparages the doctrine of the incarnation: Jesus Christ has come “in the flesh” (John 1:14). The Apostle John is so strong on this point that he says that anyone who does not recognize that Jesus came “in the flesh” (not just a spirit inhabiting a fleshly creature) is not of God, but of the spirit of the Antichrist (I John 4:1-3).

This historic Christian view of the body has absolutely nothing to do with the increasingly popularized “regional view” of sin which is being propagated in our church today. This argues that what is regarded as “sin” in the southern USA may not be regarded as “sin” in California. However, this kind of teaching can only be sustained through a “reader determined” method of interpretation which assumes that every reader of the Bible has the right to shape multiple potential “meanings” of a biblical passage for himself or herself. This is to be contrasted with an exegetical approach based on a careful reading of the original context and grammar of the Bible on its own terms which allows it to speak clearly to us God’s revelation.

Let us be clear. Transgendered people, like all people, have been created in the image of God and are men and women of infinite worth and should receive, like all people, the hospitality of churches who open their doors wide to all. There is nothing sinful about an attraction towards the same gender. Only our overly sexualized culture demands that all attractions culminate in sexual activity. Likewise, there is nothing inherently sinful about having a gender identity crisis. We all have struggles which the gospel addresses and which calls forth the wonderful pastoral gifts which Methodists are known and admired for. What must be opposed is any so-called “solution” which espouses a non-Christian view of the body.

Issue #5: Is There a Divine Design for Marriage?

One of the areas where I find myself in agreement with the progressives is their exasperation that we, as a church, might be known as “those people who are opposed to homosexuality.” This is a valid point. We must be known for what we are “for” not what we are “against.” The “progressive” solution is to essentially agree with much of the culture on their views of sexuality and the human body. In my view, this is neither wise nor prudent if one of our shared goals is to remain firmly within the bounds of historic Christian faith. The solution which would reinvigorate our church would be to re-cast the positive Christian vision of human sexuality and the theology of the body.

Our problem as a denomination goes back many decades because our vision for the very nature of Christian marriage itself has been lost. The whole notion that there might be a divine design to marriage is never addressed. In fact, many Christians, quite tragically, embrace the larger societal view of marriage. This is the popular narrative in broad form: Marriage is a way to find personal fulfillment and make you happy. Marriage is defined, so the narrative goes, as a legal arrangement which allows two people to fulfill each other’s emotional and sexual needs and desires, and find economic stability. Accepting this narrative is the source of many of our woes. Individual freedom, personal autonomy and fulfillment are very high values in the West and marriage has been domesticated to fit within that larger utilitarian framework. The culture has a utilitarian view which sees marriage as a commodity. We should have a biblical vision which sees marriage as covenant. The utilitarian vision sees the body of a man or woman as an object which can be assessed like a car – is it bright, new, shiny and full of power, or not. Is your body thin or fat; does it conform to the shapes we admire or not; is your hair the right texture and color, or not; are your teeth shiny and straight, or not. In the covenantal vision, the mystery and glory is that we have bodies and those bodies are beautiful to God because they are living sacraments in the world, an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, since all of the means of grace come through the physicality of the body.

Since the church has unwittingly accepted the wider culture’s view of marriage, we have very little room to maneuver. Once a functionalistic, commodity-driven, utilitarian view of marriage is accepted, then we really have no solid ground to stand on in opposing a whole range of new kinds of relationships which might be called marriage. As the mantra goes, “Why should we care who someone loves as long as they are happy?”

We must remember what Jesus did when he was asked the “burning question” of his day: “Can a man divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matt. 19:3). Rather than answer directly, Jesus directs them to return to story of creation and remember God’s original design for marriage. Jesus does not answer their question, he re-frames the question. We must learn to ask the right question. Unfortunately, the first right question is not, “should the church support same sex marriage?” or “should we permit the ordination of homosexuals?” Jesus’ reply teaches us that to answer that question without first understanding God’s original design tacitly ends up accepting all the broken presuppositions which gave rise to the question in the first place. The first right question is this: “What is God’s design for marriage?”

Jesus calls us back to the creational, covenantal and Eucharistic mystery of marriage. First, by creating us “male and female” God designed two different, complementary glories who come together as one. It is the primordial sacrament of creation which would someday become the grand metaphor for Christ and the Church celebrated in the marriage supper of the lamb. In Ephesians 5 when Paul commands husbands to love their wives, he tells us that he is speaking ultimately about the mystery of Christ and his church. In the Scriptures, the body is primarily a theological category, not a biological one. Second, marriage was designed to invite us into the mystery of creation by becoming co-creators with him. Through the miracle of childbirth, we actually participate with God in creation by becoming co-creators with him. Indeed, while honoring the special calling of celibacy, the church understands that the building of families is at the heart of God’s design. This is one of the many reasons why the church has never declared moral equivalency between marriage between a man and a woman and a homosexual marriage. Third, the family unit has been designed by God to reflect the mystery of the Trinity itself. Husband and wife become, through the gift of family, father and mother, and they stand before God with their children as a sign and seal of the Triune God. The family is meant to be a reflection of the Trinity with mutual gifts, submission, joyful exercise of kingly and queenly authority, love, discipline, self-donation, and becoming co-creators with God.

The Bible begins and ends with a marriage (Garden of Eden and Marriage Supper of the Lamb). It is one of the great threads which connects the great themes of creation, redemption, and even the Triune nature of God himself. We must reject the notion that marriage is merely a human institution which can be shaped or defined by a majority vote as we see fit. I plead with our church leaders, there are many things we can vote on in the church, but the definition of marriage is not one of them.

Issue #6: Holy Conferencing, the Wesleyan Way

I know that there is a general weariness about this issue and a sense that because we have been discussing it for 45 years, we should surely be able to decide one way or the other by now, and move on. However, the reason we cannot, and will not, be able to “move on” is that, despite 45 years of debate, we have never actually had a proper discussion about it. The driving questions raised in this article about the nature of church unity, the authority of scripture, the exegesis of key texts, the Christian view of the body, God’s design for marriage and so forth have all been silenced under much weaker questions.

We have all been subjected to endless vague questions which have been wearily imposed upon our beloved church: “Is it not time for the UMC to become more inclusive?” “Haven’t we been called to love all people?” “Just as we have evolved in our views regarding slavery and the role of women, is it not time to evolve our views regarding homosexuality?” We must insist that better questions be asked. There is too much at stake. Our church deserves our best thinking. Sometimes questions wrapped up in the word “inclusive” have tacitly carried the assumption that the church has some moral obligation to embrace every conceivable view which is put forward, even if it is a new doctrine invented last Tuesday. Sometimes the word “love” is ripped from its biblical rootedness in God’s covenantal holiness, turned into a modern emotional disposition, and then used as a lever to convince us that we cannot “love our neighbor” unless we also embrace the sins of our neighbor. Sometimes we are asked to believe that the church in disobedience to scripture (e.g. attitudes towards women, minorities, or slavery) is the same as the actual teachings of Scripture. Sometimes we hear the phrase, “my experience teaches me” as if experience is the final arbiter of any dispute, carrying more weight than Scripture itself. Sometimes we are given endless pragmatic arguments about how our empty pews will be filled with young people if we just “get on the right side of history.” Sometimes we are told that because same sex marriage is not explicitly condemned in the Apostles’ Creed, this is all “much ado about nothing,” neglecting the point that no sins are listed or mentioned in the Creed. Sometimes we hear statements which confuse the church’s glorious diversity with the accommodation of endless human preferences. Sometimes we are told that passages which have been abundantly clear to the church for 2,000 years are suddenly unclear and no one has a clue what they mean. We are not given an alternative solution to consider, and weigh on its merits. We are just lulled into the sea of what Michael Ovey ingeniously calls “imperious ignorance.” I could go on, but these are a few examples of the intellectually fragile position we have allowed ourselves to be pushed into.

What we desperately need is a proper, nuanced conversation about church history, biblical texts, theology and pastoral care. We must, frankly speaking, grow up and act like we are part of the church of Jesus Christ which stretches back through time and around the globe. We are not a human organization like the Kiwanis Club. We are the divinely commissioned church of Jesus Christ. We must have a rebirth of both catholicity and apostolicity. We must pray for a renewed encounter with our own vibrant tradition which continues to call us to be a people of “one Book” and to “spread scriptural holiness.”

Brothers and sisters, we need to recover a far more robust understanding of holy conferencing. The weak questions we have been grappling with has led to weak thinking, more divisiveness, and, at times, the shaming of those who adhere to the official position in the Book of Discipline. Weak questions have led to the incapacity to speak prophetically to a culture which is in such deep malaise. We have become like the doctor who thinks that he or she cannot properly treat any of their patients until they catch every disease that they have.

Mirslov Volf, the well-known theologian, statesman and author writes in his landmark book, Exclusion and Embrace, “Vilify all boundaries, pronounce every discrete identity oppressive, put the tag ‘exclusion’ on every stable difference – and you will have aimless drifting instead of clear-sighted agency, haphazard activity instead of moral engagement and accountability, and, in the long run, a torpor of death instead of a dance of freedom” (p. 64f). May the risen and exalted Christ wake us up from this protracted denominational slumber, for our only hope is in His divine action. This is not the time for either clinched fists or wringing hands. Rather, it is the time for open arms lifted up to the Lord of all who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. He can raise us up to new heights of proclamation, witness and hope. However, the only true “way forward” for our denomination, or any other in crisis, is to return to our biblical, historical and theological roots.

Remembering Our Ordination Vows

Every Bishop and Elder in the United Methodist church has promised before God to uphold the Book of Discipline and to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” Integrity demands, does it not, that those who can no longer in good conscience uphold the Discipline or defend the church against heterodox doctrines should gracefully step aside? If, on the other hand, they are confident that their new views are scripturally defensible then they are duty-bound to present their exegesis to the church for careful evaluation, holy conferencing, and a vote.This has, of course, not happened in relation to our struggles over human sexuality as we approach the General Conference in St. Louis in February. Hundreds of pastors and laity across the country have pleaded for the biblical basis for the one church plan, but none has been provided.

The authority of God’s Word as the normative rule of faith and practice in the life and witness of the church is the real unstated question which is before the General Conference in February. I do not know what has troubled me more: the fact that no biblical or theological case has been made for the so-called One Church Plan, or that none has even been officially asked for. It shows just how deep our malady is. The steady breezes of pragmatism blow across the church in almost every public statement, but any reference to the authority of Scripture is strangely absent. The newly launched website by the Council of Bishops to promote the One Church Plan ( provides no scriptural support for the plan and even the FAQ section addresses thirteen questions, none of which are “what is the biblical basis for this position?”

Our episcopal leaders regularly cite that they also promised in their consecration as Bishops to “uphold the unity of the church.” Yet, there is a persistent dust storm kicked up over the meaning of the word “unity” while the clear and compelling definition of unity found in our Discipline is quietly ignored. (See, par. 105, Doctrinal Standards and our Theological Task). Our unity is not found in our ecclesiastical structures, but in the Gospel which is given to us in God’s Word. We must not allow ourselves to lose our shock over this. The fact that the majority of bishops have embraced the One Church Plan and even launched a website and videos to promote it shows just how formidable our pathway back to orthodoxy truly is. However, having traveled across this country and spoken with dozens of United Methodist pastors, it is quite clear that many of the rank and file pastors and lay people understand exactly what this is all about.

I have to hand it to influential United Methodist Pastor pastor and well-known author Adam Hamilton who understood from the start what was really at stake for the church. He knew that progressive views regarding human sexuality could not more forward without an equally progressive view of Scriptural authority. He laid out the case for this as early as 2014 in his book, Making Sense of the Bible. One of the many stunning conclusions offered to the church by Adam Hamilton is the assertion that the inspiration of the Scriptures is no different from all the ways we claim to be inspired today, such as in writing a sermon, or a poem. Hamilton argues that St. Paul’s inspiration in writing letters to the Corinthians is “not qualitatively different from the way God inspires or influences today” (p. 143). The only difference Hamilton allows between the “inspiration” of the biblical writers and the “inspiration” we experience today is that they were historically closer to the actual events (p. 138). Yet, Hamilton’s own assessment of how we are to interpret scripture often overrules the assessment of those closest to the events (See, for example, p. 213).

We will hear quite a bit about the need to preserve the unity of the church. However, the best and most faithful way we can preserve the true unity of the church is to stand boldly against this so-called “One Church Plan.” Our unity within our global communion (or with Christians around the world and back through time) will only be broken if we fail to protect the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word.” I have been around long enough to remember when our leaders were all enamored with Bultmannian theology which was going to “rescue” the church and get us “up with the times.” We were all encouraged to endorse the idea that Jesus Christ didn’t actually rise bodily; rather, he “rose” in the preaching of the Apostles. How did that turn out? I remember in the early 1990’s when the Re-Imagining Conference invoked the worship of a female deity, Sophia. I remember when they gave “communion” with milk and honey rather than bread and wine, and Dr. Delores Williams stated, “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement” and, “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses, and blood dripping, and weird stuff like that.” How did that turn out? Brothers and sisters, this is a long and protracted struggle and we should not forget what we are struggling over.

I returned recently from Brazil and witnessed first-hand the growth of the Methodist church in the sixth district of Brazil due to a courageous and godly bishop (Bishop Joao Carlos Lopes) who for over twenty years has led those under his episcopal care with a strong commitment to evangelism, church planting, and most importantly, the authority of the Word of God. We need to find ways to encourage and strengthen all Episcopal leaders who, even as a minority voice, are committed to Scriptural Christianity and Apostolic faith. That is the only true “way forward.” In contrast, the One Church Plan promotes theological pluralism, ethical relativism, and in the process, abandons our historic Methodist ecclesiology. Even though the One Church Plan allows me to remain personally orthodox, it requires me to say that the United Methodist Church now has two official, and contradictory, orthodoxies. The One Church Plan would force me to accept the moral equivalency between biblical marriage and a seemingly endless array of new arrangements, the full extent of which we do not yet even know. But, in my ordination vows I promised to defend the church “against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word” and that is what I intend to keep on doing because, as Martin Luther said in 1521 at the Diet of Worms in the face of the waywardness of the church in his own day which has lost its own catholicity and apostolicity, “my conscience is held captive to the Word of God.”

Christmas Is About Hope, and Making the Impossible, Possible

We live at a time when so many of our hopes are dreams are framed by impossibilities. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians . . . impossible. Wars in Yemen and Syria ending . . . impossible. A US congress where Democrats and Republicans engage in healthy, respectful dialogue, and work collaboratively across the aisle for the good of America . . . impossible. A society marked by cultural stability where it is safe to walk the streets at night . . . impossible. A culture where a man and a woman in their twenties with their whole lives in front of them stand at the altar of a church and pledge their entire lives to one another and then actually live it out and are faithful to one another until death separates them—many would say . . . impossible. An America where the threat of terrorism is a distant memory . . . impossible.

Yet, this is the time of the year when we recall afresh that the gospel of Jesus Christ is what transforms the impossible into the possible. Indeed, it is the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ which totally reframes the world and all of human history. It is these two great singularities, incarnation and resurrection, which reframe a world of despair and cynicism into the larger frame of hope and promise. Yes, Christmas and Easter change everything! This old creation is broken and wounded, but you know that the New Creation is already breaking in! But, we Christians are the heralds and ambassadors of the New Creation. We are capable of thinking thoughts that the world cannot think. We are capable of sacrificial acts which the world cannot fathom. We are capable of dreaming dreams in a world that only knows ever-maddening nightmares. We can think about possibilities.

The whole ministry of Jesus was framed by impossibilities: incarnation and resurrection, a virgin birth, and an empty tomb. Someone once said, Jesus came into the world through a door marked “no entrance,” a virgin womb. He left through a door marked “no exit,” a tomb of death. Two great impossibilities made possible in Jesus Christ. Nobody had ever walked through those doors before: a virgin womb and a sealed tomb. In Jesus Christ, the world’s greatest impossibilities are made into possibilities.

Dear readers, you have under-heard the story of Christmas if you thought it was just about warm family times, opening presents, decorating trees, going to special Christmas services and eating amazing food. All of those things are wonderful things, but Christmas is about so much more. This Advent we are to prepare for the real meaning of Christmas: the event which completely reframes and re-orders the whole of human history—and all of your history as well.

You can go out into this world and in Jesus Christ see the impossible made possible. You can work for peace, because the prince of peace is the Risen and Ascended Lord. You can re-engage in government and live free of bitterness and cynicism, because the government rests on his shoulders. You can wage holy war against crime, because God’s love for the world is always greater than Satan’s hate of it. You can boldly rescue men, women, and children from human trafficking and the downward spiral of drug addiction because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell therein.” You can sit with husbands and wives who walk into your office and say “we have given up, our marriage has no hope.” And you can say, without blinking, “God still has the last word in your relationship.” You can preach the gospel to lost sinners and believe afresh in the power of God’s redemption because the cross is still the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Christmas is about hope!

Don’t let this season catch you in the net of despair. Do not get trapped in the web of cynicism. Do not get swallowed up by all the impossibilities. Instead, remember that it is the incarnation which forces us to remember that all of the “impossibilities” of this world have been re-frarmed by the hope of Jesus Christ!

Embracing God’s Disruptive Grace

As pastors and leaders, we often long for peaceful, calm waters with as little disruption as possible. It is disruptive to see the culture in chaos, the church in crisis, and challenges at every turn. But when we look at the Bible, we regularly see how God moves in that liminal space which we call “disruption.” The old saying, “God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable” is more true than we sometimes care to admit. But all through the Scriptures we see God taking ordinary people, with their sometimes limited vision, and calling them forth to become full participants in His mighty acts of salvation. Every pastorate and every ministry position is an expression in seed form of this great truth.

Consider this truth as a pattern that can be observed in Scripture. Abraham left his father, became a homeless wanderer, and ended up being the father of a new nation. Joseph was sold into slavery and left in the pit of forgetfulness. Yet, in God’s time (and that must have seemed like a long, long time), Joseph was used to rescue his own people. Moses fled to Midian as an escaped murderer, and ended up unexpectedly in the presence of a burning bush with a call from God. Naomi and Ruth returned to their home empty, but ended up discovering the providence of God in fresh ways through Boaz, their kinsman redeemer. Gideon stood fearful in the winepress and ended up being called to lead an army. David was tending sheep and suddenly found himself slaying a giant and being promised a throne. Jeremiah was thrown into a pit, but in the process rescued the exiles with a word of hope. Jonah was scared and running away from God, but ended up preaching to the Ninevites and becoming the exemplar of God’s heart for the nations. The Widow of Nain was on her way to a cemetery, and instead she was given a resurrection party! Zacchaeus climbed a tree in hope, and found far more than he ever bargained for—a changed heart and divine acceptance. A bunch of fishermen were sitting one day by the sea of Galilee mending nets and ended up with a mission to the nations!

This is how God works. God takes ordinary people and He does extraordinary things. This day, may the presence and grace of God meet you in your own personal version of the pit of Joseph, the desert of Midian, the heartbreak of Naomi, or the fear of Jonah—in the moments before your eye catches a bush on fire. It is precisely in these moments of disruption, fear, and heartbreak that God comes to us in fresh ways.

What Has Happened to the People of One Book?

We are less than five months from the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Conference will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, and has been especially called to “examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and exploring options to strengthen the unity of the church.” Since our last General Conference in 2016 the Commission on a Way Forward has spent over two years seeking to resolve our differences and has presented three pathways forward. Of the three options, the one adopted by the Council of Bishops is known as the One Church Plan. This plan would remove all prohibitive language regarding sexual identity from the Discipline. This would represent a dramatic departure from historic Christian teachings because it would authorize a new definition of marriage as being between “two adults.”

We should be encouraged that nearly 40% of our Episcopal Leaders courageously opposed the One Church Plan. But, tragically, the majority of our bishops are promoting the oxymorically named “One Church Plan” hoping to obtain sufficient delegate votes to pass this legislation in 2019. However, before this proposal is brought before the General Conference we deserve to have the following question answered: What is the biblical basis for this re-definition of marriage?

Our Discipline still endorses the Bible as the final authority in the life of the church. Historically, John Wesley declared that he wanted to be a “man of One Book.” The phrase “a man of One Book” goes back to the thirteenth century Latin phrase homo unius libri (man of One Book) and refers to our solid historical commitment to affirm the Bible as the Word of God, the revelatory foundation for all church faith and practice. Therefore, every delegate deserves to hear the biblical rationale for the One Church Plan. I have read several of the episcopal letters which have been posted online to various conferences, as well as a half dozen or more articles written about this subject by our episcopal leaders, or those serving on the Commission. However, not a single one provides any careful biblical exposition to support same sex marriage. Not one. This should alarm us all. None have explained to the wider church their understanding of a range of biblical texts which appear to condemn homosexual behavior. We need to ask, what is their understanding of the meaning and usage of porneia, akatharsia, malakos, komos, and arsenokoites in the New Testament? Is their argument that all of these words refer to either general non-specific immorality, or the very narrow practice of pedaststry? Is their view that these prohibitions are culturally bound and no longer apply to us today? Has any exegetical work been presented to any annual conference? If so, could this be shared with the wider church? Doesn’t the church deserve to see a biblical exposition of Genesis 19:1-11 and Lev. 18:22; 20:13 and Judges 19:11-24 and Romans 1:18-32 and I Corinthians 6:9-11 and I Timothy 1:8-10 and Jude 7, and Matthew 19:4-6, and so on?

The tone of the letters we have received is pastoral. I want to say that I agree with our leaders that we do need to develop better pastoral care towards all people, including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and asexual persons.  However, we should never use pastoral care as a tool to normalize sinful behavior. Nor is pastoral care a substitute for a sound biblical argument based on good exposition.

Why are so many Methodists prepared to accept a plan which has not yet been convincingly demonstrated as consistent with biblical revelation? Over history the church has attempted to chart a course away from biblical revelation dozens and dozens of times. In every case it was attempted as way of breathing new vitality into the life of the church, helping people escape from the so-called “backward world-view” of the Bible, helping to make the church more “culturally relevant,” or attempts to get the church “on the right side of history.” These are all the same arguments we are hearing today. Well, those attempts over the centuries have all failed. In every case, the church which charted a course away from biblical revelation has withered. Those who returned to biblical revelation and embraced the gospel afresh have experienced renewal and revitalization.

We have a big decision to make in St. Louis in 2019. Will we, as a denomination, return to historic Christian faith, or will we press forward with another cycle of decline by moving further away from historic faith? Let me encourage the beleaguered faithful here: If we are given a clear path to orthodoxy, we can reverse all of the declines of the last 50 years in 25 years. Our denomination can return to vibrancy. However, if we are not given a path to orthodoxy then we will continue to wither. If we accept the One Church Plan without any accompanying, well-thought out biblical and exegetical argument, then the real tragedy is that February of 2019 will be remembered as the historical moment when the People Called Methodist went from being the people of “One Book” to the people with “No Book.”

My 2018 Opening Convocation Address: A Spirit-filled and Sanctified Community

This is my tenth convocation address to the Asbury Theological Seminary community. Each Fall, I have sought to focus on different phrases in our mission statement, or, some aspect of our history or heritage which gave rise to our mission statement. This year, we look at the phrase “sanctified, spirit-filled.” This is surely one of the most daunting and humbling aspirations which we set forth at the core of our mission. It is not enough, we have said as a community, to graduate students who are “theologically educated”—as central and important as that is. That is, of course, being done in seminaries all across the world. But, we have also determined that ministry effectiveness must always connect what we know with who we are. Our mission, therefore, is not merely intellectual or cognitive, it is deeply formational. The whole phrase goes, “to prepare theologically educated, sanctified, spirit-filled, men and women to evangelize and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.”

I have gone onto the websites of some of our sister institutions to see what their mission statements say in comparison with ours. This is not intended to be a critique of other institutions’ mission statement. I have served joyfully under two of these non-Asbury mission statements. But, a comparison is a helpful way to explore what, if anything, differentiates Asbury from other institutions, at least in our own missional aspirations.

The mission of Fuller Theological Seminary is “forming Global Leaders for Kingdom Vocations.” Gordon-Conwell declares that it is “an educational institution serving the Lord and His Church. Its mission is to prepare men and women for ministry at home and abroad.” Denver Seminary exists to “prepare men and women to engage the needs of the world with the redemptive power of the gospel and the life changing truth of Scripture.” Trinity Divinity School—part of Trinity International University—declares that their mission is “To educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness and lifelong learning.” Reformed Seminary’s mission is “to prepare students to serve Christ and His church through biblical, experiential and practical ministry.” Duke Divinity School’s mission is “to engage in spiritually disciplined and academically rigorous education in service and witness to the Triune God in the midst of the church, the academy and the world.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary states that “under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the mission of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is to be totally committed to the Bible as the Word of God, to the Great Commission as our mandate, and to be a servant of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by training, educating, and preparing ministers of the gospel for more faithful service.” Nike’s mission statement, is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” That has nothing to do with the others, but I just threw that one in for the fun of it.

Those are all beautiful and well-crafted statements. But, Asbury Theological Seminary has this remarkable phrase, “sanctified, Spirit-filled.” This is a gem for us. I love our mission statement. I could spend ten years expositing all the reasons why I find our mission so compelling. Oh yeah, I have! But, for those who may not know my background, I am the first President of Asbury who had no prior connection whatsoever to Asbury Theological Seminary, Asbury University, or Wilmore, Kentucky. I always loved Asbury from afar, but my first real engaged encounter with the seminary was to read the mission statement. I was a professor at another institution and I went on the web and I typed in “Asbury Theological Seminary mission statement,” and it popped up. Let me say, I was very impressed.

It is such an evangelical and thoroughgoing Wesleyan statement. I love that it begins with the affirmation of community. We are a community deeply rooted to our heritage, our mission and to one another. I love the explicit Trinitarian framework of our statement (through the love of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father). I love that it is framed by the missio dei. We are a community “called.” It emphasizes God’s prior action. With one word it acknowledges that it is He who planted this community, He who calls us forth, and He who ultimately sends us out. Of course, I love the emphasis on theological education, because that is what I have given my life to. I love the historical nod to JohnWesley with that great phrase of his “to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land/world.” But none of those are the phrases that first captured my attention as I looked at my computer screen years ago and said, “Oh Wow!” It was the phrase “sanctified, Spirit-filled.” Brothers and sisters, this is what rings out as the distinctive phrase in our mission statement as compared with so many others.

My role as president, among other things, is to assure that we as a seminary are vibrant and moving in the right direction. I oversee our 2023 Strategic Plan. I am responsible to make sure that we are economically viable, and so forth. However, no role of mine is more sacred than guarding and joyfully promoting our mission statement. Will you, our beloved students, and those who have gone before you, truly go forth to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world? Are you becoming theologically educated? Are you “Spirit-filled and sanctified”? If you don’t know already, every phrase of this is repeated on graduation day and all graduates are asked to publicly declare that this is exactly what has happened while you were here. But, is it truly descriptive of who we are, or is it merely aspirational? Let me say it again, the phrase, “sanctified, Spirit-filled” is what sets us apart from the vast majority of the 250 or so other institutions who belong to the Association of Theological Schools. Therefore, it is vital that we as a community never allow the phrase “Sanctified, Spirit-filled” to become mere dead letters, or mere historical markers, which only point to our beloved founders, or some earlier embodiment of our community. Rather, they must continue to be descriptive of who we are and what happens to someone who becomes part of this community of faith and learning. You have not been “prepared” unless you are becoming both “theologically educated” and “sanctified/Spirit-filled.”

I would like to ask two key questions. First, are the words, “sanctified” and “Spirit-filled” redundant expressions, saying the same thing in two ways? In other words, is it kind of like a strophe of Hebrew poetry where parallel phrases are used for beauty and for emphasis, but both carry essentially the same message. If so, we shouldn’t try to distinguish greatly between “Spirit-filled” and “sanctified.” Or, are the two words capturing different aspects of our Christian experience? Second, what does it mean for you to be Spirit-filled and sanctified? How do these words or phrases connect with our history and our current practice? What can we do to more fully live into these great missional aspirations? Let be begin by saying that the two phrases are not redundancies even if we are not precise about what distinguishes them. Both words were carefully chosen by our founders to say something about the process of discipleship which lies at the heart of Wesleyan identity.

Sanctification as the “Grand Depositum”

On Wednesday, September 15, 1790 John Wesley wrote a letter to his dear friend, Robert Brakenbury. Brackenbury was a Methodist preacher who established and led the movement in Lincolnshire and was one of Wesley’s 100 top advisors. Wesley wrote him 18 letters and the one I want to highlight is his 17th. When Wesley wrote this letter it had been 52 years since his famous Aldersgate experience where his heart was “strangely warmed” back in 1738. As Wesley lifts his quill to write his dear friend, he is 87 years old. In six months Wesley would be with the Lord. Let me read you the first part of this letter:

“Dear Sir, Your letter gave me great satisfaction. I wanted to hear where and how you were; and am glad to find you are better in bodily health, and not weary and faint in your mind. My body seems to have nearly done its work, and to be almost worn out. Last month my strength was nearly gone, and I could have sat almost still from morning to night. But, blessed be God, I crept about a bit, and made shift to preach once a day. On Monday I ventured a little farther, and after I had preached three times, (once in the open air), I found my strength so restored that I could have preached again without inconvenience. I am glad brother D___ has more light with regard to full sanctification. This doctrine is the grand depositium which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly he appeared to have raised us up . . .”

Brothers and sisters, John Wesley is looking back over his entire ministry and this remarkable Methodist movement which God unleashed. Historians would later call this period the Great Awakening. Wesley looks back at this, and if I can borrow the phrase from Jonathan Edwards describing these same revivals, “surprising work of God.” And Wesley declares that the doctrine of sanctification is the “grand depositum” of what we preach. In fact, he says, it is the very reason that God raised up this movement. This is the great doctrinal deposit (that’s what grand depositum means) the great doctrinal deposit—for the people called Methodists. The 16th century Reformation under the amazing ministries of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Latimer and all the rest had restored the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. But, it was the 18th century which restored the doctrine of sanctification more fully to the church. It would be a mistake, I think, to assume that Wesley would have said this as clearly in 1738 as he did in 1790. The so-called “grand depositum” was surely the result of what I would call a “grand journey” of the Wesley brothers, and Peter Bohler, and Zinzendorf and Christian David and John Fletcher, and amazing women preachers like Ann Cutler, Sarah Crosby and Mary Bosanquet—and so many others who were all part of this. They all, despite their differences, gradually realized that the doctrine of sanctification was the grand depositum. This was, in fact, the great contribution of the 18th century revivals to world Christianity.

Of course, all authentically Christian movements embrace the doctrine of sanctification. That is not in question. However, what became increasingly clear to the Wesleys and to those who became co-laborers in this movement is that the church was debilitated and diminished by equating the word “salvation” with the word “justification.” As John Wesley and others re-examined the apostolic and patristic writings they saw that this doctrine had been neglected and had become disconnected from soteriology. Salvation had become reduced to a transactional event, and the longer process of biblical soteriology needed a full recovery. They saw that the church needed to be more intentionally pneumatologically focused—making the shape of our theology more natively Triune, as our mission statement also reflects. Compare, for example, some of the classic Reformed systematic theologies such as Henry Thiessen or Louis Berkhof with the Wesleyan theologian Thomas Oden. The former place the Holy Spirit as either a subset of Christology or as a subset of the doctrine of the church. Oden, in contrast, frames his entire three volume systematic theology around the persons of the Triune God. This grand depositum of sanctification was the holy reminder that the reception of grace is not merely an event, but an ongoing process in the life of the believer. Prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace, and finally, in the New Creation, glorifying grace are all part and parcel of a grand, unfolding story of grace and redemption which was not fully restored in the 16th century. We shouldn’t be overly critical of the Magisterial Reformers on this point. They never claimed that they had completed the Reformation. So, Wesley extends the Reformation. If I may quote a beautiful sentence from Kenneth Collins’ writings: “Wesleyan theology is optimistic about the capacity of God’s grace to transform a person.” (Put that on your screen saver!) We don’t deny total depravity. We just believe that God’s grace is greater than our sins. We believe that the “Yes” of Jesus Christ is greater than the “No” of the Devil! We believe that becoming a Christian is not the same as being a Christian. We believe that holiness is not an optional accessory for a few, but God’s plan for every believer. Every single person in this room can be made holy and can live a victorious life in Jesus Christ.

What is quite clear in Wesley’s writings and preaching, and ultimately why the phrase “sanctified, Spirit filled” eventually found its way into our mission statement, is the belief that there are works of grace, subsequent to justification, which are crucial for your Christian life and the effectiveness of your future ministries. The writings of John Wesley and the hymns of Charles Wesley are filled with many different words they employ to capture this work of grace we call sanctification. I have made a list – by no means comprehensive – of some of the terms which have appeared either in the writings of John Wesley or the hymns of Charles Wesley to describe sanctification: “second blessing” “second gift” “farther grace” “personal Pentecost” “fullness of the Spirit” “Spirit of holiness” “going on to perfection” “baptism with the Holy Spirit” “Seal of the Holy Spirit” “effusion of the Spirit” “wrestling Jacob” from the hymn, “Come O Thou Traveler Unknown,” “inward baptism” and one of my favorites, “uninterrupted holiness.” Some may want to argue about the best word for us to use, but the NT itself models for us a wide range of terminology for the indwelling empowerment of the Spirit. There is also no precise pattern in which people receive the Spirit. No one makes this point better than Craig Keener in the first of his four volume commentary on Acts where he says, “Luke allows for a diversity of pneumatic experience and presumably invites his audience to show the same courtesy” (Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-2:47, Baker Academic, 2012). So, we are in good company. But, let me say, brothers and sisters, I don’t care what you call it, or even how it happens, just make sure you don’t leave here without it! The re-directed, sanctified heart is at the core of our message, our identity and our contribution to global Christianity—“don’t leave home without it!”

Being “Spirit-filled”

I am indebted to the writings of Larry Wood for pointing out to me that John and Charles Wesley, and several of the other leading writers in the 18th century revivals, relearned from the New Testament and patristic writings that the baptismal liturgy of the early church was a symbolic uniting of Easter with Pentecost. Going into the waters of baptism is, of course, a clear recapitulation of the cross and resurrection as we die with Christ and are raised with him through the waters of baptism. That is fairly standard across almost all Christian movements. But, what has been often missed, is that baptism was coupled with the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit which was a recapitulation of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is why in Acts 19 they asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” It turned out that they only knew John’s Baptism which was a baptism of repentance, but was not, in fact, the same as Christian baptism. Therefore, they baptized them and they laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. We had already seen this in Acts 6, Acts 8, Acts 9 and Acts 13. In John’s gospel, we have Jesus breathing on the disciples and Jesus saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” demonstrating a coming together of the Resurrected Lord with Pentecost in that profound post-resurrection encounter found only in John’s gospel. The liturgy could have called for us to breathe on our parishioners but the liturgy was developed before the age of tooth paste and mouth wash!

John Wesley recovered this, as seen in a letter to William Law when he said, “‘baptized with the Holy Spirit’ implies this and no more, that we cannot be renewed in righteousness and true holiness any otherwise than by being overshadowed, quickened and animated by the blessed Spirit” (Works, vol. 9, p. 495). We must restore as part and parcel of our pastoral ministries the laying on of hands for men and women to receive the Holy Spirit. We must resist with every fiber of our being the noisy gong or clashing cymbal of minimalistic Christianity. We must embrace a full soteriology which is fully Trinitarian and orients believers to both Jesus Christ as our glorious Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as our blessed Sanctifier.

Five Appropriations of the Holy Spirit in the Lives of Believers

I will now highlight five major appropriations of the Holy Spirit which we need in our lives. The list could be ten, but because of time I going to limit it to five which all arise from the New Testament and from our own tradition. This is your test to know if you have been filled with the Holy Spirit. For you new students, this is your first test. Because if you can respond favorably to these five marks, then you are going on to perfection, I don’t care what you call it. And if you cannot, you are not yet sanctified.

First, the Spirit gives us the assurance of our justification. We believe that every believer should have an inner witness of the Spirit that they are a child of God. Wesley is very clear that the moment a person exercises faith in the justifying work of the Son, you should receive a witness of the Spirit that God loves you, that he has pardoned you through the good news of the gospel, and that you exhibit joy and peace through the reconciling work of Christ which is confirmed through the Holy Spirit. This is not only confirmed inwardly in your own heart, but it is confirmed through the community of believers and through the means of grace which you receive in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There is a lot of pastoral work here for you in your future ministries. I cannot tell you how many times when I have inquired of one of my parishioners about their spiritual state, some on their death beds, they could only say that they hoped that they were going to heaven.

Second, the Spirit grants us bold confidence in the Word of God and we are enabled to proclaim the Word of God boldly. We are experiencing a crisis today of confidence in the Word of God. But, the Spirit of God attests to the authority of God’s word. Wesley understood that when you read Scripture, you do not read it alone, but you read in the presence of the Risen Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit inspired the Word of God and He enables us to understand it and to appropriate it into our lives. Once understood, we are empowered by the Spirit to preach it and teach it with boldness. Wesley uses as an example the text in Acts 4 where the elders and scribes are amazed at the boldness of Peter and John—who after being rebuked, returned to the church and prayed that they might preach the Word of God boldly. Then, they were filled with the Spirit and for the third time in this chapter it states that they spoke the word of God with boldness. This is repeated in chapter 9:27 with the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, and again in chapter 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8, 26:26 and 28:31 where Paul and his various companions are said to have preached boldly. Today, preaching across all of our traditions has become tentative, tepid, fearful, and, at times, almost apologetic. We seem to think that the Word of God is boring and people would rather hear our stories and our opinions than the Word of God. This should be seen as a real sign that we have not been filled with the Holy Spirit with the measure we should be when it comes to our preaching. You can preach a lot of sermons in the flesh, but transformative preaching occurs out of the overflow of the Spirit of God working in you and through you.

Third, the Spirit enables us to live in ever-increasing holiness. The contemporary church has turned discipleship into sin management programs, without addressing the redirected heart which only happens through an encounter with the Holy Spirit that is just as real as the encounter we insist one must have with Jesus Christ. If you are struggling with persistent or re-occurring sins in your life, you need to be filled and keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. This comes to us both as an event, as well as process and appropriation. We need clear moments where the Triune God acts and fills you with the Spirit—through the laying on of hands—that is an event. But, we also need ongoing growth through disciplined membership in band meetings—that is a process. This is why, I believe, our mission statement distinguishes between “spirit-filled” and “sanctified”—because we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and yet we continue to need more of the Holy Spirit as we move towards full sanctification. The terms are not interchangeable. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit” is both a command and an ongoing process. Pentecost is not like the Resurrection. It is not a one-time event, but one which happens over and over again in the book of Acts. The early church kept getting filled with the Holy Spirit, even as they were “going on to perfection” with the goal of entire sanctification. Both are “event” and “process” but the purpose of being filled with the Spirit is so that you might be sanctified.

I exhort every student—indeed everyone at Asbury Theological Seminary—staff, faculty, administration, students—everyone – to be part of a band meeting. Kevin Watson’s book, The Band Meeting published by Seedbed is probably the best introduction to the nuts and bolts of being part of a Band if you need more guidance. Seedbed has a special App—Band Together—which is dedicated to helping facilitate band meetings. This will also be facilitated by our Community Formation team here at the seminary.

The fruit of the Spirit should be manifest in our community in an ever-increasing way. We live in a culture which has become degraded and crude. We live in a culture which is shockingly deficient in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Therefore, to bear these fruits is to shine like bright lights in a culture filled with hatred, sadness, warfare, profanity, anxiety, impatience, faithlessness and being out of control—the anti-fruits of the Spirit—or the fruit of the flesh. We want to see the end of all bondages to sin in our community, whether it be pornography or gaming addictions or opioid use, or drunkenness, or hating your body, or shaming, or any other signs of brokenness which would creep into our community.

We also joyfully recognize the gifts of the Spirit as available to the church through all time. I am indebted to Thomas Oden for setting forth so clearly in his multiple volume work on Wesley’s theology, that John Wesley established a clear via media between, on the one hand, a cold, rationalistic kind of Christianity which was closer to Deism than it was the New Testament, and, on the other hand, emotional extremism which is focused more on experience than on the cultivation of holiness. Properly ordered, Wesley believes that the gifts of the Spirit should be fully operational in a truly renewed church, as his lengthy letter to the skeptic Conyers Middleton makes abundantly clear. In fact, Wesley even envisions a church whereby a dead person could be raised up or demons be cast out, experiences foreign to much of our western contemporary Christian experience.

Fourth, the Spirit calls us to be agents of societal transformation. We reject a truncated, post-Enlightenment form of the gospel which turns the whole enterprise into a privatized faith disconnected from the world we live in. The modern world is content with our being Christian as long as we keep it in our heads as nothing more than personal preference. The New Testament understands that holiness has implications which are personal as well as societal and structural. The church is helping to foster the in-breaking Kingdom when we work for justice for the poor, hope for the disenfranchised, and desperately needed racial reconciliation. The church celebrates recovery for addicts and mercy to the immigrants. The church holds up truth in morality and righteousness in a culture which has lost its way. There is no part of creation which we do not work to see under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, as we become his co-laborers in redeeming the world! Does your heart ache for all this?

Fifth, the Spirit empowers us to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth—to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the world.” We are those who are burdened—our hearts burn like fire—for those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is the primary function of the Spirit in Acts; namely, to witness to the nations. There are thousands of people groups in the world with no gospel witness and no one to bring them the gospel unless the church acts. There are thousands of biblical nations (i. e. people groups) with not even John 3:16 translated into their language. There is an entire rising generation of young people in this country who have no Christian memory.

Brothers and sisters at Asbury Theological Seminary, we are called to go into all the world precisely because God’s prevenient grace has already beat us there. That prevenient grace becomes embodied in modern flesh and blood versions of the Macedonian Man who continues to call and beckon us to new places of ministry.


When H. C. Morrison founded Asbury Theological Seminary in 1923, he called this community to be “sanctified and Spirit-filled.” To be Spirit-filled and sanctified is not some sectarian doctrine, but is at the heart of the gospel “once for all delivered to the saints.” This is basic “scriptural Christianity.” Scriptural Christianity is what the early Apologists defended in the second century. This is why Athanasius wouldn’t budge as he fought the Arian heresy in the third century. This is the legacy of the Cappadocian fathers in the fourth century. This is at the heart of Aquinas’ Summa in the 13th century. This is part of the Puritan and Pietistic struggle of the 17th century. This is Wesley’s grand depositum of the 18th century. The mantle has now passed to us. It is now our turn to keep remembering the faith. Let us not believe too small, or be found with tiny prayers, stunted faith, or powerless lives. Let us not lose our courage when it comes to standing in the truth of the Word of God. Let us embrace with boldness the full inheritance which is ours through the full ministry of the Triune God. May each of us be “spirit-filled and sanctified.” Amen.

The “Second Half” of the Gospel

At Asbury Theological Seminary, one of the ways we try to frame the Wesleyan emphasis on sanctification is to refer to it as the “second half of the gospel.” As I recall, I first heard the phrase from my colleague and friend, J. D. Walt, who serves Asbury’s Seedbed publishing and New Room network. The phrase immediately resonated with me. The idea behind it is that “justification” is the first half of the gospel, which was so wonderfully renewed at the time of the Reformation. We are saved by grace, through faith. But the “second half” is what happens after you become a Christian. This is the good news not just of our forgiveness, but of our complete deliverance from the bondage of sin and our victorious life in holiness. So much of the church has been focused on “getting people into the door of faith,” we can be at a loss as to what to do once they are in the door.

In the last few weeks I saw another way of looking at this as my wife and I have been reading the book of Acts aloud to one another. I was struck by how many times the early apostolic community laid hands on people to “receive the Holy Spirit.” Water baptism was followed by the laying on of hands. The sacrament of baptism we know quite well, because it is associated with the “first half” of the gospel. It is like the “doorway.” When we are baptized we are following Christ in His death and resurrection. When we go down into the waters of baptism, we symbolize our dying with Christ, and when we come joyously up from the waters of baptism we are symbolizing the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

But, in the book of Acts they didn’t stop there (though sometimes God had to act first to give the early Apostles the nudge they needed! See, Acts 10:44). They would lay hands on baptized men and women and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit (See Acts 6:6; 8:17; 9:17; 13:3,4; 19:5,6). Just as water baptism is a symbolic re-enactment of the death and resurrection of Christ, so the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit is a re-enactment of the Day of Pentecost when God sent His Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is re-enacted multiple times in the Book of Acts (Acts 2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 and 19). We should assume that this is a precedent that the Day of Pentecost should not be regarded as a one-time event, but as an ongoing experience in the life of the believer, since the Spirit not only helps us to appropriate the good news of our justification through Christ, but to live in the power of the Christ as we witness in the world and live in holiness.

For too long we have come to accept the collapse of holiness and the invasion of evil and sinful activities into the life of the church. Our culture has become increasingly marked by crudity, vulgarity, profanity, and the embrace of unspeakable evils. The church has, at times, turned a deaf ear to the plight of the immigrant. We have, at times, been indifferent to the rising time of racial bigotry and the need for racial reconciliation in our land. The indwelling Holy Spirit will help us to identify and to eradicate these sins in our lives, as well as produce the fruits of the Spirit which are so desperately needed to be manifest in our culture today.

So, perhaps an even better way of talking about “justification” and “sanctification” is to not talk about “first half” and “second half,” but water baptism and laying on of hands. The first we know quite a bit about, the latter not so much. The result is that often our Christian experience is diminished, powerless, and lacking boldness. Too often our Christianity is “in our heads” and “nominal” rather than vibrant and moving through our hearts, feet, and hands. Today, as much as ever, we need the infilling of the Holy Spirit in our lives and throughout our churches. We need to have that full, Trinitarian salvation which orients us not only to Jesus Christ as our glorious redeemer, but to the Holy Spirit as our blessed sanctifier.