Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Christianity That Means Something

Many have a strange view of Christianity. Many apparently feel that if anyone, anywhere at anytime "prayed the Sinner's Prayer" or if he attends church then he is good to go for eternity. We demand precious few proofs for a person's profession these days.

What's up with that?

In his Sermons, # 24, Discourse 4, "Upon our Lord's Sermon on the Mount", John Wesley taught:
First, it has been often objected, that religion does not lie in outward things, but in the heart, the inmost soul; that it is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man; that outside religion is nothing worth; seeing God 'delighteth not in burnt-offerings,' in outward services, but a pure and holy heart is 'the sacrifice he will not despise.'

I answer, It is most true that the root of religion lies in the heart, in the inmost soul; that this is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man. But if this root be really in the heart, it cannot but put forth branches. And these are the several instances of outward obedience, which partake of the same nature with the root; and consequently, are not only marks or signs, but substantial parts of religion.
Christianity is public; the religion of Jesus is a Community of Faith. Wesley stressed that inward religion cannot help but be seen externally in fruit and good works. It's inevitable.

However, what about people who make Christianity nothing more than love--that is, self-defined and autonomous love that doesn't need the Church--that is all about "personal spirituality". Wesley has an answer for that, too:
A Second objection, nearly related to this, is that love is all in all; that it is 'the fulfilling of the law,' 'the end of the commandment,' of every commandment of God; that all we do, and all we suffer, if we have not charity or love, profiteth us nothing; and therefore the Apostle directs us to 'follow after charity,' and terms this 'the more excellent way.'

I answer, It is granted, that the love of God and man, arising from faith unfeigned, is all in all, the fulfilling of the law, the end of every commandment of God. It is true, that without this, whatever we do, whatever we suffer, profits us nothing. But it does not follow, that love is all in such a sense as to supersede either faith or good works. It is 'the fulfilling of the law,' not by releasing us from, but by constraining us to obey it. It is 'the end of the commandment,' as every commandment leads to and centres in it. It is allowed, that whatever we do or suffer without love, profits us nothing. But withal, whatever we do or suffer in love, though it were only the suffering reproach for Christ, or the giving a cup of cold water in his name, it shall in no wise lose its reward.
Wesley continues to define his terms for public Christianity:
'Let your light so shine:' — Your lowliness of heart; your gentleness, and meekness of wisdom; your serious, weighty concern for the things of eternity, and sorrow for the sins and miseries of men; your earnest desire of universal holiness, and full happiness in God; your tender good-will to all mankind, and fervent love to your supreme Benefactor. Endeavour not to conceal this light, wherewith God hath enlightened your soul; but let it shine before men, before all with whom you are, in the whole tenor of your conversation. Let it shine still more eminently in your actions, in your doing all possible good to all men; and in your suffering for righteousness' sake, while you 'rejoice and are exceeding glad, knowing that great is your reward in heaven.'

'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works:' — So far let a Christian be from ever designing or desiring to conceal his religion! On the contrary, let it be your desire, not to conceal it; not to put the light under a bushel. Let it be your care to place it 'on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house.' Only take heed, not to seek your own praise herein, not to desire any honour to yourselves. But let it be your sole aim, that all who see your good works may 'glorify your Father which is in heaven.'
Something tells me that John Wesley held the bar for Christian profession pretty high.

How strange that so many could disagree.