A Message by J. Oliver Jones
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NKJV)
9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
Not long ago I wrote a lengthy article that appeared in The Southern Methodist Magazine in three parts. It was titled, Is Methodism a Dead Sect?” This article explored the current state of Methodism according to John Wesley’s own criteria, drawn from the following Wesley quote:
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” (Works of John Wesley, Vol. 13, Letters & Writings, P. 320)
The criteria examined, holding fast our doctrine, our spirit, and our discipline, concluded that our doctrine was holding firm, our spirit was slipping, and our discipline has almost totally dissolved. While I have begun to address several areas of discipline that must be soon corrected if we are not to become, as Wesley stated, a “dead sect,” in this message I wish to address the state of our spirit – that is, the spirit of early Methodism.
Briefly, the spirit of the early Methodists is revealed in these three declarations: 1) the driving force of the early Methodists was people, 2) the declared purpose of the early Methodists was proclaiming the full message of salvation, and 3) the desired goal of the early Methodists was perfect love toward God.
In our text, verse eleven states, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” In this simple statement, Paul demonstrates the spirit of early Methodism – proclaiming, persuading, and pleading with lost mankind to accept eternal salvation through the grace of a merciful God before it is too late! And why was he doing this? Because Paul knew he was a debtor to man (Romans 1:14) and a servant to God (many references).
John Wesley stated, “I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”
Wesley also declared the purpose for Methodism was to “reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land” (Works, 8:299)
Now if we are to maintain the spirit of John Wesley and the early Methodist movement, we must be deliberate in our approach and in our efforts. But we must first make sure that we, as Southern Methodists, have a full and clear understanding of . . .
1) Who we are, i.e., our heritage,
2) What we believe, i.e., our doctrines, and
3) Why we believe it, i.e. our scriptural foundation.
So let us begin this journey by defining exactly where we fit in the myriad possibilities that exist in the “church” of the 21stcentury.
As Southern Methodist We Are:
Conservative – Evangelical – Wesleyan – Arminian
It is important for us to know what this means, as this will impact our understanding of our heritage, our doctrines, and our scriptural foundation. Therefore, we will take a brief look at what each of these four descriptive terms mean, beginning with the last and working our way to the first.
I. Arminian – This term is derived from Jacob Arminius, a late sixteenth century theologian who wrote and preached against the dominant theological position of his day referred to as “Reformed Theology”, more commonly known today as Calvinism (from a mid-sixteenth century theologian, John Calvin). To see if you are an Arminian, allow me to ask you a few questions.
Question – Do you believe that Christ died for all mankind?
Question – Do you believe that salvation is available to all (whosoever will) through faith in Christ?
Question – Do you believe that a person has free will to say no to the grace of God and reject the offer of salvation?
If you answered yes to these questions, you are an Arminian! But you may ask, “Don’t all Christians believe these things?” Quite frankly, the answer is NO. There are five main tenants of Calvinism, namely:
Total Depravity – men are dead in trespasses and sins.
Unconditional Election – God has “elected” those to be saved in eternity past, and all elect will be saved, and those not elected cannot be saved.
Limited Atonement – Christ death on the cross was for the elect only, therefore not all sin was paid for by Jesus, only the sins of the elect.
Irresistible Grace – God’s saving grace cannot be resisted, lest His sovereignty be undermined. All who God elects will receive His saving grace; no one can refuse.
Perseverance – All who are truly saved (elected by God) are guaranteed to persevere to final salvation as salvation is all the work of God and man plays no part in it. Those who do not persevere were never the elect.
Give brief Arminian response to each point.
II. Wesleyan – From John Wesley, an eighteenth century English pastor, author, and theologian; the founder of Methodism. There are several distinctive Wesleyan doctrines, but the one that stands out to me, and the one I want to stress to you is this – the doctrine of holiness. For we are not only Positionally holy, we are to also be Practically Holy (explain briefly the difference: justification – deals with guilt and is an immediate act of God upon one exercising saving faith, changing our position from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light; and sanctification – deals with depravity and is a progressive conforming into the image of Christ through the power of the indwelling Spirit).
Lev. 19:2 & I Peter 1:16 state, “Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.”
As Wesleyans we proclaim that we are to be holy now, not just in the future. We are to die to sin now, not wait until eternity. Romans 6:1-2 says “Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How can we that are dead (have been set free from) to sin continue to live any longer in it?”
John Wesley wrote, “By salvation I mean, not barely, according to the vulgar notion, deliverance from hell or going to heaven; but the present deliverance from sin; a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature, the renewal of our souls after the image of God.”
*** In other words – We are not saved just so we can escape hell and go to heaven. We are saved to be set free from sin! If you believe this, then you are Wesleyan!
III. Evangelical – We believe it is our duty and our responsibility to share the Gospel. “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..!” Remember Paul’s statement in Romans (1:14), “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” Paul is saying that he has a debt to share the good news of salvation freely offered to all men through faith in Jesus Christ. How can he freely receive and not also freely give? John Wesley said that all the world was his parish, and that he would tell the good news of salvation to anyone, anywhere, anytime, if they would but listen. It sounds like Paul and Wesley had kindred hearts. Do you believe it is your duty to both God and man to share the good news of the Gospel of salvation? If you believe this, you are Evangelical!
IV. Conservative – As opposed to liberal in our theology? Again, allow me to ask you a few questions to see if you are conservative.
Do you believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God?
Do you believe that because of the sinful state of mankind, God became flesh through the virgin birth of Jesus Christ to a maiden named Mary?
Do you believe that Jesus’ death was as our substitution – He died for our sin?
Do you believe that Jesus was dead and on the third day He arose bodily to life?
Do you believe that Jesus is going to physically return to this earth in judgment?
Again, you ask, do not all Christians believe in these truths? And again I answer sadly, NO! (Tell of personal experience with the UMC – denied an approved supply status because preaching these things would cause trouble in their churches.) If you believe these truths, you are Conservative!
Read – I Corinthians 9:19-24 (NKJV)
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
What is your driving force? Is it people?
What is your declared purpose? Is it proclaiming the good news of salvation available to all who will believe?
What is your desired goal? Is it to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?
Are you a true Methodist? Are you running the race to win?