Jesus’ words in Acts 1 are especially important in my South Pacific region.
Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
From Jerusalem, our region of New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands – at the bottom of the world – is the ends of the earth!
And listen again to what Luke says happened next:
“After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?'” (Acts 1:9-11a)
To me, it seems these men dressed in white were saying, “Don’t just gaze intently upwards. Get on with the task Jesus has given you – preach the Good News, heal the sick, feed the poor, proclaim the Kingdom of God …”
In the whole Christian church there are many different theological traditions or streams. Or you could describe them as many different “canoes” (or as our indigenous Maori people would say, “Wakas” or Tongans would say, “Vakas”) – many different canoes that together make up God’s fleet.
And a key question is: What will we be sharing from our Methodist/Wesleyan “waka” (canoe) in whatever region of the world we minister? What treasures and gifts will we share?
It’s a question that begs profound issues of identity: who we are and what we have to share…
I love a good list. They are one of the quickest ways to get my attention.
- “8 Foods Guaranteed to Increase Your Brain Power”
- “10 Races at the Olympics You Must Watch”
- “6 Parenting Mistakes You can’t Afford to Make”
Lists summarize things, giving information in fast-read format, without unnecessary clutter. That’s why they are readable and memorable. The Bible has lists too:
- The 10 Commandments in Exodus 20
- The list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians
- The Fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians
- Many genealogy lists in both the Old and New Testaments
Out of the riches of our Methodist/Wesleyan “canoe” if you like, we have treasures – gifts – to share generously with others. I have come up with a list, especially put together for younger people to understand some of the key values of the global John Wesley family of churches.
First, God’s Missional Grace to All:
God is God, always merciful, just and full of grace. The progressive revelation of the Scriptures bears witness to God’s character. Everything God does is missional (i.e. follows divine purposes), from creation to the new creation, from the Garden of Eden via the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden of Revelation. Jesus was sent to advance God’s mission and through the generations he continually calls people to pursue such mission.
John Wesley, one of God’s prominent servants in the 18th century, once famously proclaimed, “I look upon all the world as my Parish.” He had personally experienced grace and forgiveness and was energized by the mission of God. In our various regions of the world, we have been influenced by missionary endeavor, with origins right back to Wesley’s time. Yet we affirm – we are all servants of God’s mission:
- Not our denominational mission
- Not our conference mission
- Not our local church mission
Rather, it is God’s mission we embrace as witnesses in whatever part of the world in which we serve. We Methodists/Wesleyans affirm that God’s missional grace is available to all – and God longs for everyone to respond in faith and repentance. Our job is to get out and about with the life-giving Gospel that is real and relevant to every person.
Salvation in Christ Alone:
John Wesley once described salvation as, “the entire work of God, from the first day of creation in the garden [or dawning of grace in the soul] till it is consummated in glory.” And he said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work.”
Salvation for individuals, society and the world is an all-encompassing work, personified through the lens of the person of Jesus Christ. Our insights about the order of salvation and the identifiable work of the Holy Spirit through stages of revenient grace, repentance, justifying grace and sanctifying grace are treasures we share with others. Salvation through Jesus Christ alone is at the center of the Christian message. So, we are Christ-centered and teach that salvation is personal and real.
Complete Holy Spirit Transformation:
We are not a Father, Son and Holy Bible movement – as some churches are in practice. Rather we are a Father, Son and Holy Spirit church. We’re profoundly Trinitarian, celebrating the community of the Godhead and ensuring that the work of the Holy Spirit is always recognized and celebrated.
In Acts 1 (verses 4-5) we read Jesus’ words, “… wait for the gift my father has promised” and “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Paul later says we are to be, “living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 5:1b)
God’s Holy Spirit is the power to change, transform and make us living and holy sacrifices in Christian service, to have victory over sin and become all that God is calling us to be. Such transformation is personal: “Be holy as I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) All Christians are called to full consecration. You and I can have a “heart-warming” of the Holy Spirit, experiencing Holy Spirit cleansing and empowerment for effective Christian living.
And we have a greater optimism about such transformational work than do many other Christians. And not just an “optimism” about the Holy Spirit’s work but an “activism” about the Holy Spirit’s work. We are agents of the Holy Spirit when we minister in his name. From the Scriptures we discern that the work of transformation is not just limited to individuals (you and me), but for the “big picture” – the Holy Spirit transforming the church, local communities, nations, the world, the whole cosmos. I would say from his writings that John Wesley was an early ecologist – articulating an expansive view of the stewardship of creation including animals that was pioneering in the 18th century – an all-embracing view of Godly holiness at work.
We proclaim a Holy Spirit transformation for all of life.
Our Wesleyan/Methodist stream of the church holds past and present together in a healthy way. It’s an ability to embrace the challenges of faith while always affirming the truth of the gospel. Some of us know from first-hand experience the pain and cost when a church gets out of theological balance. It’s always important to hold together what sometimes seem like opposites in our Christian living (what’s called “conjunctive theology”):
- Grace and truth
- Evangelism and social justice
- Holiness change that can be instantaneous and progressive
- Knowledge and vital piety
- Word and deed
- Mind and heart
Wesley wisely quoted from Augustine: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” Living with balanced theology means affirming the basics of our faith, being innovative to get things done, and adopting an experiential pragmatism that gives priority to biblical mission over rules and past customs.
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral with its balanced criteria of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience is another helpful way to prevent risks of extremism of either liberalism or literalism. We offer a healthy balance of biblically based theology.
We recognize from the New Testament the priesthood of all believers – an intrinsic partnership of women and men, lay and ordained, all cultures, and all ages, in the grand pursuit of the mission of God. We not only recognize this truth, we engage such truth. John Wesley followed the example of Jesus who called fishermen, when he pioneered a greater inclusion of laity in key aspects of church life and evangelistic work. Everyone is empowered to serve, and the valuing of ordained ministry is not over and against lay ministry but complementary in a team effort.
From our theological canoe we recognized the spiritual gifting of women early on: not a liberationist campaign but from the perspective of biblical mandate. Women as lay leaders, preachers, evangelists and ordained ministers – exercising good stewardship of their God-given calling. Thanks to the wisdom of Susannah Wesley, and others like her, lay and ordained women are rightly prominent in our churches. Early Methodist missionaries around the world were often lay evangelists, long before ordained ministers arrived.
We celebrate children and young people as vital parts of the church today (not just tomorrow). Wesley cherished children and recognized saving faith in preschool age children. He appointed some teenagers as preachers, affirming the teaching of Paul to Timothy about not worrying about being young. (I Timothy 4:12-13)
So, we promote a team effort of called and gifted women, men, children and young people in the service of Jesus Christ.
Ministry with the Poor:
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps, and helping the poor is a key part of our Wesleyan theological DNA. The poor include the spiritually poor, financially poor, emotionally poor, communally poor and the vulnerable poor.
John Wesley was unable to conceive of evangelizing without practical ministry. His efforts to educate, make well, and feed the poor are without equal of any evangelical Christian leader. His last letter was to William Wilberforce encouraging him in the fight against slavery. Wesley said such practical ministry, or “works of mercy” are a duty for Christians and that, if neglected, could even endanger our salvation!
For robust Christian discipleship, we are committed to ministry with the poor, motivated by God’s redeeming mercy.
Promoting Means of Grace:
God has not left us humans beings to guess and experiment our way forward, but gives us some defined ways to know, appreciate and enjoy His grace.
John Wesley said, “By ‘means of Grace’ I understand outwards signs, words or actions ordained by God, and appointed for this end to be the ordinary channels thereby he might convey grace. I use this expression, ‘means of grace’, because I know none better.”
As well as works of mercy (ministry with the poor), Wesley identified five means of grace (works of piety) instituted by Jesus Christ and these make up the spiritual foundations of all we do. They are:
Prayer – the grand means of drawing close to God.
Searching the Scriptures – using the Bible to strengthen our knowledge and devotion (including daily reading, preaching and study).
Holy Communion – a biblically directed way to experience the spiritual presence of Jesus. Not just symbolic, but an event of Holy Spirit empowerment, to be often celebrated.
Fasting – Denying ourselves and going without food to focus more on Christ. Less about physical submission and more about a spiritual experience of Christ.
Christian Conferencing – a term used by Wesley to describe what we do in communal discipleship: gathering together to encourage one another in faith and Christian living.
We need a renewed commitment to share these “means of grace” in our personal living, in our local churches, in our national church gatherings and at World Methodist Conferences. Such engagement will bless us in biblical Christianity, anchor us in ecumenical Christianity and daily renew our God-given faith.
Joining the Whole Body:
Taking our place in the wider church is important. We dialogue with others as we are not isolationist Christians. Our Wesleyan heritage gives us considerable wisdom and guidance about how to relate to other Christians.
In John Wesley’s time, and before, conflicts in the church had sometimes caused bloodshed and bigotry. So he worked intentionally and passionately to promote what he called a “catholic” or universal spirit of goodwill and co-operation among Christians.
The unity of all believers in Christ is not some sort of future ideal, but a present work to be engaged in here and now. Wesley makes this point by quoting a verse from 2 Kings (10:15), “If your heart is as true to mine as mine is to yours, give me your hand.”
So we encourage all Christians to be full of grace and truth, amid the process of discerning what is essential doctrine and what is less important opinion.
I believe our positive working with other Christians is a particular characteristic of who we are and an expression of Jesus’ teaching, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34b) and “… That they may be one …” (John 17:22b)
Some final comments:
We don’t want God’s messengers saying to us, “Why do you stand here just looking into the sky?” Instead we are being called to share our gifts in God’s great mission. Our gifts we share from our Methodist/Wesleyan “canoe” – such as these eight I describe – are not to be kept to ourselves, because they are biblical and life-giving. We must willingly share what God has given to us for the expansion of his mission.