Have you ever noticed the similarities between Major League Baseball and the Methodist movement? Both exist throughout the country and are recognizable around the world. In the case of baseball, professional baseball is played on other continents and plenty of players call another country “home.” Similarly, a branch of Methodism like the United Methodist Church is a global denomination with congregations, schools, ministries and outreaches found in far-flung exotic places most of us will never visit.
Despite their world-wide recognition, neither baseball nor Methodism is the only game in town. Baseball is only one of many spectator sports that compete for the attention of fans. Likewise, the Wesleyan Methodist theological tradition is one tradition that exists within the Church universal.
Both organizations experience their share of disputes and controversies. Each has a ready supply of pundits ably offering a play-by-play analysis. One big difference is that in baseball, pundits are former players and former coaches sitting on the sidelines offering their opinions. In Methodism, however, the opinions proffered and analysis given often come from active clergy and laity: Christian disciples do not sit on the sidelines when it comes to practicing faith.
So for all the parallels between the two, Major League Baseball and Methodism are by no means the same. Part of the point of the baseball season is to provide a platform for athletes to compete and win the World Series. Team franchises seek to offer their fans a good game to view and make a profit in the process. Part of the point of Methodism is to provide space for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith in the Wesleyan tradition and grow more disciples. Congregations seek to be that space of growth even as they strive to be a part of God’s kingdom realized in this world.
As a baseball fan, I really enjoy post-season play even if my team is not playing; I love to watch the game being played in its top form. I especially enjoy watching the seasoned player who exudes the level of enthusiasm and excitement evident on a little league field. In every post-season, it is inevitable that a broadcaster will comment about one of the coaches whose team has made it to the playoffs because the coach stressed the fundamentals and how it has helped the team get to the playoffs. Since the beginning of the season, the coach has drilled the team in hitting, base running, throwing, pitching. In essence, the coach has kept the players focused on the basics of the game.
In many ways, a coach focused on the fundamentals reminds me of John Wesley and the Three General Rules of the early Methodists. The General Rules are simple guidelines to practice Christian faith: 1. By doing no harm. 2. By doing good and 3. By attending on all the ordinances of God. It is the third rule that fleshes out the fundamentals:
- Public worship
- Ministry of the Word
- The Lord’s Supper/the Eucharist
- Family and private prayer
- Searching the Scriptures
Just as hitting, base running, throwing, catching and pitching are the fundamentals of baseball, these Christian practices form the basis of Christian faith because they were evident in the life of Jesus Christ. The ordinances of God – fundamental practices of Christianity – are intrinsically and uniquely Christian. They connect Christian disciples with each other and are a means to connect us to God’s grace.
Wesley’s Third General Rule grounds us in Christian witness and faith. The ordinances of God are the fundamentals of how we get initiated into faith. Repetitive practice and exposure to prayer, worship, Scripture reading and study, the Eucharist and even the lost discipline of fasting all help to mature us as Christian disciples. By participating in these uniquely Christian practices, we are made available to God’s grace that aids us in knowing how and when to avoid harm and to do good.
By attending on all the “ordinances of God,” we open ourselves to God’s active presence in our lives. Through these practices, we remember the past and look towards a future with hope illuminated by God’s grace. We attend on the ordinances of God not so that we can win pennants and rings, but so that we can be disciples who demonstrate love for God and neighbor and participate in God’s transforming love in this world.
Baseball and Methodism will always have their superstars – but baseball and Methodism aren’t limited to the “major league.” Baseball is played on a local field in the neighborhood and even happens with a game of catch in the back yard with family members. Methodism is visibly practiced by attendance at Sunday worship services in the local congregation, and it is sustained by the regular and repetitious practice of prayer, devotional Bible reading, and extending God’s love into the world.
How is becoming a baseball player like being a Christian disciple? By paying attention to the fundamentals. Or, by attending on all the “ordinances of God.”
Adapted from an archival post originally published on Wesleyan Accent in 2014.