“I am convinced that tithing to a missional organization and then serving that organization is the most strategic thing you can do to change the world,” writes Dr. Carolyn Moore. Photo: Shutterstock.
By Carolyn Moore –
Jesus understood the deep and rich connection between our stuff and our souls. He knew that giving is not a financial issue, but a spiritual issue. We know this, because the Bible is full of this kind of talk. It contains more than 700 references to our use of money. Two-thirds of Jesus’ parables talk about materialism and money. Jesus talked more about money than he did heaven and hell and prayer combined. I’d say that Jesus thinks how you use your money matters.
That’s why I love talking about money in church. I get the connection between our faith and our stuff, and I know it can be a real barrier for some of us in growing toward Jesus. So I love talking about it as a discipleship issue and as a spiritual discipline; and I have a genuine desire to see Jesus holy-fy every nook and cranny of our life.
I am convinced that tithing to a missional organization and then serving that organization is the most strategic thing you can do to change the world, and this pandemic has only strengthened that conviction. I believe this with my whole being: As a faithful giver and also as a concerned voter, I believe my vote is not the most powerful tool at my disposal. My active connection to my local missional community is my most powerful tool against the darkness in this world. Because remember: the mission of Jesus begins in relationship. Giving is not first of all about mission or efficiency or even evangelism. Giving is rooted in relationship – being with, not doing for. This is the gist of Acts 4:32, which I believe best sums up how a life steeped in grace is lived out: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32).
This is the attitude of people who have been transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit. We become the New Covenant temple (or as Tim Mackie puts it, “The temple becomes us.”). We see ourselves and our stuff not as ours at all but as part of a whole. Our character becomes that of a confident giver, because we have received the spirit of God who is at his core a Giver. God is a giver who gives to us, and when his Spirit fills us his character becomes our character. And that self-giving connects us back to God.
This Acts 4:32 life is so in rhythm with God’s ways, so in sync with his purposes, that the journey is no longer a fight against a self-protective spirit but a knee-bowing, Spirit-bearing, hungry cry for boldness to speak the Word and become an extension of God’s healing, sign-producing, and wonder-inspiring hand.
N.T. Wright puts it this way: “What you do with your money and possessions declares loudly what sort of a community you are, and the early church’s practice was clear and definite.” Their practice was Acts 4:32.
And it really does work! Ron Sider has done the math and he says, “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe (which is our average), there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”
In the words of Acts 4:32, we discover the audacious claim of generosity: Out of giving comes great power.
Friends, grace is power. When it comes to giving, more information won’t give you more power. More time, more resources, more control, more … you name it … none of it will give you more power. When it comes to giving, grace is power.
This is exactly how it worked with the apostles.
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need” (Acts 4:33-35).
Out of giving comes great power.
There is such a deep and rich connection between our stuff and our souls. That’s why money really is a significant discipleship issue. It is because Jesus has a deep desire to holy-fy every nook and cranny of your life, especially the parts you’d rather protect. And that is because Jesus wants your heart … all of it.
Carolyn Moore is the founding and lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. She is the chair of the Wesleyan Covenant Association Council. Dr. Moore is the author of many books including Supernatural: Experiencing the Power of God’s Kingdom. Dr. Moore blogs at artofholiness.com. Reprinted from her blog by permission.
Delegates to the 2019 Legislative Assembly of the Wesleyan Covenant Association deliberate on proposals presented to the body. Photo courtesy of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
By Thomas Lambrecht –
What will the proposed new Global Methodist Church look like? How will it operate? In what ways will it be different from what we have been accustomed to in The United Methodist Church?
These questions weigh on the minds of people who are thinking about the option of aligning with the GM Church after the UM Church’s 2022 General Conference adopts the Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.
Change is difficult. We tend to prefer sticking with what we are used to. Of course, the whole reason for forming the GM Church is because we believe there are some crucial changes needed in how the UM Church currently operates.
Forming a new denomination essentially from scratch is a difficult and complex undertaking. Most United Methodists have never read the Book of Discipline, and they trust their pastor, district superintendent, and bishop to know how the church is supposed to run. Therefore, comparing provisions in the UM Church’s 800-page Book of Discipline with the GM Church’s much shorter Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline would be a tedious task for most United Methodists.
That is why we have undertaken to produce a comprehensive comparison chart (it has been posted on the Wesleyan Covenant Association website as a pdf – wesleyancovenant.org). It summarizes the main provisions of the UM Book of Discipline, the Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Doctrines and Discipline, and the proposals from the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline. The chart shows how most of the important provisions of church governance are handled in the UM Church compared with how they would be handled in the GM Church.
It is important to keep the three documents clear in our understanding. The Book of Discipline governs how United Methodist conferences and congregations function today. It was adopted by the 2016 General Conference (with a few revisions in 2019) and is the result of an evolutionary process extending back to the very first Discipline in 1808. We do not know what the UM Church’s Book of Discipline will look like after the realignment contemplated by the Protocol is accomplished, but we know that significant changes to the church’s moral teachings have been proposed.
The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline will govern how the GM Church functions from its inception until its convening General Conference meets (an approximately one- to two-year period). It borrows some features from the UM Discipline and some ideas from the WCA’s draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline. It was drafted by a three-person writing team and then amended and approved by the Transitional Leadership Council, which is the governing body for the GM Church from now through the transition until the convening General Conference.
The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline fleshes out in greater detail than the WCA draft book some of the critical elements necessary to have the denomination running. It elaborates transitional provisions that would help individuals, clergy, congregations, and conferences move into the GM Church. However, anything that was not necessary for the transitional period – such as the manner of selecting and appointing bishops – has been left for the convening General Conference to decide.
In order to minimize the amount of change that congregations would experience during the transitional period, the Transitional Leadership Council sought to maintain continuity with the current UM Discipline where it made sense – such as in the appointment process for clergy to churches (although enhanced consultation with congregations will be required). At the same time, some critically important reforms – such as shortening the timeline for candidacy to ordained ministry – were incorporated in the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline as essential elements of the new church and features that would set the direction of the denomination.
Four of the issues on the Comparison Chart regarding Methodism’s future found on the Wesleyan Covenant Association website.
Ultimately, the GM Church’s convening General Conference, composed of delegates elected globally from among those who align with the new church, will have the authority to formally adopt a new, more permanent Book of Doctrines and Discipline. It will undoubtedly build as a starting point upon the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline. The WCA’s recommendations and other ideas laity and clergy wish to propose will be considered and potentially adopted by the General Conference. Notably, WCA recommendations not in the transitional book would not take effect unless adopted by the convening General Conference. However, they are an important indicator of the current thinking of denominational leaders.
The comparison chart is meant to be an easy way to compare how the GM Church will function during the transition and give an indication of some of the directions envisioned for its future. The chart may be reproduced and shared freely. Questions and feedback are welcome and can be sent to info @ globalmethodist.org.
Some highlights from the chart, specifically referring to the GM Church’s transitional period:
• Doctrine – The doctrinal standards will stay the same, with the addition of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and bishops and clergy will be expected to promote and defend the doctrines of the church.
• Social Issues – The Transitional church will be governed by a two-page statement of basic social witness in the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, compared with over 930 pages in the UM Discipline and Book of Resolutions. That statement would be binding on clergy and congregations. No changes or additions to this statement will take place before the inaugural General Conference of the new denomination. That General Conference will determine whether and how to write an expanded statement of social principles.
• Local Church Membership Categories – Similar to the UM Church.
• Local Church Organizational Structure – Flexible structures allowed to accomplish the necessary administrative tasks.
• Connectional Funding (Apportionments) – 1.5 percent of local church income for general church work, 5-10 percent for annual conference, including the bishop’s salary and expenses.
• Trust Clause – Local church owns its property (no trust clause). Local churches with pension liability would remain liable if the church disaffiliates.
• Local Church Disaffiliation – Would allow for involuntary disaffiliation if necessary for churches teaching doctrines or engaging in practices contrary to the GM Book of Doctrines and Discipline. Voluntary disaffiliation possible by majority vote of the congregation. No payments required, except pension liabilities where applicable, secured by a lien on the property.
• Certified Laity in Ministry – Combines all types into one category called certified lay ministers, who can specialize to serve in any of the previous areas (e.g., lay speakers, lay servants, deaconesses, etc.).
• Orders of Ministry – Order of deacon contains both permanent deacons and those going on to elder’s orders.
• Length of Candidacy for Ordained Ministry – Six months to three years.
• Educational Requirements for Deacons – Five or six prescribed courses before ordination and four or five courses thereafter.
• Educational Requirements for Elders – Six prescribed courses before ordination and four courses thereafter.
• Licensed Local Pastors (non-ordained) – Grandfathered in, but transitioned to ordained Deacon or Elder.
• Funding for Theological Education – Theological Education Fund to make loans to students that are forgivable (20 percent for each year of service to the church).
• Retirement for Bishops and Clergy – No mandatory retirement, clergy may choose senior status. Senior clergy not under appointment are annual conference members with voice and vote for seven years. Thereafter, members with voice only.
• Election and Assignment of Bishops – Election process to be determined. Term limits envisioned, perhaps twelve years. Current UM bishops who join the GM Church will continue to serve. Annual conferences without a bishop would have a president pro tempore assigned for the transitional period.
• Appointment Process – Same as UM Church, with enhanced consultation with clergy and local church. Bishops must give a written rationale for appointing a pastor against the wishes of the congregation. Current appointments maintained where possible during transition.
• Guaranteed Appointment – No guaranteed appointment. Bishop must give written rationale for not appointing a clergyperson.
• General Church Governance – Transitional Leadership Council serves as the governing body until the convening General Conference with globally elected delegates.
• General Church Agencies – None mandated. Five transitional commissions suggested (compared with 15 UM agencies).
• Jurisdictions or Central Conferences – Optional, may or may not be formed in a particular area.
• Adaptability of the Discipline – Provisions of the Book of Doctrines and Discipline would apply equally to all geographic areas of the church unless specified. This implies provisions will be more general and consider the global context before being adopted.
• Annual Conference Agencies – Six agencies required, with additional ones at the discretion of the annual conference (compared with 25+ in the UM Church).
• Clergy Accountability – Similar to the UM Church complaint process, with stricter timelines and less discretion in dismissing complaints. Laity would be voting members of committee on investigation.
• Bishops’ Accountability – Accountable to Transitional Leadership Committee, global committee on investigation, and global trial court if needed. Laity would be voting members of the committee on investigation.
Many more details, as well as the WCA’s proposals following the transitional period, can be found in the chart found at wesleyancovenant.org.
My wife is a marriage and family therapist. One of her favorite questions to provoke dialog is, “How are things changing and how are they remaining the same?” That question is a fitting one to ask, as we head into a key few years of decision-making ahead. Hopefully, this chart can help provide some of the answers.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.
Photo courtesy of Maxie Dunnam.
By Maxie Dunnam –
Many decades ago, I became intensely interested in the great devotional classics and the collected wisdom of the saints who came before us. Upper Room Ministries had published a collection of little booklets – selections from people whose writings have endured through the centuries. These works expressing Christian faith and life had become classic resources for pilgrims on the Christian way. Those little booklets, providing selections from 29 of these “saints,” were packaged together under the label, Living Selections from the Great Devotional Classics. I simply called it my “box of saints.”
For over 50 years – and even now – that box sits in an obvious place among my books. The box is a bit fragile now, because through the years I have taken out the booklets one by one to read again.
Recently as the coronavirus raged, I pulled the box down again. The “stay at home” orders had come, and it soon became apparent I needed company. I decided that I would live at least part-time with some of the saints again. It was during this time that I compiled a devotional entitled Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints.
Let me introduce you to three pivotal figures in my spiritual walk.
True devotion. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) wrote of the fundamental nature of devotion and discipline in the Christian life; the meaning of true devotion was one of his primary interests. Anyone who has read the Gospels knows that Jesus’ call is to a narrow way. I don’t know a Christian in all the ages to whom we turn for teaching and inspiration who did not give himself to discipline and devotion.
And de Sales had an inspiring comprehension of devotion. If the Bible said that we are saved by grace through intelligence, some of us would have been too dumb. If we were saved by grace through looks, some of us would be too ugly. If we were saved by grace through education, some of us would be too ignorant. If we were saved by grace through money, some of us would be too poor. But all that is necessary for us to be saved is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“True devotion presupposes not a partial but a thorough love of God,” wrote de Sales. “For inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, making us pleasing to the Divine Majesty; inasmuch as it gives us the strength to do good, it is called charity; but when it is arrived at that degree of perfection by which it makes us do well but also work diligently, frequently, and readily, then it is called devotion.”
Genuine devotion presupposes the love of God; thus, the disciplines we practice must be all for the love of God. This notion is often ignored early in our Christian walk. “Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward God by their good works, but rarely, slowly, and heavily; but devout souls ascend to him by more frequent, prompt, and lofty flight,” de Sales wrote. He demonstrates that we need to give attention to discipline and devotion to enhance our relationship with Christ, to cultivate a vivid companionship with him. Through discipline and devotion, we learn to be like Christ and to live as he lived.
As I reflect on de Sales’ insights, his influence on my approach to spiritual formation is clear: a dynamic process of receiving through faith and appropriating through commitment, discipline, and action, the living Christ into my own life, to the end that my life will conform to and manifest the reality of Christ’s presence in the world.
The Saints. In the New Testament, “saint” does not refer primarily to the departed; it isn’t even used exclusively for the holy. When Paul writes “the saints,” he means all believers, all who are called to follow Jesus Christ. He addresses the Roman Christians, “to all God’s beloved in Rome who are called to be saints.” He sends his Philippian letter to, “all the saints in Jesus Christ who are at Philippi.” Yet to the Corinthian church, torn by inner fighting, divided over political and social issues, he still addressed them as, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints together.”
Evelyn Underhill contended that, as Christians, we are called to be saints, describing saints as not, “examples of a limp surrender. In them we see dynamic personality using all its capacities; and acting with a freedom, originality, complete self-loss in the Divine life. In them will and grace rise and fall together.”
Born in England, Underhill died in 1941. Early in her life, she developed an immense acquaintance with the Christian mystics, writing the huge volume Mysticism. She would likely smile at Frederick Buechner’s description of saints in The Sacred Journey: “the foolish ones and wise ones, the shy ones and overbearing ones, the broken ones and the whole ones, the despots and tosspots and crackpots of our lives who, one way or another, have helped us toward whatever little we may have, or ever hope to have, of some kind of seedy sainthood of our own.” Yet her call is serious. “The saints abound in fellowship and service, because they are abandoned to the Spirit, and see life in relation to God, instead of God in relation to life.”
Underhill wrote, “we may allow the saints are specialists; but they are specialists in a career to which all Christians are called. They have achieved the classic status. They are the advance guard of the army; but we are marching the main ranks. The whole army is dedicated to the same supernatural cause; and we ought to envisage it as a whole, to remember that every one of us wears the same uniform as the saints, has access to the same privileges, is taught the same drill and fed the same food. The difference between them and us is a difference in degree, not in kind.”
Her thoughts on prayer are very instructive. “A man of prayer is not necessarily a person who says a number of offices, or abounds in detailed intercessions; but he is a child of God who is and knows himself to be in the deeps of his soul attached to God, and is wholly and entirely guided by the Creative Spirit in his prayer and his work,” Underhill wrote. “It is a description as real and concrete as I can make it, of the only really apostolic life. Every Christian starts with a chance of it; but only a few develop it.”
I became a Christian as a teenager and responded to God’s call to preach a few years later. It was not until I had finished my seminary training and was serving as a pastor, though, that I began to be serious about prayer. I was happily planting a new Methodist congregation in Gulfport, Mississippi; by traditional standards, it was successful. My life and ministry took a turn; my involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and the turmoil that involvement brought, forced something from me I did not have. Prayer and scripture became the center of my life more than ever before. I learned to become bolder in my praying, discovering that when I’m humble, when I see my weakness in its proper light, I can acknowledge my weakness without self-deprecation.
Acknowledging weakness is necessary to appropriate the power of Christ. It is when we are weak that he is strong, when we are inadequate that we can depend on his adequacy, sharing in intercession that will move mountains in the lives of others. Prayer is the source of the power to be obedient in love. Our discipleship, our witness moves on this center: obedience in love. Fervor may depend on circumstance, but prayer gives strength to rise beyond circumstance. It destroys our false desire to be independent of other people or of God. When we pray, we put our arms around another person, around a situation, around the church, around the world, and we hug it to ourselves and to God. When we pray for another, we are united to that person.
“It is only through adoration and attention that we can make our personal discoveries about Him,” writes Underhill. “We gradually and imperceptibly learn more about God by this persistent attitude of humble adoration, than we can hope to do by any amount of mental exploration. In it our soul recaptures, if only for a moment, the fundamental relation of the tiny created spirit with its Eternal Source; the time is well spent in getting this relation and keeping it right. In it we breathe deeply the atmosphere of eternity. We realize, and re-realize, our tininess, and the greatness and steadfastness of God.”
The lowly Jesus. Of all the “saints” with whom we are living in this season, Søren Kierkegaard is perhaps the most unique in personality. In his writing, we discover a very troubled soul: “I have been from childhood on in the grip of an overpowering melancholy, my sole joy being, as far as I can remember, that nobody could discover how unhappy I felt myself to be.” Kierkegaard was born in 1813, the youngest child of a large family. Gloominess and strict loyalty to religion pervaded his environment. He later shared the feeling that he was a victim of “an insane upbringing.” An outsider to the Christian faith might be mystified that such a person could witness to astounding faith in God.
From 1843-46, a period of great creativity and productivity, he wrote a book every three months, besides his journal. He wrote twelve hours a day, testifying, “I have literally lived with God as one lives with a Father. I rise up in the morning and give thanks to God. Then I work. At a set time in the evening I break off and again give thanks to God. Thus do I sleep. Thus do I live.”
Kierkegaard’s writing reflects his reaction to self-reliance, which he believed to be the worst sin. “The smugness of the State Church was illustrative of this self-assurance. Man needs to despair of his inadequacy and be brought face to face with God. Only when man accepts his own spiritual bankruptcy can he be brought before God.”
This conviction shaped the way he approached Jesus; he wrote, “‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, I will give you rest.’ Who is the Inviter? Jesus Christ. The Jesus Christ who sits in glory at the right hand of the Father? No. From the seat of his glory he has not spoken one word. It is Jesus Christ in his humiliation, who spoke these words.” Reading this, a gospel hymn comes to mind: “No, Not One.”
There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus:
No, not one! no, not one!
None else could heal all our soul’s diseases
No, not one! no, not one!
No friend like Him is so high and holy,
No, not one! no, not one!
And yet no friend is so meek and lowly,
No, not one! no, not one!
Jesus knows all about our struggles,
He will guide till the day is done;
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus –
No, not one! no, not one!
I heard this hymn as a teenager in rural Mississippi churches. It was a favorite of my parents and others who were poor; it was easy for them to identify with “the lowly Jesus.” Kierkegaard wanted smug church members to know the nature of the One who extended the invitation “Come unto me” – Jesus in his humiliation.
“Is this Jesus Christ not always the same? Yes, the same yesterday and today, the same that 1800 years ago humbled himself and took the form of a servant, the Jesus Christ who uttered these words of invitation.”
The hymn naming Christ as “the lowly Jesus” dwells on him as our constant companion, a friend who “will guide till the day is done.” Those who hold fast may look in expectation for his glory.
Maxie Dunnam is minister-at-large at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. During more than 60 years of ministry he has served both as the president of Asbury Theological Seminary and the world editor of The Upper Room. He is the author of numerous books, including the Workbook on Living Prayer. This excerpt is adapted from Saints Alive! 30 Days of Pilgrimage with the Saints. Reprinted by permission.
Worship time at the 2021 New Room Conference in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of New Room.
In the midst of chaotic and frustrating times within United Methodism, there is a simultaneous larger pan-Wesleyan movement calling for a renewal of minds and hearts. Over a three-day event in late September, more than 2,100 attended Seedbed’s New Room Conference in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. An additional 600 participated through livestreaming.
Through break-out sessions and plenary addresses, nationally-recognized speakers such as Rich Villodas, Jo Saxton, and Todd Hunter challenged and inspired the assembly. Platform presentations also featured familiar names to United Methodists such as Kevin Watson, Carolyn Moore, and Timothy Tennent.
Despite dozens of book titles under its imprint, the Rev. J.D. Walt insisted that Seedbed, the host of the annual New Room gathering, is not merely a publishing company. “Publishing is not an identity, it’s a strategy. We’re an awakening company,” the Seedbed leader told the assembly.
In our contemporary culture, the challenges facing the Christian church are daunting. “If you listen close enough, there is a generation that is leaving the church – a generation that some are not just calling the ‘nones,’ but now calling the ‘dones,’” said the Rev. Tara Beth Leach, author of Radiant Church: Restoring the Credibility of Our Witness. Particulary on social media, there has been a notable trend of declarations from former churchgoers “deconstructing” their faith.
“If you listen close enough to this generation that is down this path of deconstruction, deconstruction, deconstruction … without any end,” said Leach. “They are not necessarily deconstructing God, but us – the toxic systems and idolatrous systems that we have created.”
Photos on this spread: New Room participants pray and worship during the three-day event. Photos courtesy of Seedbed.
“Returning to church as we have known it, cycling back, is simply not an option,” said the Rev. David Thomas, senior advisor to New Room, in his opening address. “This is where we’re helped by listening to the young. Emerging Christian leaders, these resilient millennial and GenZ Christians, don’t want our church. They’re not rude about it. But they’re clear: they don’t want our org charts and structures, our career ladders and programming, our metrics and trophies. Emerging adults have come of age in a time when church is seen in society as the problem, not viewed positively or even as neutral. The young live in a world that perceives Christianity as undermining the social good.”
Above: Seedbed leaders J.D. Walt (left) and Mark Benjamin address conference participants. Photo courtesy of Seedbed.
Leach believes this a critical time for the church to engage in self-examination. “Perhaps more than ever it’s time we take our finger and point it back inward and ask, ‘Lord, what have we done? What have we abandoned? What have we participated in that has led to this place of a diminished witness?”
Not without hope, Leach believes that the church still has an opportunity to provide a compelling witness. “We are still at this watershed moment,” she said.
The gospel of Jesus Christ remains a magnetic message. “The body of Christ is still the best vehicle the world has for translating the glorious good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and hurting world,” the Rev. Carolyn Moore, pastor of Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia, and author of Supernatural, told the conference.
Unified Wesleyan Witness. From the very beginning, New Room and Seedbed has operated as a network for Wesleyans across a multi-denomination spectrum that wants to see a spiritual awakening in the United States and around the world. “We are an awakening platform and we are just trying to give it away,” Walt said. “As far and as wide as anybody will receive it.” He slightly modified the familiar appeal of Methodism’s founder John Wesley: “If your heart is as ours, let’s just take each other’s hands and let’s sow for awakening.”
– Good News Media Service.
“The church lives between two advents. Jesus Christ has come; Jesus Christ will come,” writes Fleming Rutledge. “We do not know the day or the hour. If you find this tension almost unbearable at times, then you understand the Christian life.” Photo: Shutterstock.
By Fleming Rutledge –
It is dark early at this time of year and that reminds us of a darkness in our world. There is Christmas tinsel in the streets and Christmas music on the radio, but there is a cheapness at the core. The clock on the bank says it is day, but the hands on the church clock point to midnight.
It is Advent – the deepest place in the church year.
Advent – for the world, is a time of counting shopping days before Christmas. Advent – for the church, it is the season of the shadows, the season of “the works of darkness,” the season in which the church looks straight down into its own heart and finds there … the absence of God.
Now. Come back with me into the very first century AD when the Gospel of Mark was being put together. The young Christian church is going through a crisis of identity. It hears mocking laughter outside, voices saying, “Where is your King? You thought he was coming back, but he has not returned. You have made a very stupid mistake. How can you live without your Lord? He has abandoned you – for this, you want to risk your lives?”
And in its perplexity, the young church repeated a story to itself, a story once told by Jesus of Nazareth. It is one of the so-called crisis parables. It is the Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent, the parable of the doorkeeper.
There is a great household with many family members and many servants. There is a master, who established the household in the first place and gave it its reason for being; he is the one who gathered its members and assigned a place to each. It is he who put the whole operation in motion, who gave shape and direction to its existence. The master has gone away, but his orders are that there is to be a watch at the door, a constant alert. This is the command to the doorkeeper – “Stay awake” – but what he has said to the doorkeeper he says to everyone: “Keep awake.” This state of readiness is to be maintained through the ceaseless vigilance of each family member and servant, each in his own work, until the master returns.
Perhaps you begin to feel the tension in the atmosphere of this parable. Were it not for the master, the household would have no reason for existing; yet he is away. The expectation of his return is the moving force behind all the activity that takes place; yet no one knows when the return will be. Everybody has been ordered to keep awake; yet the days and months and years pass, and still he does not come. Over and over again, the household repeats to itself the charge that it was given – “If he comes suddenly, he must not find us asleep.”
The heartbeat of the parable is strong and accelerated – it is a parable of crisis. It is the story of the church, living in a crisis for two thousand years. The church calendar is not the same as the world’s calendar. The Advent clock points to an hour that is later than the clock on the bank. There is a knocking at the door! Take heed, watch – your Lord and Master may be standing at the gate this very moment. Keep awake, for if he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep. “A thousand ages in his sight are like an evening gone” (Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”). There is no way for the church to adjust its calendar to the world’s calendar.
The church is not part of contemporary culture, and never should have been. The church keeps her own deep inner rhythms. New Testament time is different from the world’s time; Saint Paul says, “My friends, the time we live in will not last long …. For the whole frame of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31). New Testament time is a million years compressed into a single instant – and the time is now. “The hour cometh, and now is” (John 4:23). There is no way to alleviate the overwhelming tension produced by the Advent clock; the only way to be faithful is to be faithful at each moment. “Keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming.”
The church lives in Advent. That is to say, the church lives between two advents. Jesus Christ has come; Jesus Christ will come. We do not know the day or the hour. If you find this tension almost unbearable at times, then you understand the Christian life. We live at what the New Testament depicts as the turn of the ages. In Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God is in head-on collision with the powers of darkness. The point of impact is the place where Christians take their stand. That is why it hurts. That’s why the church has to take a beating. This is what Scripture tells us. No wonder there are so many who fall away; the church is located precisely where the battle line is drawn.
It is the Advent clock that tells the church what time it is. The church that keeps Advent is the church that is most truly herself. The church is not supposed to be prosperous and commonable and established. It is Advent – it is dark and lonely and cold, and the master is away from home. Yet he will come. Keep awake.
He came among us once as a stranger, and we put him on a cross. He comes among us now, in the guise of the stranger at the door. He will come in the future, not as a stranger, but as the King in his glory, and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10). “The coming of the Lord is at hand,” says Saint James. “Behold, the Judge is standing at the doors” (James 5:8-9). Keep awake, then … if he comes suddenly, he must not find you asleep.
Fleming Rutledge is an Episcopal priest, best-selling author, and a widely revered preacher. Her many books include The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. The article is taken from her year-long devotional book, Means of Grace: A Year of Weekly Devotions (Eerdmans).
Hand colored lithograph of John Wesley preaching on his father’s grave in the church yard at Epworth in 1742. Currier and Ives artwork. Library of Congress.
“John Wesley and Karl Marx, unmistakably, are the two most influential characters of all modern history,” wrote social historian Dr. J. Wesley Bready (1887-1953) in his colorful and intriguing assessment of the ramifications of the theological and spiritual revival in Wesley-era England. Most recently, Regent College republished Bready’s England Before and After Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform, originally published in 1938.
Wesley’s “vital religion” was far more transformative – both individually and societally – than what Marx would have dismissed as the “opiate of the people.” Wesley and his followers addressed issues such as prison reform, education, poverty, health care, human slavery, orphanages, literacy, animal cruelty, and chronic alcoholism. What follows are a few of our favorite excerpts from Bready’s book. –Good News
Passion to be used by God: “Wesley’s supreme purpose was to make men vitally conscious of God. He therefore had no desire to dictate the intellectual niceties associated with the divine work of redemption; rather was he actuated by an impelling passion to be used of God, as a humble but active instrument, in the work of redemption. With prophetic insight he recognized the insidious demons which were luring millions of his countrymen into the tangled labyrinths of moral corruption and spiritual death – and challenging the sway of those demons, he set about to release the victims from their woeful plight. He saw the ecclesiastical machinery of his generation rusty and clogged with dust; he chafed to cleanse it and set it in motion, for the redemption of the general populace. His purpose was not to formulate a new theology or a new theory of Church or State, but to touch dead bones with the breath of spiritual power, and make them live; to release the winds of heaven, that they might blow upon the ashy embers of religion and kindle a purging, illuminating fire of righteousness and truth. He would substitute for the bondage of sin, the liberty, individual and social, of men new-born after the similitude of Christ. He would revive creative, life-giving Faith.”
Attacking the Revival: “During the first two or three decades of the Revival the ugly, riotous interference of mobs was more or less continuous. On innumerable occasions, the meetings of the Wesleys, Whitefield, and many itinerant preachers were attacked by drunken, brawling rabbles armed with such formidable means of assault as clubs, whips, clods, bricks, staves, stones, stink-bombs, wildfire, and rotten eggs. Sometimes they procured a bull and drove him into the midst of an open air congregation; sometimes they contented themselves by performing with bells, horns, drums, pans and such like, to deaden the preacher’s voice. Frequently, when goaded by a violent leader, they resorted to every available means of attack; and not infrequently they expended their fury in burning or tearing down the houses, and destroying or stealing the furniture and possessions, of the Revival’s followers.”
Amazing grace: “Wesley, the Evangelist, was a man possessed of amazing grace. Never did he lose his temper; and always was he prepared to endure a blow, if the dealing of it would relieve the hysteria of his assailant. Repeatedly, when struck by a stone or cudgel, he quietly wiped away the blood and went on preaching without so much as a frown on his face. He loved his enemies; and do what they would, they could not make him discourteous or angry. … In danger, Wesley had taught his followers to think of the Christ before Pilate, of the Son of God before a raging, crucifying mob. Thus it was, that Wesley’s serenity first broke, and later won, the heart of many a mob-leader and ruthless enemy – thus it was, too, that many a one-time brute came to be transformed into a gentle, saintly class-leader and understanding shepherd of souls.”
J. Wesley Bready Ph.D. was a noted sociologist, lecturer, and scholar. These excerpts are from his book Before and After Wesley: The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform (the original edition was published in 1938).