In recent weeks I have mentioned often the name of John Wesley, founder of the Wesleyan movement in America, from which has come the United Methodist Church. And a number of you have asked me a question in one form or another, “What does it mean to be Wesleyan?
When Jesus was asked what is God’s most important call for our lives? He said that it was to love God with our whole being, and to also love other people in this same way—just as we love ourselves—The Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34).
Today, the idea of people loving in this way seems like an idealistic dream, but we Wesleyans adopt a spirit of hope for something better for our world. And our hope comes from our passion and confidence in the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit which allows us to better understand God’s Word through four lenses: Scripture (being primary), Tradition (teachings of Christ Church), Experience (living lives in the world), and Reason (a God given gift-temporarily AWOL in our teen years)—This four-fold approach is widely known as the Wesleyan quadrilateral.
From Scripture we see that God’s essential character is love. Freely, God has expressed His exhaustive love for people in giving them the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ so that people might share God’s very life. We as Wesleyans believe that God’s grace enables us to become aware of and open our hearts and turn from our sin by repentance. Through this process, we receive God’s forgiveness, or pardon, which is lovingly offered to us when we accept God’s Son who paid the penalty for our sins when he died for us. Being forgiven, our relationship with God changes and God sees us as righteous and justified.
Wesleyans believe that in addition to a relationship change, God’s gracious action further effects a real character change within us. We fully participate in living a Godly life because the presence of God’s Spirit in us. We are more than declared to be righteous (justified), we are actually being made righteous (sanctified). John Wesley, in a famous sermon entitled “The Great Privilege of Those That Are Born of God” (Sermon XIX) says:
“God in justifying us does something for us; in begetting us again, he does the work in us. The former changes our outward relation to God, so that of enemies we become children; by the latter our inmost souls are changed, so that of sinners we become saints. The one restores us to the favour, the other to the image of God. The one is the taking away the guilt, the other the taking away the power of sin.”
In his sermon, Wesley makes the connection between the lifegiving Spirit and life-sustaining breath. He states: “The Spirit or breath of God is immediately inspired, breathed into the newborn soul; and the same breath which comes from, returns to, God: As it is continually received by faith, so it is continually rendered back by love, by prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving; love and praise, and prayer being the breath of every soul which is truly born of God.”
We, who were spiritually dead, come alive! We begin to breath a sign of the new life in us. Wesley explains, “By a kind of spiritual reaction (the ‘sinner’ becomes a ‘saint’). . . In other words, we become more and more like God. Since God’s essential nature is love, our nature is transformed becoming living reflections of his love. Wesleyans are convinced that if we are focused and intentional, we might be better equipped to therefore live out God’s love in Christian community.
As we share the loving heart of God, we are moved by the challenges and pain in the world around us, and passionately work to provide practical solutions for these challenges. No wonder Wesleyans were on the forefront of the historic movement to abolish the slave trade and also the abolition of the slavery in the New World.
Wesleyans are mindful to God’s call for caring for the poor and his concern for the marginalized. Wesleyans seek out the least, the last, and the lost—Going into the pits of devastation and destruction wherever they may exist—Truly loving our neighbors near and far, as ambassadors of God’s love.
In summary, what does it mean to be Wesleyan? It means to exemplify God’s transformed, hope-filled, and loving people who are responding passionately and unreservedly to God’s initiative of love and to reflect God’s holy character before a watching world that so desperately needs the love and hope that is Jesus Christ.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Fred