Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Expecting the End Without the Means

In his A Plain Account of Christian Perfection John Wesley cautioned the Methodists against “enthusiasm.” Today we would call this “religious fanaticism.” It is religion that emphasizes feelings. “Enthusiasm” is individualistic faith that is “between me and Jesus.”

Here’s how Wesley puts it:

“Beware of that child of pride, enthusiasm. Have nothing to do with it! Leave no room for an undisciplined imagination. Do not hastily attribute things to God. Do not easily believe that dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations are from God. They may be from God. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore, ‘Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). …

“One general entrance to enthusiasm is expecting the end without the means. For example:
  • expecting knowledge without searching the Scriptures and consulting the children of God;

  • expecting spiritual strength without constant prayer and steady watchfulness;

  • expecting any blessing without hearing the word of God at every opportunity.”

Many United Methodist congregations could learn much by pondering these lines. Pastors and Church Council members wonder why their congregation is not growing or why members give less than 3% of their annual income to the church. All this while giving little or no thought to “doing all in their power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.”

The problem is we expect church members to pray but don’t bother to teach them to pray. We don’t have any expectation that they will be connected to a small group where they will receive mutual accountability and support for growing in love of God and living out that love by loving their neighbor as themselves.

United Methodist congregations and church members desire growth in numbers and in spiritual vitality. However, they too often “expect the end without the means.” They receive new members with little or no preparation or Christian initiation. Congregations have very low expectations of members, and they nearly always live up to them.

I recently had a conversation with a typical member of a United Methodist Church who told me that he would like to be able to offer beautiful prayers in public situations; such as grace before a meal or prayer before or at the end of a meeting. This person told me that he admired women and men he knew who could offer eloquent and moving public prayers. When I told him that an ability to pray in public is most likely an indication of a vital and disciplined life of prayer, I received a blank stare. When I continued by telling my friend that if he really wanted to be able to confidently offer public prayers, a good place to begin would be to begin a daily practice of personal prayer and Bible reading. Again, I received a blank stare, followed by “I don’t have time for that. And besides, I don’t know how to begin.” My friend is suffering from a form of “enthusiasm” in that he is desiring the ends (the ability to pray eloquently in public) without the means (developing a regular practice of prayer and Bible study).

This person has been a member of The United Methodist Church all his life. He shared with me that he was baptized as an infant in a United Methodist congregation, participated in UMYF and went to a UM related college. He is a leader and occasional Sunday School teacher in his church. And yet, he does not know how to, nor does he have time to pray and read his Bible.

All this is to say that we need to begin to be much more intentional, even “methodical” in helping our members to keep their Baptismal Covenant. The way we do that is by initiating them into the “method” of Methodism: small groups for mutual accountability and support where Christians “watch over one another in love” and teaching and practicing the “means of grace.” Only then will people like my friend above be equipped to become fully the person God created him to be, in Christ.

This is not “rocket science” and yet, we seem to resist this common sense cure for what ails us at every turn. Why is that?

Steve Manskar

3 Comments:

Blogger jay v. said...

This connects so much with an article in the Alban Weekly newsletter by Graham Standish in which he argues that the mainline church has succumbed to what he calls rational functionlism. Basically, churches has substituted a vital faith in God (facilitated through the disciplines) for an intellectual or programmatic agenda. Standish writes "The congregants have no sense that Christ is in their midst, and that the presence of Christ can bless them and make their churches places of love. So they continue to engage in the practices of the church, but they don't expect an encounter with Christ."

I am looking forward to our time together on Saturday as we think about the means of covenant discipleship of engendering a deep and vibrant faith.

7:23 AM

 
Blogger Gregory said...

I think you are right on in your assessment. As Bonhoeffer put it, we have a lot of Christians in our churches today living on "cheap grace." In other words, they are just taking up space on the pew and are not growing in grace or maturing as disciples of Christ. I think that the first step is the one you alluded to -- namely, we need to help the church learn to pray and then encourage them to make prayer a part of their daily lives. Without prayer, we are missing our power source.

7:33 PM

 
Blogger see-through faith said...

intresting and thought provoking. we are are a very troubling stage of our church's history. or actually of Christinaity altogether

:(

5:06 AM

 

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