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.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Do All in Your Power ..."

Steven W. Manskar

     At the conclusion of the Baptismal Covenant (I , II and III) found in The United Methodist Hymnal the pastor says the following words to the congregation:

     Members of the household of God,
     I commend these persons to your love and care.
     Do all in your power to increase their faith,
     confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.

The congregation then accepts and affirms this commendation by welcoming the newly baptized person into the fellowship of the church. They also reaffirm their commitment to Christ and the church through their prayers, presence, gifts and service.
     My family and I are part of a congregation that regularly receives new members as one of the final acts of Sunday morning worship. After hearing those words of Commendation and Welcome over and over and over again on Sunday morning it suddenly dawned on me that they are very important and powerful, even transforming.
     This is an important and powerful promise. It says that when you become a member of this church the expectation is that your faith will increase, your hope will be confirmed and you will be perfected in love. It says to me that the congregation will do everything possible to make this promise is more than words on a page.
     The Commendation summarizes the church’s role in the baptismal covenant. The church promises to be a community of love and care in which the members do everything in their power to help one another grow in faith, hope, and love. Everything the church does needs to help its members participate in and cooperate with the grace given freely to them in baptism and re-presented each week in the Lord’s Supper. This is how the congregation becomes a means of grace that helps each person grow up in faith, hope, and love. When this responsibility is taken seriously every person that comes into contact with the church will experience the life and love of the living God incarnate in Jesus Christ.
     What is faith and how is it increased? What is hope and how is it confirmed? How on earth is a person perfected in love? These questions have their answers in Scripture. United Methodist congregations will also find help with these questions when they look to their Wesleyan tradition. Very briefly:

  • Scripture: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

  • John Wesley: “… faith is a divine evidence and conviction, not only that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19), but also that Christ ‘loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). It is by this faith … that we receive Christ; that we receive him in all his offices, as our Prophet, Priest, and King. It is by this that he ‘is made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30).” (John Wesley, Sermon 43, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” §II.2, in Sermons II, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 2 of The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), 161.)

  • Scripture: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” 1 John 3:1-3.

  • John Wesley: “A Methodist who has this hope is so full of eternal life that he or she gives thanks in everything, knowing that this (whatever it is) is the will of God in Christ Jesus. … They have wholly committed body and soul ‘into the hands of a faithful Creator’ (1 Peter 4:19). They have ‘cast all care on God who cares for them.’ Because of this they fear nothing and ‘in all things’ rest on Christ, having made their ‘request known to God with thanksgiving’(Philippians 4:6).” (John Wesley, A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley’s ‘A Plain Account of Christian Perfection’ (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2004), 11.)

Perfect them in love
  • Scripture: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

  • John Wesley: “Perfection is nothing higher and nothing lower than this: the pure love of God and human beings. In other words, loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions” (A Perfect Love, page 40).

     We see here that faith, hope and love are gifts from God. They are given and received by grace. They are the holy tempers, given by God, through which humans grow more and more into the image of Christ. As faith, hope and love are exercised in life, the person becomes more and more the woman or man God created them to be. These gifts have power to form and transform human life because they reflect in us the life and character of God. Because they represent the character and nature of the triune God their power is released and received in community, the household of Christ. People learn faith, hope and love from others who are seasoned in the way of Christ. Therefore, the church, as the community of the baptized, is created and commissioned by God to form persons who are channels of faith, hope and love. This is what it means to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
     John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodist understood very well the importance of the Christian community, small groups and mutual accountability and support to the work of Christian formation. Faith was increased, hope confirmed and persons were perfected in love through the system of small groups developed in the Methodist societies. In the classes, bands, select societies, and penitent bands women and men learned the basic practices of Christian life and, through regular accountability and support, were helped to grow up in love. This was the expectation of the Wesleys and the Methodist societies.
     Today Covenant Discipleship groups play an integral role in this process of increasing faith, confirming hope, and perfecting persons in love.
     When a congregation promises to “do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love” it makes a commitment to assure that each baptized member is given regular opportunities and places to learn, practice, and be accountable for growing in faith, hope and love. In fact, the Baptismal Covenant reveals that these are not optional activities. According to Scripture and tradition, they are expectations and responsibilities. Each baptized person can expect that they will grow in faith, their hope will be confirmed and they will be perfected in love. They are also responsible for participating in this process by learning and practicing the means of grace in their daily lives. The church has the responsibility to help its members participate in this process by providing a system of small groups for learning, accountability, and support for Christian formation. The goal of this system is to increase faith, confirm hope and help persons strive toward perfection in love. Christ is honored and glorified when these expectations are present and active in his household and in each person.

Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other's cross to bear;
Let each his friendly aid afford,
And feel his brother's care.

Help us to build each other up,
Our little stock improve;
Increase our faith, confirm our hope,
And perfect us in love.

Charles Wesley

     How is your congregation helping its members to grow in faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love? We want to hear from you. Tell us what your church is doing. Contact Steven Manskar, Director of Accountable Discipleship at or PO Box 340003, Nashville, TN 37203-0003.


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