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.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Problem of Pride

In light of the outcome of yesterday’s debate and voting on petitions related to human sexuality, I offer these words from John Wesley. They are taken from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. This is the beginning of a series of advices Wesley offers to those who are earnestly striving toward perfection in love, aka Christian maturity. Dr. Marjorie Suchocki referred to this passage in her very eloquent comments on the floor of General Conference. I commend them to you now. 

"Q. 32. What is the first advice that you would give them?   

"A. Beware and pray constantly against pride. If God has cast it out, see that it does not return. It is every bit as dangerous as desire. When you think there is no danger, you may slide back into it without notice. 

You may say, ‘Indeed, but I credit all I have to God.' You may do so and be proud nevertheless. For it is pride not only to credit anything we have to ourselves, but to think we have what we really do not have. For example, Mr. L credited all the light he had to God, and so far he was humble. But then he thought he had more light than any man living. This was palpable pride. So you credit all the knowledge you have to God and, in this respect, you are humble. But if you think you have more than you really have, or if you think you are so knowledgeable of God as to no longer need man's teaching, then pride is at the door. Yes, you need to be taught, not only by Mr. Morgan, by one another, by Mr. Maxfield, or me, but by the weakest Preacher in London, yes, by all persons. For God sends to us those whom he will send.  

"Therefore, do not say to any who would advise or correct you, 'You are blind. You cannot teach me.' Do not say, 'This is your wisdom, your human reason.' But calmly discern the thing in the presence of God.  

"Always remember much grace does not imply much light. These do not always go together. As there may be much light where there is but little love, so there may be much love where there is little light. The heart has more heat than the eye and yet it cannot see. God has wisely assembled the members of the body together such that none may say to another, 'I have no need of you.'[1] 

"To imagine none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin is a very great and dangerous mistake. Do not entertain it for a moment. It would lead you into a thousand other mistakes from which you may never recover. No, supremacy is not founded in grace, as the madmen of the last age talked. Obey and respect 'those who have charge of you in the Lord,'[2] and do not think you know better than they. Know their place and your own. Always remember that much love does not imply much light.  

"Neglecting to observe this has led some into many mistakes and into the appearance, at least, of pride. Beware of the appearance, and the thing! Let there 'be in you that lowly mind which was in Christ Jesus.'[3] And 'clothe yourselves with humility.'[4] Let it not only fill, but cover you all over. Let modesty appear in all your words and actions. Let all you speak and do show that you are small, humble, and common in your own eyes.  

"As an example of this, always be ready to own any mistake for which you are responsible. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong do not deny or dodge your responsibility. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God. Rather, it will further it. Therefore, be open and frank when you are accused of anything. Do not seek either to evade or disguise it. Let it appear just as it is and you will by this not hinder, but beautify the gospel.” (from A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection', pages 73-74.)

A prayer for the people called United Methodists: 

God of grace and holiness,

we have sinned against you and your church.

Once again our pride has damaged your church and its witness to the world.

Once again we have rejected humility and love in favor of pride and arrogance.

Once again our prideful certainty has caused us to disobey our Lord’s command to “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Forgive us, O God.

By your grace, help us to repent of the sin of pride.

By your grace, help us, once again, to forgive one another.

By your grace and in the name of Jesus Christ, cast out the demon of pride from among us; and replace it with humility.

Send your healing Spirit to bind the brokenness of our communion.

Comfort especially those faithful gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, your beloved children, who have been, once again, hurt and excluded and oppressed by your church’s pride and arrogance.

“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”[5]

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:14ff

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:12

[3] Philippians 2:5 cf

[4] 1 Peter 5:5

[5] from The Book of Common Prayer


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