Tuesday, October 06, 2009

John Wesley quote--"Means of Grace"

Spiritual formation class this week is reading Wesley's 16th sermon: "The Means of Grace." In keeping with Wesleyan theology, Wesley's signature is a collection of standard sermons rather than a systematic theology--practice and formation oriented rather than theoretical and informational. Long made fun of by snobby modernist intellectuals, we wear it at the beginning of the twenty-first century with pride.

Came across this quote today: "We know that there is no inherent power in the words that are spoken in prayer, in the letter of Scripture read, the sound thereof heard, or the bread and wine received in the Lord's Supper; but that it is God alone who is the Giver of very good gift, the Author of all grace; that the whole power is of Him, whereby, through any of these, there is any blessing conveyed to our souls" (Vol. 5, 188).

15 comments:

Keith Drury said...

It appears to me that Wesley here likens the elements of the Eucharist to the words of the Bible—saying he believes they have no inherent power themselves but only have power as an “ordinary channel” through which God gives grace when He inhabits the elements (or the words of the Bible) by the Spirit so that they become “more than they are” (mere words or mere bread and wine). Very interesting if I’ve read it rightly.

Christopher C. Schrock said...

Dr. Schenck, that is a great quote and I think it reveals Wesley’s tremendous insight.

I couldn’t agree more with Wesley. The Lord’s power/grace is not tethered to words, letters, bread, wine, etc. Only God is the Author of Grace – thank goodness! Just imagine: if grace could be tethered to words, letters, bread, wine, or a human bloodline (an even scarier thought), then it would be possible for men (who are fallen) to become the gatekeepers at the door of grace. Bluntly stated, that would be very bad.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Political freedom is not important to those who believe that "God controls" all things. And this is useful to those who want to "build the Church" at the costs of poltical freedom.

It important today that we stand for religious freedom, but we cannot have religious freedom apart from political freedom. This is important to remember.

The Dalai Lama encouraged us to stand for the Founding Father's principles. We must do this or suffer under political oppression.

npmccallum said...

Here is a similar reflection from antiquity:

There is absolutely nothing which makes men’s minds more obdurate than the simplicity of the divine works which are visible in the act, when compared with the grandeur which is promised thereto in the effect; so that from the very fact, that with so great simplicity, without pomp, without any considerable novelty of preparation, finally, without expense, a man is dipped in water, and amid the utterance of some few words, is sprinkled, and then rises again, not much (or not at all) the cleaner, the consequent attainment of eternity is esteemed the more incredible. ... We also ourselves wonder, but it is because we believe. Incredulity, on the other hand, wonders, but does not believe: for the simple acts it wonders at, as if they were vain; the grand results, as if they were impossible. And grant that it be just as you think sufficient to meet each point is the divine declaration which has forerun: “The foolish things of the world hath God elected to confound its wisdom;” and, “The things very difficult with men are easy with God.” For if God is wise and powerful (which even they who pass Him by do not deny), it is with good reason that He lays the material causes of His own operation in the contraries of wisdom and of power, that is, in foolishness and impossibility; since every virtue receives its cause from those things by which it is called forth.

-- Tertullian - On Baptism II

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Wasn't it Tertulliun that believed that God built his Church on the blood of the martyrs?

If this is so, then it behooves those that believe that political freedom is unimportant, that only virtue is, to disregard any ethical standard of behavior, so that the Church can be built. The Church and God is more important that the "human". (Sounds like Refiormation thinking...)

Another Church Father believed differently. And I believe I sided with him in Dr. Bence's Church History class, in "falling off the log". So, is this a way to "take the Kingdom by force"?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whichever way one wants to view "taking life", whether through giving up one's life in sacrifice, as a virtuous act volitionally, or demanding that another convert, by sacrificing thier life, as a "devotion to God", it falls short of a humane view of life, and liberty.

Americans believe that "we are created with certain inalienable rights" and these rights should not be taken or given "for God", because God isn't a "taker of life", but a "giver of life".

Whenever one takes away liberty, one has also taken away the value of life, because life consists in choice and value. Values are personally assessed and weighed.

Individuals are valued in our Representative Republic because our Nation values diversity.

npmccallum said...

Angie, I'm not quite sure what you are arguing, but I'm quite sure you misunderstand Tertullian. The phrase is "The blood of the martyrs is seed" and it comes from Tertullian's apology, chapter 50.

He is writing to the "Rulers of the Roman Empire" who are actually killing Christians in order to explain Christianity to them. He wants to get across the point that killing Christians is a great injustice since they have done nothing wrong. The persecutors think that by killing Christians they can stamp out Christianity. Tertullian points out that, because Christ is risen from the dead, Christians no longer fear death. In fact, it is quite the opposite since being killed unjustly is precisely the central way to be Christ-like. Therefore, the more the persecutors kill Christians, the more that people will see that the Christians are right and that the Romans are the unjust persons. Thus, the blood of the martyrs is seed, since the more they die, the more they grow.

Further, one must contemplate how much this persecution resembled the passion narrative. Like Christ, the Christian is accused unjustly (he has committed no evil), brought before the Roman magistrate who, in spite of being unable to find any fault, condemns them to death, often by crucifixion.

npmccallum said...

Finally, Tertullian is reflecting on the long litany of (now) scriptural teachings on life and death:
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." - Matt 10:37-39

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life[h] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" - Matt 16:24-26 (Notice how this teaching is so important it is included in the same gospel twice. Also see Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-27 and 17:33 [again, twice in one gospel])

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." - Luke 14:26-27

"But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses [greek: martyrs] to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life." - Luke 21:12-19

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." - John 15:13

"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Romans 6:8

"... offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." - Romans 6:13

"Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:35-39

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body." - 2 Cor 4:8-11

"Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." - Col 3:2-3

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. ... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. ... He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." - Rev 2:10-11

I could go on, but let it suffice it to say that, in 2 Tim 3:10-17, Paul exhorts Timothy to know the scriptures in the face of persecution. This is precisely what Tertullian has done.

If you'd like to read some other early martyrology, try "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and "The Martyrdom of Ignatius." Both of which I'm sure any of the fine professors at IWU will be happy to give you.

npmccallum said...

I should point out one other thing about martyrdom. As I alluded to previously the word for martyr and witness are the same word. This is precisely because, if the core of your teaching is that your savior was raised from the dead because he laid down his own life and that, in doing this, all who are baptized "into Christ" will be raised from the dead with him, destroying the very sting of death, the only possible testimony of this doctrine is that you lay down your own life. The apostles knew this, the martyrs knew this, and the monastics knew this. But of course, the cross is folly to men.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Both Tertullion's view (martyrdom) and Constintine's (co-ercive conversion) were put into my entry for a purpose. The purpose to demonstrate that one must lay down their life willingly, not co-ercively, like the Crusades.

One does not "do justly" when they force, manipulate, or connive another to do what they thinks another should do or be.

Jesus laid his life down willingly and Jesus also let the rich young ruler leave. So, shouldn't you allow another to "choose his own way"?

I don't think that controlling another's life through means of scripture quoting is a "means of grace". That does not reveal Christ, but laying one's life down, as you say, does. So, who is to "go first", me or you?

npmccallum said...

I'm not really sure why you think Tertullian is "coercing" anyone. It was the Romans who coerced, the Christians stood firm and died. Tertullian is merely describing this phenomena. His quote is descriptive not prescriptive.

Further, evidence is mixed on Constantine. Much of paganism survived quite a bit past his rule. If you want an emperor to blame coercion on, pick Justinian. Though, it should also be noted that much of your concern about coercion rests with the highly individualistic anthropology found in the USA. Many other cultures have no problem putting the religious choice in the hands of their leaders. Thus, if the elder of a tribe converts to Islam, the whole tribe converts. Many cultures see this as normal and would even tolerate a bit of coercion as "proper."

Finally, the Crusades didn't do much "converting." They were largely a secular set of wars with deeply rooted religious undertones. The Crusades were all about money and a free ticket out of purgatory.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW,
Those who adhere to Tertullion's view and "experience" will see assoication with the Roman Empire as "us against them"(sectarian), a "not yet" eschatology, whereas, those that see themselves as "in bed" with "Rome", will view Constintine's view as an 'realized eschatology....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Oh, I see, we are "supposed" to go "back" to a tribalistic type mentality, like the Scriptures do? That is progressive...

I didn't say Tertullion co-erced anyone, I said that Constantine did.

Today, in America, those that believe this is a Christian nation believe in a similar "co-ercive stance" about some issues of conscience. While still others believe that one should demonstrate thier faith in their life by what they do poltically. And others believe that a separation of Church and State is necessary because of the nature of the Church, versus the State.

npmccallum said...

Angie, I can't even logically follow your last post. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular summary of relationships between Church and state? If so, I'm not familiar with that study.

npmccallum said...

I'm not arguing for any ideology (ie that we should adopt or reject a tribalistic mindset). I'm merely advocating familiarity with the primary texts before making sweeping generalizations.