For the Bride: The Critical Element

I want to continue to use Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” to shed further light on our continuing exploration of honoring and being the Bride of Christ today.

I repeat that the basis for all this is orthodoxy.  Not everyone will agree, but if you read, my post last week, you know why I am able to make this my stand, and why Wesley himself was (in the words of Dr. Albert Outler) “an orthodox Christian, if ever there were one.”

But far from being dead orthodoxy, it was a living faith–what Wesley so often described as “faith working by love.”  This is what I am calling the critical element: “faith working by love.” In Wesley’s life and in his sermon, we see illustrations of what this means.

First, it means entering into every relationship with the fruit of the Spirit in our heart and on our hands.  Along with other Christians before and since, Wesley saw love as the essence of the fruit, “the root of all the rest” (his comment on Galatians 5:22 in his ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’).  So, when Wesley led with love, it was with the other eight words as well: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Second, it means initiative.  When Wesley wrote, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand,” he was speaking the first word; he was taking initiative.  It is not enough to say,”Well, I am here, if ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ is) want to come see me.”  Using Wesley as our historic example, we find multiplied examples of his taking initiative and going to others–many of whom were not being sought after by the Church.

Third, it means proximity.  We may be able to instruct or inspire from a distance, but we can only influence up close.  Resolutions have their place, but it is relationships which are transformative.  This is one reason why Jesus said “the Kingdom of God is at hand”–present in the here and now (not there and later)–close enough to see faces, join hands, listen to words, and receive blessings.

I offer you these three points as expressions of the critical element–“faith working by love”–the spirit of our fellowship.  We see them confirmed by Wesley himself–throughout his life, but also in his death.

He intentionally asked that his funeral be held at 5:30 a.m. so as not to create what we would today call a traffic jam in and  around the Methodist Chapel located in East London.  But his best laid plan didn’t work.  Even at that early hour, it is estimated that 5,000 people came to honor him in death.

That kind of response was not accidental.  It happened because the critical element–“faith working by love”–had flowed for decades from Wesley’s life.  And still today, it is the critical element the world is hungry for, and to which it will respond!

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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