Highlights

John Wesley’s teachings ‘still very relevant today’

Jul 2009    

Spread of scriptural holiness remains Methodism’s core mission says Aldersgate Convention keynote speaker

HOW CAN the writings and theology of a man who died in 1791 be relevant to us today? This is a question to be faced as Methodists honour the memory of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

There is an enormous gap between our world and his. Never-theless, Wesley’s world has more in common with ours than we might suppose. Theologically the predicament of men and women in John Wesley’s day was the same as it is today, despite (and maybe in some respects because of) the advances in technology that make our lives easier. Our standard of living is a great deal more comfortable than in Wesley’s time but we are no more capable of saving ourselves than were our forebears.

Stating this at the 2009 Aldersgate Service on May 23, held to commemorate and celebrate John Wesley’s contributions to Methodism, the Rev Dr David M. Chapman said he fervently believes that the spread of scriptural holiness remains Methodism’s core mission today.

He added: “It is not exclusive to Methodism, of course. But it is our special emphasis for which we are appropriately equipped by our rich Wesleyan heritage and by the Holy Spirit at work in us.”

The Aldersgate Service was the culmination of the week-long Aldersgate Convention 2009 held at Barker Road Methodist Church from May 18 to 23, and the Rev Dr Chapman was the keynote speaker. In addition, he gave three evening talks expounding the theme “The Wesleyan Way of Being Church” and also conducted the Aldersgate Seminar on “The Wesleyan Experience of Worship” and another seminar specifically for pastors.

There was another speaker, the Rev Dr Ting Gah Hing, who gave two talks in Mandarin on the first two evenings, May 18 and 19. As is the tradition, the Aldersgate Service began with a processional which heralded the trooping in of the bearers of the Cross, the Banners and the Bible and the pastors in their colour-ful ceremonial robes with the Rev Dr Chapman and Bishop Dr Robert Solomon at the end of the procession.

Their walk into the sanctuary, accompanied by stirring music from the Aldersgate Choir and Wesley SDG Orchestra under the baton of Mr Jusuf Kam, brought added inspiration to a joyous congregation of the people called Methodists.

The Rev Dr Chapman said in his sermon, entitled “Faith Working rough Love”, that “it is a Christian truth that we cannot save ourselves”. Those ideologies and systems that have promised to liberate humankind from its bondage to decay have been demonstrated to be failures in the course of human history, most particularly in the conflicts of the 20th century.

Today, the global economic recession is causing acute anxiety to millions of people worldwide. It has undermined one of the pillars of Western liberal orthodoxy – the doctrine of progress. According to the doctrine of progress, things will get better through our own efforts. Personal endeavour will give us the freedom to fulfil our aspirations, status and security. But the economic situation reminds us that confidence in human effort is misplaced.

CHURCH UNDER ATTACK

“The Church in the West is under attack from militant atheism and strident secularism on one side, and from another side the forces of relativism that would consign the truth claims of all faiths to the private sphere. Theology is increasingly being squeezed from the public space.”

Continuing, he said: “The Church in the West is under attack from militant atheism and strident secularism on one side, and from another side the forces of relativism that would consign the truth claims of all faiths to the private sphere. Theology is increas-ingly being squeezed from the public space.”

But, he said, we need not be despondent. It was not so very different in Wesley’s day. The Church was facing for the first time the bold challenge of a new and confident secularism inspired by Enlightenment rationalism. Old certainties and Christian ortho-doxies were increasingly under attack from many sides.

The doctrine of the Trinity in particular was considered by many to be offensive to reason, and there was great pressure to ditch it for the sake of the Church’s credibility.

Referring to John Wesley’s famous Oxford sermon on “Salvation by Faith” preached on June 11, 1738, just a few days after his Aldersgate “warmed-heart” experience, the Rev Dr Chapman said the sermon was based on one of Wesley’s favourite biblical texts, Ephesians 2.8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Wesley called this theme the “great foundation of the whole Christian building”.

Said the Rev Dr Chapman: “The promise of the Gospel is nothing less than salvation. In Wesley’s words salvation is from sin and its eternal consequences, from the guilt of sin, from fear of the wrath of God, and from the power of sin. As St Paul says to the Galatians, ‘For freedom Christ has set us free.’ ”

“The source of human salvation is divine and universal grace. Salvation is God’s unmerited gift to human beings of being ac-cepted. The creature has no claim on the creator. We are accepted because God’s overflowing love extends beyond God’s self to His creation.

“If divine grace is the source of salvation, then the condition for salvation is faith. Moreover, faith is faith in Jesus Christ, faith that acknowledges the necessity and merit of His death as the only sufficient means of redeeming humankind from death eternal and the power of His resurrection as the restoration to life eternal.”

For Wesley, he said, faith is not an end in itself. Wesley feared that the slogan “faith alone” meant just that and no more.

Wesley’s favourite text for his teaching on faith and holy living is found in the short passage from Galatians 5:1-6 that was read at the service. Galatians 5 verse 6 reads: “ … the only thing that counts is faith working through love”.

Faith, then, is not for its own sake, said the Rev Dr Chapman. Faith is in order to love. Holy living is love of God and of neighbour.

Here in sum is Wesley’s deep and profound theology of faith and love: the saving love that comes to us from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit is received in faith and returned to the Father and to neighbour in the same self-giving love. And in that self-giving is our happiness and blessedness.

The Christian life of holy living is ready to respond to the will of God with acts of “faith working through love”.

“Then, when God calls us home,” said the Rev Dr Chapman, “our self-giving is made complete in our death. For holy dying is part of holy living.”

Just before the beautiful closing hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, was sung, Bishop Dr Solomon presented a Bible to the Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung, President of the Chinese Annual Conference, for his 25 years of faithful service to the Church. The Rev Dr Chong was the only recipient of the Long Service Award this year.

Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message. Daniel Lie is a member of Barker Road Methodist Church.

Story by Peter Teo • Pictures by Daniel Lie

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