ALDERSGATE SEMINAR ON ACCOUNTABLE DISCIPLESHIP
DISCIPLESHIP is a relationship with Christ, said the Rev Dr David Lowes Watson., who conducted a seminar on “Accountable Disciple-ship” at the Aldersgate Convention at Methodist Centre in May this year. The seven-session seminar was part of the Aldersgate Convention 2004, whose keynote speaker was Dr Ajith Fernando, National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. Dr Fernando conducted the first session while the Rev Dr Watson conducted the remaining six sessions.
It is of special interest to know that “Discipleship in the Methodist Tradition” was John Wesley’s special contribution to the Protestant Reformation. Wesley had indicated in an edited version of Thomas Cranmer’s Homilies: On Salvation, Faith and Good Works (1738) that his evangelistic ministry would be “a call, not merely to saving grace, but also to a faithful discipleship … [it was] a significant course correction of the Protestant Reforma-tion and the theological bedrock of the Class Meeting..”
The Rev Dr Watson. who is Director of the Office of Pastoral Formation for the Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church, told the seminar partici-pants that “belief in Christ demands open-ing our hearts to him – seeking not only to learn, but to learn the mind of the Teacher.
“Jesus made it clear that it is also costly: some will thank us for the Gospel, some will hate us, but the measure of discipleship is always our obedience – by how we live.”
Following his Aldersgate experience, Wesley visited the Moravian community at Herrnhut, and came upon the words in his Testament “by works faith is made perfect” (James 2:22). He thus began to inquire into the Church of England doctrine concerning “justification by faith”, an issue that went back to the Protestant Reformation itself. Wesley came to a twofold conviction: “Forgiveness and reconciliation are matters of the heart; but discipleship is a matter of how one lives. Undue emphasis on good works can deny God’s grace (works righteousness), but lack of good works can cheapen it (antinomianism).”
Good works are not necessary to earn our salvation, but are necessary to keep it, said the Rev Dr Watson, who has served as a pastor and seminary professor at Perkins School of Theology and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC. He has also written extensively in the fields of Methodist history and theology, evangelism, and congregational life and mission.
The Rev Dr Watson reminded the semi-nar participants that in practical terms, Jesus had taught that the two commandments quoted in Matt.22:37-40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, which the Church has applied, are the two basic principles of discipleship. These have been described as Works of Piety and Works of Mercy.
John Wesley’s application of these principles were incorporated into his General Rules of 1743 as three directives:
■ Do no harm – avoiding evil of every kind, especially taking the name of God in vain, returning evil for evil, uncharitable or unprofitable conversation, doing to others as we would not they should do unto us, and doing what we know is not for the glory of God;
■ Do good – being merciful, doing good of every possible sort and as far as possible to everyone: to their bodies by giving food to the hungry, by visiting or helping them that are sick, or in prison; to their souls, by instructing or exhorting: and trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of devils, that “we are not to do good unless our heart be free to it”;
■ Use the Means of Grace – the Ministry of the Word, read and expounded, partaking of the Lord’s Supper at every opportunity, with earnest and deliberate self devotion; Prayer: private, family, public, confession, petition, intercession, thanksgiving; searching the Scriptures – reading, meditation, hearing; Fasting every Friday.
In contemporary language, the General Rule of Discipleship can be summed up as:
■ Acts of Compassion – doing sim-ple things out of kindness to our neigh-bour in need, anywhere in the world;
■ Acts of Justice – asking why people are in need, and to seek to ex-tend God’s righteousness to everyone;
■ Acts of Worship – taking part in the ministries of Word and Sacrament that enable us to build each other up in the Body of Christ; and
■ Acts of Devotion – following the private spiritual disciplines of prayer and reflection that bring us face to face with God.
As a contemporary movement, the Rev Dr Watson has actively promoted the Cov-enant Discipleship programme which he (James 2:22). He thus began to inquire into the Church of England doctrine concerning “justification by faith”, an issue that went back to the Protestant Reformation itself.
Wesley came to a twofold conviction: “Forgiveness and reconciliation are matters initiated in the United States and which has been widely accepted. It is now being promoted in Singapore and South-east Asia.
Covenant Discipleship is a contempo-rary approach to John Wesley’s class and band meetings.
Covenant Discipleship, the movement, is also the title of a book the Rev Dr Watson wrote as a guide to participants of the programme. The movement is composed of task-oriented gatherings of faithful Christians concerned to help each other become better disciples of Jesus Christ.
They are a trustworthy and effective means of identifying and nurturing leaders in discipleship to benefit the whole congre-gation, and carry no time limit on the commitment of those who join, and develop the skill of sharing our walk with Christ in the world. The meetings are brisk and focused on the agenda of the Covenant and are limited to one hour.
It should be noted that Covenant Discipleship groups are NOT Bible Study groups, prayer groups, cell groups and similar church groupings.
Earnest Lau is the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.