Complete Salvation & Nothing Less
This week United Methodist blogger Ben Gosden announced a new series he is going to be writing on discipleship & the United Methodist Church. He wrote:
This upcoming series will seek to address the practice of Christian discipleship at the most local levels. Yes, there will be some theoretical approaches to my work: you can’t study practices without a little theory. But I hope this series will address some of our denominational shortcomings at the most practical level.
Then, he quotes Taylor-Burton-Edwards:
It’s not about who or how many people or dollars we’ve lost, but how well we disciple people.
Which, in turn, called forth this excellent and more lengthy clarification from Taylor [emphasis added by me]:
“Discipleship is a good word, and I’m glad it is still in our Discipline and mission statement. But it wasn’t the key word for John Wesley or the early Methodists. They were after something that names the same process, but frames it in a different way. They were out to experience and help everyone else they could experience “complete salvation.” Complete salvation for them was nothing less than experiencing God’s preventing, justifying and sanctifying grace and growing in that grace, always with small groups of others watching over each other in love, growing in holiness of heart and life until we reach perfection in love toward God and neighbor in this life, and victory over the power of sin in all its forms in our lives.
“Discipleship framed this way can’t be “about” “individual journeys” though it also includes them. It’s about helping all of us get freed from the shackles of sin that bind us, and live out whatever freedom we have received to proclaim the good news of this deliverance and to be a “delivering presence” (signs of the kingdom of God at work!) in the world as we follow Jesus in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
“One of the pastors today noted that in his congregation there are people in at least four levels of spiritual development. Translating his French words for them, they are “non-believers, believers (intellectual assent), Christians (people who are baptized and generally active) and disciples (people who are seeking zealously after the way of Jesus and holiness of heart and life – Mr Wesley would have called them “Methodists!”)
“How can he preach and teach effectively all four groups at their various levels in one congregation? What he realized is he can’t. If he focuses on the unbelievers and the believers, that leaves the others without the resources they need to pursue or perhaps begin to pursue a live that lives out the sanctifying grace of God. If he focuses primarily on the Christians or the disciples, he risks leaving the believers and non-believers in the dark. In short, at the level of the congregation, the resources are simply spread too thin for all who are there to get what they need to take the next steps toward complete salvation.
“This was the genius of early Methodism. The Wesleys realized that congregations alone could not easily help very many people take that journey. Their system of field preaching (invitation, prevenient grace) trial class meetings (preventing and justifying grace), class meetings (justifying and sanctifying grace), and bands (sanctifying grace for those ready to confess their sins to each other that they may be healed) in addition to the basic foundations people could receive in congregations allowed many more people to experience the transforming journey toward complete salvation than congregations alone could have done then – or, for the most part, now.
“Whether we call it discipleship or Christian perfection, the goal is the same – complete salvation of every part of our lives and the lives of those around us through our participation and cooperation in all the means of grace. Having accountable small groups in addition to congregations – whether we call them class meetings, or bands, or Covenant Discipleship Groups, or Emmaus 4th Day groups, or “discipling communities”– makes all the difference in whether we actually experience a discipling process – one that forms us deeply with others in the way of Jesus – or just a superficial form of fellowship and learning. And it also makes all the difference in whether we are likely to find ourselves actually gaining freedom from the sins that beset us in ways that no amount of attending worship, Sunday School, Bible Studies, or even “small groups” that are more about support or common interest than accountable discipleship, can ever hope to match alone.
“So – yes. Discipleship IS the point. Complete salvation, and nothing less, is GOD’S goal for us in Christ. And we have in our Methodist heritage – as well as among our early EUB ancestors – patterns for creating multiple forms of Christian community, and not simply relying on congregations alone, to ensure that we reach it – to ensure that we become faithful disciples of Jesus who ever walk in his way.
“We do need vital congregations, to be sure. But if we want actual discipleship – if we want people actually to experience have the love of God so spread abroad in their hearts that they cannot but love God and neighbor and so cannot help but be part of God’s transformation of this world – we could stand to focus at least as much and at least as seriously on creating vital discipling communities where that journey is more likely to get the support it needs so we can watch over one another in love to experience that complete salvation.
“God is serious about God’s offer.
“Are we serious about taking God up on God’s offer?”
So, be sure to check out Ben Gosden’s blog and follow along on this ongoing discussion of the meaning of discipleship. You can read all of Ben’s post announcing the new series here: Announcing a New Series…
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