Sunday, May 1, 2011

No Other Foundation

The title of this post is a reference to Wesley's Sermon 17, "The Circumcision of the Heart," II.4, "Our gospel, as it knows no other foundation of good works than faith, or of faith than Christ. . . ."  This is the phrase that came to mind as I reviewed the Proposed Vital Congregations Planning Guide.

Congregational leaders who use this manual are encouraged to make worship, prayer, and Bible study part of the planning process.  To facilitate a Congregational Ministry Plan Bible study, nine passages of Scripture are recommended (p. 4):
  • Matthew 28:18-20, The Great Commission;
  • Matthew 22:36-40, The Great Commandment;
  • Acts 2, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church;
  • I Corinthians 12, the healthy church is one body and it is the body of Christ;
  • Ephesians 4:10-13, Christ has gifted the church through a variety of gifts;
  • Galatians 3:28, all are welcome in the body of Christ;
  • Luke 10:25-37; the parable of the Good Samaritan;
  • Micah 6:8, righteousness and justice are the expectation for God’s people;
  • Luke 4:17-21, Jesus announces his ministry, which is a calling for the body of Christ today 
In order to make this Bible Study more Wesleyan, another passage should be added to this list, one that emphasizes faith in Christ as the starting point for any ministry plan.  A passage such as 1 Corinthians 3:5-12 fits what I have in mind.  I'm open to other suggestions.  The addition could look something like--
  • 1 Corinthians 3:5-12, No Other Foundation
I'm imaging a planning team meeting where the members are sitting around a table with their Bibles (paper or electronic) open to 1 Cor. 3 and they are discussing questions such as what does it means to have faith in Christ, what would it mean for their church to build on that foundation, what would a plan for ministry look like that started at that point, what would church programing look like if every program rested on that foundation?

Adding this passage would make the Bible Study more consistent with Wesley's own religious experience.  He alluded to his struggles as a minister in Sermon 2, "The Almost Christian," I.13.  While he was at Oxford University he did no harm, did good, used the means of grace, and sincerely tried to follow God's will, yet these actions did not make him a Christian.  Likewise, his ministry in Georgia was full of activities but still lacked vitality (Journal, May 24, 1738, par. 9).  When he stopped expecting his religious work to make him a better person and instead put his faith Christ, that's the point when he became an effective minister. 

What other aspects of Wesley's doctrine need to be included in the Bible Study?
And can anyone tell me why the file name for the proposed guide is "A Congregational Ministry Plan for 2009"?  It appears that this guide was written before the Call to Action report and later adapted.  I'd like to know if any church used the 2009 version of the guide and what kind of results it produced.


LA said...

Just had a very disturbing thought cross my mind as I re-read the Call to Action report. The committee assumed that local congregations are "the most significant arenas" in which disciple making occurs. Based on this assumption they recommend reordering the UMC and directing more resources towards local churches. But what if their assumption is wrong? What if today's churches are not the place where disciples are trained? If small accountability groups (not worship services, not committee meetings, not programs attended by the masses), are primarily responsible for making and sustaining vital disciples, then that's where the resources, money, and energy of the denomination should be focused. Training small group leaders, training the trainers of leaders, resourcing the small groups, clarifying the function of these groups, etc.

John Meunier said...

I think getting this one point to really sink in is so important that I'd not try to do much more.

For Wesley, at least, the first step is not to be told of faith, but to be convinced of the inability of our own efforts to accomplish what grace can do.

Because of that, I almost wonder if the first movement of the study should draw us toward a sense of failure or futility. Ecclesiastes comes to mind. Some of the Psalms, too.

Conviction took Wesley a long time. He held on to his own efforts until he could no longer do it. I'm not sure how we facilitate that in a short-term study.

Craig L. Adams said...

When the Call to Action report assumes that local congregations are "the most significant arenas" in which disciple making occurs, doesn't that fly in the face of Methodist history? After all if local congregations were "the most significant arenas" in which disciple making occurs, then there would have been no need for the Methodist movement to arise at all. Because disciple making was NOT occurring in local congregations, there was a need for the Societies, the classes the bands, and so forth. For many UM Christians in our day, church camps & Emmaus weekends (just examples) are often the most significant areas for evangelism, community building and disciple making — not the local church. A Call to Action that begins with a contrary-to-fact assumption is likely to lead to disastrous results. Don't you think?

LA said...

@Craig, my concern is that denominational funding, resources, and energy will be spent on things that do not contribute that much to the task of making disciples.

@John, You're right; the virtue of Christian humility can take a long time to cultivate. A sense of gratitude can be one way to develop this perspective. Giving God thanks reminds me of the many things that are beyond my control and re-enforces my sense of dependence on God.