Monday, March 24, 2014

A Lenten Thought

“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  Ephesians 5:8-11

Touching on the theme of last night’s class discussion of the 18th-century Methodist classes and societies, what St. Paul is encouraging of the Ephesians is what Wesley encouraged of the early Methodists (who were still Anglican and were encouraged to attend worship at the Anglican parish).  There were such rules of these early classes that encouraged participants to be always mindful of what they do and fail to do, and they were required to report each week to their classes how they had fulfilled the class’s three standing rules; 1) to do good, 2) to avoid all known sin, and 3) to attend to the means of grace (prayer, fasting, Scripture study, the sacraments of the Church and, of course, to regularly attend worship at the parish church).  As long as evidence was presented that one was purposely fulfilling the requirements of the class and working toward disciplined fellowship and discipleship, one could stay in the class.  The goal of the class, of course, was that one would soon (in God’s time) experience justification.

It was not an easy thing to do, but the success of these classes which grew until well after Wesley’s death was entirely dependent on class members’ willingness to hold one another accountable to spiritual growth – and to be held accountable.  It did not mean that an occasion of sin would automatically disqualify a member of the class; rather it meant that one was committed to consciously living as disciples are expected to live.  It also meant a reasonable expectation that when one struggled with sin and temptation, there were fellow disciples who were willing to struggle with them to overcome!

This is a practice which is almost entirely foreign to the contemporary Church.  We think nothing of asking a friend about the family or a sick relative, but we have somehow been convinced that asking about the state of a friend’s soul is too personal, that this is strictly between them and the Lord.  To ask about the state of one’s soul seems to require much more of us than we are willing to risk.  Yet we cannot ignore this certain reality that as the Church today seems to have become much more concerned with being popular and fitting in with the modern culture, the Church has become increasingly less popular (note the very many empty pews) because the many programs we believe will work to bring new guests in are themselves foreign to the culture of that particular church.  They are “put-on’s” that, more often than not, make people feel as though they are being manipulated or played for fools.  The “millennials”, the so-called “none’s”, the 18-29 year old groups are no longer falling for it.  They have seen behind this facade, and they do not like what they have seen and experienced.  I doubt very much that each individual who will read this likes to be played for a fool.

Remember St. Paul was not writing to a single Ephesian; he was writing to the Ephesian Church, the entire body.  The entire body was (and is) responsible for the overall well-being of that body.  There are no “lone rangers” in Christianity, for the very nature of our faith is entirely social.  We are called to care for one another at the deepest and most intimate level … to shed that very light we have become in Christ Jesus.


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