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A book I read for an online class is intended for a specific audience, those in the United Methodist Church or at least for those in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.  (Class Leaders, Recovering a Tradition by David Lowes Watson)  The word “class” is not used in the typical sense, but refers to lay individuals who serve as a spiritual shepherd to 15-20 people in the church, exhorting and encouraging them to keep on track as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is updating a method from early Methodism.

For this post, I will share excerpts from the book that I thought would interest anyone, not just the intended audience.

John Wesley was at times misunderstood and attacked from both sides of the church… “He saw the importance of a vital faith relationship with God through Christ; but he also saw the danger of leaving this relationship unstructured and undisciplined. As a result, he preached both faith and works, and was persistently attacked for doing so: by Anglicans who regarded his affirmation of the new birth and personal faith as fanatical; and by evangelicals who regarded his rules for Christian living as legalistic and works-righteousness.” (page 31)

My thought: Often a sign that you are on target and have hit a proper balance is when those on both sides attack you! You have perceived the weaknesses on both sides of an issue and are blending strengths together.

I hope you’ll read the following excerpt carefully, as it makes an insightful point:

“The key lies in what at first seems to be a paradox: Faithful discipleship is relational because it is disciplined, and disciplined because it is relational. This strikes us as inconsistent, conditioned as we are by faith-centered discipleship and self-preoccupied congregations, not to mention the individualism and consumerism of culture. Under these influences, we tend to view relationships – most especially our relationship with Christ – as a series of mutual impulses which can and should transcend the routine and commonplace things of life.

When the impulses are strong, our good works are a spontaneous overflow of goodwill, and our obedience to Christ seems to be the most natural thing in the world. But when the impulses weaken, as frequently they do, all too often we assume it is the relationship that has gone wrong; whereas the problem is the more obvious (and more easily corrected) inconsistency of our obedience to Jesus Christ…The relationship with Christ established by the new birth has much spiritual spontaneity, yet this alone will not sustain it. Faith in Christ has to be tested, tempered, seasoned and refined, through obedience to his teachings. Discipleship means following Christ’s commands, not only by spiritual impulse, but also by routine, commonplace, methodical living in the world…”  (page 31-32)

My thought: In other words, we need both spontaneity and discipline. If we only feed our selves spiritually and serve others when we feel like it, our spiritual life will end up in trouble. Sometimes we just need to do what needs to be done no matter if we feel like it or not!

Related thoughts HERE: Drift in the right direction through grace-driven effort!

“In spite of general concern about the weakening of community life, North American society remains persistently individualistic and consumerist. This trait is reinforced by the technologies of mass communication and mass production, all of which are designed to meet individual needs. The church tends to reflect this aspect of the culture far more than challenging it, which means that many persons who come to church primarily out of a sense of spiritual need find themselves confronted with an array of programs and activities designed to meet social and cultural needs more than the development of discipleship. This in turn means that congregations tend to focus more on those aspects of the Christian life that are fulfilling rather than on those that are demanding, whereas true Christian discipleship…calls for weighty obligations and costly service along with its considerable benefits. This circle is a viscous one and shows little sign of being broken.” (page 66)

A final excerpt:

“One of the great challenges of being a Christian in late twentieth century North American is the consuming self-centeredness of our culture. People are conditioned by all sorts of social pressures to make their own welfare an absolute priority, and to seek self-fulfillment and self-gratification as their end in life. To a degree that is not always recognized, still less acknowledged, the church has succumbed to these pressures, and as a result Christian discipleship is often viewed merely as another means of self-fulfillment. In congregational life today, the benefits of being a Christian are featured far more often than its obligations.” (page 124, bold added)

My closing thought: To give Christianity a self focus is in conflict with the essence of Christianity, and weakens and distorts it in a tragic way. It is Christianity, not Selfianity!

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