Seedbed sows the whole gospel into the whole world by uniting voices around a shared vision and publishing resources that awaken the Wesleyan movement for the 21st century church.
The Wesleyan perspective on grace and works retains the early Reformation emphases on grace as mercy and grace as divine power while placing the accent on the latter. When one thinks of the Wesleyan understanding of God’s love, one should keep in mind both ways of describing grace. Mercy is the love of God toward the individual. It forgives, embraces and accepts (justification). Power is the love of God within the individual. It transforms and makes new (regeneration and sanctification).
To put it in Trinitarian categories, mercy expresses the love of the Father through the Son’s atonement as a provision for sin and power expresses the love of the Father in the Spirit’s transforming and elevating presence from sinfulness to righteousness to final union. In both of these ways, then, grace fundamentally refers to the divine medicine given to cure the diseased and defective soul and elevate it beyond itself into union with the Father through the Incarnate Son in the power of the Spirit.
So, how does this work?
First, as synergists all Wesleyans hold that there is a dynamic cooperation between the Spirit and the individual throughout all stages of the journey toward God. We always seek to move with the rhythms of God’s grace, but we know that grace as both mercy and power precedes any human effort. The priority remains with the grace of God even in a synergistic framework. All of our cooperation, and therefore all works, flow out of the dynamic of grace as we seek to move in God’s power by his mercy.
If grace as power is the Spirit, who is the love of God poured out into the soul, then this love empowers us by igniting and inflaming our loves, that is, our emotions and desires. The power or strength of God is found in the way the Spirit rightly orders our emotions and desires toward God as our final end. We are empowered to move because the Spirit enters the person, initiating a movement that strengthens the will and “opens the eyes of our heart” to see God as the great lover of our soul. We find ourselves attracted to this God, an attraction that is not our own doing, but is the gift of God lest anyone boasts.
Faith is the initial movement of emotion and desire toward Christ as savior generated by the Spirit. It is the flight of passionate love in which the person comes to rest in God. Gregory of Nyssa saw this as eros transformed into agape. There is cooperation between the Spirit and the soul as the former initiates and moves the soul while the latter “walks with the Spirit” toward a new home. Rightly ordered desire becomes charity for God and neighbor.
Stemming from Wesley, there is an emphasis on encounter in this process. While Wesley described the movement toward God in metaphorical terms of gestation (prevenient grace), birth (justifying grace), and death (sanctifying grace), he also emphasized evangelical conversion as a moment in which the person crosses from one to the other. For Wesleyans, the purpose of this encounter is to awaken afresh the emotions and desires of the soul in a way that moves the person across the final barrier. This is why pastors need to invite persons to encounter God through fasting, worship, the scriptures, and the Eucharist. These are all the “means” by which grace flows into the heart.
As the Spirit moves emotions and desires through deepening encounters and believers cooperate with this movement, the fruit of the Spirit begins to blossom. Grace is the power of the Spirit that moves and works flow from the believer’s cooperation. Growth in grace is the construction of a righteous character (holiness) as believers work with God to conform emotion and desire to the shape of Christ.
Every pastor should invite their parishioners to encounter God afresh. In doing so, grace is prioritized, emotions and desires transformed, and good works flow forth. These good works then reinforce the work of grace by solidifying emotions and desires into virtues through actions that produce Christ-likeness.
“I’ve got something that I want you to pray about…”
When someone speaks these words to a friend or pastor, it’s normally out of personal need or an urgent and distressing situation. This need or situation will usually elicit a caring and loving response. If you are a pastor and you hear these words come from one of your denominational leaders, well, let’s just say that you never know what’s coming next or how it could change your life.
Upon receiving my credentials with the Assemblies of God, my Sectional Presbyter, who is also the pastor of the church I attended, presented the opportunity for me to plant an Assembly of God church in Wilmore. As there were no traditional Pentecostal churches in Wilmore, I immediately knew that this was the right thing to do. The wheels were put in motion to begin the church, named Every Nation Assembly of God. However, this wouldn’t be an ordinary church plant.
If Wesleyanism had a holy city, Wilmore would certainly be a candidate. Methodism is the main denomination in this area with several churches, a university, and a seminary with Methodist roots. While the Assemblies of God (and other classical Pentecostal denominations) certainly have a heritage in the Wesleyan Holiness revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, they have never claimed to be a Wesleyan denomination. This is a mistake as Pentecostalism has much to learn, or rediscover, from its Wesleyan roots, and vice versa. The Seedbed
While obtaining a seminary degree from a Wesleyan school, I had the unique opportunity to combine my Assemblies of God background with my Wesleyan-influenced education in this new church plant. I knew that there were certain elements of both traditions that I would want to incorporate in a local congregation. The main components from the Assemblies of God is worshiping without any time constraints and allowing the Holy Spirit to move within the service. The main component from Wesleyanism is a more concentrated focus on the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Many churches, Pentecostal or not, do not practice Holy Communion more than once a month, once a quarter, or even once a year. A popular argument for this is that Communion has the potential to lose its meaning and simply become another thing that the congregation does week after week if practiced more frequently. This caution is valid, as Communion should be kept sacred and there’s a risk in cheapening it. However, I believe the greater risk comes in not celebrating it enough.
In his sermon “The Duty of Constant Communion,” John Wesley expounds that it is in fact a duty of each believer to take Communion as often as he or she can (four to five times a week). In Luke 22:19, Jesus tells the disciples to celebrate this Communion in remembrance of Him, and this remembrance leads to the “strengthening and refreshing of our souls.” As we partake of the body and blood of our Lord, we remind ourselves of the great price that our Savior paid for us. We are encouraged by the wonderful gift of grace we’ve been given, and it would do our souls well to be reminded of that as often as possible.
Additionally, the Table unites us in ways that sermons and singing cannot do. Even if you are worshiping in the same building with people that you may not like, you still must come to the Table alongside them. God has offered the gift of salvation to all people, and all people are welcome to the Table.
Furthermore, the Table is a place where broken and hungry sinners can have a meal with the Master. Just as Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners in their homes, Jesus desires to eat at the Table with those who seek but have not yet found. He offers Himself to all those who would come and eat of His body and drink of His blood. The Table can serve as such an evangelistic tool if we would only take the risk of offering it to the world as often as possible.
Surely mainline churches have much to learn from Pentecostal worship and the Holy Spirit’s current work as patterned in the book of Acts. In the same way, Pentecostal churches ought to be open to learning from the rich tradition of their predecessors. Every Nation Assembly of God will be rediscovering its Wesleyan heritage by celebrating Holy Communion every week, and I’d like to extend the invitation to you and your congregation to do the same.
I want you to pray about it.