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Wesleyan Theology II - Lesson 14

The Church as the Body of Christ (Part 1)

Wesley wanted to reform the church of England, not begin a new denomination. The fundamental nature of the Church is a community of people-centered on Christ. The Greek word in the New Testament that refers to the Church is ekklesia. The Church was born at Pentecost. The relation of the church to Israel and the inclusion of Gentiles in the church were two foundational questions in the early Church. The Church is composed of all believers throughout the world as well as believers meeting in local communities. There is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. The importance of unity in the Church is stressed in the Gospel of John and in other writings in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit animates individuals and also the body of Christ corporately.

Kenneth J. Collins
Wesleyan Theology II
Lesson 14
Watching Now
The Church as the Body of Christ (Part 1)

I. DEFINITION OF CHURCH

A. The Church as ekklesia

B. The early Church

C. John Wesley's definition of the Church

II. MARKS OF THE CHURCH

A. The Church is one

1. John 17:20-23

2. Unity in Christ

3. Calls to avoid divisions

B. The Church is holy

1. The Church began at Pentecost

III. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS


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  • John Wesley did theology in service to the church in mission. Brunner and Tillich are theologians that lived recently that developed a systematic approach. Wesley refers to his study of theology as practical divinity. He views it as participatory so that the truths of Scripture are actualized in practice and in community, not just an individual intellectual exercise. Wesley emphasized the doctrines of sin and salvation in his study and preaching by addressing how you become a Christian and how you remain a Christian. Wesley is described as being a, “conjunctive” theologian, which means he has a, “both-and” approach  as compared to an, “either-or” approach to theological ideas. He is looking for balance. Free grace is the work of God alone. Wesley describes cooperant grace as, “God works, therefore you can work; God works, therefore you must work.” Grace is the normative context of the moral law of God. Wesley teaches that we relate to God by both free grace and cooperant grace.

  • Repentance before justification. Because of who God is, he wills the salvation of all humanity. Grace is free for all. In his sermon, “Free Grace,” Wesley argues against limited atonement but affirms election and God’s foreknowledge. To Wesley, “Awakening” refers to a person receiving grace so they begin to discern the things of God. This is the transition from the natural state where people where a person is dead to things of God, to being awakened to God and fearing him. Moving from a state of “sleep” to being “awakened” to an awareness of God. Wesley makes a distinction between the, “natural person,” a “person under the law,” and a “person under grace.” Wesley describes conviction the holy spirit and the moral law working together, resulting in convincing grace. Sovereignty is a relational attribute because it’s how he relates to nature. Love is an essential attribute of God. Humans still have freedom as part of the way they are created in the image of God. Wesley teaches that all the elect are born of God but not all who are born of God are elect. Some who are born of God, fall away. If we live a life of Christian discipleship, it will change us.

  • The Holy Spirit begins to give the awakened conscience an inward “check” using the moral law. God uses the word and the Spirit to shed increasing light on the conscience to reveal shafts of the righteousness and justice of God. Repentance means a change of mind or change of direction. Wesley described repentance as the “porch” of religion. Wesley said that the only requirement to be part of a Methodist society was a desire to flee the wrath to come. He would then encourage you to leave off evil, do good and use the means of grace, which he equated with repentance. The three principal aspects of repentance are conviction, poverty of spirit and rejection of self-righteousness and self-justification. Repentance occurs prior to justification. Repentance will result in outward expressions of inward contrition and grace. The general means of grace are prayer, searching the Scripture, communicating, the Lord’s Supper and fasting. Prudential means of grace are practices that foster the love of God. They may differ from one person to another. It requires reason, reflection and honesty.

  • Focus on the insights of John Wesley on practical theology. Wesley teaches that people are justified by faith alone and that conviction of sin and repentance comes before justification. Conviction and repentance are important in the salvation process but not in the same sense or the same degree as faith. Wesley refers to the grace from which salvation comes as being, “free in all,” meaning that it does not depend on human power or merit. A person can be redeemed if he will, but not when he will. Wesley views the process of salvation as the conjunction of cooperant and free grace. The faith that justifies goes beyond believing that God exists and the knowledge of God’s character. It is also more than the faith of a devil. It is more than the faith of the apostles while Jesus was on earth. The nature of faith is a spiritual sense by which we understand spiritual things. Faith requires both, “belief that” and “belief in”

  • Justification is the work God does for us, sanctification is the work God does in us. Justification makes us children of God, and sanctification is the process of becoming saints. Justification is based on the atoning work of Christ and entails the forgiveness of sin and freedom from guilt. Wesley teaches that when you are justified, you are forgiven of past sins. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers because of what Jesus did. He applied imputation to justification only, not sanctification because he was concerned about people taking this as a license to sin. Sola Fide is the teaching that faith is not only the necessary condition of justification, but it is also a sufficient condition. Wesley teaches that justification and regeneration occur simultaneously, never one without the other. Wesley held not one but two aspects of his doctrine of salvation in tension: both process and instantaneousness, divine and human cooperation as well as the work of God alone.

  • Wesley teaches that justifying grace is imputed by God and regenerating grace is imparted by God. When Wesley refers to, “divine empowerment,” he means that the Holy Spirit gives believers the power to live in obedience to God. Wesley describes regeneration as the great work which God does in us, in renewing our fallen nature and the beginning of sanctification. Regeneration itself is a result of free grace. Only God can make a soul holy and fill it with the Holy Spirit. He also emphasizes the importance of holy living. “Faith alone, working by love, aimed at holy living.” Wesley linked regeneration with the doctrine of original sin. Since we were born in sin, we must be born again. Wesley describes the new birth as a vast change from darkness to light. Orthodoxy is important, but it’s crucial that regeneration also leads to life transformation.

  • Regeneration is an instantaneous supernatural change that begins the process of sanctification. It is God alone who forgives sin and makes a person holy. The first “liberty” of the gospel is freedom from the guilt of sin. The second “liberty” of the gospel is the deliverance from the power and dominion of sin. The marks of the new birth are faith, hope and love. Wesley defines sin as a willful transgression of a known law of God. Wesley is not saying that one who is regenerated will never sin again, but open, willful sin and rejecting God should be the exception rather than the rule. Obedience of faith refers to the power of someone who is regenerated to obey the commandments of God. The greatest freedom of all is the freedom to love God and love our neighbor.

  • Assurance is an essential part of the conversion experience. Our sins are forgiven and we are children of God. Biblical texts that teach assurance are Romans 8:15-16, Galatians 4:5-8 and 1 John 2:12-14. According to Roman Catholic theology articulated at the council of Trent, assurance is not a normative component of God’s promise of salvation. The Roman Catholic church teaches that assurance is corporate and focuses on apostolic succession and the sacraments. Wesley describes the direct witness of assurance as an inward impression on the soul of believers by the Holy Spirit, who testifies to the spirit of the person that they are a child of God. The realization of the direct witness of the spirit will be different for each individual and will be memorable but may not be dramatic. Wesley considers conscience as a supernatural faculty that God has restored.

  • Indirect witnesses to our new birth are the keeping of the commandments of God and fruit of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are diverse but they are all given by the Holy Spirit. Wesley emphasizes the importance of both direct and indirect witness.

  • Wesley describes salvation and sanctification by writing, “God worketh in you; therefore you can work…God worketh in you, therefore you must work.” In the process of sanctification, we are becoming increasingly holy. The process of sanctification involves changes in degree. The process begins when we are justified. The believer is gradually dying to the carnal nature. The Christian life is a journey of holiness. The goal is holy love. As believers experience the love of God, they will love God and show love to their neighbor. Wesley teaches that when you believe in God, you have a disposition toward God, which is a sure trust and confidence in God which causes changes in your life. Dispositions are more consistent than emotions. Practicing sin makes you less free. Holiness leads to freedom and happiness.

  • Self-denial involves being willing to follow grace, to follow God’s will rather than yours, recognizing that your nature is corrupt and to deny ourselves is to deny our will where it contradicts God’s will. Taking up your cross includes being willing to endure suffering. Wesley teaches that repentance is important in terms of individual sins at salvation and also of the sin nature. Evangelical repentance is repentance of the sin nature. Wesley urged people to minister to both peoples’ bodies and souls.

  • In this lesson, John Wesley's theology on entire sanctification emphasizes the distinction between gradual sanctification as a process and instantaneous entire sanctification, with a focus on the idea that entire sanctification is an utter gift of God received by faith alone, demonstrating a balanced view of cooperative and free grace.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Collins reviews John Wesley's doctrine on entire sanctification. He explains that it is not sinless perfection but a state of love where believers are free from the power and being of sin, emphasizing the need for continual growth in grace.
  • Wesley wanted to reform the church of England, not begin a new denomination. The fundamental nature of the Church is a community of people-centered on Christ. The Greek word in the New Testament that refers to the Church is ekklesia. The Church was born at Pentecost. The relation of the church to Israel and the inclusion of Gentiles in the church were two foundational questions in the early Church. The Church is composed of all believers throughout the world as well as believers meeting in local communities. There is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. The importance of unity in the Church is stressed in the Gospel of John and in other writings in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit animates individuals and also the body of Christ corporately.

  • It’s not possible to for people to be holy without the Holy Spirit. The Church should live in an attitude of humility and be open to repentance and reform when there is sin and evil discovered. There institutional church should have disciplinary mechanisms to deal with sin and evil. Ecclesiastical synonyms for catholic are universal, global, ecumenical and extensive. The apostolic testimony is passed down through the centuries. Apostolic succession divides the Church because of the view of the sacraments, especially the Lord’s Supper. The creeds in the reformation era articulated Protestant theology. The church is where the pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments are duly administered. Methodism is a reforming movement with the theme of real Christianity vs. people who lived by displaying the form of Christianity but lacked the power. Methodist bands and select societies were modeled after Moravian small groups. The soul and the body make a man, the spirit and discipline make a Christian. The general rules of the United Societies were agree to avoid evil, do good to your neighbor and employ the means of grace. The goal was to foster a spirit of repentance. They emphasized Scriptural Christianity. Wesley’s purpose was that Methodism become a reforming order within the church, not a separate denomination.

  • Worship is a response to God because God has already acted. Gathering together is important for the faith community to fellowship together. The minister welcomes everyone to invite them to worship God. In worship, we encounter the Word of God as it is read and declared, by response in prayer and in the creeds and confessions. In communion, we are responding to the gift that God has given us. When we go out from a worship service, we are salt and light to the world. Worship is essentially responding in acknowledgment of what God has done. A sacrament is an outward expression of an inward grace that is received by faith. Luther described a sacrament as containing the three elements of a sign, signification, and promise. For baptism, the sign is the water, the signification is dying and rising with Christ and the promise is forgiveness of sin and renewal of your nature. Wesley considered baptism to be associated but distinct from the new birth. Baptism is an outward sign of the inward work of the new birth.

  • Wesley’s view of baptism is both sacramental and “evangelical.” Wesley considers the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace because it is, “food for the journey. In the early church, believers were required to be baptized before they could receive the Lord’s Supper. The sign is the bread and wine, the signification is the body and blood of Jesus and the promise is the forgiveness of sins and renewal of our nature. Luther describe’s the Lord’s Supper as a testament. Wesley says that there is a spiritual presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice, but it does bring the meanings of the death of Jesus into the community of faith in a tangible way. Wesley thought that each person should receive the Lord’s Supper as often as possible.

  • Eschatology comes from a Greek word meaning, “last things.” Aristotle describes physical death is when the body is separated from the soul. Spiritual death is when the soul is separated from the sanctifying presence of God. Eternal death is the eternal separation of the soul from God. Some people teach that the term “sleep” in Scripture to describe death, means cessation of consciousness and is not used metaphorically of the dead body. A belief in the unending existence of the soul raises the question of its habitat and activities in the state between death and the resurrection, generally referred to as the intermediate state. It seems then that there is a particular judgment at death that will be consummated later on in a general judgment. Jesus promised that he would come again to earth and it will be personal, visible, physical and literal.

  • The second coming of Christ will take some people by surprise, but the faithful will be prepared. It will be visible and obvious to everyone. Believers will be raised from the dead to be with Christ. Postmillennialism teaches that things keep getting better and the second coming of Christ will come after the millennium. Premillennialism teaches that things get worse and Christ comes before the millennium. Amillennialism sees the thousand-year reign as a symbol and not a reality. There will be a final judgment that will display the attributes of God, where Jesus will be seen as the king of kings. The final judgment will bring justice and reveal the character of each person. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed. There will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Holy Love is an overarching theme of John Wesley's preaching and theology. Join Dr. Kenneth Collins as he explores topics ranging from grace, repentance, justification, regeneration, assurance, sanctification, the church and sacraments, and eschatology, by using Scripture, historical context, and the writings and the sermons of John Wesley. 

Wesleyan Theology II
Dr. Ken Collins
th511-14
The Church as the Body of Christ (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript

 

Let me start out by saying that Methodism. In its beginning was never intended to be a church. That may come as a surprise to some of you listening. But that's true. Methodism started out as a reforming movement within the context of the larger church. Wesley describes Methodism on one occasion as spreading scriptural holiness across the land. And he very much wanted to reform the Church of England and especially hold up before her the beauty of holiness. But not only in terms of the Church of England, but to be a reforming impulse for other Christian traditions as well. Whether that be Moravian is, whether that be the reformed tradition, Lutheranism, etc.. Wesley wanted to hold up the importance, really the Christianity of holiness for the entire church. We all know the story, perhaps by now that Methodism eventually became a church. And so there are a number of things we're going to have to talk about. When we raise the large question of ecclesiology, the large question of ecclesiology. And so we'll begin with a basic definition, a basic definition of the church. And here I'm actually referring to Daniel TRIA and Walter L were El Wells definition of the church, which I think is helpful. And this is what they write in their own works. Quote, The community of the Triune God serving as the concrete manifestation of God's eschatological kingdom in the world, Ecclesia or Assembly in the New Testament, most often conveys the community of God's people centered in, centered on Christ, and so relation to God in Christ defines the Christian community. So this is a basic definition of the church. We hear the Greek word ecclesia of being drawn out from being drawn out from the world. We see the relation to Jesus Christ.

 

The church is Christ's body. He is the head of the church. So we have a beginning understanding here in lifting up this first definition. Now, Wesley made commentary in this area on the Book of Acts chapter five, verses ten through 11. And this is what he writes. This is the first time it is mentioned. And here is a native specimen of the New Testament church, which is a company of men called by the Gospel, grafted into Christ by baptism, anointed by love, united by all kinds of fellowship and disciplined by the death of Anna Nyers and Safire. So here in Wesley's definition here, what he's making commentary on Acts five, we see a number of things. We see it is a communion, a company. It is grafted into Christ by baptism. It is filled or animated by love. It is united by fellowship, and it is also disciplined. And so these are some of the marks or characteristics and traits that Wesley is lifting up here. The word ecclesia, the Greek word ecclesia is made up atomized etymological speaking from the part EC, which means out from and collateral of the Greek word collateral, which means to call. And so when you put that together, EC and cholo ecclesia, we get a literally a calling out, a calling out from I think we could add and some may say, however, that this might be misleading if we simply focus on the etymology here, because some will argue, and I know Irwin for Bush is one who so argues that careful examination will reveal that this word as used in the early church that is ecclesia, reflects the community's awareness of being. The company of those called as the center and the core of the end time people of God.

 

And so he is defining it in that way, in that respect. So the symbol ecclesia is always implicitly defined by the genitive. He writes of God, the ecclesia of God, the Church of God. Now, if we look at the early church and some biblical materials, we of course recognize that the church begins where whereas the birthday of the church, Pentecost, Pentecost. So we look at x two and we see there as followed Bush and others, right? Quote, very early. A central problem was that of the relation of the church to Israel. What's the relation of the people who follow Christ and what's their relation to the is Israelites who had preceded them. And two experiences need to be worked out theologically for Bush and others indicate. First, the refusal of most Israelites to believe in Christ called into question the church's claim to be the end time gathering of all of Israel. So that posed a problem. The fact that many of the Jews did not believe in Christ. But yet the church is seeing itself as eschatological, understood as an end time, if you will, community. And so the theme of the church and Israel, we're going to see that developed according to Matthew and Revelation, those particular books which come from the Jewish Christian tradition and these will advocate. So again, follow Bush is writing the radical substitution view that Israel has lost its status in salvation history and that the church has replaced it. Now, that's a view held by some, but other even Christians would reject that that view. They would reject that view. But that's once again, how do we understand this new community that's emerging that's centered around Christ and what's the relation of that community to what has preceded it, especially in terms of the Jews? And then, of course, we can look at the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Paul, adding to our understanding of the church, especially as he is working with the law and grace and seeing the church as a new community, as as different from the old Israel.

 

And so the church in a real sense is the new Israel. And so Paul did not dissolve the relation between the church and Israel, but he defined it afresh in light of a new eschatological perspective. And so those who followed Paul and are attentive to his writings and as they think through the church of many of those folk would use the language of the new Israel, the church is the new Israel. And in using that language, the church is the new Israel. That doesn't necessarily deny the existence of the old Israel, you know, but it is old because something new has come. If we take a look at John Wesley's extended well, let me make one last point here on this. And this is something I think conservatives and traditionalists need to be mindful even today, if we have a religious mindset, okay, that the heart of our religion is simply following that which was past and bringing forward the past into the present and passing it on into the future. Okay. If you have that mindset, then you miss Jesus Christ. You do, because Jesus Christ brings something new. And indeed, the majority of the Jews did not believe in Christ, and they wanted to be faithful to the preceding traditions. And in their mind, they were doing so by passing on those traditions. And not embracing the newness that is Jesus Christ. And so if you make a religion out of traditionalism by simply bringing forward the past into the present with that mindset, you will miss the newness that is Jesus Christ. And so I suppose in the first century, well, we have indications of this in the New Testament. There was a risk for Jews to believe in Jesus Christ, and there were social consequences to that in terms of family, in terms of employment, in terms of social status, that sort of thing, for those who held the traditions of their fathers and mothers, but yet wanted to embrace the newness that is Jesus Christ.

 

Okay. And so, you know, there's actually a lot here, and we can't go into it in further detail a lot here between the old Israel and the new Israel and the church and how it properly relates to all that precedes it. And we have to be aware of the newness that is Jesus Christ. Now, if we take a look at John Wesley's definition of the church, he writes, Let us consider first who are properly the Church of God. What is the true meaning of that term? The church at Ephesus, as the Apostle himself explains, it means the saints or the holy persons that are in Ephesus, and they're assembled themselves together to worship God, the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. Well, whether they did this in one, as we probably suppose, or in several places. Wesley writes, But it is the church in general. And this is what Wesley is thinking of. And he uses the language, the Catholic or Universal Church, which the apostle here considers as one body, comprehending not only the Christians in the house of by Leman or any one family, not only the Christians of one congregation or of one city or one province or one nation, but all the persons on the face of the earth who answer the character here. Given the several particulars contained therein, we may now more distinctly consider. All right. Now, that's a large excerpt from Wesley, but it's actually quite important. What is he doing? Well, he actually has a number of senses of church in that paragraph. He's talking, first of all, about the church in several places, you know, almost in a congregational sense as as different communities, different communities. But then he is also thinking of the church throughout the world, and he's thinking in a more global sense.

 

He's thinking of the universal church or the Catholic Church. And this is what this is what he has before himself as he's considering the marks of the church or what he is calling in this context, the several particulars of it. Okay. Then what characterizes the Catholic or universal Church? First of all, there is one spirit. There is one spirit who animates all these all the living members of the Church of God. And some understand hereby the Holy Spirit Himself, the fountain of all spiritual life. And it is certain, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. As the New Testament clearly teaches. And so this is important that all Christians, regardless of tradition, are united. We are united in one spirit. There is one spirit. And it is, you know, as Wesley's quoting scripture here, if any person does not have the spirit of Christ, he has none of his, We are united in having that same spirit. And that spirit works in the church, the spiritual gifts, as well as the fruit of the spirit, in order to edify the church, in order to build it up. And then beyond this, there is in all those who have received this one spirit, there is one hope. There is one hope, a hope full of immortality. Indeed, that is. Believers are promised in many respects eternal life. Now, we could quickly add that that eternal life begins now. It begins now, but it has ongoing consequences. And they know that the believers know that to die is not to be lost. It is not to be lost. Their prospect extends beyond the grave. They can cheerfully say, quote, Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again, to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, from the dead to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fate is not away.

 

And so there is a blessed hope here in terms of the believer. And it is one hope that unites us. We share this hope of eternal life. And then beyond this, Wesley writes, There is one Lord, there is one Lord who has who now has dominion over the church, who has set up his kingdom in their hearts and reigns over all those who are partakers of this hope. And so to obey Christ, to run the way of his commandments, this is their glory and their joy. And while those in the church are doing this with a willing mind, they, as it were, sit in the heavenly places with Christ, Wesley writes. And so there is one Lord in the church, and that Lord is Christ who is the head of the church. Beyond this, an additional characteristic of the ecumenical, the Catholic, the universal church, is that there is one faith. There is one faith which is a free gift of God, and it is the ground of their hope. This is not barely the faith of a heathen, namely a belief that there is a God and that he is gracious and just rather it is beyond that. It is more than that. Neither. It is barely the faith of a devil, though this goes much farther than the faith of a heathen. But this faith goes even farther than that to affirm in terms of Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God, which was the very words that Thomas pronounced when he met the resurrected Christ. It is the faith which enables every true Christian believer to testify. With the Apostle Paul, quote, The life which I now live. I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

Okay. And so there is one faith. There is a one Christian faith. We are united in this faith, and it is faith in Jesus Christ. There is also beyond this as another characteristic Wesley's holding up in terms of the church. There's one baptism, one baptism, which is the outward sign of our one Lord. And Christ has been pleased to appoint this as a as a sacrament, which is an inward and spiritual grace which is bestowed upon the church. It is likewise also a precious means of grace, whereby this faith and hope are given to those that diligently seek him. And so some indeed have been inclined to interpret all of this in a very figurative way, as if it referred to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which the apostles received at the day of Pentecost, and which in a lower degree is given to all believers. But it is a stated rule in interpreting Scripture never to depart from the plain literal sense unless it implies an absurdity. And so Wesley is affirming here a one baptism. This is a water baptism, and it is instituted by Christ. Just as the Lord's Supper was instituted by Christ. And it is richly symbolic of the transformation that occurs in the believer. That they go down into the waters and they come up again and they have been washed and renewed and they are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. This is one baptism which Christians share. Now, it's interesting, we mentioned the other day that there is not entire communion in terms of the Lord's Supper between Roman Catholics and Protestants, for example, although Roman Catholics will acknowledge Protestant baptism. And so if someone were baptized in the Methodist Church or in the Presbyterian Church and they became a Roman Catholic, they would not have to be baptized again.

 

Roman Catholicism would recognize the validity of that sacrament of baptism. They were. Now, I suppose this is complicated for us a bit here when we're talking about baptism as being a characteristic of the church. You know, as Wesley is doing here, because we can think of some communions that do not practice baptism. We can think of, for example, Salvationists, those who are part of the Salvation Army or even in terms of Quakers who do not practice baptism. However, we do need to point out and here I'm going beyond Wesley, that baptism as a sacrament established by Christ and through the ages of the church is so well attested. It is so well attested throughout the entire history of the church that it would make sense to receive this mark of unity among us. This mark of unity among us that there is one baptism, one baptism, and then another characteristic, Wesley's listing in terms of the church is there is one God and father of all that have the same spirit of adoption which cry out in their hearts. Above Father. There is one God and father of all we Christians. All Christians worship the same God as has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is above all the most high the Creator, the sustainer, the Governor of the universe. And we are united in that worship of one God. And so here then, is a clear unexceptional answer to the question. Wesley writes, What is the church? And he's listed all of these common characteristics here. And this demonstrates the oneness of the church, the oneness of the church. And that is that is truly so very important. The unity of the church and the oneness of the church.

 

Because when you think about the gospel and the church is the bearer of the gospel throughout the world and across time, we think about the universal love of God. We think about the universal love of God manifested in Christ, Jesus, our Lord. That Paul writes about in Galatians, for example, Galatians 328 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female slave, nor free. And so Paul is writing about the universality of the gospel, transcending the Jew gentile distinction, transcending male and female, slave and free, that it is the universal love of God. And so unity unity is very important here in terms of not only the Gospel, but in understanding the church that it should be united, it should be one. Now, of course, in our present context, in the 21st century, in some respects we are divided. I think the fact that we are represented in various Christian traditions doesn't necessarily mean we're divided. It can mean that. I mean, I could see various Christian traditions being united in all the ways we just mentioned. They're just simply worshiping God in different traditions. But sometimes, sometimes we have difficulty with this issue of unity, even in the church, and that that is a problem. Now, if we take a look at another lens here, we could look at the marks of the church in a in a slightly different way. And here I'm drawing some material from a book I had written earlier to celebrate the Reformation at its 500th anniversary. And here I'm thinking of the marks of the church in a slightly different way. And so I write this. I would like to lift up the marks or characteristics of the church that hail not from the first century, but from the fourth century.

 

The time of Theodosius, the first and the second Ecumenical Council, which was held in Constantinople in 381. Because if we look at that council, we will see that in its reflections. This second great ecumenical Council not only modified in some sense the earlier work of the Council of Nicaea in 3 to 5 in order to produce the Nicene Constantinople and Creed, but it also highlighted the four count them four leading attributes of the church. What did the Council attest? What did it judge to be the case with respect to the church? What are the attributes? The church is one. Holy Catholic and Apostolic. Did you ever hear that before? You probably have. Well, it comes straight out of the Ecumenical Council. The Council of Constantinople. The church is one. It is holy. It is Catholic. It is apostolic. These are the historic marks of the church. Well, let's talk briefly about each one of these marks. And we begin, of course, with the oneness of the church. The church is one, and we have already started this conversation with the observations of John Wesley just noted earlier as to who makes up the church. But there are some additional elements that should also be addressed as well. And I have been especially impressed with how strongly the New Testament itself underscores the oneness of the church. It's amazing. If we take a look, for example, at John the Gospel of John, Chapter seven verses 2323. Listen to what John writes there. Quote, My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. This is Jesus speaking that all of them may be one father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

 

May they also be in us. Now watch this. Jesus says that they may also be in us so that. So that the world may believe that you have sent men. See, I think that verses very powerful in terms of the unity of the church, because Christ is saying that if the church is united, if the church is one, that that will be a witness to the world, that that will be a witness to the world that the father has sent, that the father has sent Christ. And so the verse continues. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. And Christ is speaking of the Father and the Son being one I in them and you in me, so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me. And you have loved them even as you have loved me. And so this issue of unity, it has it relates to a witness to the world. It relates to ministry, to the world. And so this is important indeed, beyond the gospel, if we take a look at what Paul lifts up in terms of Ephesians expressing our unity that we have in Christ, for he himself is our peace. Paul writes in the Ephesians chapter two, verses 14 through 16 four, he himself is our peace who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. And so here is being thought the relation of Jew and Gentile. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility.

 

Then again in Romans chapter 12, verses four through five four, just as each of us has one body with many members and those members do not all have the same function. So in Christ, we though many form one body and each member belongs to all the others. Okay. And so there are other scriptures which underscore the oneness of the unity of the church. For example, and I'm not going to go into them in great, great detail, but I will list them so you can look them up later on. Galatians 326 through 28. Well, actually, I will read that. So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. Again, emphasis on unity. For all of you who were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free. Nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Again underscoring the unity or first Corinthians Chapter 12 verses 12 through 14 again talking about all being baptized in the one spirit, forming one body, whether Jews or Gentiles slave or free. This idea that the gospel is the universal love of God, that there is a unity here, that God desires for all to be redeemed. And then Ephesians chapter four, verses 3 to 6 would be the last one I would lift up here, which simply states, quote, make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called on. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all. Now, if the unity of the church is being stressed, both in the Gospels on the one hand and in the writings of Paul in the other, then it would seem that is very important to avoid divisions, avoid divisions, and to avoid schism, to avoid schism, which would be a separation and alienation of love and alienation of love and affection.

 

And so there there are many counsels in Scripture to avoid divisions in the church. So, for example, if we take a look at first Corinthians chapter one, verse ten, Paul writes, I appeal to your brothers and sisters in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. And so this idea of unity is constantly stressed in terms of the church. Or we can see an example in terms of Colossians, Paul's letter to Colossians, where he writes in chapter three verses 13 through 14, bear with each other and forgive each other. If any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you, and over all these virtues put on love which binds them together in perfect unity, it binds them all together in perfect unity. And then, of course, there is Psalm 133, verse one, which states how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. So we were talking about four great marks of the church, which are recognized at the second Great Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381. We've explored that the church is one. But secondly, the church is also holy, the church is holy. And so the church then, as the living body of Christ is holy, precisely because the Holy Spirit has been given at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit fills the church, animates the Church. That is, the Holy Spirit, animates the body corporately in its mission to the world and also personally in the depths, how unfathomable they are of those who believe in God's only begotten Son. And so here we're talking about the Holy Spirit making the church holy.

 

And not only simply corporately, though that is true, but also personally, because the Holy Spirit makes us holy by tabernacle ing in our hearts when we become the sons and daughters of God. Put another way, the church, which is enlivened by the Spirit, has been washed with water through the word without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, as Paul writes, but is holy and blameless. He writes that in Ephesians chapter five versus 25 through 27. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul's prayer for the Coming. Unity of faith is none other than may. The God of peace himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so here Paul is talking about sanctification of the church being holy. And his prayer is that the church may be sanctified entirely. He is writing this, of course, in First Thessalonians chapter five, verses 23 through 24. So this giving of the spirit is important, as you might imagine, to the church, because Scripture says elsewhere, you cannot be a Christian apart from the Spirit of Christ. And so the giving of the Holy Spirit whereby believers are made holy is so vital, so important to the life of the church that this giving of the spirit marks a genuine before and after, as revealed in the words of Jesus Christ himself. What does Jesus state quote Truly, I tell you. Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the Kingdom of Heaven, is greater than he. And so Christ is, in a sense, talking about the graces available to John the Baptist, who is a kind of transitional figure, and then the graces that are now available to the church as as a result of Pentecost, as the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

 

Indeed, Christ proclaims to his followers, quote, Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time, the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. And so what John is saying there in his gospel in the seventh chapter verses 38 through 39, he's talking about the crucial quality. And it is crucial, the crucial moment when the spirit is given. Because when the spirit is given at Pentecost, you have the church, you have the church, you have the birthday of the church, the beginning of the church. And so when we think of living our lives in the body of Christ, where we have been called in our circumstances, we think about that as living in the spirit, the spirit in us, tabernacle in us. And then we in the spirit of God, in the same way, you know, we see the Spirit understood in this twofold way. We in the spirit and the spirit in us, that this should characterize our Christian living, our Christian existence. Okay. Now, we know that Jesus had an important dialog with Nicodemus, a key Jewish leader. And in that dialog, although there are lots of things there to to lift up, Jesus is referring to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, especially in terms of the new birth. And so he understood the abiding truth that the spirit, the spirit is sovereign, and human beings are not in control, especially in this special area. Because if we consider the words of Christ, what does he say? The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear it sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.

 

So it is with everyone born of the spirit and see. Now, that's actually a very powerful expression because it tells us once again that God's spirit is sovereign. We are not in control. How does the new birth happen? In one sense, it's mysterious. It's as mysterious as, you know, sensing the direction of the wind. But yet it is. We know that we are the children of God by the spirit that we have been given. But when Wesley thought about that, you know how. How is it given? How is it received? He said, This is too marvelous for me to understand this because of course it is a supernatural work. A supernatural work indeed. Okay. I think I can stop there and begin to take some questions that you might have in terms of anything we've lifted up here. When we're talking about unity within a congregation and thinking back to the priority of loving God and loving our neighbor. Yes. And seeing how often that doesn't play out in particular congregations, especially the willingness that we have to. See things about other people. The. That may or may not be true. Just to criticize them for either, ah, personal gain or political power in the church, it seems like that's an area that. Takes relentless effort to guard against that and to to do that just within our congregations even. Yeah. Yeah. I'm glad you raised this issue. I'm also glad we have a pastor here who who knows some of this. I want to speak to a couple of issues. What you lifted up and I think you're addressing something important and something I think about actually a lot. And it may be a reflection of where we are today in our current culture.

 

But John Wesley talked the issue took the issue you're addressing very seriously and what you're talking about, you're talking about evil, speaking what Wesley called evil speaking and evil speaking. The speaking against one another is a great evil in the church, and it can do enormous amount of harm. And so Wesley wrote a sermon specifically on this topic. The sermon is entitled The Cure of Evil Speaking. Okay. And it lists a number of counsels in order to guide our tongues so that we don't send by them because we should use our tongues for the edification of the body of Christ and not for gossiping, evil speaking, slander, you know, this sort of thing, character assassination in the worst instances, all of that kind of thing, which is rife in our culture, especially in social media, even among Christians. I see it and it makes me sad. It does. It makes me very, very sad to see this. And that's one of the reasons I don't participate in social media. I don't because I don't like how people treat one another, even how Christians treat one another in social media. So I think the first thing that would have to be done in the context of the church is that the pastor or perhaps key teachers and elders in the church need to educate the community that we are not. We are going to avoid the practice of evil speaking. And here's what evil speaking is. And so I think part of our work is education. We have to because some people do this out of ignorance, they think they're being helpful. They think they're doing good when they're not, they're not. And so on. First, on the first level, we need education here. We need instruction.

 

People need to understand what speech is appropriate, what is inappropriate, especially in the context of the church. Would you like to add to that? I don't know if I have a whole lot to add other than I think you're right that that it's it's education and it's maybe taking the right opportunities to call it out without. And this is the hard part I think even for for people in leadership is without resorting to that yourself. Right. The context in which it's dealt with. I know as a pastor who is on social media, I often deal with wanting to call people out. And and part of that is to to publicly kind of say, you know, shame on you for saying that. But but then I look at that and that's probably not going to be helpful, right? Um, because I mean, that's part of the problem. The first place is just we want to publicly do that without having a for me, like a pastoral or a personal conversation saying, where does that come from, Why, Why would that be appropriate to say? So I, I think education probably is is good. I think, you know, putting ourselves in the larger context that we are not we are not to be products of our culture. I mean, culture will always be a part of the church, but we are not to to blithely buy into this idea that we can speak however we want. That's right. That we're entitled. Yeah. And I something came up in a small group I was leading a couple of years ago that we even sometimes have to give up the right to be right on things, especially when it comes to social media that just because we're right doesn't mean we should say anything about it.

 

In lots of cases, some that's not true. But but in some cases that we just have to give up that right. And part of what we are as Christians giving up the right to insist on our own rightness or our own opinions. And and so for me, it's just the slow and long work of discipleship in that particular aspect of of relationship. Yeah. And it's interesting in light of what you're saying, because in this sermon, the Cure of Evil speaking that Leslie writes, he actually lifts up the words of Jesus Christ himself in terms of how we are to proceed in this area. In other words, if we have a problem with our brother and sister, we owe them the respect to talk to them. One on. One. You know that. That I have a problem. Let's let's talk about this. Let's let's seek reconciliation. And then, of course, if we fail in that and we may, then Jesus council is to bring another person. You know, and you have that dialog. And then the step, of course, is to tell it to the church. That's sort of like the third step, although some people begin there, you know, that's not the place to begin. But then they tell it to the church. But I've always found the counsel of Jesus after you tell it to the church and they're still resistant or reluctant, he said, then treat them as a a right. Which sort of, you know, surprises me because it's a disfellowshipped. That's what this is. That's that's a disfellowshipped thing because now they're being treated as a gentile, if you will. But there are lots of steps along the way before you get to that disfellowshipped. Okay. Now, I thought about that, and it does seem harsh at first glance, but what's at stake? Let's say we have the gossiping malcontent, slanderous person continuing to do their evil work in the church.

 

They are impervious to discipline. They continue to do what they're doing. Well, you know, it's it's that has to be checked for the sake of the larger good of the body that we have to see, the larger good of the church, the body of Christ. And, you know, there has to be disfellowshipped at that point. That's painful. I know we don't like that. But I think for the larger good and we're aiming at good here and we're aiming at the good of that person as well as the good of the church. I think we do have to follow Jesus counsel all the way to the end, which would include disfellowshipped. Yes. A just a further comment or maybe something you can comment on. I think within the landscape of of sort of the I won't call it the divided church, but denominational ism in general is I find that even if somebody is either explicitly or implicitly disfellowshipped there, they can go down the street. And yes, I mean, and that same kind of slander now, you know, that their former church might be the object of that. And I think for, again, pastorally, one of the things I've tried to do sometimes to good effect, sometimes just not done it well, but is to actually when people come from another church, to actually have a conversation with with the church and say, okay, what's going on? Is there an issue that needs to be resolved before we sort of embrace who they are? Because we want people to come to our churches, we want people to be in church and to be disabled. But but at the same time, the difficulty that we find, I find as a pastor is when somebody comes in, I might fall, embrace them, and then find out later that that it's because of a division in their former church that they've come and that and pretty much of that happened there.

 

It's going to happen here in one way or another. Mm hmm. Mm. Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And, you know, I have heard and I'm sure you all have heard this as well. I am surprised at times over what people in the church will divide the church. And I mean, you, of course, have heard people have divided over music, the kind of music that the hymns, the kinds of hymns that are played on Sunday morning. I've heard of people leaving the church because they don't like a particular worship leader. I've heard all of these different things, and in my mind, none of that is crucial and certainly not a reason for for schism, which is an alienation of love and alienation of love and affection and a separation here. I just don't think it should occur. And I know at time one time I heard of a division in the church that I was participating in and attending, and people explained to me why it was occurring and I never could understand it every time. So I stopped asking because every time they explained it made no sense to me. But you have people divide over, you know, what looks to us like very silly things, even at times. Yeah. Just a comment on that. But yeah, I find the same I have the same reaction a lot of times when I hear people that, oh, we left because we didn't like what the pastor said about or how he said it about the state or how he said it, or the music or his shoes or his. And I was thinking back to when we my husband and I were in Texas and I was in college at Texas Tech, and we were involved in a church that come to find out the more we were there.

 

It was completely segregated. Oh, now, that was a dividing factor for me. Yes. Yes. So we left. We left quietly because there was no point in your mind was going to be changed or anything. Right. So when I hear of all these other incidents, I'm like, there are bigger battles to fight to really believe on. Yeah. Yeah. And that, you know, that church that is dividing racially is is backing away from the gospel. It's clearly backing away from the gospel. But we therefore need to speak the truth and love to those folk that the gospel is about the universal love of God, you say, and overcoming, you know, these kinds of differences, these kinds of ways we divide ourselves up, you know, all the time that the love of Jesus Christ is greater. Now, I like how things played out at the Zuzu revival, you know, in California. And they, you know, they proclaimed there there is no race at the cross. You know, the blood of Jesus Christ, you know, transcends race. It transcends gender, it transcends ethnicity, nationalism, all the sorts of ways we love to divide ourselves up. It transcends that because it is the universal love of God that's in the DNA of the gospel. And so if we are living in a church that has developed a party spirit that has focused, you know, on one particular race or that has focused on one particular economic class to the exclusion of others, or that has focused on, you know, one other way. You have a tribe, you have a tribe. You don't have the body of Christ that's celebrating the universal love of God where there is neither male or female or gentile slave nor free. You have a tribe.

 

And one of the very important books that I read when I was in seminary was a book by Richard Niebuhr called The Social Sources of Denominational ISM. You know, it's a very powerful book because he states in that book, he he he argues that the gospel is the universal love of God. And so we start out with very good intentions. But then he argues over time, what happens with many churches is that they end up taking something that is penultimate and make that the highest value. And it could be economic status, it could be class, it could be race, it could be a number of different things. But we back away from where we're called to be, you know, as a wreck and as a people of reconciliation, worshiping a God of holy love who transcends the tribalism of group life. You say and and this is where we are, especially in our age, in the 21st century. I mean, this this is what identity politics has brought us. It is the tribal ization of public life, of group life. And some of that is working into the into the church as well. Yeah.