Friday, May 9, 2008

Jesus, the Sinner's Friend

In my April 25 post on "How a Wesleyan Goes to Scripture," I indicated my devotional practice of incorporating into my praying of the Daily Office the singing of hymns taken from The Works of John Wesley, vol. 7, "Collection of Hymns for the Use of The People Called Methodists" (Bicentennial Ed.). Yesterday, I sang a hymn, the last verse of which I have quoted from the pulpit a number of times. I first became familiar with it through a little booklet entitled, "Hymn Poems of Charles Wesley for Reading and Singing," issued by Tidings, Headquarters for Evangelistic Materials, Nashville.

I would like to share a few verses of the hymn with you this morning as a powerful reminder of the grace and love of God for sinners. (The wording is slightly different between the two sources, and the Wesley's Works edition, surprisingly, makes no notation of a discrepancy. The following comes from Wesley's Works (hymn #128, page 239):

1. Jesu[s], the sinner's friend, to thee,
Lost and undone for aid I flee,
Weary of earth, myself, and sin -
Open thine arms, and take me in.

2. Pity, and heal my sin-sick soul;
'Tis thou alone canst make me whole,
Fall'n, till in me thine image shine,
And cursed I am, till thou art mine.

5. At last I own it cannot be
That I should fit myself for thee;
Here then to thee I all resign -
Thine is the work, and only thine.

6. What shall I say thy grace to move?
Lord, I am sin - but thou art love.
I give up every plea beside,
'Lord, I am damned - but thou hast died.'

(The wording of the last line in "Hymn Poems" is "I give up every plea beside - Lord, I am lost, but Thou hast died." In either case, the expression is a powerful reminder of our utter dependence upon God and our Lord's abundant love and grace towards us.)

18 comments:

Eric said...

The Hymns of the Wesleys are certainly a rich resource for our message of holiness. Some of them are even funny.

I can't remember off the cuff the hymn or the citation, but Charles wrote a hymn for ordination and one stanza asked (about his brother John and his decision to ordain Asbury & Coke) "But who laid hands on him?"

I have always appreciated their rich theological hymnody. Thanks for sharing this one.

Todd Stepp said...

Eric, the hymn in question says:

So easily are bishops made
By man's or woman's whim!
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?

(Quoted in "A History of Christianity: Readings in the History of the Church" vol. 2, p.294)

I doubt I'll find that one in the Wesley's Works volume! - It does, however, add to the argument that both Wesleys understood quite clearly that John's ordination of Coke to the general superintendency was in fact making Coke a bishop for the American Methodists.

Eric said...

Ah yes. Thats the one! I do think John was ordaining a "bishop." That is a fun argument in it self. I tend to see Charles' hymn as one disapproving of John's act.

Todd Stepp said...

Exactly

CHARLAX said...

for JESUS hath delivered me
http://poetrypoem.com/cgi-bin/index.pl?poemnumber=861874&sitename=charlax&password=&poemoffset=0&displaypoem=t&item=poetry

for JESUS hath delivered me


for JESUS hath delivered me

for JESUS hath delivered me from gnats somethings even smaller

perhaps but flies of course some inbetweens on up

to bats roach was seen but crickets also

rats but mice who threaten no one

all these things annoying me they flee away

when night is gone and daylight comes

for JESUS hath delivered me from ANGRY

mosquitoes and all those other things

for JESUS hath delivered me

Pastor Steven said...

I think what makes Charles Wesley's hymns so good, is that he was both theologian & poet.

That line from Charles' hymn about John, where it says "But who laid hands on him." Got me thinking, are Bishops and Elders the same order as John was convinced they are? And do you think our G's are indeed bishops even though we do not call them Bishops. And should of John tried to find a Bishop to Ordain Coke & Asbury?

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Steven

Todd Stepp said...

Pastor Steven,

Those are all good questions. 1.) I do beleive that originally elders and bishops were the same order. That seems to be the Scriptural witness. But, they certainly became seperate as time went by. Thus, I do think that Wesley was correct. That does not mean that we ought not appreciate what has developed as the historic pattern.

2.) John did try to get an Anglican bishop to ordain for America, but he couldn't get anyone to even ordain a priest, let alone consecrate a bishop. It was because of this "emergency" situation that Wesley originally consented to ordain for America.

3.) Our general superintendents (not "generals;" our district superintendents are not "districts;" a pet peeve of mine)do indeed hold the episcopal position for us. That is clearly understood within the larger Methodist/Wesleyan world. G.s. is the Wesleyan term from bishop. Coke/Asbury were identified as g.s.'s before taking the title bishop. In the CotN, our g.s.'s have referred to our government being a blend of episcopal and congregational. And when I write to our g.s.'s asking for a statement (as I have on a number of occassions, e.g., on the death of the pope, to consecration of Gene Robinson, etc.), I have asked for an "episcopal statement." I'm sure it gets their attention, but none have ever "corrected" it.

Also, in the UM Discipline it is clear that the function of the bishop is the general superintendency. - Bresee knew exactly what he was doing when he used the g.s. terminology for those who still had some problems with the Methodist episcapacy.

However, if one talks about a need for tactile apostolic succession (even in terms of elders, not bishops), we Nazarenes are not in good shape. While the UM and others probably still have a direct line to Wesley, we don't completely. My ordination tree (as frustrating as it is to me)ends up in the Christian Adventist Church through Godwin, and then disappears. He considered having Bresee re-ordain him, but decided not to.

Pastor Steven said...

Todd,

Thanks for the response, I too have felt that our g.s's hold the episcopal role within the CotN, as overseers and those who do the ordaining of new Elders and Deacons. We seem really close to Methodist polity when it comes to our ordination practices. Even though I wish we had a more direct apostolic line, though most Nazarenes do not care about apostolic succession.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Steven

Eric said...

I would not be as quick to identify Superintendants (either G or D) as an episcopacy. They certainly do some of the work of an episcopacy, but I am not sure that I would identify them as such. I'll have to think on it a little more.

There is a very helpful work on ordination in the Wesleyan tradition (when I was ordained I searched for theologies of ordination and was astounded at how few I could find) by Dennis M Campbell called "The Yoke of Obedience: The Meaning of Ordination in Methodism." I would make it required reading for all ordinands.

Todd, how did you go about researching your ordination tree?

Todd Stepp said...

Eric,

It may be argued from a Catholic stance that our superintendents do not fulfill all of the functions of a Catholic (or Anglican)bishop. However, it is quite clear that, in Methodism, the general superintendency is understood to be the function of the bishop. ("Superintendent" is an adequate translation of the episcopacy meaning overseer.)

Certainly, our early g.s.'s functioned more fully in the episcopal role (and the term "episcopal" has been used both then and even by at least one current g.s.). It is true that current g.s.'s episcopal role is "limited" by our blend with congregationalism. But it seems to me that it is clear that within the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition general superintendent is a synonym for bishop. (Wesley just changed the term in the ordinal from "ordaining" bishops to ordaining superintendents.)

In other words, I'm not arguing that our episcopacy is exactly the same as Romes or Canterbury's, but I am arguing that our g.s.'s are Wesleyan/Methodist bishops. (Look at Coke & Asbury being orignially named g.s. in the Methodist EPISCOPAL Church, before using the term bishop; the same is true of Bishop Roberts of the Free Methodist Church; The Wesleyans & the CotN used the term g.s., but the UM Discipline still makes the connection between the terms clear.)

It is also clear that each denomination defines the limits of their bishops' roles and powers. Anglican bishops are not exactly the same as Romes. Even within the Anglican Communion, American bishops do not have the same power that Anglican bishops in Nigeria have.

A book I read concerning apostolicity was entitled "Wesley: Apostolic Man" by Edgar W. Thompson, Epworth P., London, 1957. It's out of print, but you can run a search for it.

As for the ordination tree, just contact Archives at HQ, tell them which g.s. ordained you and ask, and they will send you the info.

Thanks, Eric, for your comments!

Todd Stepp said...

Eric,

Another thought: When I attended the Millenial Event for the Methodist in North America, they had a bishop of one of the denominations preside over each session.

Earl Wilson, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church presided at one of the meetings. And he said (this may not be an exact quote, but it is really, really close), "I wish our people had the sense to call us bishops. When I tell someone I'm a general superintendent, they don't know if they should salute or if I work in a factory."

Pastor Steven said...

Todd & Eric,

I myself believe the Episcopal form of church government and the (three fold) order of Bishops, Elders and Deacons to be the biblical and historic pattern of the early church. I think if we did call are g.s.'s Bishops it would make it a lot clearer to people who they are and what they do.

I'm not much for congregationalism even though I believe that the laity should and do play an important part in the life of the church, but that should go with out saying.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Steven

Todd Stepp said...

Pastor Steven,

I agree, for the most part. I do not think that one can argue convincingly (to me, anyway) that the three fold order is strictly expressed in Scripture. It seems clear (to me!) that bishop and elder are used synonymously in Scripture. However, early on (by the time of a canonized NT) the two had become separated. That is certainly the historic pattern.

But again, the function of each bishop is not completely standardized. And look at the practice of the Church in Alexandria, one of Wesley's arguments for his ordinations.

That does raise the question of whether we are talking 3 "orders." And, perhaps I have been less precise at this point than I ought. - Wesley & all Methodists following him have functioned with 2 orders (though some simply left off deacons) and a third office (else Wesley would not have been able to justify his ordinations). Even in the UM, strictly speaking, the bishop is not a third "order." The bishop is still an elder. Even though, for all intents and purposes it sure looks like a third order.

As for Nazarene government, I too, strongly lean toward the episcopal side of our "blend," and would like the denomination to do so as well. But again, the truth is, both the Episcopal Church and the UM have some sort of blend, but they call it an episcopal form of government. So too the Free Methodist.

In our early days, a general assembly purposefully identified us as having a representative form of government, because some were saying our government was essentially episcopal, and some in our denomination had problems with the episcopal form. That is to say, we could have just as easily identified ourselves as having a "modified episcopal" form of government, or something else. It is a matter of how each denomination self-identifies.

Eric said...

You all have identified my difficulty with IDing our Superintendants as an episcopacy. In my mind (for right or for wrong) a true episcopacy requires a separate order of Bishop. So in my thinking we have Elders who function episcopally, ie they do much of the work of an episcopacy, but are not an episcopacy.

I would also have to ask which Superintendants are the episcopacy. The DS? The GS? The DS is capable of ordaining (although in the US very seldom does - but in other world areas it is much more common from what I understand). The DS is the one who oversees the primary episcopal area. The DS best fits the description of an episcopacy.

As for orders, we do ordain deacons, but the Nazarene Diaconate is very different from an Anglican/Roman Diaconate. There are many theological as well as practical differences, and I have heard more than once that some in Nazarenedom would like to get rid of the Deacon.

I would prefer to see the Diaconate as it is currently understood abolished and then replace the election of District Licensees with the ordination of Deacons.

Just my two cents. Take it for what its worth...about two cents!

Todd Stepp said...

Eric,

So, you would also say that the UM do not have "bishops" or an episcopacy, either? For them, it is defined the same way. - This of course is based upon the NT use of elder and bishop in a synonymous fashion.

I agree that there would be issues between the g.s. & d.s. - In UM, the d.s. is seen as an extension of the g.s. (or bishop). The bishop still has oversight of the d.s. - Although our districts elect our d.s., the g.s. does still have a degree of oversight.

E.g., the d.s. does not have authority on his/her own to ordain. It is only as granted by the g.s. - And, in our history, g.s.'s have given direction to other elders (not d.s.'s) to ordain, but only at the direction of the g.s.

It seems that JW understood that the g.s.'s were an episcopacy, on the one hand, and yet essentially of the same order as elder, on the other hand. (All he does in the ordinal is change the "title.")

I guess the question that I would raise is not whether it is an episcopacy, but whether the episcopacy truly is a seperate order. JW would say that there is an episcopacy, but they are essentially the same order. That they are, in Rome, Canterbury & Constantinople considered a seperate order, today, only proves that it developed as such.

So, I would say that "for us," as part of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition, our g.s.'s are what Wesleyan/Methodists understand bishops to be.

I suppose your argument could, in my view, be extended to question whether our elders are really elders, or (as Rome might say), only laity acting as elders. - If that is our belief, then surely we should leave for Rome or Canterbury.

My opinion on our order of Deacon is that we made a big mistake giving Deacons authority over sacraments. That clearly is inconsistent with tradition, and a misunderstanding of our Manual statement that we have one "preaching order." - But, what to do, now?

Eric said...

You are correct. Methodism has essentially the same sense of episcopacy as we do. I understand that. You are also correct that I would question whether or not they have a pure episcopacy. Which is why I have often questioned the validity of my own ordination... (see my blog where my recent post looks at the tension between theological beliefs and practical experience and my struggle to embrace and live within the tension).

I also have a difficulty looking back to our Weslyan/Methodist roots as authoritative without being willing to look back at their (and our) Anglican and even Roman roots.

This is just one of those issues with which I greatly struggle. Thank you for your thoughts, they are really helpful in sorting out my own.

Todd Stepp said...

Eric,

In my own questioning of ordination authority, the book I mentioned earlier was somewhat helpful, as was the historic practice in Alexandria. - I say "somewhat," in that if my own ordination was tracable to Wesley (as in most cases in the UMC), I would find it helpful. But, given my own ordination tree, I have found it less helpful. The practice of elders joining the g.s. in all ordinations is a bit consoling, though.

Pastor Steven said...

Todd & Eric,

Thank you both for your thoughts on ordination, the episcopacy and apostolic succession.

There are a couple things that bother me about the role of Elders and Deacons within the Church of the Nazarene.

1.) Why are District licensed ministers given the authority to administer the Lord's Supper in their own church if they are senior pastors? This seems like a clear break with true Wesleyan practice and seems to diminish the importance of ordination to the order of Elder as one who is set apart to administer the sacraments, particularly the Lord's Supper.

2.)I think that the role our Deacons serve in is not true to the historic role of Deacons in churches who have ordained Deacons. Being that Deacons from the time of the early church have always preached. Where we only recognize one preaching order (Elder). I think we have it backwards, Deacons should preach but not administer the sacraments even though they could baptize if need be. I too think we should do away with the District Licensed ministers and ordained people first as Deacon then Elder. Even though the order of Deacon could be a permanent order. I think it would be a mistake to do way with the order of Deacon.

3.) Why are we encouraging those who feel called to serve as a Deacons in the church to pursue the Elder tract. When they do not feel called to pastor or do they have the desired to administer the sacraments. I see this often among women who are in the course of study for Deacon. Why do we want to ordain Elders who are not going to serve as Elders?

It seems to me that we need to return to the three fold order of Bishops, Elders and Deacons as they have been understood by both East and West. But then it comes back to the Episcopacy and our understanding of the important role of Bishops in the church. Even though I know we do not not have a apostolic line of succession in the sense of a historic Episcopacy.

Peace in Christ,

Pastor Steven