Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Wonderful Morning Hymn

I have switched my source for Wesley hymns for the Daily Office. I am currently using a little booklet (almost pamphlet) entitled, Hymn Poems of Charles Wesley For Reading and Singing, issued by Tidings, Headquarters for Evangelistic Materials, Nashville 5, Tenn. (I'm guessing they no longer exist, but I could very well be wrong.) This little booklet can fit in one's shirt pocket while only "peeking out" about 1 1/2 inches.

Some of the hymns are abbreviated in terms of the number of verses, and a few appear to have been edited ever-so-slightly, or have simply appeared with slight wording variations. For an obvious example, And Can It Be? retains only three verses, and the last line of the first verse says, "That thou, my Lord (rather than God) shouldst die for me? - Despite these infrequent irritations, I have otherwise found this to be a wonderful little booklet.

This morning I sang an absolutely wonderful morning hymn. It is as follows:

Forth in Thy Name

Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labor to pursue,
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think, or speak, or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray;
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day;

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate'er Thy bounteous grace hath giv'n;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to heaven.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Charles Wesley and the Wesleyan Approach to Scripture

During Morning Prayer, I sang Charles Wesley's, Come, Holy Ghost, our Hearts Inspire (as printed in Hymn Poems of Charles Wesley for Reading and Singing, issued by Tidings). The second verse of this hymn provides a good example of how Wesleyan Christians approach the Scriptures.

Wesleyan Christians are not fundamentalists. We are not overly concerned about the "inerrancy of the original manuscripts." Rather, we are concerned about the sufficiency and/or the authority of Scripture. We believe that the written Word (the Bible) points us to the living Word (Jesus). We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture, but also that the Holy Spirit inspires the Word afresh and anew to our hearts in order to shape our lives.

Charles Wesley writes:

Come, Holy Ghost, for moved by Thee
The prophets wrote and spoke;
Unlock the truth, Thyself the key,
Unseal the sacred book.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Slowly But Surely; "Official" Sacramental Progress For The Church Of The Nazarene

This week I received my copy of the new 2009-2013 Manual (the Nazarene Book of Discipline). The new Manual, with all that was enacted by last summer's General Assembly, became official for the denomination as of the first of this month.

I realize that I covered many of the resolutions during the time leading up to and shortly following the General Assembly. In fact, I wrote several resolutions. (They can be viewed, here.) However, with the new Manual now in the hands of pastors and laity, I wanted to highlight two changes about which I am quite excited.

The first highlight comes under "The core duties of a pastor," at 413.9. It now states:

"To administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper at least once a quarter. Pastors are encouraged to move toward a more frequent celebration of this means of grace. . . ." (Emphasis mine, indicating the new material.)

Now, for those who read my blog building up to the Assembly, you have seen this language before. It comes from, and is a result of, my resolution. You may also recall that much of the material in the resolution was amended out. (The full resolution may be viewed, here.)

I confess that I am disappointed that the full resolution was not adopted. However, I am quite happy that the new sentence has been added, and I would highlight two important aspects of the new sentence:

First, the General Assembly and the Manual now officially encourage pastors to a more frequent celebration of the sacrament. Most of the readers of this blog know that the Church of the Nazarene inherited the frontier practices of early Methodism. John Wesley ordained for American in order to provide the sacraments for American Methodists. He instructed elders to celebrate the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day. However, the number of clergy and the distance between churches on each circuit necessitated each congregation receiving the sacrament on a quarterly basis. That unfortunate accident of history became the norm for most in the Methodist tradition, including the Church of the Nazarene. However, now, the Manual has encouraged pastors to move toward a more frequent celebration! - It is no place near a call to a celebration every Lord's Day, but it is a sure step forward. As such, it is reason to celebrate!

(As an interesting aside, through 1923, the Manual included the following concluding sentence in the Article on the Lord's Supper: "Of the obligation to partake of the privileges of this Sacrament as often as we may be providentially permitted, there can be no doubt." I don't have a full collection of Manuals, so I don't know exactly when or why the sentence was dropped, but it does not appear in the 1936 Manual.)

The second aspect that I would like to highlight is the use of the term means of grace in reference to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Now, that might seem obvious (and really it is!), however, it is interesting to note that that language has, thus far, (at least as far as I can recall) only been used in one other place in the Manual. That is found in our "The Covenant of Christian Character" (formerly known as "The General Rules"). At that point, reference was made to ". . . the means of grace, including the public worship of God . . . the ministry of the Word . . . the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-30) . . ." Now, it is significant that the General Rules listed the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace, in as much as the General Rules are not just a part of the Manual, but also a part of the Constitution, itself.

Above, I said that this identification should be obvious. We have, after all, consistently referred to Baptism and the Lord's Supper as, not just ordinances, but as sacraments. The term sacrament, in a Wesley context (and the Church of the Nazarene is a Wesleyan context) means something! Further, we have been identified as a "means of grace" tradition in various places, including the book, Articles of Faith, which Nazarene Publishing House put out to explain the Articles. The various systematic theologies produced in the denomination, including the officially sanctioned Grace, Faith and Holiness by H. Ray Dunning, also identify the sacraments as means of grace. And, of course, Rob Staples' Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments In Wesleyan Spirituality thoroughly identifies the Wesleyan understanding of the sacraments.

Nevertheless, it can be easily demonstrated that our Articles of Faith on the sacraments are the weakest (sacramentally speaking) of the three largest Wesleyan(Methodist) - holiness denominations (viz., the Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, and the Free Methodist Church; though the Church of God, Anderson is a larger holiness church, their theology of the sacraments is foreign to the Methodist understanding). Though the Lord's Supper is identified as a sacrament in the Article, if taken out of it's Wesleyan context, one might argue that it is memorialist. Of course, even so, as my Sacramental Theology professor once said of the Article, "Certainly I believe it. I believe at least that much!" (paraphrased from memory).

So, it becomes a reason to celebrate any time the Manual makes explicit that the sacraments are "means of grace."

That leads to the second highlight I wanted to cover. The new (extensively re-worked) Article on "Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification" includes these added words at its conclusion, "Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love to God and neighbor" (emphasis mine).

This is the first time an Article of Faith has identified the sacraments as "means of grace," and as a means of growing in grace and holiness. Again, as I have stated, this language would not be surprising to any informed Nazarene. There would be no reason, whatsoever, to even bat an eye at it. It goes without saying, that is what we believe. The problem is, it has gone without saying within the Articles of Faith, all of this time. Finally, in the Article on Sanctification (if not in the Articles on the sacraments!), we do say it!

This may be grounds for working on a resolution for next quadrennium to include more explicit language within the two Articles on the sacraments. However, one always has to be cautious about such things, because one never knows what kind of amendments to the resolutions might be offered and passed. We could end up far worse off!

There were, of course, disappointing things at the General Assembly, but in light of these positive moves, I am rejoicing for our slowly but surely "official" sacramental progress! - Thanks be to God!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Coming Soon . . . I Promise (But Please Don't Hold Me To It!)

Well, recently I started two articles and had planned a third. However, time has gotten away from me, and I finished none of them! One of the two was celebrating the recent Feast Day for John Wesley (OSL) and the Feast Day for John and Charles Wesley (TEC). (The article was supposed to not only honor the Wesley brothers, but also explain the reason for the two days.) - I really hate that I didn't get that one out on time!

I had also planned to write an article in honor of my college Systematic Theology professor, H. Ray Dunning. Trevecca Nazarene University (my college) recently celebrated a day honoring Dr. Dunning, and I had the great joy of being able to attend. - I still hope to get this article written, even if it is a bit late.

The other article is a response to an article written by a classical Anglican on the subject of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. My response addresses the fact that he really does not understand the Methodist view of the Eucharist. - That one, too, I hope to complete. (Since his article was written some time back, I don't feel pressed to respond right away, but I had hoped to have finished it shortly after discovering his article.)

So, I apologize to my readers for getting so far behind!

However, know that I do have a couple of articles in the works. Additionally, since I have, this week, received my new Manual (The Nazarene version of the Book of Discipline), I WILL post an article, tomorrow, entitled: Slowly But Surely; "Official" Sacramental Progress For the Church of the Nazarene. - I WILL . .. I hope!