Read an Excerpt
The Wesleyan Way Leader Guide
A Faith That Matters
By Scott J. Jones
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Following Christ Is a Way of Life
The word salvation sometimes has been misused by Christians and misunderstood by others. Yet, like many other words found in the Bible, it is best to keep using it and to do so with as much clarity as possible. When talking about the Wesleyan Way of salvation, one should keep in mind what Jesus said to many people whom he met. For many of them, salvation was about healing them of the brokenness in their lives. For some this meant physical healing. For others it was restoring broken relationships. For still others it meant life after death, in paradise. One way of explaining it is to say that salvation is from all the bad things in life, and salvation is for true happiness, joy, and meaning.
Salvation is more than membership in a church, although church membership is part of it. Salvation is more than a family affiliation, though one's family and upbringing may influence our path. People enter the Christian life in a variety of ways, but salvation is a lifelong journey. Once someone has entered into the Christian life, that person has been saved but is still being saved. Christians should understand that God has not finished with them just because they have entered into a saving relationship. All of us are sinners, and it takes a lifetime to become the kind of people God intends us to be.
This session addresses deep questions about the basics of our faith, including questions that can carry some cultural baggage. Controversial issues may come up in your class discussion, so it is helpful to think beforehand about what you consider the essentials of your faith.
1. Why are you a Christian? What does being a Christian mean to you?
2. What is your feeling about the word saved and what it takes to "be saved"?
Start class with a word of greeting and prayer. Consider singing the hymn that closes the week's chapter, "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."
Icebreaker question: What is your reaction to roadside billboards that say things such as "If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?" (Responses might include the ethics and efficacy of fear tactics, the concept of heaven and hell, and the question of who can be saved and how.)
Bible Study and Discussion
Read the following passages from the Torah and Jesus' adaptation of it in Matthew.
You must not steal nor deceive nor lie to each other. 12 You must not swear falsely by my name, desecrating your God's name in doing so; I am the Lord. 13 You must not oppress your neighbors or rob them. Do not withhold a hired laborer's pay overnight. 14 You must not insult a deaf person or put some obstacle in front of a blind person that would cause them to trip. Instead, fear your God; I am the Lord. 15 You must not act unjustly in a legal case. Do not show favoritism to the poor or deference to the great; you must judge your fellow Israelites fairly. 16 Do not go around slandering your people. Do not stand by while your neighbor's blood is shed; I am the Lord. 17 You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your fellow Israelite strongly, so you don't become responsible for his sin. 18 You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Now these are the commandments, the regulations, and the case laws that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you to follow in the land you are entering to possess, 2 so that you will fear the Lord your God by keeping all his regulations and his commandments that I am commanding you—both you and your sons and daughters—all the days of your life and so that you will lengthen your life. 3 Listen to them, Israel! Follow them carefully so that things will go well for you and so that you will continue to multiply exactly as the Lord, your ancestors' God, promised you, in a land full of milk and honey.
4 Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. 9 Write them on your house's doorframes and on your city's gates.
34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 He replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands."
1. Describe the covenant between God and Israel as laid out in Deuteronomy 6:1-9.
2. The command to "love your neighbor as yourself" in Leviticus 19:18 is somewhat buried amid instructions about animal sacrifices and avoiding fortune-tellers. What do you notice about the immediate context of the command (Leviticus 19:11-18)?
3. Matthew 22:35 says the Pharisees were testing Jesus with a question. What do you think they expected him to say?
4. Deuteronomy 6:4, called the "Shema" (Hebrew for listen), is a central affirmation of the Jewish faith, so the Pharisees may well have agreed with Jesus that it is the greatest commandment. What point do you think Jesus was making by saying that the law from Leviticus 19:18 was a close second?
5. In the book chapter we're discussing this week, Scott Jones says, "The Wesleyan Way of salvation is an answer to questions about how to live well." Do you think Jesus' definition of the greatest and second-greatest commandments could be called a way of salvation?
My other thoughts and questions:
Video Study and Discussion
Today's video segment features Andy Nixon, pastor of The Loft, an innovative faith community launched out of The Woodlands Church in Texas. Andy talks about his own journey to faith after being raised in a nonreligious household, and how he has come to understand just how radical God's love for us is and the power of salvation in Christ.
Watch the video, then discuss the following questions:
1. Andy describes his journey of faith as one of finding answers. What questions do you think are essential to experiencing the saving grace of God?
2. Andy asks himself, "Do I really trust Christ? I mean, do I really? Do I really love my neighbor?" How do you know the answers to these questions? Can you know these things for sure?
3. What do you think the former mobster whom Andy met found so compelling about Christianity? Can you relate to his raw emotion and deep curiosity about salvation? Why or why not?
4. Is it hard for you to accept that God forgives even the worst of sinners? How does that most radical forgiveness make you feel about your own salvation?
5. Do you think Andy is right in saying that Christians love one another more than those outside the church? If love is the essential test of our faith, how do we measure up? Are there essentials of Christianity we should expect of outsiders before bringing them into the fold?
My other thoughts and questions:
Activity: Essentials and Nonessentials
Supplies needed: photocopies of the list on the next page; plus scissors, envelopes, or paper clips.
The Wesleyan Way avoids some of the most contentious and divisive issues among Christians and focuses on the basic message of the Bible. Wesley seemed fond of a saying that is commonly attributed to St. Augustine (though its origin is disputed): "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." The difficult thing is that Christians tend to disagree about what beliefs and values should be considered essential.
For this activity, the class should break into groups of no more than five people each, and sort the paper strips provided into two categories: essential and nonessential. Essentials are those beliefs and values on which you think Christians should agree, and nonessentials are those on which you think Christians can "agree to disagree." Give groups five minutes to complete the task, then share and compare how groups categorized the ideas.
Essentials and Nonessentials
Make a copy of this page for every two to five people in your class, and cut them into strips along the dotted lines. Use envelopes or paper clips to keep each set of strips together to hand out to groups. Feel free to make additional strips with ideas not included on this page—things that might be current topics of debate in the news or in your particular congregation.
Book Study and Discussion
The book chapter we read this week introduces the "Wesleyan Way of salvation," the good news of God's plan and purpose for all people. The discussion for the remainder of the class time should enhance participants' understanding of the Wesleyan perspective, while recognizing the value of participants' own reading of the Scriptures and experience as Christians. The passages reprinted below for your convenience should be considered references for the discussion, not an answer key for the questions provided.
1. Why are you a Christian? What does it mean to you to be a Christian?
How can anyone dare to suggest that one way of life is best? To other people, especially those who have been Christians all their lives, it's obvious that following Jesus is the best way to live. But even those people sometimes wonder what following Jesus really means. If we truly followed Jesus with utmost seriousness and intentionality, what would it look like?
2. The word salvation can be a loaded term in discussions of religion. What does the term mean to you? What misconceptions of "salvation" have you seen or heard? How can we as Wesleyans help correct those misunderstandings?
The Wesleyan Way describes Christianity as a journey of following Jesus toward the goal of loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Christianity is often described as salvation. In the Wesleyan Way, salvation is a journey toward eternal happiness.
The word salvation sometimes has been misused by Christians and misunderstood by others. Yet, as with many other words found in the Bible, it is best to keep using them and to do so with as much clarity as possible. When talking about the Wesleyan Way of salvation, one should keep in mind what Jesus said to many people whom he met. For many, salvation was about healing them of the brokenness in their lives. For some this meant physical healing. For others it was restoring broken relationships. For still others it meant life after death in paradise. One way of expressing this wide variety of meanings is to say that salvation is from all the bad things in life and for true happiness, joy, and truth.
3. Fellowship and connection are wonderful parts of living one's faith, but church membership and family affiliation by themselves do not make us Christians. What are some of the pros and cons of a tightly knit church community and a family united in faith?
Salvation is more than membership in a church, though church membership is part of it. In some cases church membership doesn't appear to be much different from any other group affiliation or even a club membership. Churches, like clubs, have a purpose, attendance expectations, dues and requirements, and benefits that go along with membership. Some congregations have boiled down their understanding of salvation to "join our club—see what great benefits we offer!"
Salvation is more than a family affiliation, though one's family and upbringing may influence our path. There is no doubt that our families shape many things about us. Some of those things are genetic. Others involve a complex web of relationships, values, and loyalties that constitute a family's identity. Thus, because religion is an expression of our highest and most sacred values and relationships, our families often shape our faith. In more traditional societies, one's experience of salvation is actually part of the family experience, and changing religions is unheard of.
4. It's no secret that different denominations within Christianity—and different people within each denomination—disagree on many issues related to belief and practice of the Christian faith. The "Essentials and Nonessentials" activity from this session may have revealed differences within your own group. What issues seem to be causing the most disagreement among Christians in your community? How can we learn to work together and love one another despite our differences?
Scripture is authoritative for all Christians, but the differences within the Christian family show that we read this amazing, complex, and powerful book in different ways. Each way of reading Scripture can lead to a different version of the Christian life.
The Wesleyan Way of reading and interpreting the Bible avoids some of the most contentious and divisive issues among Christians and focuses on the basic message of the text.
What we will study in this book and DVD is the Wesleyan Way of following Jesus, as taught by John and Charles Wesley in their eighteenth-century movement. That movement sought the renewal of their church, the Church of England, but it eventually led to the formation of many different Wesleyan churches. The Wesleyan Way presented in this study relates to the official teaching of many of those groups. Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition don't always practice this way of life very well, but if you ask and look carefully, this is what we are trying to do when we are at our best.
5. Our salvation has implications for life on earth and life after death. What is the relationship between following Jesus on earth and living with him in heaven? How do we trust in eternal life to come without, as the saying goes, "being so heaven-minded that we're no earthly good"?
The ultimate goal of following Jesus is life forever with God. The short-term goal (the length of our lives here on earth) is having a life that matters. The Wesleyan Way teaches that God has created each person to live in relationship with him. People are happiest and most fulfilled when they acknowledge God as creator and Lord and when they seek to be the kind of men and women God intended.
Part of discipleship is our beliefs, or what we think is true about God, the world, and humanity. Part of discipleship is our behavior, always trying to do good. Part of discipleship is practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, Bible study, and Holy Communion. Part of discipleship is being baptized into the body of Christ and participating as a member of Christ's church. Part of discipleship is discovering spiritual gifts and then using them in service for Christ. Part of discipleship is sharing faith with those who don't know Christ as Lord and Savior.
Meaning, purpose, and joy are best experienced by following Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Christians have a vision of how to live that is described as discipleship.
My other thoughts and questions:
Faith Stories (Optional)
You may want to encourage your group to visit www.TheWesleyanWay.com. The site has information about the presenters, video clips from upcoming sessions, and links to more information about Wesleyan theology and heritage. There are additional short, personal video testimonies at TheWesleyanWay.com website and on your teaching DVD, under the heading "Faith Stories." You may want to spark conversation or wrap up the session with one of these short clips.CHAPTER 2
Love Ultimately Wins
Responding to the questions "Is there a God?" and "Who is God?" makes it easier to answer the question about the meaning and purpose of human life. If there is a supreme being, and that being either made the world or controls it, then our place in the universe as humans becomes much clearer. If there is no God and the universe is some sort of cosmic accident, then some other biologically driven purpose might be proposed. Some have suggested that we are wired for survival of our species, and that is the highest good. Various religions suggest that pleasing the supreme being or fulfilling that being's intention is the answer.
Within the Christian tradition, theologians and philosophers have sometimes offered arguments to prove the existence of God. However, rarely has anyone been converted to Christianity by arguments alone. Rather, theologians and philosophers have offered such arguments to show that the faith commitments people have do in fact make sense and are rationally defensible. The Bible never offers any proof for the existence of God. Instead, its opening verse assumes there is a God and describes what that God has done.
Excerpted from The Wesleyan Way Leader Guide by Scott J. Jones. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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