John Wesley taught his followers to ask questions. New Christians were placed in small classes where they were queried weekly about their progress in the Christian journey: how it is with your soul, are you making progress, are you going on to a perfection of love in the walk with Christ? Christian spirituality can only be understood and experienced within community. And within that community, those designated to lead have a profound responsibility to clarify with believers the nature and purpose God has for them in life.
In this book, Bishop Lyght draws attention to another set of questions originating in John Wesley's Historic Examination for Admission into Full Connection. These 19 questions are asked of candidates desiring to be ordained into the ministry of the church and must be answered to the satisfaction of the bishop prior to the bishop laying on hands and bestowing the spiritual gift of ordination.
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About the Author
Ernest S. Lyght is a retired bishop of The United Methodist Church. He is co-author of Many Faces, One Church; Our Father; and Confessions of Three Ebony Bishops, all published by Abingdon Press. He lives in Delanco, New Jersey.
Read an Excerpt
Have You Faith in Christ?
A Bishop's Insight into the Historic Questions Asked of Those Seeking Admission into Full Connection in the United Methodist Church
By Ernest S. Lyght
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2015 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
The Faith Journey
What are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn't spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won't he also freely give us all things with him? Who will bring a charge against God's elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God's right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us. Who will separate us from Christ's love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ... In all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I'm convinced that nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created. (Rom. 8:31-35, 37-39)
Question One: Have you faith in Christ?
Persons who say yes to God's call to ordained ministry must be able to say yes to each of the Historic Questions without reservation. Faith in Christ, of course, is at the center of pilgrim discipleship. Jesus, who died on the cross for us, sacrificed his life that we might gain abundant life. The Jesus of Nazareth became the Christ of our salvation. We meet Jesus at the cross, where we accept his grace that saves us from our sins. Christ lives in our hearts, our minds, and our daily lives.
John Wesley, who compiled the Historic Questions, grappled with his personal faith in his early ministry. Although he preached about faith in Jesus Christ, he felt that his own faith in Christ was lacking. He even thought that his missionary venture in America was a failure, but God was in the process of transforming him as a pilgrim disciple. Wesley, however, struggled to be reconciled to God through a practice of stringent obedience to God's Word.
Prior to John Wesley's Aldersgate experience, he questioned his personal faith. In his Journal, he noted that he pondered the possibility of not preaching. He questioned himself: "How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?" Wesley shared his quandary with Peter Boehler and asked Boehler's opinion about whether he should stop preaching. Boehler told him "by no means." Wesley asked, "But what can I preach?" Boehler replied, "Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith."
Wesley's Aldersgate experience proved to be a watershed moment in his faith journey. John Wesley had joined a group of Christians who met at Aldersgate Street for prayer and Bible study. Wesley provided a poignant description of his experience at Aldersgate Street:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Faith in Christ is the gate that Wesley believed opened the path to justification. Having faith is accepting and trusting that Christ's death is a gift for me, the pilgrim disciple.
People in ministry are called to be spiritual leaders in the church and the community. These leaders, from John Wesley's perspective, should have faith in Christ. In the Apostles' Creed we say that we believe in Jesus Christ; however, our faith in Christ must exceed mere belief in Christ and the attending statements about Jesus in the creed. Wesley was talking about faith in Christ that is perched on Christ the solid rock. It is a personal relationship with Christ, the Lord of life, the crucified and risen Savior. Faith in Christ is manifested in the pilgrim disciple's journey that is devoted to Jesus, "the way, the truth, and the life." It is about feeding the sheep because you love Jesus. It is the world stopping to notice you because people see Christ in you.
At least two core questions are associated with the first question (Have you faith in Christ?) that warrant prayerful consideration. First, do you know Jesus? Do not be offended by this question, but try to think about the question in terms of relationship. Consider the disciples of Jesus who left their work to follow a stranger, Jesus. They did not know him, but they followed him and engaged in a life-changing ministry with him. Over a three-year period, the disciples developed a very close working relationship with Jesus. With Jesus, they preached the good news, healed the sick, and raised the dead. The disciples learned from Jesus, engaging in a new way of praying. They grew with Jesus, learning how to love even their enemies. Yet after these experiences, they still did not know Jesus as an intimate friend and Savior.
When Jesus was taken to the cross, the disciples deserted him because they feared for their lives. The disciples were not sure about whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Like John the Baptist, they still had some degree of uncertainty about Jesus' true identity as the Son of God and the Son of Man. The disciples tarried in the upper room for forty days, spending their time in prayer, listening to God. When the Day of Pentecost came, the disciples emerged from their secret place and proclaimed the authority of the risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Peter told the people about Jesus: "Let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). From that day forward the disciples exercised their ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.
Do you know this Jesus in your mind as a "mind regulator"? Do you know this Jesus in your heart as a "heart fixer"? Here we are not talking about the Jesus of the "old-time religion" who was good enough for your mother and good enough for your father. No, we are talking about a Jesus who is good enough for you and lives in your heart as the risen Savior.
If your answer is yes, I know Jesus, then there is another question. The second core question is how well do you know Jesus? The disciples got to know Jesus as an intimate friend whom they could and would trust with their lives. He died on the cross for them. He sacrificed his life for them and for us. This is the stuff of friendship. Do you know Jesus as your friend? In his hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," Joseph M. Scriven captures the essence of meaningful friendship with Jesus. When we know Jesus as our intimate friend, we have a partner who will bear the weight of our sins and our grief. This Jesus is the friend to whom we can go in prayer and take all of our burdens. We bear a burdensome load unnecessarily when we do not take our concerns to God in prayer in the name of Jesus.
In telling a story about perseverance in prayer, Jesus taught a wonderful lesson about friendship. It is a story about a man who goes to a friend's home at midnight and asks to borrow three loaves of bread. He has guests back home and no food for them, so he thinks of his friend. Surely his friend will be kind enough to get up at midnight and loan him the requested bread. The man has already tucked his children in bed, and he has retired for the night. He does not want to get up out of mere friendship, yet it is friendship that responds to the knocker's persistence. Our God is a loving God who responds to our knocking, our asking.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were friends of Jesus. When Lazarus was ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus with the hope that he would heal their brother. They knew that Jesus loved Lazarus; surely he would come quickly and heal him. Even though Jesus loved each one of them, he did not come swiftly to Lazarus's bedside. Instead he waited two days before departing, arriving after Lazarus died. Jesus and the disciples returned to Judea, where previously they had been stoned by the Jews. When Jesus arrived, his friend Lazarus was dead and buried. Jesus wept when he was taken to the tomb. After the tomb was opened, Jesus raised Lazarus to life.
In a conversation that preceded this miracle event, Martha reminded Jesus that if he had gotten there earlier, perhaps he would have been able to save Lazarus. Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again. Martha, of course, thought that Jesus was talking about the general resurrection. Jesus told her: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). This was Martha's answer: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God's Son, the one who is coming into the world" (John 11:27). The friendship of Jesus with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus transcended time, space, and eternity. Do you know this Jesus as your friend? Martha came to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The ultimate question is do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
What kind of faith do you have? Is your faith a mature faith? Perhaps it is a maturing faith. This was an important matter for John Wesley; and it should be of vital concern for people in ministry. Just what did Wesley have to say about faith?
In Sermon 106, titled "On Faith," Wesley provides insight into his understanding of the meaning of faith. Wesley said this about faith: "It is a divine 'evidence and conviction of things not seen,' of things which are not seen now, whether they are visible or invisible in their own nature. Particularly, it is a divine evidence and conviction of God, and of the things of God." Wesley asserted that there are several "sorts" of faith, reflected in what might be described as levels of faith. Most important, Wesley discerned two main levels of faith: faith of a servant and faith of a child.
One level of faith is what Wesley described as "faith of a servant" in Sermon 110, "On the Discoveries of Faith." The servant obeys God out of fear rather than in faith rooted and grounded in a mature love for God. Wesley described the faith of a servant:
The faith of a servant implies a divine evidence of the invisible and the eternal world; yea, and an evidence of the spiritual world, so far as it can exist without living experience. Whoever has attained this, the faith of a servant, "feareth God, and escheweth evil"; or, as it is expressed by St. Peter, "feareth God, and worketh righteousness." In consequence of which he is, in a degree, as the Apostle observes, "accepted with Him." Elsewhere he is described in those words: "He that feareth God, and keepeth his commandments." Even one who has gone thus far in religion, who obeys God out of fear, is not in any wise to be despised; seeing "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Nevertheless, he should be exhorted not to stop there; not to rest till he attains the adoption of sons; till he obeys him out of love, which is the privilege of all the children of God.
Such a person cannot linger in this posture but must be encouraged to grow in his or her faith. When considering the question of one's faith, one must discern the level of that faith. In plain language, how much progress have you made in your faith development?
For Wesley, the attainment of faith is a maturation process that culminates in what he defines as the "faith of a child." He describes the faith of a child in Sermon 106, "On Faith":
Thus, the faith of a child is, properly and directly, a divine conviction, whereby every child of God is enabled to testify, "The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." And whosoever hath this, the Spirit of God witnesseth with his spirit, that he is a child of God. So the Apostle writes to the Galatians: "Ye are the sons of God by faith. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;" that is, giving you a childlike confidence in him, together with a kind affection toward him. This then it is, that (if St. Paul was taught of God, and wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost) properly constitutes the difference between a servant of God, and a child of God. "He that believeth," as a child of God, "hath the witness in himself." This the servant hath not. Yet let no man discourage him; rather, lovingly exhort him to expect it every moment.
It is faith in Jesus that enables the person with the faith of a child to live as a child of God, loved by God and loving God. The Holy Spirit sparks this ultimate transformation from the faith of a servant to the faith of a child—an extraordinary example of God's amazing grace.
Question Two: Are you going on to perfection?
Leadership in The United Methodist Church requires partnership. Leadership is a partnership between God and the leader. It is a partnership between the leader and the laity.
Perhaps the most important kind of leadership in the church, among others (administrative, organizational, educational, pastoral), is spiritual leadership. Spiritual leadership lends itself to a lay and clergy partnership because it provides an opportunity for spiritual leaders (lay and clergy) to be on the spiritual path together. Lay and clergy leaders on the spiritual path together assist one another on the journey toward perfection, holiness.
Perfection in spiritual terms cannot be achieved in isolation or in a vacuum. John Wesley understood this dynamic, so he organized people into small groups (bands, classes, societies). The spiritual journey, therefore, could be traversed in the company of other pilgrim disciples who were on the same spiritual path. In partnership, these pilgrim disciples could encourage and resource one another.
When Jesus gathered his original band of disciples, he summoned a group of imperfect men around him. These men made no pretense at being perfect. They agreed to follow Jesus, bringing with them all of their sins, their flaws, their inadequacies, and their spiritual immaturity. They also brought with them openness to learning new things and a willingness to grow. Sometimes, they soaked up the ideas of Jesus in their hearts and minds. At other times, they just did not get it.
Jesus, however, was patient with the disciples and daily resourced their spiritual and intellectual growth. He understood the maturation process of discipleship. Remember that Jesus provided the disciples with three years of in-service training. He taught them by example, and they learned from his preaching and his ministry with people. They were involved in real-life experiences with the master teacher, Jesus. Although they were growing spiritually over that three-year period, they did not finally get it until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. It was then that the disciples started a new journey of faith and ministry. They were literally going on to perfection, sustained by prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They were on the spiritual path together.
Going on to perfection is a matter of journey, spiritual journey. Luke's account of the Walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is illustrative of what it means to be on a spiritual journey that has an eye on perfection. In the aftermath of Jesus' resurrection, two of his disciples were on the road to the village called Emmaus, which was near Jerusalem. The content of their discussion centered on the events of the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus joined them and walked along with them, but they did not recognize him. Jesus wanted to know what they were discussing. Cleopas was surprised that the stranger did not know about the recent dramatic things that had unfolded in Jerusalem. Jesus wanted to know, what things? Their answer was the things about Jesus.
These disciples admitted that it was their hope that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. They shared a few other details about the day's events. Jesus took the opportunity to converse and "interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27).
As they neared their destination, the two disciples invited the stranger to have dinner with them. When Jesus was at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and served his dinner companions. At that point they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then vanished from their sight. The spiritual insight of these two pilgrim disciples was manifested in the cogency of their words: "Weren't our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?" (Luke 24:32).
Going on to perfection was also a matter of fellowship for the disciples as it is for modern-day pilgrim disciples. As the disciples went about their ministry after the Crucifixion, they were no longer dependent on Jesus, but they learned to lean on Jesus. They exercised spiritual leadership while trusting in all that Jesus had taught them. They knew that they were supported by the Holy Spirit and their faith in God. They did the work of ministry "in the name of Jesus." Their fellowship was one of joy in service, feeding the sheep as Jesus had directed Peter to do in his ministry. Jesus had admonished them to remember that "I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age" (Matt. 28:20b). They were able to maintain a daily peace of mind, knowing that Jesus was always near them. And so it is for people in ministry today.
Excerpted from Have You Faith in Christ? by Ernest S. Lyght. Copyright © 2015 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
"I. The Faith Journey",
Question One: Have you faith in Christ?,
Question Two: Are you going on to perfection?,
Question Three: Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?,
Question Four: Are you earnestly striving after it?,
"II. The Work of Ministry",
Question Five: Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?,
"III. The United Methodist Rule of Life",
Question Six: Do you know the General Rules of our Church?,
Question Seven: Will you keep them [the General Rules]?,
"IV. United Methodist Beliefs",
Question Eight: Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?,
Question Nine: After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?,
Question Ten: Will you preach and maintain them [the doctrines of The United Methodist Church]?,
"V. Connectionalism, Governance, and Polity",
Question Eleven: Have you studied our form of church discipline and polity?,
Question Twelve: Do you approve our church government and polity?,
Question Thirteen: Will you support and maintain them [our church government and polity]?,
"VI. The Practice of Ministry",
Question Fourteen: Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?,
Question Fifteen: Will you visit from house to house?,
Question Sixteen: Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?,
Question Seventeen: Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?,
Question Eighteen: Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?,
Question Nineteen: Will you observe the following directions?,