Imagine a theology that allowed you to be sure of your salvation even though you are a great big jerk. The things you do only reflect your self-interest. You play on people’s fear to gain power for yourself and that power is used to better your situation and desires. People criticize, especially conservative American politicians on the way they talk about their religious identity. Being born again as is a way to gain influence there. James Dobson, founder of the Evangelical group Focus on the Family, speaking to Christian leaders vouched for Donald Trump having been recently led to Christ. The room full of Evangelical leaders saw him as one of them. It may have had an impact on the way some people voted.
I was once vouched for in a Churches Together meeting where I was questioning one policy or another. A Baptist friend speaking softly to someone who had ruffled feathers by my comment said, “Don’t worry, he is a believer.” She did not like what I was saying but my belief made me okayish.
Antinomianism is a line of thinking that drove Wesley to great frustration. It is the natural link to thinking that salvation earned through faith alone allows the person of faith not to worry much about what they do, say or how they behave. In some Christian circles, it is the thing that forgives misogyny, not paying taxes, racist policies… because he is one of us, a believer.
We do not like folk who challenge our way of doing things. Sometimes we confuse our way of doing things as our traditions. I have seen our traditions used like the laws you do not break if you want to be a part of a congregation or group.
At its root anti-nomial means against laws. You do not need to follow the rules as long as you believe. In Methodism we are proud of being non-Conformist but few, especially not Wesley would accept a hint of being antinomial. Your works, what you do is inspired by your faith and of great importance to your salvation to Wesley.
Wesley was accused of being Pelagian – salvation coming through works rather than faith. He believed God loved you before you can know anything about it (Prevenient Grace). A natural conclusion for some was that this grace wiped away Original Sin. Wesley defended his position fervently on the importance of baptism for sins, and the pursuit of helping people to know they are saved to the uttermost. His opponents would point to his focus on what we do with our lives playing a role in salvation and how that undermines the supreme importance of faith alone. He was viewed by some church authorities of holding a position that the people who followed him followed him rather than the church or Jesus. He challenged the church and its traditions, they might argue in a Wesley oriented way.
When people look back through the traditions of our churches we discover that some of the biggest concerns wider society has about the overtly religious, thank you Tea Party, are tied to arguments that were being had during the reforming periods from which Methodism grew. “As long as they believe as I do,” forgives some pretty obvious failings in our leaders and has allowed bad stuff to fester in our churches for centuries.
Their is tension between what we can learn from our traditions and traditionalism.
When I visited Spotland Methodist Church the other day, the sanctuary was a beautiful traditional church. You could see the importance of singing to earlier generations and could imagine the choir spilling out from the pews above into the gallery that surrounded the sanctuary. You can see that the molding used in the woodwork reflected the molding in houses from their neighborhood and that they have preserved their original architectural features. It was built with and of the same stuff as the community around it. Its tradition is a direct reflection of the people of its time. Some people hold on to that as precious, others see it as holding the congregation back.
I then met a group of people who were using dance and movement in an interpretive way. The focus of their meeting was the things we hold in our hands. After a dance session, we had a bit of show and tell. I brought a basketball, the first object I bought with earned money. It holds my sweat in the leather stains from decades of use. As it ages it becomes more beautiful. My friends’ sweat are in it too. My love for the game and competition was talked about.
This session which had community members attending not necessarily from the Methodist Church, told stories about baptismal gowns, trinkets bought at the time before a father went to war, a prayer book, a set backdrop from a play all of which had stories linking the tellers to their spouse. As they told the story of what they held in their hands, their tradition to a person was linked to the babies they held or the relations they missed and love. Someone commented that they need to write the story down about how each object was used because the love infused in it might be lost if the story is not recorded.
Eureka, I thought listening to their stories. Traditions have always been important in the Methodist church. It is not because of who has power or even doing things in a right or wrong way. It is not someone’s thoughts Trumping another, pun intended. Through traditions we tell the story of the things the generations before us loved the most, held onto most tightly and it is sad when we use the term traditionalist in the way reformers called each other Pelagian or antinomial. We should not be labeling people in the modern church as one of us or not.
Scripture: James 2: 14-20
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]?
What do you think about the person that confesses no faith but does a lot of good in their community? Do they earn a place in heaven?
How about the leader who confesses faith and uses this to gain influence or acceptance? What if the faith is real but the person is really nasty? Tony Blair made a public declaration of his faith while many think he misled us into war. Donald Trump has made a televangelist a public personal
advisor. If faith alone gains entry to heaven, is heaven filled with people you want to spend eternity with?
Traditions can be attributed for teaching love and faith. They can be condemned for holding a people back from how they would choose to express their faith.
Discuss the traditions in your church as both good and bad. What do the things you do and the way you do them teach?
Original Sin. It has a bad reputation. As all good church goers especially in the UK we likely think badly of ourselves, unworthy of the love God gives and guilty about all of the stuff we have done and will do wrong. So when people struggle to understand how a baby who has not had enough time to do anything wrong yet needs to cleaned of original sin it can be confusing. Many of my colleagues have chosen not to baptize their baby.
In the tradition, though we are made less than God, God’s Spirit washes over us. The water we use covers the baby in Love taught through our tradition. It is a story of the loving relationship of the divine to its human creation.
Would you like to be baptised again? Why or why not?
If a baptised child chooses another path than the Christian one, is their blame involved in our culture?
What have you learned in faith through the baptisms you have participated in or witnessed?
If you look around at all of your possessions and had to choose one that reflected something about you, what would you choose? What is the story your object tells?