Alrighty…so I’m getting my rhythms adjusted to the new baby and, more than that, having three kids. That is the transition after all–we know about having a new baby since we’ve done that twice before. It’s wrangling three of them, all under three years old at this point still, that is the challenge!
That said, I’m back to sharing my notes from the Paul Wesley Chilcote book, Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: An Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley. Here’s what I highlighted from chapter four, “Enthused Disciples: Form and Power.”
1. “In many respects the Wesleyan revival was an effort to recover the power of God’s love inside the institution, or the time-honored structures, of the church” (p. 55). Wesley reminded people of the “importance of both ‘the form and the power of godliness.'” He knew what it was to participate in the external forms without the power of the Spirit and he observed that people could lose the power when they drifted too far from the structured forms. “And so the community of Christ’s people need to have the Spirit breathing new life into its members, but it also needs to develop structures and forms to channel that power appropriately for the renewal of the church and the life of the world” (p. 56).
2. “The point was to hang on to both” (p. 56). Wesley’s “experience taught him that people tend to hold on to the external forms of religion without ever experiencing its power. But he also observed that whenever Christain people begin to neglect the practice or form of religion–in other words, whenever they stop praying or going to church or sharing in fellowship with other Christians–they quickly lose the power as well.” Power animates and breathes life into the forms, but forms sustain and nurture that life-giving energy of the power.
3. “Means of Grace.” John Wesley’s sermon, “The Means of Grace,” addresses this issue in its basic argument: “Christ provided certain outward means in order to offer us his grace. Some began to mistake the means for the end and focused on the outward works rather than the goal of a renewed heart” (p. 60). Having forms–whether liturgical traditions corporately, for example, or spiritual disciplines individually, we are prone to focus on the means–the traditions and disciplines–rather than the end they serve to move us toward. On the flip side, we can over-emphasize the “power” by falsely binding authenticity to spontenaity and miss out of the gift of traditions and disciplines. Understanding the forms as provided by Christ and practicing them as conduits for the power allows us to ground ourselves more in the grace of God to the end of holy living, that is, lives more and more fully devoted to the gospel.