Here’s the final installment of notes from Paul Chilcote’s Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision, chapter 8: “Incarnational Ministry: Piety and Mercy.”
1. “There is a close connection between faith and works, between the foundation of the Christian life and its fullness, namely a life characterized by acts of piety and mercy joined together in perfect love” (p. 107). “Piety” refers to actions that support and manifest a spiritually devoted “inner life,” or life of one’s soul. “Mercy” refers to actions that come from one’s sense of compassion in the face of immediate need. As Chilcote says, there is a connection here between “piety & mercy” and “faith & works.” And the comparison includes that we must have and exercise both to be truly Christian. Jesus modeled an embrace of both piety and mercy as springing from the same well (p. 108).
2. The Wesleys’ “essential discovery about the Christian life is nothing other than the ‘incarnational principle'” (p. 108). The “incarnation” is the Son of God becoming flesh and reaching us where we are in order to convert us to the gospel of God’s kingdom through Christ. Since the Church is “the body of Christ” we are to engage in mission and ministry “incarnationally”: “To be a Christian is to ‘flesh out’ love” (p. 109)
3. Balancing piety and mercy is the key: “The Wesleys realized that works of piety devoid of compassion are pharisaical. They also knew that works of mercy not rooted in a grace-filled relationship with God are ultimately bankrupt” (p. 110). Perceiving the ways that these compliment one another is essential to achieving the right balance. John Wesley’s General Rules of the United Societies (in 1743) represent this combination and assume that a life growing in piety will naturally show itself in works of mercy (p. 110-111).