I’m at the plate. The ball whizzes by, right at elbow height. That’s one. The second pitch goes the same way. That’s two. I swing at the third, but I don’t know if the “whoosh” of the ball or the “whoosh” of the bat is clearer in my ears.
“You’re outta there!”
Baseball has clear norms. Three strikes you’re out, at the old ball game.
John Wesley had clear norms for his early Methodists too. Turns out he invented the three strike system. Sort of.
A few weeks ago I noted that John Wesley had a clear minimum standard for people wishing to join the Methodist movement: they had to want to “flee from the wrath to come; which they saw continually hanging over their heads.” They wanted, in short “to be saved from their sins.”
This seems to indicate a clearer sense of the problem than many Christians have, including new converts if they are told that the whole process is complete if they simply say “the sinner’s prayer” or declare that Jesus is their “personal Lord and Savior.”
- Wesley’s converts came with a clear sense of fear that the troubles they had created in this life were going to dog them in the next.
- Wesley gave his converts a clear way to go about becoming new people–a way to, one step at a time, leave the old problems behind.
In between he had a clear baseline for what Christian living needed to look like. To paraphrase, it comes down to three strikes:
- Don’t do bad stuff.
- Do good stuff.
- Do the regular Christian stuff.
In every case he is clear about the motivation. Members of his community did all three things
“to evidence their desire of salvation.”
That is, you get in because you want salvation and you stay in because you show you still want salvation.
He is also very clear about what he means by each of the three.
1. His list of forbidden things can sound restrictive, but it will make sense to those familiar with Scripture: no taking God’s name in vain; no sabbath breaking; no drunkenness; no brawling; no cheating people in business; no disrespectful talk about government officials; no use of media that don’t help you know and love God. Etc.
2. His list of the good things a member of the community should do is equally important: being a Christian is not just avoiding stuff. They are all expected to show mercy; to give food and clothing to poor people; to help people who are sick or imprisoned; to help others in countless other ways as much as they can.
3. Perhaps in a day when people say they are “spiritual but not religious” the most interesting criteria are the specifically Christian things: to be a member of the Methodist community one had to have a church and go to worship there regularly, hear the Scriptural message preached, receive the Lord’s Supper; and in private he or she had to study Scripture, and pray, and fast.
That baseline portrait of lived Christianity was really important to the movement. It provided a set of norms that everyone agreed on and everyone understood. Meet the norms and you get to stay in the movement, a part of the community. Break the norms and there are consequences. As Wesley put it,
“If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them … We will admonish him of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: but then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us.”
What kinds of behaviors are required to continue in your Christian community?
What kinds of behaviors can lead to being, well, shall we say, “fired”?
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