Thursday, August 4, 2016

Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit - Sermon 1

The first sermon in the series is based on Wesley's sermon, "Catholic Spirit."  Preached several times between 1740 and 1749, this sermon focuses on the idea of finding common ground among Christian denominations.  

During Wesley’s time there was a great division among Christians over the issues of doctrine, creeds, and those who were indifferent or dismissive of creeds altogether.  Some churches insisted on creeds as the ground of belief and others refused to say any creeds at all, considering them too close to the “Roman Church.”  It should be noted that “catholic” means universal and only pertains to the Roman Church when capitalized with the words, Roman Catholic Church.  “Universal” is how Wesley utilized this word in his sermon.

What Wesley was attempting to do in this sermon was to mediate the conflict between clear doctrinal standards (in which he believed) and his conviction that true religion was “heart religion” shaped by Christian love.  It was a difficult middle ground Wesley sought, and many disagreed with his attempt to bridge the gap of what we might call High Church on one side and Independent churches that had no liturgy or creeds.  It was a bold attempt to walk a fine line between polar opinions.  The idea, however, of focusing on a middle way that looks for unity amid diversity took hold and shaped our denomination.

As professor Morris Davis at Drew University wrote, “The United Methodist Church, like the Methodist movement of Wesley’s day, struggles over doctrinal disagreements. How should the Church approach such problems? How did John Wesley deal with such conflicts? While Wesley would have sympathized with calls for doctrinal standards, he would have been more concerned with relationships between believers. Wesley’s suspicion of human ability to fully know truth convinced him that hearts striving in perfecting love were more important than heads unified in doctrinal agreement. This “catholic spirit” might be a helpful stance today.”

As a reminder, as I preach these sermons, I have adapted them for time, changed the language to be a bit more modern, but I haven't changed the tone.  I have condensed them to the critical ideas Wesley sought to convey.  I would encourage you to read the originals as they are the thoughts and writings of the founder of our denominational movement.  There are several books containing Wesley’s sermons or you could go online (such as and read them all.  Well worth it.

- Pastor Charles

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