Catalysts for Renewal: Review of Magrey deVega's 'One Faithful Promise'

December 5th, 2016

If you could use the foundational principles of early Methodism as catalysts for renewal in your congregation today, would you be interested? I am going to guess that you would be. Thanks to Abingdon Press, we can now follow the formative path that John and Charles Wesley (and others) set forth for “the people called Methodist”—the formative journey of character, conduct, and covenant.

The Wesleys laid the good foundation for Methodism on the bedrock of character with the document “The Character of a Methodist” (1742), following it just a year later with “The General Rules of the United Societies,” which laid out the fundamental aspects of conduct that such character would ignite. After a decade of using this twofold pattern for disciple-making, John Wesley added the Covenant Renewal service (1755), which gave the early Methodists an annual opportunity to renew their promises to God.

Abingdon Press has made available these three seminal documents in a series of updated resources: my book Five Marks of a Methodist (character), Rueben Job’s book Three Simple Rules (conduct), and Magrey R. deVega’s book One Faithful Promise (covenant). In addition to these three books, small-group resources accompany each volume, including a leader guide, a participant guide, and a DVD in which each author talks more about his topic.

Magrey deVega’s volume is the latest in the series, published in August of 2016. It can be used (as can the other two) as a stand-alone study, or it can be integrated into the formative flow of character, conduct, and covenant as congregations engage in an extended journey similar to what Wesley imagined for the early Methodists themselves. Whatever the case, Magrey’s volume reminds us that our character and conduct as Christians must be rooted in covenant; otherwise, our intentions will eventually wane and perhaps evaporate altogether. Clearly Wesley saw the Covenant Renewal service (along with the annual conference and the regular meetings of classes and bands) providing the ongoing life for the early Methodist people.

Magrey describes the first such service in August of 1755, where an estimated 1,800 people gathered outside an English village church to root themselves firmly in God’s grace and to testify that they belonged, heart and soul, to God. John Wesley said of that evening, “Such a night I’d rarely seen before. Surely the fruit of it will remain forever.”[1] Similar services were held annually after that (usually at the first of the year) until in 1780, when John Wesley added “Directions for Renewing Our Covenant with God” to the regular order of service. Today the Covenant Renewal service can be used meaningfully at other times in the Christian Year, as well.

The directions describe a fivefold experience that the Covenant Renewal service provided—an experience for worshippers to confide in God, compose their spirits, claim the covenant, choose faithfulness, and connect to God in prayer. Magrey unpacks each of these experiences in the chapters of his excellent book. In an epilogue, he shows how these formative experiences are part of what he calls “a complete promise” contained in the accompanying Five Marks and Three Simple Rules volumes.

I end this review with Magrey’s own words—words that not only bring his volume to a close but also serve to remind us how important all this is: “Learn to offer God the fullness of your whole being, and do so in the context of community, sharing the Christian journey together. God desires from you nothing less than a complete and continuing promise.”[2]

Steve Harper is a retired United Methodist elder in the Florida Annual Conference and a retired seminary professor who taught for thirty-two years in the disciplines of spiritual formation and Wesleyan studies. He is the author of Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith, from Abingdon Press.

[1] Magrey R. deVega, One Faithful Promise: The Wesleyan Covenant for Renewal (Abingdon Press, 2016), 6.

[2] deVega, One Faithful Promise, 64.

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