Our Purpose Is Love: The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church

April 24th, 2018

Faultlines is a collection of resources intended to inform conversations around human sexuality within the United Methodist Church as the denomination prepares for the 2019 General Conference. The collection represents diverse perspectives and attempts to fill knowledge gaps around the debate, biblical foundations, theological arguments and the impact on The United Methodist Church and her people. Visit www.AbingdonPress.com/Faultlines for more information. The following is an excerpt from Our Purpose Is Love: The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church.

God’s purpose is love, and God brought the church into being that it might embody and spread divine love. This is the vision for our church in a complex and broken world.

Is It Real?

This might seem like a great dream, but is it real? If your experience is anything like mine, this vision seems to be an irrelevant dream. Far too often, the church is not an embodiment of love; in fact it seems to be the very opposite. Church politics are often underhanded, devious, and nasty. Disagreements easily degenerate into vicious conflicts in which people seem to be in a competition  to outdo one another in misrepresenting and demeaning others. Instead of being directed toward our mission in the world, far too often we are more concerned with our own comfort and security. I could go on.

However, the opposite is also true, as this book shows. There are many remarkable examples of church embodying divine love in our broken world, stories that cry out “God is at work here transforming people and communities!” In the midst of a broken world, we see God’s reign of love breaking in, bringing transformation, healing, and reconciliation.

Continuing the Journey

The reality of the church is mixed, but that is nothing new. One of the striking features of the New Testament letters is how they describe the church in almost surreal terms—affirming it as the embodiment of reconciliation, the new humanity, the center of God’s purpose—and, at the same time, describe with brutal honesty the failures and brokenness of the church. The treasure we have is always in earthen bowls. This recognition is the fundamental starting point to becoming something different. We receive God’s justifying grace only when we recognize our unrighteousness.

"Our Purpose Is Love The Wesleyan Way to Be the Church" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here: https://bit.ly/2HJhA9l

We can open ourselves to the transforming power of God only as we realize our brokenness and failure. The starting point of our journey to a fuller realization of what it means to be the church is the recognition of our own reality and our dependence on the  power of God. Recognition must then lead to two further actions: The first is repentance. In repentance, we confess our sinful contribution to the state of the church. We are part of the problem. The failure of the church is not the result of others who are in the wrong; it is because of us and our sin. It is the recognition that sin clings to our best motivated actions and words. The second is lament. Lament is identification with the church in its brokenness without ascribing blame. It is the deep awareness that, even with the best intentions, because of our human fallibility and finitude, we have contributed to the failure of the church.

Following repentance and lament there must be thanksgiving. Thanksgiving arises out of the recognition that, despite our failures and brokenness, God has been at work in amazing and unexpected ways. God has used transformed lives. God has used the church to bring healing, hope, reconciliation, and justice in our world. Out of this recognition we ought to turn to God in praise, affirming God’s amazing grace. Thanksgiving leads us to recognize that God can transform us and the church to a renewed faith in the power of the Spirit. Repentance, lament, and thanksgiving give birth to a new hope, which motivates us to cry to God to pour out the Holy Spirit on the church to convict, transform, and renew it. This is God’s work, and God alone can do it.

As Wesley emphasized, crying to and waiting for God to work are active tasks. We cry and wait by actively seeking God through engaging in all the means of grace that God has given to the church. We must be actively seeking the perfection of the church in the hope that God will meet us and transform us. So the next step on the journey is to renew our covenant with God and commit ourselves to working in God’s power and in expectation of God’s presence for the renewal of the church, that it might become a community pervaded by love.

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