We Are A Practical Church
As I continue my studies for the ordained
ministry, I am particularly excited by the writings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley’s emphasis on practical theology urges us to put faith and love into practice. This is our distinctive heritage
as United Methodists. In fact, the Book of Discipline declares, “the Spirit has brought the Church into existence for the
healing of the nations.”
In Wesleyan theology, living the full Christian life consists of
two parts: first, seeking inward holiness through prayer, Scripture, Holy Communion, and faithful worship, and second, putting faith and these good works into practice. In other
words, John Wesley’s theology is a practical theology, and Methodists are practical Christians. The starting point of salvation in Wesley’s theology is prevenient grace, or “God’s action” in human life. This “divine love” surrounds all people, Christians and non-Christians.
Wesley believes the conscience is a gift from God, the Holy Spirit at work in everyone. He says God’s grace awakens the conscience in all humans, to move them from sin toward
repentance and faith. Hence, prevenient grace makes it possible for all persons to receive God’s justifying grace. Justification is God’s accepting and forgiving love, which
comes with assurance of our salvation. Wesley declares justifying and assuring grace occur when human beings yield their lives to God, in gratitude. It is the individual’s faithful response to God’s prevenient grace. The next step in the Christian’s journey is sanctification. Sanctifying grace draws humans toward the gift of Christian perfection, which Wesley describes as “having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked.” Sanctifying grace nurtures the Wesleyan passion for social holiness. Wesley’s outdoor preaching, visiting of prisoners, and ministry among the poor are based on his understanding of prevenient grace as universal and available to all, regardless of social or economic status, religion, race, or gender. He wanted to reduce suffering and make the world a more just and
compassionate place. Thus, he articulates a theology in which the church heals all nations regardless of differences in race, language, and beliefs.