Friday, August 14, 2015

Just Perfect

John Wesley is best known for his tireless work in founding small groups within the Church of England that were called METHODIST sarcastically because of Wesley's insistance on being methodical in the Christian life: Bible reading, fasting, early to bed and to rise, journaling, etc.  Although it was a term of derision from mockers, it stuck, much like a kid's nickname that makes fun of some quirk.  While Methodism spread like wildfire for more than 200 years, there was one huge thorn on the rose of Methodism that became a real sticking point.

As a scholar, priest and a seeker, he took seriously all the words of scripture for an ordered, disciplined life.  Among those Biblical commands that John Wesley preached and proposed was what he called "perfection".  As used by Wesley, teleioi or τέλειοι, comes solely from the New Testament (Matthew 5:48, 1 Corinithians 14:20, Phillipians 3:15, Colossians 4:12, James 1:4) The Greek origin,  télos  means traveling toward a destination or a consumation; it is closure or arrival at a goal.  Consider the old barbarian pirates with their eyeglass extending toward their destination--- the telescope.  Before leaving the Greek, I think it's interesting to see it as something that unfolds, stage by stage, a maturation, which is how I see perfection.  But why is perfection important and how does it apply to you and me?

John Wesley took a lot of ridicule because he broke out of the typical mold.   I think 99.9% his problem with the doctrine of perfection is what he chose to call it.  Systematic Theologian: yes. Organizer? Oh yeah! Marketing....not so much.   But when you call it holiness instead of perfection, it's it's easier to swallow, right? An even more palatable way to break it down is to call it growing in the faith.  It should describe all Christians who take the time and energy to read their Bible; who pray and seek to love God more in their heart and through their actions---not just on Sunday---but every day. Tell us we're supposed to be perfect and my eyes glaze over. I give up.  Can I, through Christ who gives me strength, love God and people? I will do my darned best!

Wesley believed that this was worked out in small accountability groups, where those on the same journey could ask hard but honest questions.  How, though, could they measure any progress on the road to perfection errrrr, holiness, I mean? It was pretty simple, actually.  The criteria Jesus would have used would be the greatest commandments (Matthew 22):

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.
John Wesley called it perfection.  Yet others have called it holiness. The key word is actually love.  Love God. Love others. As you grow toward God, you become more like Him, which is LOVE.  Just like in the triangle above, as you grow, the distance between yourself and God or yourself and others diminishes. Grow in love!

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