Last night in the Elephant Group at Raunds we were considering Holiness and Christian Perfection.
I invented a new acronym in honour of the occasion. One that seems to me to be a useful mnemonic on some of the basics of a life in search of Christian Perfection. I don’t claim anything magical about this, however, it does appear to relate quite well to the Methodist tradition and to some of the challenges we face as a denomination.
So the acronym is DOC (a pun on the idea of Physician heal yourself, a hint towards the idea that a journey of Christian Perfection, of sanctification involves healing.
Anyway after all that verbiage DOC stands for Desire Openness Commitment. Three requirements for us if we are going to keep going as mentioned in Philippians 3:12-14:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As we considered DOC, we did so within three main contexts.
First, the 4 legged stool (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, all bound together and understood in community) that I believe is an essential framework as we do theology & discipleship together. All too often we see individuals and churches go off into tangents because they fail to use all the legs or they do so individually rather than as a community. No doubt more on that later.
The second context was to explicitly look at a number of scripture passages that have been associated with holiness and Christian perfection in the Methodist tradition (obviously by no means an exhaustive list but they were challenging and helpful). We considered Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:35, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, Romans 5: 1-5, 1 John 4:7-21, Philippians 3:12-14 and Hebrews 6:1 (you can find these in "A Catechism for the use of the people called Methodists" questions 34, 35).
The 3rd context was community worship, our Elephant Series always begins with worship. Last night we followed a very simple pattern of singing with open prayer between each song. We sang "As we come today", "O God of burning cleansing flame", Holy Spirit, we welcome you", "All I once held dear" and "Purify my heart". I guess the intention of seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit in power within our Church and of lifelong commitment of ourselves to God is quite noticeable in that selection.
So the Elephant session considered DOC within these contexts. I should also say something about the Elephant Series itself. The name may sound odd but it came from a determination to have a group (essentially within the Methodist Class tradition) that goes deep and is not afraid to tackle the big elephants in the room. During the time we have met we have tackled head on the major elephants in the Christian tradition today (Authority of Scripture, Sexuality, Islam, Atonement, …). It has not been easy and some have found it too challenging. However, we have also added new people to the group. We are currently considering what it is to be a member of the Methodist Church and so are in the middle of 6 weeks based loosely on "Called by name: being a member in the Methodist Church".
Onto DOC (yes I know you thought I had forgotten).
Desire: If we are to seek Christian Perfection, if we are to become holy then we have to want it. Really want it. It won’t come simply by turning up on a Sunday. We have to seek to be continually fed and nurtured so the desire to become more Christ-like remains. Sadly we do see people in Churches who have lost this desire, who have no passion to become like Christ, instead Church has become for them a social institution or a dry ritual.
We used the image of the 4 legged stool to consider different ways of kindling desire for God. Maybe different ways are appropriate at different times. The need to not crowd out time for building desire, the dangers of being too busy.
Openness: We need to be open to hear and respond to God’s call on our lives. This includes a reminder back to Ephesians 4:11-12 and context around it which I preached on recently with the call for Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. Particularly noting that this is not a call for ordained people in a denomination but to the whole people of God. That included a plea to remember that God is calling people to be APE’s (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists) within the Methodist Church and so to seek to hear and obey his call.
Again sadly there are people in the Church today who are not open to hear and respond to God. They may feel they are expressing desire to seek Christian Perfection but they have attached conditions to that. Not if it means changing my job, not if it means changing my lifestyle, not if it means loving x or y, not if it means changing my views on a or b, not if it will take more time, not if it means I have to talk to people about my faith, not if it means I have to get my hands dirty.
We talked about how we create a climate of openness within the Church. Some suggestions included looking back through the saints of the past to consider how they often struggled, we are not alone in this. I challenged people to make sure that at least they occasionally they tacked a theological book coming from an entirely different view to the ones they hold, to see how God might speak to them through that. Other ways included different experiences of worship, different Bible translations to give fresh insights (you can hopefully see how these relate to different legs of the stool).
Commitment: As the Philippians reading clearly challenges us we need to commit to lifelong discipleship. But this has to be continually connected to and revised by the insights coming from Desire and Openness. We considered the lessons from the past when at times our denomination got so focused on it’s commitment to live out the gospel that we stopped being fed (ie we neglected Desire and Openness because we were too focused on the commitment).
So again the 4 legged stool worked out in community proved to be a good way of assessing, guiding, reviewing and feeding our commitment. We considered how the tradition of the Methodist Class system where there is mutual accountability can be helpful in supporting and focusing our commitment.
We also spent some time reflecting of the need for commitment to be energised and powered by the Holy Spirit, attempting to achieve commitment in our own strength is doomed to failure and is clearly bad for us, the Church and those we are committed to. Again the Desire and Openness elements are intended to keep us listening to and being controlled by the Spirit so that our commitment is always working for the Misio Dei (Mission of God).
So there you have DOC. By no means comprehensive on it’s own but offered in case anyone else finds it helpful.