When I was a teenager, my brother gave me for my birthday a book of fifty-five sermons by John Wesley. Now most teenagers would have thought such a gift to be a joke, and responded with: ‘Just wait till your birthday comes around-I’ll get you back!’
However, I received the gift as well-meant. For around that time, my brother and I had both been deeply impacted by the Holy Spirit in our lives. Even so, it was some years before I began to appreciate the significance of Wesley and his sermons.
In recent weeks a remarkable series of events has reminded me of one of these sermons-one with a rather provocative title: ‘The Importance of having a Catholic Spirit’.
Wesley, of course, was definitely not Roman Catholic. He is widely regarded as the founder of the Methodist Church. Which is not strictly true. It was over his dead body that the Methodist movement, of which he was a chief initiator, became a separate church.
So what was this sermon about? And why have recent events stirred my memory of this sermon?
Let’s start with the second question. Last month I wrote about the Together for Europe event in Stuttgart, when over 9,000 followers of Jesus from Pentecostal, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox traditions gathered in a wonderful spirit of unity and diversity. Under the slogan ‘Together on the Way’, these believers were celebrating that what they had in common was far greater than what separated them: namely, the centrality of the Word of God and a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
Then following Pentecost, after the Festival of the Nations in Herrnhut I wrote about last week, we held an Ancient Churches Consultation to explore how YWAMers should relate to pre-Reformation church traditions: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian and Coptic, in particular.
There we shared stories about God being at work in traditions outside our own, often forcing us to broaden our understanding of the true Body of Christ. We also had to face up to the challenges of being bridge-builders in a divided Church, including being misunderstood by both sides-even within our own movement.
Just 36 hours after returning from Herrnhut, I was in Haarlem for a national consultation of city-wide platforms of churches and movements partnering towards transformation. This gathering was direct fruit of the HOPE.21 congress in Budapest five years ago, and the Dutch national conference, HOOP.21, that followed.
Now representatives were reporting on the emerging cooperation among believers, from both sides of the Reformation. They shared a common vision to bring hope to their cities, towns and regions, including Haarlem, Ede, Spijkenisse, Barendrecht, Den Delder, Hengelo, Almere, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
Then last weekend, my wife and I were in Rotterdam. Robert Calvert, pastor of the Scots International Church, explained how a regular gathering of evangelical leaders decided to disband in order to regroup with a broader circle of leaders from churches all across the city. And so Kerk voor Rotterdam was formed. Interfacing with local government, KvR is now working in a spirit of unity with diversity towards the transformation of problem neighbourhoods, already with a noted measure of success. Ecumenism of the heart is being effectively translated into an ecumenism on the streets.
So what does this have to do with Wesley’s sermon about a catholic spirit? Firstly, Wesley uses the word ‘catholic’ as it is used in the Apostles’ Creed: ‘I believe in one holy, catholic (universal) apostolic church.’
He illustrates the meaning of this word from a short passage in 2 Kings chapter 10, describing Jehu’s mission to restore the kingdom from the ungodly rulership of Ahab and Jezebel. Jehu is racing along in his chariot when he comes upon a certain Jehonadab (v.15). Pulling on his reins and screeching to a halt, Jehu asks Jonadab: ‘Is you heart right with mine, as mine is with your’s?’
‘Yes!’ comes the reply. ‘In that case,’ says Jehu, ‘join me on my chariot and come and see my zeal for the Lord.
Wesley explains that both these men were strong characters with outspoken convictions. Jehu’s personality was reflected in his driving, described as that of a madman (2 Kings 9:20). We learn about Jehonadab’s peculiarities from Jeremiah (35:6,7). He was a Recabite, and had vowed never to drink wine and always to live in tents. He had even enforced those vows on his offspring!
Yet Jehu’s question was not: ‘Do you agree with my doctrine?’, ‘Do you worship the way I worship?’ or ‘Do you read the Bible the way I do?’ Rather it was, ‘Is your heart right with mine?’ It was a question about intentions.
We will never have full agreement on doctrinal issues and other matters. But we can have ecumenism of the heart. Of course, that is no excuse for ignoring truth. The centrality of the Word and the Lordship of Christ remain essential for a truly catholic spirit.
We are, I believe, in a season of convergence. We are discovering that the Body of Christ is perhaps larger than we had realised. We are being united with ‘lost’ family members.
The world has yet to see the impact of a truly united witness. This is serious stuff. As Jesus prayed, the credibility of the Gospel hangs on it: “…so that the world may know you have sent me.” (John 17: 21)
Till next week,
Till next week,