Grace and Peace Brothers and Sisters,
“Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.” (John Wesley’s 1739 edition of Hymns and sacred Poems)
No holiness but social holiness. Although most churches discuss faith in individual or “personal” terms, Discipleship is much more than personal growth and holiness; it is something we share in and develop alongside fellow Christians. This quote from John Wesley is often misused, usually alongside the concept of social justice (another deeply Christian principle), however social holiness is much different. Wesleyans and most orthodox Christians believe that our personal holiness matters, that we grow into it throughout our lives with the help of God. This is the heart of what we understand sanctification to be and is all well and good. However, John Wesley believed that our Christian faith must materialize, or be lived out, in our individual lives and in community with one another... no holiness apart from social holiness.
Kevin Watson, professor at Candler School of Theology (Emory) writes, “In this context, then, Wesley is explicitly rejecting “holy solitaries,” or the attempt to become holy in isolation from other Christians. He is insisting on the importance of community for becoming Christ-like.” Wesley believed that we needed to be intentional about being in community with one another so that we could pray for one another, learn from one another, and confess our sins to one another. We cannot isolate ourselves and say that we just need to be on our own with God. We need to be in communal spaces that are safe, where we can be vulnerable. Social holiness means that our individual holiness and life with God can affect others in their life with God. It means that we can grow and learn from each other as disciples of Jesus Christ. There is always a corporate nature of our salvation in the church. We are made by God for one another and to be in community with one another. Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes often about us belonging to a “household of faith,” or a “family of faith” united by our common baptism and the image of God that makes us all brothers and sisters. We need one another, and those people in our lives to encourage us and bring us along in the faith.
You have heard for the past several months about the work being done in small groups that have formed in our congregation. These groups are seeking to do this vital work of social holiness. I invite you in your Sunday School classes/small groups/etc. to consider how you might pray for and support one another as we move forward together. Another opportunity for this type of community is the Generative Leadership Academy. GLA is designed to work with leaders discovered by their local church, equip them with the fundamentals of the faith, connect them with resources and other disciples, to live into their call and develop their spiritual gifts, so they can be sent back to the local church and community to offer Christ to a hurting world. GLA has four sessions in 2019: January 25-26, May 3-4, August 16-17, and October 11-12. Each quarter, participants spend 24 hours at Natchez Trace State Park learning about four elements of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. These are: Meeting God - the foundation for disciples, Piety - the practice of being with God, Mercy - God’s love in action, Spiritual Gifts - Living into God’s call. This is designed to serve as a covenant group, a space for social holiness, where laity from our congregation can discover how God is calling them to serve and even lead their own ministries! For more information about GLA, call Will at the church office. The deadline to sign up is December 10th. Let us pray for one another, encourage one another, and discover how God is at work among us already.
Peace, Will, Ed, and the FUMC staff