Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Catholic Spirit (2 Kings 10:15)

As I’ve mentioned to you before, John Wesley’s Methodist revival paid a lot of attention to the practical, day-to-day matters of everyday life. For one, Methodist attracted a lot of people who had to spend most of their waking hours making a living. They didn’t have a lot of time for doctrinal discussions, so they wanted to know what they were supposed to do and when and how.

For another, Wesley himself was a practical man. He published a medical treatment guide, using information he gathered from several sources. He suggested reading lists for his people, including books for people who were just now learning to read.

Many of his sermons dealt with how people ought to conduct their lives if they claimed to be Christians. Wesley himself had little patience for people who claimed all the right doctrines and yet practiced few of them.

Among the most important doctrines for him was that Christians showed love to other people, especially other Christians. He knew Methodism faced the danger of its people starting to think they had a better grasp on the truth than other groups and getting a mite big for their britches.

In his day, Christian denominations were just starting to branch out, and they didn’t always work and play well with one another. Sometimes brawls and riots ended the debate, and in some countries, denominational divisions started wars.

Wesley felt this was completely wrong – Christians might definitely disagree about things, but there was no way that these disagreements should divide them that much. Doubly so in light of the fact that Jesus had said that people will know us by our love of one another.

He picked the story of Jehu and Jehonadab meeting in Second Kings. They met peacefully and agreed they were to be friends. No big deal to us, because we don’t know Jehu and Jehonadab from Jehoiakim. But let’s meet these guys and learn why this was an example Wesley wanted his people to follow.

Jehonadab was a back-to-basics guy, whose followers maintained the wandering lifestyle of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They vowed to live in tents, never build houses and never plant crops, following God the way the patriarchs had.

Jehu was the king of Israel who had been busy consolidating his kingship in the traditional manner – killing every family member of his predecessor that he could find. He also killed family members of Judah’s King Ahaziah, and after meeting with Jehu, he tricked all the priests of Ba’al into meeting in one place so he could kill them too.

But aside from that, as the king he was the representative of the established temple religion version of Judaism. He was the official face of everything Jehonadab opposed, and he had no problem figuring out what to do with enemies.

So when these guys meet, we should expect at least a little bit of spark, if not some downright full-out hacking and slashing. But no – Jehu asks Jehonadab, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?” Jehonadab says, “It is.” Then Jehu says, “Then give me your hand.” Jehonadab climbs into Jehu’s chariot and rides with him to Jehu’s next stop, Samaria, where Jehu slaughters some more of old King Ahab’s family. Ah, male bonding.

Wesley drew an important lesson from what the two men agreed on, as well as what they didn’t agree on. They agreed their hearts were in accord with each other. They agreed that a sincere desire to worship God formed the core of the other man’s particular beliefs. They agreed that meant they could get along, and because of that, there were things they could accomplish together.

Now, they didn’t agree on those particular beliefs. Jehonadab didn’t give up his back-to-basics ways. Jehu didn’t decide to abandon worshipping God at the temple to go live in a tent.

Wesley wanted his followers to do the same with other Christians. What does it matter, he says, if he preferred to pray from a liturgy and another person preferred to pray spontaneously? Why should that divide one Christian from another in other matters they held in common, like a desire to serve God and save souls?

Put it in our time. What should it matter that one Christian group decides baptism means immersion and another says it may also mean pouring or sprinkling? Should they never work together to feed the hungry, to help those who are homeless, to give the good news to people who haven’t heard it?

Of course not! If their hearts are right with each other, then they should join hands and get to work! It doesn’t mean they agree on everything, but it does mean they agree on the need to love and serve God, on the grace of God given through Christ and on the need of God’s people to spread that word. They can go different places when they need to do different things, but join in the shared task of sharing the gospel.

If we spend enough time at that, then we’ll have enough to do we won’t care about all the other stuff when we get to Heaven anyway.

Heck, I bet all those other people won’t even be disappointed to learn we’re right.

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