One Cause of the Inefficacy of Christianity

John Meunier has some wonderful words in a recent blog post, Wesley's Call to Action, about the Methodist tradition of examining ourselves and exploring how to become more effective. It was a topic that Wesley frequently raised for discussion, and we still do this.

My favorite: I remember Wesley lamenting the future of Methodism should the 5 am preaching ever be abandoned.

In my garage I have a portable power saw and other tools that I bought to do home repairs years ago and which I haven't used for over 15 years. Well made, I suspect they would work fine if I decided to use them for the purpose for which they were made.

Our Wesleyan system is also a well made, well designed method of making excellent disciples. It was crafted for the purpose of evangelism, for maturing new Christians through stages of growth to likewise learn how to partner in evangelism and maturing new disciples. Indeed, we "have nothing to do but to save souls..."

In the 5 am preaching, the circuit rider would position his horse on the road men took to the mines, sing a hymn to draw a crowd, and then preach. Methodist laymen would stop and those with whom they had influence would stand with them and hear a sermon; in the following days the laity would, through conversation with those friends, expand the influence of that brief message. In the centuries since, the role of the preacher in that process has been emphasized while the action of the early Methodist laity as disciple makers has been neglected or even ignored.

I have a great tool in my garage, a Craftsman power saw, and Methodism has a great tool for making disciples. You can examine the tool all day long, oil it, improve it and expound upon its value. It is right to say "This is a great tool!" The problem is not with the tool at all; the problem is that the tool needs to be applied to wood to do its work. The tool of Methodist disciple making needs to be applied to the wood of people who need faith. And the way the tool of disciple making works is through many small conversations that build a relationship with a person who is not-yet-fully-Christian and how those conversations eventually become conversations about faith.

You can no longer stand on a street, sing a hymn and draw a crowd; preaching to the lost doesn't work in our culture as it did in Wesley's culture. But the work God does through the conversations laity have is still as effective as it ever was.

It's good to emphasize Wesley's system of sanctifying grace, keeping God's laws and emphasizing holiness. It's a great system, a great tool for making good disciples into better disciples.

The problem to me, however, is that it is a command of Jesus Christ to each Christian to go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach/train them to obey all the commands of Christ, including the command for them to go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach/train them to obey all the commands of Christ ... and on and on. Our 2008 Book of Discipline, P. 126, now understands working at the Great Commission clearly as a ministry of the laity.

We ask "Why is there so much wickedness abroad?" and consider soberly the causes of the inefficacy of Christianity. It is a good answer to say that the lack of spiritual discipline and self-denial within us is the problem, but that is the saw sitting on the shelf, ready to work, but not cutting wood.

When I consider the focus of holiness over the past three centuries and its current revival through a new understanding of the General Rules, I believe we continue to miss the point - the idea that we are pursuing is that what is needed are disciplined Christians more able to achieve a definition of holiness which omits obedience to the Great Commission. We focus on making better and better disciples who somehow never become disciple makers.

Look over all the exhortations to holiness over the recent centuries - what sin have we not addressed that would account for the growing inefficacy of Christianity?

The understanding of holiness that is needed for the church to be effective is that, if it is a sin to disobey a command of Christ, then it is a sin for a person to not make disciples (Mt 28:19) and it is a sin to not teach those new disciples to become disciple makers (Mt 28:20), and it is a sin for a church not to teach the laity how to fulfill the Great Commission.