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14 June 2007

Ways of worship

In Sylvester Deigh's final article he explains the method to Methodism

By Sylvester Deigh

It has been said that the Methodist Church was born in song. This is largely due to the influence of Charles Wesley. He was John Wesley’s brother who, having had a similar spiritual experience to his brother, joined him in the work of the early Methodist movement as a gifted poet who wrote many thousands of hymns.

The singing of hymns was a means of communicating the gospel and teaching the faith to new converts – many of whom could not read. This has given the Methodist Church a rich heritage in our worship by singing and music. For many Methodists, our hymn book is also our prayer book – an aid to personal prayer and devotion.

Alongside this strong tradition of singing, sits an equally strong tradition of preaching. John Wesley appointed fellow travelling preachers – who were the predecessors of today’s ordained Methodist ministers – to follow in his footsteps and travel the length and breadth of Britain preaching the gospel.

Working with these travelling preachers are local preachers – lay men and women trained by the church to lead acts of worship and to preach the gospel. As a result worship is always varied and often exciting.

Methodist ministers are ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament which reflects our origins and Wesley’s emphasis on preaching the word. The Methodist Church recognises two Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Sacrements are solemn acts of worship that were established by Jesus Christ in order to bring grace to God’s people.

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For Methodists baptism marks entry into the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’, of which the Methodist Church is a part. Through Baptism God shows His love for all people, displayed supremely in the self-giving of Jesus Christ. The act of baptism demonstrates all that Christ has won for us through his death and resurrection, and makes plain that before and without any response on our part Christ died for us.

Baptism is offered to both adults and young people and is a means of grace.

Holy Communion, or the Lords Supper as it is sometimes called, is the church’s central act of Christian worship in which, as Christians, we share together at the Lord’s table. This sacrament comes out of the last meal and act of fellowship that Christ had with his disciples before he was betrayed and crucified. As Christ sat at table with them he blessed the bread and passed it to his disciples instructing them to break bread in this way whenever they meet together in remembrance of him.

After supper he did the same with the cup of wine, blessing it and passing it on to his disciples in a similar manner to that of the bread. As Christians we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a way of remembering Christ’s great act of sacrifice, his love for all the world and his saving grace.

John Wesley taught that Holy Communion was a ‘saving ordinance’ – meaning that we can meet with Christ and be saved by him through faith in him as we receive the bread and wine.

These two sacraments are echoed in what we refer to as ‘the Four Alls’.

These are statements of belief that talk about the saving act of Jesus Christ and summarise Wesley’s teaching.

They are:

1. All need to be saved – The Bible tells us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) – Sin is a deep-seated self-seeking from which no-one is immune and from which all need ‘saving’.

2. All can be saved – We can be saved from the consequences of our sin through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This is the Gospel (‘good news’) for everyone – “God sent the Son into the world… that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17) All we have to do is to accept Jesus Christ into our lives.

3. All can know themselves saved – through the promises in scripture and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have the assurance that we have been saved. This is the certainty of faith that John Wesley searched for and found as he declared, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

4. All may be completely saved – there can be no limits on what God can do in our lives, as we are continually becoming more perfect in our love for God and for our fellow humans.

These ‘Four Alls’ are at the centre of Methodist belief and practices and at the heart of Wesley’s vision that Methodism was raised up by God to spread Scriptural Holiness throughout the Land.

Personally I am a Methodist because of my belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ as taught by John Wesley; the exciting dimensions of worship within the life of the church and because of the practical nature of faith exemplified by John Wesley and held onto by the Methodist church today.

Wesley always encouraged his followers to go not only to those who needed them, but to those who need them the most – regardless of status, regardless of race. Wesley’s understanding of the gospel was of a holistic gospel, caring for body, mind and spirit – believing nothing and no-one is beyond God’s care and concern.