METHODIST HERITAGE: THE GENERAL RULES
Matthew 7:12; Galatians 6:1-10
Today we are celebrating Heritage Sunday. It is good for us to consider and reflect on one of the valuable legacies which we have from our Methodist forbears, the General rules of the Methodist societies.
The Wesley brothers, John and Charles Wesley were recognized as leaders of the Evangelical Revival and Pietistic movement in Great Britain. The Methodist Societies in England therefore came out of the pietistic movement that was awakening the religious life of Great Britain.
Now pietism is “a style of Christian of living which sought to renew personal religious life amid the deadness of orthodoxy, through Bible study, prayer, personal morality, and works of charity.”
There is only one condition required of those who desire admission into these societies: “…a desire to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins. Whenever this desire is really true, it will be shown by its fruits.”
As members of this society they were expected to continue their desire of salvation, by following the following rules:
1. By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind;
2. By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as
they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, as far as possible to all men.
3. By attending upon all the ordinances of God.
Now let me invite you to reflect further on these rules, since they have become part of our doctrinal heritage and practice.
1. Now rule number one, which is “Doing no harm and Avoiding evil
of every kind” exists in many other religions and famous minds:
Hillel, one of the greatest Jewish rabbi, said: “What is hateful to thee, do not do to others. That is the whole law, all else is explanation. Philo, the great Jew of Alexandria said, “What you hater to suffer do not do to anyone else.”
Socrates, the Greek orator, said “What things makes you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not do it to them.” Confucius, the founder of Confucianism in Asia, said” What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”
The Greek stoics have one of their basic rules, “What you do not wish to be done to you, do not do to anyone.”
Such is the universality of this rule that it is also relevant and applicable to us today. Let us look at the example of what early Methodist did to fulfill this rule.
First group is: Doing No Harm to our Relationship with God.
1. The taking of the name of God in vain.
2. Profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work
therein or by buying or selling.
3. Doing what we know is not for the glory of God.
Second group is: Doing No Harm to Others.
1. Slaveholding or buying or selling slaves.
2. Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother,
returning evil for evil, using of many word in buying or selling.
3. The giving or taking of things on usury, that unlawful interest.
4. Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up good
without a probability of paying for them.
Third group is: Doing No Harm to the government or Leaders.
1. The buying or selling of goods that have not paid the duty.
2. The uncharitable or unprofitable conversation particularly speaking
evil of magistrates or ministers.
Fourth group is: Doing No Harm to yourself.
1. Drunkenness, buying or selling of spirituous liquors, or drinking
them, unless in cases of extreme necessity;
3. Softness and needless self-indulgence; (Without self-control)
4. Laying up treasures upon earth (Greediness)
II. Rule Number two is: Doing good; by being in every kind merciful
after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far possible to all men.
Here you will easily recognize that rule number two is the golden rule in the positive form. The difference between the two is that of a new attitude to our fellowmen which makes life more beautiful. Take a simple analogy: a law can compel a driver to drive in such a way that he does not harm or injure anyone else on the road; but no law can compel him to stop and to give a lift to a weary traveler. If he does it, it is love, it is kindness, it is mercy and it a voluntary act out of a generous heart.
Now this rule speaks of doing it as we have OPPORTUNITY. This opportunity in general is our lifetime; but there are also many particular opportunities in whatever time or place and in whatever manner we can.
The examples in rule number two are divided in four groups.
1. Doing good to the physical needs of others, such as giving food to
the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting and helping those who are sick and in prison.
This speaks of the strong social concern of the United Methodist church today to all persons in need regardless of race, religion and political beliefs. In Russia the United Methodist church is known more as UMCOR or United committee on Relief.
2. Doing good to their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all
that we meet; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that we are not to do unless our hearts be free to it.
This speaks of the strong evangelistic and missionary work of the
Methodist Church. At first it was a British movement, then it become American, and then spread to many parts of the world, and today it is envisioned to become a global church. This is made possible because of it’s the strong evangelistic and missionary work in many parts of the world. When the people called Methodist losses to practice this rule then it will start to die and losses its power too.
3. Doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith.
How? By employing them preferably to others; buying from them; helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.
The Chinese are doing it in their business dealings, the Masons are doing in their fraternity, and the INC is superbly practicing it. The people called Methodist could rediscover their heritage, and I am sure we will make the difference in our fellowship and in our spiritual lives. Remember, you are a Methodist.
4. By practicing diligence and frugality, and running the race that is
set before us by our Lord.
Doing good to ourselves should not be neglected. It is our strength of
being able to do good to others. We are urged to be a hard worker, industrious, thrifty and with enthusiasm to press.
III. Rule Number three, is attending upon all the ordinances of God.
1. Public Worship of God. The early Methodist societies check
attendance during worship. The Iglesia Ni Cristo I heard requires it. The Rotary and other organizations collect fines for absences. How about the people called Methodist now? Your presence or your absence in worship is an evidence of your desire for salvation. God knows about it.
This also reminds us of the importance of Baptism and partaking of the Holy Communion, which are means of God’s grace to sanctify and edify us in our daily life.
2. The ministry of the Word, and searching the scriptures. The
Ministry of the Word is done when it is read, expounded and taught in groups or preach during worship. Group Bible studies, Sunday School, Bible Sharing and Bible Exhortation are examples of this that we are urging to participate.
3. Fasting and abstinence is done for many reasons. Some for health
and dieting, some for noble financial concerns, but most of all that we may devote our time and effort to meditate on life and God’s will for us.
4. Family and Private prayer. Let me tell you a story. A pastor once
visited a family and had the courage to ask whether the family do have a family devotion or family prayer. The mother of the family responded, “No, pastor we don’t have time for it.” The Pastor continued to say, “Suppose you knew that one of your children will get sick, if you did not pray together, would you have some kind of family prayer?” The mother answered, “Yes.” “Suppose,” the pastor continued, “you knew that on the day you failed to pray together, one of your children will have an accident, would you pray together?” “I suppose so,” countered the mother. The Pastor pressed on to say, “suppose every that you failed to pray together, you would lose one hundred pesos. Would you neglect to pray?” “I am sure we would pray together,” answered the father. “What’s the idea of all these questions” asked the mother. The Pastor Answered, “Your problem is not time. You could find the time. The problem is that you don’t think family prayer is important, as important as keeping your children healthy and not losing one hundred pesos.
The blessing of god won through prayer is more important than anything else and all things else you can think of.
Now brothers and sisters, following these rules will not save you, however, doing it will surely help and sustain you in the faith and in your desire to flee from the wrath to come and be saved from your sins.
Today as it has been, we urge and challenge all people called Methodist, together with all other Christians to join us in our desire to flee from the wrath to come and be saved from our sins.
May the Lord have mercy upon us, and pour his sanctifying grace that through the power of the Holy Spirit we may be enabled to grow in the love of God and empowered to love our neighbors. Amen.
(Shared by Rev. Francisco Bilog at Tagum United Methodist Church May 2013)