Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Church Membership and the New Birth

Last night while looking through one of the many nineteenth-century books I've downloaded, I found a transcript of a letter written on 19 August 1784 by the famed religious leader John Wesley to his nephew Samuel Wesley, who had apparently converted to Roman Catholicism. Needless to say, the Wesley family was disconcerted by this turn of events; remember that this is long before Vatican II. Wesley, however, had some instructive counsel for his nephew:
But, alas! what are you now? Whether of this Church or that I care not: you may be saved in either, or damned in either, but I fear you are not born again, and except you be born again you cannot see the kingdom of God. You believe the Church of Rome is right. What then? If you are not born of God, you are of no Church. Whether Bellarmine or Luther be right, you are certainly wrong if you are not born of the Spirit, if you are not renewed in the spirit of your mind in the likeness of Him that created you.
Notice John Wesley's main thrust here. Church membership of any sort is not salvific and is ultimately secondary, at best, to the matter of experiencing genuine inward spiritual renewal. And I wonder whether this has something to say to us here. An Evangelical can be baptized and attend church every Sunday and assent to the Nicene Creed and perform all manner of good works, but if that Evangelical is not born again, if that Evangelical is not regenerated, then none of the above can save, and he or she cannot enter the kingdom. Similarly, a Latter-day Saint can be baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and abide by the Law of Chastity and the Word of Wisdom, and tithe consistently, and always sustain the General Authorities, and bear testimony regularly, and be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood... if that Latter-day Saint has not experienced a transformation in Christ that's so powerful it can only be compared with a completely new beginning to life, can he (or she) enter the kingdom of God? "If you are not born of God, you are of no Church," Wesley said. The same, of course, is true of Evangelicals. We emphatically do not believe in salvation by doctrine alone, or by church membership alone! If we are not born of God, we are of no church.

No comments:

Post a Comment