Love God and Love Neighbor

John Wesley said, "The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness," (1).  This quote has been up for much debate for many years, from suggesting that social holiness was synonymous with social justice, to even discounting this quote from Wesley altogether by trying to make a distinction between personal and social holiness. At the heart however, of what Wesley preached, taught, and lived is that holiness, or simply, growing in love of God and neighbor, cannot be done alone! Wesley rejected many practices that isolated Christians from one another because he believed that true holiness can only be realized through the shared experience of other believers.

When I hear these words today in our new COVID-19 reality, I think that they most certainly are true today! One of the hardest parts for many during this time is being isolated, cut off, and distant from the ones that they love most - families not being able to see one another as much as they would like and even people unable to go to work and school. All of us, especially those in the church world, have felt the effects of this "isolated holiness" as well. Not being able to gather fully in worship, host small group opportunities, share the sacrament united together, and even have the choir sing have been the hardest parts of these last six months for me! Bonhoeffer writes, "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer," (2). I do not think any truer sentence has ever been spoken! Community is important because it is what sustains us as believers in the faith. Christianity is a bodily religion in that, all people were created by God and God took on flesh in the body. Jesus was crucified, died, and rose in body, and we are all offered the same bodily resurrection. As a result, community is a gift and should be treated as such.

This is why we are eager at Shalimar United Methodist Church to grow in our discipleship. We already have been meeting for a few weeks together for worship, and we continue to expand worship and small group opportunities. We know and believe that holiness is found in community! Our Lead Pastor, Dr. Philip McVay, has issued a goal, a challenge really, that in the next two years we hope to have over 1,000 people in weekly discipleship opportunities. Christian formation and discipleship were key principles of Wesley and the first Methodists. Meeting together for study, for prayer, for accountably, and for encouragement was the foundation for the entire Methodist movement. So, I encourage you this fall to be a part of the many studies and small groups that we are offering. I am convinced, as Wesley was as well, that meeting together regularly, in community with others, is the way that we grow in our love of God and our love of neighbor.

1. The Works of John Wesley, Jackson Edition, “Preface to 1739 Hymns and Sacred Poems”, vol. 14:321.
2. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. London: SCM Press, 1954.

Matt Langford

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