Sometimes when I am overwhelmed by circumstances at hand, I look to some of my “back catalogue” to share with you here—though I was chastened by my wife early in my second week of ministry here for “dialing one in” for the pastor’s perspective that in her view (and mine too, honestly) was lacking in substance. “C’mon, Nathan, people actually read this and get something out of it!” So, even though what follows is from a few years ago, I can assure you that this particular bit of “perspective” resulted from lots of prayer and thought. This in particular is from the questions outlined in the Book of Discipline that I answered as part of the process of seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church.
For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of your influence as an ordained minister, are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself of the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end will you agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to physical health, intentional intellectual development, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, integrity in all personal relationships, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God? Explain.
I understand the agreement I make outlined in ¶304.2 to be to make myself a “clean window” for God’s light to shine through my life. John Wesley believed, and I believe, that personal holiness is the foundation of social holiness. Therefore, I have the ability to further unveil God’s kingdom in this world by my commitment to live in a way that celebrates the “authentic life.” Living as a member of a community who dedicates himself to the above mentioned criteria gives others the opportunity to see firsthand the joy such a lifestyle brings. In this way, my life itself is a witness to the Gospel and evangelism for the benefits that it brings to our lives. However, I am wary of “practicing my piety before others in order to be seen by them.” (Mt. 6:1) Instead of committing myself to personal holiness in order to draw attention to myself, I believe I can best serve God by quietly practicing personal holiness. A window works best when it is clean. And when it is clean, it might not be noticed at all. Instead, it draws attention to what is outside it, or what shines through it.
As I grow in grace and come closer to the redemptive heart of Christ, the Spirit will flow out of my heart, as Christ proclaims in John 7: 37-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” The River of Life has the potential to refresh, inspire, and create. By living and loving holistically and joyfully, I give my life to this purpose.
The Book of Discipline states, “we proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners.” The social witness that I perceive to be the goal of the church begins in the hearts and lives of its believers. The honesty of “faithful living” is the most compelling form of evangelism. Though Christ is with every person, regardless of their good or bad choices in life, I believe Christ leads us toward a richer life in the ways outlined in this question. The Biblical witness shows that God builds a relationship with us through covenants. When we live in a way that celebrates trust, honesty, integrity, and maturity, these values are multiplied in our culture. John Wesley’s vision of social holiness is kindled in our personal lives.