Living the “3 Simple Rules”

Learning to live the Methodist “General Rules”

Archive for the ‘United Methodist’ Category

When is a Christian a Christian?

Posted by Bob Johnson on June 30, 2008

Yesterday, we had a guest preacher, Dr. John Perkins from Jackson, MS. In a discussion before his sermon — and then he added this to his sermon – he distinguished “becoming a believer in Christ” and “becoming a Christian.” Dr. Perkins, who is not a Methodist, reminded us that this was a distinction John Wesley knew well. One “becomes a believer in Christ” and then, by justifying grace, God reckons us righteous. But we’re really no different than before. We’re still sinners at heart. We are reckoned righteous, a relative change, but we are not REALLY righteous in our actions. So by sanctifying grace, God changes us inside out and brings about a real change in who we are. We sin less, we grow more loving toward God and others. God’s goal in all this is to really change us, to grow us until the image of Christ — long hidden by sin — is restored in us. Sanctification is therefore distinct from justification in Methodist theology.

So Dr. Perkins reminded us that “becoming a believer in Christ” and “becoming a Christian” are two different things. Most people, especially here in the Bible belt confuse the two. One becomes a Christian when you place faith in Christ and become a believer. But does belief alone make one a Christian? I can profess faith in Christ and not really change who I am or what I do! Or does discipleship, growing more¬†Christlike, make one a Christian?

The distinction is important especially when we use language like “learning to become a Christian.” This communicates the idea that while something very important takes place when we place faith in Christ, that is not the end of the story …¬†or our responsibility. As broadcaster Paul Harvey likes to say, “the REST of the story” is sanctification — God restoring in us the image of Christ, and our responsibility not to be mere pew sitters, happy with our “ticket to heaven,” but to actively co-operate with what God is doing in us.

Let it be clearly stated for the record — while I have certainly placed my faith in Christ, I am still learning to be a Christian. What about you?


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What Do the General Rules Look Like Today?

Posted by Bob Johnson on June 16, 2008

(The following was written by Rev. Melissa Maher, Pastor of Serving Ministries at Chapelwood United Methodist. Used by permission.)

  • Do no harm
  • Do good
  • Stay in love with God

These simple rules for living form the structure of what it means to obey the Great Commandment which is expressed in two ways: love God and love neighbor. But these rules also bring about questions and call us to action. What does it mean to be loved, do no harm, do good and abide in God’s love? How do I (we) follow this blueprint to wholeness? John Wesley believed you did so by practicing works of piety and works of mercy.

Works of piety are those practices that draw us into God’s presence so we hear God’s still, small voice guiding us, God’s song of redemption sung over us, and God’s words of promise to always be with us. These works of piety are practiced in private when it is just God and us. They are also lived out publicly in corporate worship or small groups. Works of piety include reading scripture, praying, fasting, and taking time for solitude.

Works of mercy are those practices that draw us closer to one another through the presence of the Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that His followers be recognized for how they loved and served one another. Scholars have noted about John Wesley and the Methodists that “it was not so much that the Methodists were among the poor as the poor were among the Methodists.” In other words, a shared life together which crosses economic, social, or ethnic boundaries and calls people to inward and outward expressions of holy love is the calling of the Christian life. To hear the cry of the needy is to hear the cry of all of God’s children-the orphaned child in Zimbabwe, the single mother in Houston, the homeless man on the corner of Westheimer, the CEO in Houston, the migrant worker from Mexico, and the family in the suburbs. To hear and respond to the cry of human need has been God’s work of reconciliation from the beginning of time. For God is rich in mercy and has made us alive in Christ (Eph 2:4-5), and His justice will roll like a river (Amos 5:24). In these promises, we place our faith and hope.

Mother Teresa said, “If we want the poor to see Christ in us, we have to see the image of Christ in the poor.”

Three simple rules came to life in Wesley’s practical, daily responses to loving God and loving neighbor. He spoke out against

  • slavery which deprived humanity of freedom and dignity
  • alcoholism which used grain for fermented spirits instead of food for the hungry
  • health care which favored only those with money and denied care and compassion for the poor.

He encouraged his small groups to be among the poor, to visit the sick, and to witness with their eyes the deplorable conditions of those who go without.

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The General Rules — Outdated?

Posted by Bob Johnson on June 15, 2008

Rectory at Epworth, EnglandI recently returned from a trip to England to visit my daughter. While there, my wife Susan and I visited some of the historic John Wesley (founder of Methodism) sites — namely, Epworth (the parsonage where Wesley grew up), pictured at left, and Wesley’s Chapel in London, where we celebrated Easter.

This trip aroused some of my long held passions for things Wesley! Not long after I returned home, I attended General Conference in Ft. Worth (as a visitor, not a delegate) and while there, came across Rueben P. Job’s book, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living. This is the updated title that Bishop Job has given to the early Methodist “General Rules.” As he frames the rules, they are:

  • Do no harm
  • Do good
  • Stay in love with God

After buying and reading the book, I began to wonder: Can I live by them? The “General Rules?” were the heartbeat of the Methodist societies. Keeping the General Rules was what one did to show desire to “flee from the wrath to come.” To this day, when Methodist pastors are ordained — including me — we are asked by our bishop, “Do you know the General Rules of our Church?” And then the harder follow-up question, “Will you keep them?”

So, freshly inspired by my visit to Mr. Wesley’s home turf, and fired up by Rueben Job’s book, I decided to try an experiment. During the month of July, I am going to preach a sermon series called 3 Simple Rules: Treasure from our Methodist Heritage. (You can access my 3 simple rules web site at here.) In addition to preaching about the 3 simple rules, I am going to attempt to live them. “The Rules are simple, but the way is not easy,” Bishop Job writes. So simple as they sound, I expect to encounter some bumps along the way.

Join me as I embark starting July 1 on a 4-week experiment of living the “3 simple rules,” and blogging about my experience. I invite your comments as well!


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