• When and Where
With Paul’s mission essentially completed, the final portion of Acts is devoted to his arrest and legal proceedings. While the narrative focuses on Paul’s defense, the Lukan presentation of God’s universal gospel and creation of a people including both Jew and Gentile is really on trial. Real persecution is something foreign to most of us as Christians in the United States. We take for granted that people change churches and debate beliefs, so while sometimes the extent of persecution early Christians faced is overstated, it was also very real – and yet the faith spread because of the power and humility of the witness and the love exhibited in these small communities of faith.
• Key Insights
Wesleyan Core Term: Almost Christian
The spiritual experience of ‘almost’ troubled John Wesley. He longed for the destruction in himself of the whole body of sin. It would take time and maturity for him to work out key distinctions, like removal of sins guilt in justification, sins power in regeneration, and sins presence in entire sanctification.
In contrast to almost is real. Real Christians are those for whom the grace of God has truly transformed their inward and outward lives. The movement of new life is from the self to God, a movement resulting in a life in God through faith, and a life through love on behalf of the neighbor. For the real Christian, every almost should be increasingly resolved by seeking the fullness of Gods transforming grace.
Wesley’s Sermon 2: The Almost Christian stresses the distinctively Wesleyan goal of believers going on to perfection. Mature Christian faith finally enables a purification of the heart by the gracious power of God.
• Big Picture
Wesleyan Core Term: Itineracy
In Methodist usage, itineracy (or itinerancy) refers to the defining style and understanding of the preaching ministry in early American Methodism that led to elders’ ordination and conference membership. Itineracy meant being sent or appointed to a circuit and traveling around it preaching from appointment to appointment—a ministry fundamentally missionary and evangelical in character. According to Bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, itinerant, or traveling, ministry recovered the apostolic biblical style. Typically appointed two to a circuit, the senior to train and mentor the junior, itinerants at times rode alone but frequently rode with other preachers and leaders to quarterly and camp meetings as well as to conference. And when ordained (elder) and in full connection, the itinerants, through their conference membership, constituted the government of the church. To cease traveling and locate meant surrendering the status of full connection and conference membership but often produced very active, long, and productive ministries as local preachers.
Now we United Methodists use a modified form of this process and it’s more common to stay “located” in one place for several years – but its importance remains as we are not a pastor focused or driven church, but one in which all members are to be engaged in shaping the life of our communities of faith and sharing the good news in their communities and the world. The Pastor has particular roles and responsibilities to preaching and ordering the communal life, but these do not replace the work and ministry of the laity.
Blessings on your reading!