A Great Crowd of Witnesses

Dr John Tyson, professor at Houghton College writes, “On the last Sunday in October, many Protestant denominations—particularly those descending from Luther and Calvin—pause to look back to the 16th century and celebrate Reformation Sunday and the roots of their tradition. Where are Wesleyans in this picture?
In the 16th century, our denominational roots were still connected to the Church of England. John and Charles Wesley began their evangelical revival 221 years after Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. So, do Wesleyans have any inheritance in Luther? Yes, the same one we share with all other Protestants. However, it was further refined for us by the role that Luther played in the Wesley’s own faith pilgrimage and theological reflection.
The most famous connection between Martin Luther and John Wesley came during the father of Methodism’s (1738) “Aldersgate experience,” in which Wesley felt his “heart was strangely warmed” while listening to someone read from Luther’s Romans commentary. What Wesley learned from Luther was his emphasis upon justification by faith alone. As Wesley would write many years later, “Who has written more ably than Martin Luther on justification by faith alone?”
After 1738, Luther became Wesley’s poster child for the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Twice Wesley quotes Luther, from the Latin, that this is the doctrine upon which “the Christian church stands or falls.” That is to say, justification by faith is the watershed between real Christianity and its pale imitations; if we lose sight of this doctrine, we lose everything. Three times during his controversial writings Wesley defended himself against learned opponents by arguing that he agreed wholeheartedly with Luther’s hallmark doctrine.”
Today is Reformation Sunday. As you can see we Wesleyans have a connection with the Reformation. As we look at this today, it’s interesting to note that neither Martin Luther or John Wesley had intentions of starting new churches. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who grew weary of the abusive practices of the church he loved. John Wesley likewise tried to reform the Church of England or the Anglican Church from the inside. In the case of Luther, we now have the Lutheran Church and in the case of Wesley we have several denominations. The first church was the Methodist Episcopal Church which is now the United Methodist Church. Then there are the Wesleyans and others, like the Church of the Nazarene, Free Methodist Church, and Christian and Missionary Alliance as well as a host of other littler denominations.
If you’ve been following along in this series, you’ll remember that even our denomination started quite by accident. Orange Scott and his cohorts, wanted the Methodist Episcopal church to take a stand on slavery, when that didn’t happen a new church, The Wesleyan Methodist Church was formed.
Reformation is part of our Protestant heritage. The reformers of the 16th Century often used the motto, Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda: or the church reformed and always to be reformed. So how does that apply to us? How does this all fit in “Can you give your life for the Cause?” Let’s go to the book of Hebrews the 11th chapter. This is called the Faith Hall of Fame.

1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. 2 Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
3 By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

The author mentions several of the heroes of the faith; Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel and Joshua, and Rahab. These are important, but I want to skip to verse 32.

32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

So often we read the 12th chapter of Hebrews without looking at chapter 11. Look at these heroes of the faith. This does not include the thousands who have died for their faith in the last two thousand years. Eleven of the twelve apostles were all killed for their faith. In addition their were many who gave their life for Christ during the time of the Roman Empire. There are even those who give their lives today. This is probably what Luther, Wesley, and Scott and others thought about when it came to reforming the church. They felt that building the Kingdom of Christ was important enough to draw the line. The author of Hebrews goes on to say…

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

We need to remember that the Kingdom of Christ does not exist in a vacuum. Some modern day people like to think that this is the only church that only existed. They forget that there is two thousand years of Church history. Yes, there is good and bad…But I believe that as we have discovered during this series is that where ever Christians have truly been Christ-like – where they have carried the gospel in the true name of Jesus – the world is a different place. Many of our major universities in this country were started by Christians and by churches. You wouldn’t know it now, but it is the truth. Think of the thousands of hospitals both here in our country and around the world that were started because of the church. Where Christians have taken the gospel seriously, great strides have been made. Yes, you’ve heard me speak of World Hope several times during this series. And as much as some would like to argue, where ever Christianity has gone, equal human rights for all people exist.
There are many saints (believers in Christ – growing in Christ – Christ-followers) who have gone on before us. There are two thousand years of church history. The Wesleyan story is relatively new compared to Christian history. Many have died for their faith – they have given their life for the Cause of Jesus Christ. They have given their lives to build the Kingdom.
So here we are on Reformation Sunday. What does that have to do with us? Let’s look at just a brief history of Preston Wesleyan Church…In 1949, some Christ-followers got together on this property for the purpose of holding revival meetings…Those revival tent meetings eventually grew to this church and this building that we have this morning. I was reading Pastor Wooters historical account. The founding fathers of our church built the original building for just $3,000, but that was a lot of money back then. That amount doesn’t even put half a roof on now. We owe a great deal of gratitude to those founders; Charlie and Anne Arnold, Bertha George and others. It was so good to see Pastor Jesse and Bobbi last week. Again these are those who have gone on before. Have they endured the things that earlier Christians have? NO! But still I am grateful for those who have gone on before. Do we have a great sense of history at Preston? You better believe it. Do we have an even greater sense of what God is going to do at Preston Wesleyan over the next few years…Just ask the members of our Ministry Leadership Team. I am grateful to the team that God has put together.
We’ve looked at how Reformation Sunday applies to us as Wesleyans and we’ve looked at how those who have gone on before are important.
Now it is up to you? Will you “Hear the Call of the Kingdom?” Can you – will you – give your life for the Cause of building God’s Kingdom? We need each one to do his or her part. What will you do as we move ahead at Preston Wesleyan Church? My challenge is that as ministry opportunities arise – as financial opportunities arise – that you will step up to the plate. As we close – if you are willing to work, however God is calling you – to build the Kingdom – to build Christ’s church that at least for us is Preston Wesleyan Church – I want to ask you to stand to signify your commitment to building Christ’s Kingdom.

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