Doctrine, Spirit & Discipline: A holistic vision of renewal
“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” - John Wesley, 1786
This famous quote from John Wesley is quite sobering and has proved to be unfortunately prophetic. Examining the status of Methodism, and even the broader Wesleyan movement in the United States and Europe, one would be hard pressed to assess that we have not degraded to something of a dead sect, consisting of the form of religion without the power. Our woes are far from merely statistical. So much of what we see today with the label of Methodism, or that which has roots tying back to Mr. Wesley, seems but a shell of what once was.
As has been well documented, there was a time when the Methodism was far from a dead sect. American religious history knows no equal to the explosive growth of Methodists from 1776 to 1850. What started as a fringe movement, with only 2.5% of the church-going population, over several decades became the largest religious group in the U.S. with over 34% of church-goers attending a Methodist church.
Spirit & Truth seeks to be a tool for the church, a catalyst, to help recapture some of the original DNA that launched such a world-shaking movement. And we believe embedded in this famous quote from Wesley is a genius of holistic vision that we endeavor to have shape all that we do as a ministry.
Wesley’s concern for maintaining the church’s focus was threefold: doctrine, spirit and discipline. What does the church believe? How are we called to live? How do those beliefs and spirit drive what we very practically do in corporate and personal practice?
One of the ways one might see the genius of Wesley’s three-part vision is to look at current church movements and see what happens when one leg is removed. Maybe you could imagine a church that teaches the right things, and goes through the right motions, but still seems dead. All doctrine and discipline, but no spirit. Or maybe you’ve experienced a dynamic independent church that is full of the spirit, committed to living out the faith, but unmoored from a doctrinal anchor easily slips into excess or false teaching. Lots of spirit and discipline, no doctrine. And I can also relate to churches from my own recent experience that are Spirit-filled, committed to orthodox doctrine, but do not practically engage in practices to put that faith into action. All spirit and doctrine, no discipline. We need all three.
I think this is one of the reasons Methodism took the world by storm and some have even labeled it the most sustained revival in history. Wesley took seriously doctrine, spirit and discipline. Methodists knew what they believed. But it wasn’t mere head knowledge, rather the religion of the heart, characterized by the work of the Holy Spirit. And through it all Methodists organized their lives in very disciplined ways that led to real personal transformation and societal impact.
At Spirit & Truth we are attempting to use this very basic threefold focus to help breathe new life into a movement that we believe still contains the seeds of this dynamic DNA.
Spirit: We provide experiential learning opportunities for individuals and local churches to help everyday Christians come to understand the power of the Holy Spirit and a new sense of sacrificial full-time Christian living. (e.g. our annual Spirit & Truth Conference)
Discipline: Our church equipping process works with local congregations to help embed very practical disciplines including a modern-day version of field-preaching and intentional discipleship practices like modern-day class-meetings. We are not just about learning or experience...we’re very committed to a rubber-meets-the-road kind of doing.
As a ministry we long to see a new spiritual awakening in our country and beyond. And we believe and pray that Wesleyan-minded folks can play a key role in that like we once did. But it’s going to require more than nice church programs and cute marketing techniques. It’s going to take a new movement of peculiar people committed to the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which we first set out. Our fundamental aim at Spirit & Truth is awakening and equipping a new movement of Christians with precisely that holistic focus.