In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken awayI have began to ask a few pastors within the UMC if they had ever read, or been required to read 'Luther's Preface to the Romans' and have found that the vast majority have not. Now certainly one does not have to read Luther's preface to understand Paul's Epistle to the Romans, but being a 'Wesleyan' denomination that appeals frequently to Wesley for it's understanding of scripture, you would think it would be incumbent upon UMC pastors to read the document which finally gave Wesley assurance of sins forgiven. The 'Aldersgate experience' gets mentioned frequently when talking about Wesley, yet few dare go to the source which precipitated the experience. sins, even , and saved from the law of sin and death.
The emergent and missional movements have found a warm reception in the United Methodist Church, and one of the reasons they are so welcome there is because of how missional Wesley was. The missional mindset has been in the UMC since day one, and continues in it today. While I am not against all things missional, I do find it unfortunate that as a church we have failed to see that Wesley was missional, long before he was strangely warmed. What I mean is this, Wesley took huge risks traveling as a missionary, setting up societies, fighting against slavery, building orphanages, among many things, before he ever happened upon someone reading Luther's preface to the Romans there on Aldersgate street. Wesley did countless acts of piety and yet had no assurance of sin forgiven. Wesley did countless good things but had come to the point where it all seemed meaningless and that he wondered if he was still lost. This is where the missional movement leads its people, eventual despair. 'Missional' Christianity leads people to associate their status in the kingdom with their works in this world, and eventually when a person has a strong sense of their sin the goodness of their works is no longer a source of hope. The missional movement thrives on Matthew 25 when Jesus speaks of sheep and goats, yet never reads the text carefully enough to see that the sheep were unconscious of their piety while the goats put their hope in theirs. They miss the fact that the sheep and goats are separated in that passage prior to their works being evaluated, not on the basis of the work. We could go on an on here.
Anyway, I plead with Methodists who may come across this post to pick up a copy of Luther's Preface to the Romans, or read it online here. It is not long, and is well worth your time, and maybe you too could be strangely warmed. Here is an excerpt.
You must get used to the idea that it is one thing to do the works of the law and quite another to fulfill it. The works of the law are every thing that a person does or can do of his own free will and by his own powers to obey the law. But because in doing such works the heart abhors the law and yet is forced to obey it, the works are a total loss and are completely useless. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3 when he says, "No human being is justified before God through the works of the law." From this you can see that the schoolmasters [i.e., the scholastic theologians] and sophists are seducers when they teach that you can prepare yourself for grace by means of works. How can anybody prepare himself for good by means of works if he does no good work except with aversion and constraint in his heart? How can such a work please God, if it proceeds from an averse and unwilling heart?
But to fulfill the law means to do its work eagerly, lovingly and freely, without the constraint of the law; it means to live well and in a manner pleasing to God, as though there were no law or punishment. It is the Holy Spirit, however, who puts such eagerness of unconstained love into the heart, as Paul says in chapter 5. But the Spirit is given only in, with, and through faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul says in his introduction. So, too, faith comes only through the word of God, the Gospel, that preaches Christ: how he is both Son of God and man, how he died and rose for our sake. Paul says all this in chapters 3, 4 and 10.
That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law; faith it is that brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ. The Spirit, in turn, renders the heart glad and free, as the law demands. Then good works proceed from faith itself. That is what Paul means in chapter 3 when, after he has thrown out the works of the law, he sounds as though the wants to abolish the law by faith. No, he says, we uphold the law through faith, i.e. we fulfill it through faith.Peace Friends.