We are starting a new series this morning called the Wesleyan Way. John Wesley (pic) is the founder and father of the Methodist church as we know it. He was an Anglican priest in the early 1700’s and started doing things that the church of England didn’t like…like going to the coal miners to preach. The Church of England believed people should come to them, Wesley believed the Church should bring the gospel to the people. So that’s what he did and the Church of England was not very happy. Wesley never lost his credentials as an Anglican priest but he did for all other purposes leave the Anglican Church and start a new movement of people early on called Methodists.
You might be wondering what in the world this word found in the title of the sermon today is: “quadrilateral.” Let me ask you this: How do you know who God is and what God expects of you? How do you know that God exists? How do you know that God loves you? Even more practically, how do you know that murder is wrong? How do you know that lying and stealing is wrong? How do you know that forgiveness is right?
The quadrilateral was John Wesley’s way of exploring and even answering these questions. The word itself quadrilateral was coined by a United Methodist scholar named Albert Outler. After spending an incredible amount of time reading John Wesley’s writings, Outler concluded that for Wesley there are four resources that help us answer those questions. Outler coined those four resources the “quadrilateral. They are: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. You would have to be really into this to get this T-Shirt: Pic.
Some of you might be thinking, how in the world does this apply to me and why should I care about two dead guys who came up with the concept and word quadrilateral? It’s a fair question and one I might be asking if I was in your place this morning. Look at it this way: if you have ever been faced with a hard decision this applies to you. Because these are four God given resources made available to Christians for decision making. Think about it, faced with a hard decision: What does scripture say? What does tradition, the past say and what can I learn from it? What does my brain tell me, what’s logical, that’s reason? What does my experience tell me, what does the Holy Spirit living inside me tell me? So the quadrilateral is a set of four resources that helps us know who God is and what God expects of us.
One more thing, while this is distinctly an invention within the Methodist church, I hope you see that this is applicable within any denomination. That while it was formed within Methodism, it’s not just a Methodist tool, it’s a tool any Christian of any denomination can use. And so maybe you love the Methodist Church and that’s great, maybe you’re more indifferent to the Methodist church and that’s just where you are, either way, this idea of the quadrilateral is helpful for anyone who calls themselves a Christian.
Let’s look at each one of these resources. For Wesley, these four resources were not of equal value. Scripture was primary. Scripture was the main one. Albert Outler said before he died that he wished he had not coined the word quadrilateral because so many people took it to mean that each of the four resources are equal. And that’s not what he meant because that’s not what Wesley believed. A statement found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline offers a correct understanding of the quadrilateral: "Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation.'"
Scripture attests to itself in 2 Timothy 3:16. It is God breathed. It is of a divine origin. However, we know, that it was written by people, mostly by men. Its human element does not take away from its divine origin and it’s divine origin does not take away from its human element. The Bible is our primary source for all things related to our faith and the practice of our faith. People will say “what about the contradictions in the Bible and what about where it’s wrong when it comes to science. The Bible was written by people influenced by, inspired by, led by God Himself. However, it is not a scientific textbook and was not meant to be a scientific textbook. It is primary for faith and practice, not primary for science and math. So the other three resources: tradition, experience and reason only make sense if they are in conjuction with scripture. Lets talk about tradition.
Tradition is about history. It’s about what has happened in the past. Both good and bad. We learn from the bad and we celebrate the good. Within the Methodist church itself there is some bad. The early Methodist church supported the separation of whites and blacks even within the church itself. That’s something the Methodist church is not proud of and it’s how the African Methodist Episcopal church or AME church began. Black people weren’t happy so they started their own denomination. I don’t blame them. We learned that ordaining women is a good thing. It took several years after the Methodist Church began before it would ordain women.
There’s some good things as well. In our tradition John Wesley believed in personal holiness and social justice. He believed that if you were a holy person, you would naturally be involved in making the world a better place. The coined the rules of life that as an ordained person I agreed to uphold: Do no harm, Do all the good you can and attend to the ordinances of God. Which means practice the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, communion and attending worship services on a regular basis. Some of you would be surprised to know that one of our traditions is that at one time in the early 1800’s we were known as “shouting Methodists.” What we now call “Pentecostal churches” and “Charismatic churches” started at this time with the holiness movement of the Methodist Church. Look at this report given by someone in the Formalist tradition in 1848.
Such groaning and shouting, it sets me to doubting.
I fear such religion is only a dream.
The preachers were stamping, the people were jumping,
And screaming so loud that I nothing could hear....
The men they were bawling, the women were squalling,
I know not for my part how any could pray....
Amid such a clatter who knows what's the matter?
Or who can attend unto what is declared?
To see them behaving, like drunkards, all raving,
And lying and rolling prostrate on the ground.
I really felt awful, and sometimes felt fearful
That I'd be the next that would come tumbling down.
The services where people are shouting and dancing and laying prostrate on the ground, that was the Methodist church, that was us at one time. So if you want to talk about tradition, it doesn’t just mean the hymns, it doesn’t just mean saying the Lord’s prayer every Sunday, lets talk about all the traditions. If you consider yourself a traditionalist then why aren’t you shouting? That’s part of the tradition of the Methodist church. When Wesley talked about the importance of tradition, he was talking about those things we can learn from and those things we should celebrate. Where did the Methodist church get this idea that worship had to be quiet and somber and rigid?
Now, there are some traditions that are steeped in historical struggle. One of those traditions is the Apostle’s Creed. This statement of belief did not just happen on it’s on, it took years and years to develop and it’s earliest form was established in the 4th century. Wesley believed that the Apostle’s Creed was an accurate statement of faith that we as Methodists, more importantly, we as Christians can share together. Would stand and say it with me: Apostle’s Creed.
The author of Hebrews has just listed heroes of Bible and talked about how their faith allowed them to do incredible things. In chapter 12 the authors says this: Hebrews 12:1-2. We have a history, a tradition of people who did incredible things because of their faith, let us join the tradition of fixing our eyes on Jesus as well.
Lets talk about reason. Wesley declared “Is it not reason (assisted by the Holy Ghost) which enables us to understand what the Holy Scriptures declare concerning the being and attributes of God? – concerning his eternity and immensity; his power, wisdom, and holiness? It is by reason that God enables us in some measure to comprehend his method of dealing with the children of men; the nature of his various dispensations, of the old and new covenant, of the law and the gospel.” What Wesley is saying is that God gave us a brain, use it. Paul says the same thing in Romans 12:1-2. He’s talked about the people of Israel being saved and all people being invited to be a part of the Kingdom of God and then he says:
Paul says if you want to know God’s good and perfect will for you, you need to be transformed not by your heart, not by your feelings, not by your faith, by your mind. What does your mind do, it reasons. It uses logic. It thinks. Jesus was asked one time by a man how someone inherits eternal life. Jesus said what do you think? The man said: Luke 10:27. Jesus says yes, you’re right. Jesus doesn’t correct him even though he quoted a beloved scripture by Jewish people…this guy quoted it wrong. The original quote is to love the lord with all you heart, soul and strength. Here the mind is added and Jesus says yes.
Sometimes our brains disagree with each other. Sometimes the way I reason things and the way my wife reasons things are very different. Therefore, reason itself does not lead to truth. But it is a resource for us to use when in line with scripture that helps us make good decisions and more than that helps us to know God.
Last but not least is experience. Now, when we think of experience we think of what has happened to us in the past and what we have learned through it. That is not what Wesley meant by experience. Wesley was very specific in what he meant by the word experience when it came to knowing God. And Albert Outler, remember, the guy who coined the phrase quadrilateral, tried to convey this specific meaning but people have taken to mean whatever they want it to mean.
Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan Studies at Seattle Pacific Seminary and says this:
Outler’s understanding of the role of experience in Wesley’s theology is not any experience that a person has, it is the distinctively Christian experience of assurance of the forgiveness of one’s sins. It is the experience of the witness of the Spirit. Wesley was quite fond of citing Romans 8:16 to illustrate this: “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”In case you didn’t catch that. For Wesley the kind of experience he’s talking about is the experience of conversion. The experience of being saved. The experience of giving your life to Christ to live on this earth and to have the hope of an eternal future. If you haven’t been converted in years, you are missing out. For Wesley the idea of conversion, the idea of knowing we are forgiven for our sins, was something we should do daily, even hourly. When is the last time you experienced God? When is the last time you felt the assurance of the forgiveness of sins? This morning I want to give you an opportunity to have that experience. The altar is open. You are welcome to come forward and pray or you can do it in your own pew.