John Wesley was a great advocate of small group study meetings, where Methodists were encouraged to help and support each other
The Methodist Church Compass Course
Meeting to explore our own Christian faith
At Session 1 we considered our image of God
Have we moved on from our childhood concept, or does it still offer comfort?
Has God a form at all, or is our experience more a sensation?
We looked at Jesus' portrayal of God the Father in the tale of the Prodigal son and his brother
We read a few extracts from the Psalms, as a collection of responses to God, emerging out of the experience of the writers, representing the many ways people expressed their thoughts, emotions and desires to God.
Charles Wesley wrote hymns which captured the way the early Methodists expressed their thoughts about God. Singing helped teach their theology and their beliefs - and still does
At Session 2 we considered images of Jesus
Some alternative renditions proved startling; an eye-opener!
We read Bible stories about two different people who came into contact with Jesus and we tried to imagine how their lives might have been changed as a consequence.
We considered the idea of Life Transformed: Changed by knowing Jesus, the early Methodists felt compelled to join in God's work by making a positive difference in the world.
We made personal notes of how we might be the hands and feet of Jesus in the coming week.
At Session 3 the focus was on the Cross and Resurrection and what is meant by being reconciled with God: We are offered a relationship with God in which we may talk to Him not just as Father but as our Dad (Abba). As Jesus was transformed by death, so our lives are transformed by grace. We can become what God intended;- the best we can be.
"Your sovereign grace to all extends, immense and unconfined; from age to age it never ends; enfolds all mankind." Charles Wesley
Session 4 tackled the complex subject of the Holy Spirit
In Hebrew ruach is wind; breath; spirit. In New Testament Greek the word used is pneuma - associated with air; the meaning is similar. Another Greek word used is parakletos, from which we get the concepts of counsellor; advisor or comforter; strengthener and prop; or witness for the defence and advocate; also exhorter; one calling us to noble thought and deed.
Once again we struggled with images to represent this Spirit. The Bible suggests wind, fire, breath, or a dove, an advocate, counsellor, helper and strengthener. The dove proved the easiest to imagine and focus on - like an icon as a visual aid.
We were reminded that the Old Testament makes frequent reference to the Spirit of God, and its coming to His people. For the Disciples, Gospel writers and Jews of the young church it was a familiar concept. Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant with God (promised in Jeremiah 31). God's love and support are freely offered. John Wesley emphasised that God offers a relationship. God has made the first move in Jesus and now it is time for us to respond. God's undeserved, transforming love runs to meet us, just as the father ran to welcome home his prodigal son.
Like His Love, the Holy Spirit is part and parcel of God, offered to us all - constantly poured out, refilling us. Each may experience in our own way, from a heart-warming and sensational transformation to a quiet acceptance and contentment. All may know themselves saved.
Session 5 considered the Church
Various images were suggested to represent the present day Church, each giving it a slightly different emphasis. Our group favoured Orchestra, with individual instruments and voices (each able to sound alone) coming together to make a glorious whole. We were amused at our popular concept of a Lighthouse bringing bright light to darkness and comfort to confusion when we realise that a lighthouse is a warning of rocks ahead and a signal of danger. Perhaps a mixed metaphore! To think of church as a social club might not sound so demeaning when we remember that the early Methodist Societies were something similar, but with a Mission.
A questionnaire, to score our home church in how it meets scriptural exhortations in dealings with 'one another', highlighted that some acts (or restraints) may come easily, but others - especially those needing thoughtful, patient and continued action - may seem beyond us.
The Epilogue (considered independently after the meeting) notes Four Marks of the Church:
ONE. Unity in diversity. A fellowship of churches, but diverse in detail.
HOLY. Set apart for God, but engaged in community.
CATHOLIC (Universal). Fully inclusive, global and local.
APOSTOLIC. Both grounded in tradition and on the move with the Good News.
A telling question remaining from this week is: What do YOU think the Church is for?
Session 6 was about engaging with scripture.
There was a quiz about the books of the Bible. We were reminded of what is covered in the literature; of the history and stories of the people of God. But it is an unfinished history and we are part of the ongoing story.
Session 7 Following Jesus
We are called to acts of worship and of piety; to prayer; to purity, mercy, love and charity. We are to seek justice and peace. We are to be Fishers of Men.
Session 8 discussed our calling and what it is to be a Methodist.
We are called to worship, to piety, to service and to evangelism - communicating the news to others. The challenge is hard, but help is at hand. We must learn to live with the Questions, and to love the Questions, though we may never know the answers. We accept the motto, "Trust and Obey".
John Wesley wrote and spoke about the almost Christian who gives lip-service and often much more to all these elements, apparently living a Christian life, but not yet transformed by total devotion. Wesley asks, Do I, whatever good my hand finds to do, do it with all my might? Do I seriously use all the ordinances of God at all opportunities? And is all this done with a sincere design and desire to please God in all things? A hard task-master, expecting a very high standard from Society Members, Wesley would not be satisfied with today's temperate attitude to our calling. Must try harder!