The role of Grace in the life of the believer, and the stages through which one passes in one's Christian walk, are reflective of the Protestant side of John Wesley's theology. But there was a side to Wesley's Theology that was far more "catholic" in character, a side that dealt with HOW the stages of Grace were to function in the life of the Believer. Essentially, Wesley asked "How does one get God's Prevenient, Justifying, Sanctifying, and Perfecting Grace?" His answer to this question has become known as the "Means of Grace" -- the ways in which God's Riches At Christ's Expense come to us. There are two basic kinds of "Means of Grace" ... there are the Sacraments and the Sacramentals.
John Wesley was an Anglican Priest, and hence his understanding of the Sacraments reflected, closely, what we today call "anglo-catholicism." For Wesley, a Sacrament was the outward sign of God's gift of inward Grace, to which Humans have the responsibility of outward response. Without our response, the Sacrament is not completed. This is, fundamentally, very similar (though not identical) to the Catholic understanding of the Sacraments. To this idea Wesley added the requirement that Jesus have clearly established the Sacrament in Scripture. Since this can only be said with certainty of Baptism and Holy Communion, Wesley -- following his Anglican tradition -- only recognized these two as formal "Sacraments," or as they are often referenced: "Sacraments properly-so-called."
As Means of Divine Grace, Wesley understood the Sacraments as more than just outward obedience. Through the application of, or participation in, the Sacramental act, Wesley believed that Grace could be received. Hence, Wesley looked upon Baptism as: "An Outward and Visible Sign of an Inward and Spiritual Grace." In terms of his Order of Salvation, Wesley identified Baptism as the Church's external affirmation and proclamation of Prevenient Grace ... God calls us, apart from anything that we do, but we have the responsibility of response ... and that response comes in one of the Sacramentals that we will look at next week ... Confirmation.
For Wesley, Holy Communion was the means of Grace through which we are remembered to the Real Presence of Jesus. The reality of Jesus' Divine, Grace giving presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, must not be minimized. While Wesley didn not accept the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation, he nevertheless affirmed that Jesus was REALLY Present to the believer when the Believer ate and drank of the elements with Faith. This Means of Grace Wesley identified closely with Sanctifying Grace ... Communion provides the believer with the access to the Grace which they need to literally walk the Christian walk and improve their Christianity toward the goal that God has for them in Christ Jesus.
These two Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion, are the principle Means of Grace that God gives us to access what we need, as Christians, to live the Disciple's Life. That is why Remembering our Baptisms frequently AND receiving Holy Communion frequently, is so VERY important. Through both the Real Presence of Jesus is made known to us ... in the blessed water and in the broken bread and blessed cup. And that is why we are called to receive them so often.
© 1996, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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