For John Wesley, how we talk with one another mattered. John knew that it is important for Christ followers to converse with one another especially regarding our beliefs, what we learn from the Scriptures, and our faith walk in general. We practice holy conversation (aka holy conference) within Bible studies, accountability groups, and any time we gather to discuss the workings of the church (i.e., Charge, Annual, Judicial, and General Conferences).
John was a big believer in gathering as disciples of Christ. He developed a system of small groups that were designed to help people grow in their faith and to hold them accountable when they were tempted to backslide. Today, we still benefit from the systems that Wesley created. Being in a Bible study is essential if we are to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Being held accountable by our brothers and sisters in Christ is also essential. It is so easy to slip into temptation or to drift away from the faith if we keep ourselves isolated from other Christians. We need one another to grow.
Yet any such gathering, including our Conferences of politic, can themselves become sources of temptation to sin. We in the Church are not immune to the same kinds of hostility and vitriol that have become so prevalent in our world. Truth be told, we can be some of the worst perpetrators of such behavior.
We are in a position of offering the world a shining example of how to converse in holy and loving ways, but we far too often choose to display the absolute opposite. Even as we choose sides to support or denounce in issues such as human sexuality, we end up engaging in other kinds of behaviors that the Apostle Paul condemned in Galatians 5. Yes, he mentioned forms of sexual sin and we can argue all day about what exactly he meant and what should be included in that term, but he also mentioned things we find ourselves mired in: hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, and group rivalry (as listed in the Common English Bible).
As we look at that list, we can understand why John Wesley spoke of holy conversation as a means of grace. Sadly, though, it is a means of grace that we have too often kicked to the curb. Why do we think God is okay with our committing these sinful behaviors just because we do them in the name of supporting “biblical authority”? Regardless of what we believe about human sexuality or any other controversial issue, we are called to the work of holy conversation. We are called to encounter one another with gentleness and love. Consider these Bible passages, and ask yourself: How am I doing with the work of holy conversation?
Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.”
Ephesians 4:1-3 – “Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.”
2 Timothy 2:24-25 – “God’s slave shouldn’t be argumentative but should be kind toward all people, able to teach, patient, and should correct opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will change their mind and give them a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Peter 3:14-16 – “But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you.
Rev. Joyce Day
If you would like to view past editions of Grace for the Journey, follow this link: https://sounddistrictnc.org/category/grace-for-the-journey/