Holiness: The United Methodist Way

By Steve Manskar

Pursue peace with everyone,
and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

This is a passage John Wesley frequently cites in his journal. Given his life-long quest for holiness of heart and life it is no surprise that he would be drawn to this verse. As we begin a new year and move toward another General Conference Hebrews 12:14 is a valuable guide for The United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Way is the pursuit of peace with all people and, most important, holiness of heart and life. Our tradition is too often said to be defined by particular beliefs, programs or polity. However, according to Wesley, the distinguishing mark of the people called Methodists was their singular striving after holiness of heart and life. Beliefs, programs and polity exist to move the people toward the goal of holiness.

Wesley’s definition of holiness is Scriptural: “the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.” The purpose of the societies, class meetings, bands and corresponding “rules” was to form communities of social and personal holiness.

In their striving after holiness the Methodist societies became channels of grace for the world. They pursued peace, the shalom of God, as they followed Christ in their world by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the strangers, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners.

As we engage in the practices of holiness it is important to always be reminded that they are only the means to a goal. Too often we focus on what we are doing for Christ and end up taking our eye off of Christ. We end up confusing the means (works of piety and works of mercy) with the ends (holiness of heart and life). The emphasis shifts from witnessing to Jesus Christ in the world to how I am blessed.

Therefore, we need to always remember that the General Rule of Discipleship and Covenant Discipleship groups exist to form communities of holiness. They do not exist for the personal benefit of individual members. The Rule and the groups are designed to equip congregations to participate in Christ’s mission in, with, and for the world.

In the United Methodist Way Covenant Discipleship groups are a means that lead congregations to “pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”