News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Rev. Terry Greer

The catholic
(universal) spirit

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, published a sermon in 1750 that he had preached in Newcastle, England, on Sept. 8, 1749. He titled it "Catholic Spirit." Throughout his life and ministry he preached the importance of an ecumenical fellowship between Roman Catholics, Protestants and like-minded believers. The word "Catholic" is defined as "universal."

Wesley began this famous sermon, taught in Methodist seminaries worldwide almost since its first publishing, by saying, "Love is due to all mankind (humanity) and the royal law is 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'" He quoted Jesus Christ words, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you."

Wesley wanted his hearers to know that there is, as he wrote, "a peculiar love which we owe to those that love God." He preached that all people approve of this, but questioned whether all people practice it.

Wesley was clear in pointing out that while we have many different opinions and modes of worship, and while we cannot all think alike, "may we not love alike?" He asked, "May we not be of one heart, though we are not, of one opinion?"

He wrote, "But even among men of an upright heart, men who desire to have conscience void of offense, it must be that as long as there are various opinions, there will be various ways of worshipping God."

Wesley pointed out that our modes of worship will be different and our beliefs will be somewhat different, but we should unite in the love of Christ and accept one another.

I personally believe that much of the ecumenism that Wesley preached is being accomplished because of the despair and human need that exists in this moment of history. I heard a story that celebrated Anglican missionary, Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell told. He was touring several Canadian and American cities to raise funds to carry out on his labors. In a Seattle church, Grenfell told of a native woman in Labrador whose leg had to be amputated and who desperately needed an artificial limb. At the close of the message, a woman came forward and told Grenfell that she would bring to his hotel the next morning an artificial limb which had belonged to her deceased husband, with the hope that he would accept it as her gift for his Labrador patient.

In relating this occurrence, the famous missionary concluded with this sentence, "When I, an Episcopalian, took from this Presbyterian woman an artificial limb which had belonged to her Methodist husband, and which she had promised to me as a result of a sermon delivered in a Baptist church, my Roman Catholic friend in Labrador could walk again!"

This is the spirit of Mr. Wesley's sermon. I believe that Christ is still at work in an ecumenical setting trying to bring healing to a hurting world. I pray this will be our goal as a Christian, religious community. May this be our high and holy resolve as we set out faces toward the future together with a true catholic (universal) spirit.

The Rev. Terry Greer is senior pastor of Decatur First United Methodist Church. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468 on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Rev. Terry Greer Rev. Terry Greer

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