Along the Way: Treasures Old and New

Jesus described transformation as bringing forth treasures old and new (Matthew 13:52). The context of this idea is that the kingdom of God is a treasure, sometimes hidden, but never non-existent (Matthew 13:44). In this context, Jesus said that disciples of the kingdom—that is, advocates of it and allies with it it, are called to unearth the treasures, so we can see them and live in congruence with them.

They are treasures old and new, Jesus says. When unearthed, the kingdom-of-God life is the synthesis of the past and present in ways that move us into the future as people of light, life, and love. Kingdom life is nondual, with “and” defining us, not “or.” [1] And as Richard Rohr notes, it is an affirming, celebrating, engaging “and”—what he calls, “Yes…and.” [2] Bringing forth treasures old and new means not demeaning the past, but also not dwelling in it. In the kingdom of God, we continue to declare “Jesus is Lord,” but the way it was first said in the past is not the script we must read without change as we say it in the present. In the kingdom of God even saying “Jesus is Lord” is a treasure old…and new.

The treasured life called the kingdom of God is an old/new combination meant to be salt and light in every area of life. It is joining Jesus’ courageous enterprise of declaring, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” Our call to bring forth treasures old and new is to offer an alternative orthodoxy that lives on the edge of the inside (as Richard Rohr describes it), accepting the challenge to join Jesus in fulfilling the law without destroying it (Matthew 5:17). We are called to do this everywhere all the time. It is the radical re-forming nature of the Gospel, incarnate in Jesus himself.

This life for many if us now includes the work to be done in the formation of the new United Methodist Church. It is a kingdom-of-God task that will bring forth treasures old and new. We have good guidance for this from the Wesleys and the first Methodists.

Viewed in this way the early Methodist movement was an alternative orthodoxy dwelling on the edge of the inside of the Church of England, with a similar challenge to other institutionalized versions of Christianity. Many dimensions of Wesleyan theology and manifestations of its methods and mission were a “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you” movement aimed to overcome evil with good. As we move into the new UMC, we are called to bring forth treasures old and new.

I believe we must begin this task recognizing that Methodism was a movement shaped by the Wesleys in ways akin to Third Orders (e g. the Franciscan Order). These were renewal communities, made up largely of laity, lived with the singular devotion (i.e. a theology of love defined by the two great commandments) of monasticism, but doing so through a myriad of vocations in the world.[3] I believe that the future of the UMC will include bringing forth treasures old and new in “the Wesleyan spirit” of third-order Christianity. I will write more in detail about this in future posts. Today, I offer only an overview of what I mean, doing so in relation to the foundational documents of third-order movements.

They had a Rule of Life which described the community’s conduct. The conduct emerged from a Constitution which formed character. Spiritual disciplines, practiced individually and collectively, matured personal and social holiness (piety and mercy). And a regular service of commitment kept community life updated and vital.

Early Methodism had all these: (1) A Rule—”The General Rules of the United Societies”….(2) A Constitution—”The Character of a Methodist”….(3) Spiritual disciplines—the instituted and prudential means of grace….and….(4) Regular recommitment—”The Covenant Renewal Service.” The Wesleys brought treasures old and new into the Methodist movement, believing that what had given prior Christians abundant life would do so again. The “old treasure” of Third Orders conjoined with the “new treasure” of Methodism. We are here because of that union.

We have a God-given moment to be instruments of God’s peace in our time of new awakening, just as the early Methodists were in theirs. And thanks to the vision of those at the United Methodist Publishing House, we have the same four third-order resources the Wesleys used to establish and enrich the Methodist movement. The UMPH (Abingdon Press) has produced volumes that take the original foundational documents and offer them to us today. The General Rules are now offered in the book, ‘Three Simple Rules’ by Rueben Job. The Character of a Methodist is represented as ‘Five Marks of a Methodist’ by Steve Harper. The means of grace are commended in the book ‘Five Means of Grace’ by Elaine Heath. And the Covenant Renewal Service is presented in the book, ‘One Faithful Promise’ by Magrey deVega. [4]

By re-publishing and re-presenting these dimensions of third-order Methodism, the UMPH has brought forth treasures old and new that we can use in shaping the new UMC, and doing so in faithfulness to the Wesleyan message, methods, and mission: to reach the marginalized, to renew the church, and to reform the nation.

[1] Paul Chilcote captures this synthesis in his book, ‘Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision.’ He shows the power of “and” in theology and practice.

[2] In his book, ‘Yes, And…,’ Richard Rohr provides daily meditations which help to form this way of seeing and living.

[3] Melvin Dieter was the first person to point out third-order Methodism to me. Howard Snyder has explored the idea in multiple articles and in his book, ‘The Radical Wesley.’ I have developed the idea through numerous conversations. I have come to believe it is a key for understanding the early Methodist movement in a way that yields fruit for us today.

[4] To these four resources I would add ‘The Wesley Study Bible’ (Abingdon, 2009), which itself brings forth treasures old and new in relation to Scripture as it interweaves John Wesley’s notes with comments from contemporary Wesleyans.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in Along the Way, UMC. Bookmark the permalink.