This time of year, as we approach Good Friday, I always enjoy revisiting and reflecting upon that midnight encounter Jesus had with Nicodemus. For some strange reason, I still believe in the need for the “whosoever” to be born again.
With all the challenges of ministry in this global setting today, sometimes the “whosoever” is lost in the shuffle. We know that God so loved the “world” even though this world is filled with systemic evil, oppressive regimes, unjust structures which need to be addressed and triumphantly brought down in Jesus’ name – there still remains the need for the salvation of the “whosoever.”
In recent years there has been an emphasis in ministry to the “least of these” of Matthew 25. The poor, the disenfranchised, the refugee/immigrant, the oppressed, the wrongfully imprisoned, those horribly enslaved in human trafficking. We, as the church, must do something to alleviate the pain, the suffering the affliction that powers impose on persons – but not to the exclusion of an invitation for the “whosoever” to be born-again.
In some areas of ministry, the “whosoever” has even been replaced by great social causes and concerns – creation cares, anti-abortion activism and proactive adoptions, world equality, reaching out, embracing, accepting and even approving alternative lifestyle communities – all in the name of the unconditional love of God in order to remain relevant and in step with the times we live in that embraces toleration at all costs, and an acceptance of pluralism – all in the name of understanding and love and the new mission of the church.
As we reflect upon this glorious weekend that includes the crucifixion and the resurrection, I still firmly believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection was not for the world as much as for the “whosoever.” Not exclusively for just the “least of these” but for all humankind, including the wealthy, the average, the one that is making a living, barely holding on. Even with the righteousness of these demanding social causes, they are not the reason Jesus came and died.
Jesus did not die so that the “world” or whole communities would be saved just by osmosis, nor did he die only for the “least of these” to be cared for, nor did he die so a cause could be pursued in His name – he died so that the “whosoever” should not perish but have everlasting life.
Wait a minute – but isn’t that what the church is supposed to be about? Yes and no. To me, these things are mission drifting – putting the cart in front of the horse, the tail wagging the dog. Ask yourself – what was Jesus’ mission? You will find it in Matthew 4:17 as Jesus declared – “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Repentance comes by way of the ‘whosoever” will, who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and is saved, through that forgiveness offered by what we celebrate this season – the cross and the power of the resurrection. It is not a community effort or cleansing, or is it a given, a “one atonement fits all” arrangement, it is not even just a philosophy to follow – it is an intentional act of an individual, and only an individual – a “whosoever.” The only way of salvation is through the “whosoevers.” Then from out of a community of “whosoever’s” comes the ministry to the “least of these” and the power to alleviate the challenges and evils of a fallen “world” and the capacity to embrace all the just causes of this needy existence.
Hold on now, but didn’t John Wesley define what we are about by calling for us to be more than simply concerned for the “whosoever,” when he said, “there is no holiness but social holiness.” Wasn’t Wesley actually calling for social activism in this statement? Was He?
Andrew Thompson, who is the Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and Wesleyan Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, traced all the times John Wesley used the phrase, ‘social holiness,’ and was only able to find just one time that he stated it. First off, he never used the separate terms of “personal and societal holiness.” Strangely however, this famous quote was not in a sermon, or a theological treatise, or doctrinal defense – but rather the passage “social holiness” only occurs in the preface to Wesley’s 1739 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems.
Here is the quote in its broader context – John Wesley states, “Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
If anything, this quote is not a battle cry for activism, for social justice, but rather a call for the church to be authentic community under the atonement of Christ. To be a collection of “whosoevers” saved by the blood of the Lamb. It is then, out of that community of “whosoevers,” of individuals, of accountable discipleship, and as the world is our parish, we are to go out loving and changing our “world,” correcting the inherent evils within the systems – but as ambassadors of His reconciliation, not as activists of anarchic change, and then to offer the atoning Grace of Christ to both the sins of the “whosoevers” and the societal needs of the “leasts of these.”
Hallelujah – let’s hear it for the “whosoevers!” I am a “whosoever” – are you?