In his earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus preached and taught the truth, healed the sick, and delivered those in bondage from evil. He both proclaimed and practised God's love. He found time to often pray to the Father in quiet and remote places far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Then he would return to the needy and sin-filled world to bring God's love to broken people. He showed the way to combine faith and action, personal piety and social concern, love for God and love for neighbour (Mt. 22:37-40).
As faithful followers of Jesus, John Wesley and the early Methodist communities sought to pursue the way of Christ. They saw their mission as "spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land." They understood scriptural holiness as referring to both personal holiness as well as social holiness, in line with what Jesus taught and demonstrated.
But what is social holiness? Its root lies in God's love for His creation. He cares for the poor, the orphans and the widows (Jam. 1:27). When we relate to God with personal piety and devotion, we will discover that we cannot love God without also loving others (1 Jn. 4:20-21). Our vertical devotions lead to horizontal duties. To be socially holy is to discover the justice and compassion of God. We cannot close our eyes to the plight and needs of our neighbours and hope to have a meaningful relationship with God (Ezek. 16:49). We cannot rest in private heavens while there is suffering and need all around us. We can only rest when God brings His peace and wellbeing (shalom) to the whole world in Christ.
The early Methodists knew this and while seeking to deepen their personal piety sought also to grow in their social holiness. John and Charles Wesley and their friends in the Holy Club formed at Oxford University in 1729, practised social holiness when they visited the two prisons in Oxford, and helped poor families. The early Methodists cared for the underprivileged and marginalised and started schools for poor children, orphanages, and clinics. The early Methodist classes collected money, food, clothes, and medicine for the poor. John Wesley tried to understand the causes of poverty, encouraged hard work, challenged the rich to help the poor and to find ways to eliminate poverty. He fought against social injustices and many of the social ills of his day. From the beginning Methodism focused on practical love for the poor and needy.
It is in this spirit that we as Methodists in Singapore seek to live out our faith in practical ways. We follow Christ when we combine deep personal piety with compassionate concern for the needy in our society. Christianity is not practised in a vacuum. We live as Christians in a world full of social ills and human needs. As Methodists we must seek to do good as individuals, families, local churches, conferences and as a denomination.
At denominational level, there are things we can do together as one connection that we otherwise cannot. The Methodist Welfare Services is one major channel through which we can practise our social holiness. Each day, the 13 units of MWS directly touch the lives of 3000 people. To grow in this expression of practical love, we need the concern and involvement of every Methodist. Will you personally participate?
In a letter to a friend, John Wesley remarked that he let his hair grow unusually long so that he could give the money saved to the poor! While we may not want to do the same, we certainly must share the Christian spirit of social holiness. May our heart's prayer be, in the words of Charles Wesley:
While, listening to the sufferer's cry;
The widow's and the orphan's groan,
On mercy's wings I swiftly fly,
The poor and helpless to relieve,
My life, my all, for them I give.