Whole Hearts: Pursuing Jesus, Serving Others
If pedigree could have saved a man, it would have saved him.
The son of a priest, Charles Wesley won a scholarship to Christ Church College in Oxford, England, and while there established a community of several friends who met throughout the week for spiritual encouragement, accountability and inspiration. Through a prodigious capacity for verse and music, he wrote hymns with the power to touch hearts 275 years in the future.
It wasn’t enough, though. Wesley could preach and teach and bring others to the feet of Jesus, but it wasn’t until one Pentecost Sunday in 1738 that he found the freedom he had sought his entire life.
“I found myself convinced, I know not how nor when; and immediately fell to intercession,” he wrote in his journal. “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.”
The freedom, joy and spiritual energy experienced by Charles and, a few days later, his brother John, became hallmarks of a perspective on holiness that has spanned the centuries. Now, as then, followers of Jesus seek to live in the assurance that God’s love has both forgiven their sin and empowered them to bring glory to His name. They seek to be holy.
Living for His purposes
Holiness at Asbury is understood through Scripture and informed by the Holiness Movement, a set of beliefs and practices that swept through the United States in the 19th century and birthed the camp meeting traditions that continue today. The Holiness Movement itself, however, was founded in the theology that John Wesley articulated in open fields to whomever had ears to hear.
The heart of the Wesleys’ concept of holiness is the idea that the holy nature of God — a quality that compels separation for the purpose of purity — is inseparable from the love of God, that impulse that works selflessly for the benefit of the one who is loved. It’s a theology that is easier said than done. Christians can isolate themselves from the taint of the world with nary a thought for the real, physical needs of the poor and vulnerable, and vice versa.
“Some of the past temptation in thinking about holiness was to try to get actions right so they could make you holy,” said Greg Haseloff, associate dean of campus ministries and campus chaplain. “But holiness has an internal beginning. A changed life flows from the inside out to show how a transformed heart can set your course to live for His purposes in the world.”
At Asbury, many students choose to demonstrate their transformed hearts through service to the community. Not only does community outreach make a tangible difference in the lives of other people, but the process of serving is an important part of the students’ education.
“It’s important that students serve because they need to figure out who they are, and they do that when they go out,” said Heather Tyner, assistant director for student leadership development. “The more they stay behind closed walls, the less they understand themselves and the world around them. Anytime we’re around people who are different from us, it’s an opportunity to encounter transformation and growth.”
Service opportunities for students range from organizing merchandise at the local community thrift shop and “adopting” a resident of a nearby retirement village to tutoring high-school students, playing games at a Salvation Army shelter in Lexington and bringing snacks and a smile to residents of a state mental hospital. Some groups offer time to share the Gospel explicitly; other groups focus on being His hands and feet nonverbally. Either way, the Kingdom comes, one act of kindness at a time.
“Making service a habit while they’re at Asbury sets them up to serve after graduations,” Tyner said. “It’s not just knowing about Jesus, but living like Him.”
The upward call
Holiness Emphasis Week, an annual tradition at Asbury, keeps alive not only the practices and theology of Wesleyan Holiness, but also an awareness of the world’s urgent need for a vision of modern-day holiness. Just as those with chronic illnesses can sometimes forget how it feels to be well, so a sin-sick world and complacent church can make do with less joy than God intends.
“Holiness is misunderstood, yes, but being understated is a bigger deal,” Haseloff said. “We have a great opportunity because of our heritage, and we have a great challenge because of the culture we live in, to bring fresh understanding of holiness to the 21st -century church and 21st -century Christians.”
Asburians around the world are taking seriously the ancient call to follow Christ, feed his sheep and light the way for those who come after them. As they do so, however, they walk in the light of those who have, in turn, gone before. Not long after Charles Wesley experienced the Spirit’s freedom in his heart, he wrote the hymn “And Can It Be,” an anthem of his conversion that was adopted as the class hymn for the Classes of 1980, 1987 and 2001, and is beloved by many more:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,” he wrote, “fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray — I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed thee.”
As Asbury explores Holiness and the other Cornerstones of Scripture, Stewardship and Mission in the context of academic excellence and spiritual vitality, the expression of those values adapts to fit the times and students at hand.
The commitment, however, endures, each cornerstone fitted and held together in the Cornerstone Himself.
For a more in-depth look at Holiness at Asbury, click here to read "Whole Hearts: Abiding in the True Vine, Bearing Fruit for the World" in the Spring 2013 Ambassador, and click here to read more about Holiness as a Cornerstone value.