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General rule seems simple é on the surface


By Pastor Steve Curry

This month, I’m preaching a sermon series on the general rules of the United Methodist Church. The Methodist Society started as a revival movement within the Church of England. There was never any intent for the Methodists to become our own church that was a result of the American Revolution. As a separate organization, the Methodist Society had a set of three General Rules written in 1738 that are still part of our church today.

The first General Rule is to do no harm. On the surface, this seems simple enough and it includes those things you might expect. John Wesley, the leader of the Methodist Society, explained that this rule included those things that interfered with Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This rule prohibits fighting, drunkenness, gossiping, and talking about people behind their back. The rule also prohibited Methodists from owning slaves (a practice in both England and the American Colonies at the time).

But, when we call ourselves Christian, we present ourselves as living examples of Jesus to those around us. Doing no harm includes avoiding those things which tarnish the reputation of Christ. Wesley warned against “the putting on of gold and other costly apparel,” using profanity, and “using many words in buying or selling” an expression that refers to pressure selling or hiding details in the fine print. We do harm to Christ when the world around us sees us conduct our affairs in a way contrary to the way Jesus teaches us to do things.

Finally, the first General Rule means to do no harm to our own soul. Christ died for us to prepare us to approach the throne of God. When we do things that do not forward the Kingdom of God in our own lives, we are working against our own salvation. Wesley explained that this means the singing of songs and the reading of books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God. Today, Wesley might add movies, television, or the Internet. Doing harm to our own souls includes laying up treasures upon the earth reminding us of the teaching of Christ, that where our treasure is, there our heart is as well and it is our heart that counts.

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