Have you ever noticed the similarities between Major League Baseball and the United Methodist Church? Both organizations exist throughout the country and have a brand logo which is recognizable around the world. In the case of the MLB, professional baseball is played on other continents and plenty of MLB players call another country “home.” In a similar vein, the UMC is a global denomination with congregations, schools, ministries and outreaches found in far flung exotic places most of us will never even visit.
Despite their world-wide recognition, neither organization is the only game in town. Baseball is only one of many spectator sports that competes for the attention of fans. Likewise, Methodism is only one denomination within the Wesleyan theological tradition that exists within the Church universal.
Both organizations experience their share of disputes and controversies. Each has a ready supply of pundits ably offering a play-by-play analysis. A big difference is that in baseball, pundits are former players and former coaches sitting on the sidelines offering their opinions. In Methodism, however, the opinions proffered and analysis given come from active clergy and laity. Christian disciples do not sit on the sidelines when it comes to practicing faith.
Thus, for all the parallels that can be drawn between the two, Major League Baseball and United Methodism are by no means the same. The point of MLB is to provide a platform for athletes to compete and win the World Series. Team franchises seek to offer their fans a good game to view and make a profit in the process. The point of the UMC is to provide a space for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith in the Wesleyan tradition and replicate more disciples. Congregations seek to be that space of replication even as they strive to be a part of helping God’s kingdom to be realized in this world.
As a baseball fan, I really enjoy post season play. Even if my team is not playing, I love to watch the game being played in its top form. I especially enjoy watching the seasoned player who exudes the enthusiasm and excitement evident on a little league field. It is inevitable that at some point, one of the broadcasters will comment about one of the successful coaches whose team has made it to the playoffs because that coach stressed the fundamentals. Since the beginning of the season, the coach has drilled the team in hitting, base running, throwing, pitching and how it has helped the team get to the playoffs. In essence, the coach has kept his players focused on the game.
In many ways, that coach who is focused on the fundamentals reminds me of John Wesley and the Three General Rules of the people called Methodist. The General Rules are three simple guidelines to practice Christian faith: 1. By doing no harm. 2. By doing good and 3. By attending on all the ordinances of God. It is the third rule that spells out what the fundamentals are.
- public worship
- ministry of the Word
- Supper of The Lord
- family and private prayer
- searching the Scriptures
Just as hitting, base running, throwing, catching and pitching are the fundamentals of baseball, these Christian practices form the basis of Christian faith because they were evident in the life of Jesus Christ. The ordinances of God – fundamental practices of Christianity – are intrinsically and uniquely Christian. They connect Christian disciples with one another and are a means to connect us to God’s grace.
Wesley’s Third General Rule grounds us in Christian witness and faith. The ordinances of God are the fundamentals of how we get initiated into faith. Repetitive practice and exposure to prayer, worship, Scripture reading and study, Eucharist and even discovery of the lost discipline of fasting help mature us as Christian disciples. By participating in these uniquely Christian practices, we are made available to God’s grace that aids us in knowing how and when to avoid harm and do good. By attending on all the ordinances of God, we open ourselves to divine presence in our lives. Through these practices, we remember the past and look towards a future with hope illuminated by God’s grace. We attend on the ordinances of God not so that we can win pennants and rings, but so that we can be disciples who demonstrate the love for God and neighbor and help be a part of God’s transforming love in this world.
The MLB and the UMC will always have its superstars. But baseball and Christianity in the Wesleyan tradition is not limited to the “major league.” Baseball is played on a local field in the neighborhood and even happens with a game of catch in the back yard with family members. Methodism is visibly practiced by attendance at Sunday worship services in the local congregation and it is sustained by the regular and repetitious practice of prayer, devotional Bible reading, and extending God’s love into the world by Christ’s disciples. How is becoming a baseball player like being a Christian disciple? By paying attention to the fundamentals. Or, by attending on all the ordinances of God.