A Sunday school class at church has been studying the Methodist Articles of Religion. This is number eleven and it caught my eye:
Article XI — Of Works of Supererogation
Voluntary works—besides, over and above God’s commandments—which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.
Supererogation? It sounds like someone who over waters their lawn.
I don’t think I’ve ever used the term before. I had to look it up. This statement, along with many of the other articles of religion, were written out of a Protestant response to Catholicism.
As best as I can describe it, Supererogation is over-doing it. God expects X from you, but you do X2 hoping to keep the balance of your goodness in your own little spiritual bank account, that you can draw from on a rainy day. (Or, to use to get out of doing penance for future wrong-doing).
Supererogation was one of Martin Luther’s main concerns when he launched the reformation. His belief was that we’re called upon to do exactly what Christ requires of us — no less, no more. To attempt to do more than is required is an act of impiety, going beyond Christs’s wishes in an arrogant way.
Although I’m fascinated with the Catholic perspective about this, I’m more interested today in how little this is talked about in churches I’ve been a part of.
I don’t think people are taught about supererogation.
In fact, I think we’re taught the opposite: Serve Jesus till you drop!
The idea that Christ sets a limit on how much work you need to do would probably be a shock to several pastors I know, and church staff, and super-volunteers.
The whole Protestant work ethic prompts us to go-go-go! That there is no end to the work we might do for Jesus.
In this article is the notion that Christ commands us to do only so much. To do more than that is…excessive. arrogant, even.
Maybe that is the main point. There’s only so much we need to do. There is no spiritual bank account to store your extra good deeds in.
There’s a reason for boundaries when it comes to work, even in Jesus’ name. Raise your hand if too much church work has ever burned you out before?
Perhaps you’re guilty of Works of Supererogation, driven by the notion that by working too hard you’re earning extra goody points. Don’t do that!
As the 4th commandment reminds us, life is about more than work. Apparently Christ would have us discern that in our lives.
Don’t be lazy, of course. And don’t be a workaholic, for God’s sake.
Just be a responsive, responsible disciple.
No less, no more.
Have a great week,