Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lots of John Wesley Lately

There is no doubt that John Wesley's story is one of the best in church history. One of 10 surviving children of a broke-ass Anglican minister, Wesley and his brother Charles, a gifted poet, ended up being used by God to start significant renewal movements in the Christian church. Along the way, John Wesley was almost killed in a fire, suffered burnout, was banned from his denomination, stoned and physically menaced when he preached and accidentally founded a new denomination.

Wesley was a prodigious writer, a steadfast journal keeper, and usually preached at least 3 times per day, mostly outside. He rode countless miles on countless horses--probably a good thing that motor transport hadn't been invented yet, since a horse will not go off the road if its rider falls asleep.

He wasn't perfect. A story about John and Charles, that I had forgotten about came up today during the "Methodism 101" class. While serving in Georgia as a missionary, John got sweet on a girl. For some reason, Charles thought she was not good for John. He told her things that caused her to marry another man. John Wesley did try marriage later in his life, but it was not a happy thing. Unlucky in love, how human!

Actually, as I look at this last paragraph, I could posit that this situation was something used by God. Due to his anger at the lady and her husband, he refused them communion in Georgia. This caused him to get into legal trouble, and he quickly departed for home. While on the ship home, a storm came up, and he found himself in fear of dying outside of the favor of God. He noticed a group of Moravian Christians who were very calm in the face of all this danger, and noted their calm and assurance of salvation. When he got home to England, he looked up the local Moravian group to learn more. It was at a meeting of this group, while they were discussing Martin Luther's commentary on Romans that Wesley felt the "strangely warmed heart" and knew without a doubt that he had received God's forgiveness.

Wesley was all about what was going on in the heart of the believer. He firmly believed in justification by faith alone. Good works by themselves did not get a person into heaven. A person could look like a good person and have no more true belief or religion than a stone. It was only true repentance and the belief in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. This restores a person to the right relationship with God, and puts the power of the Holy Spirit in a person's life to empower them and help them become more and more like Christ, with the will of the heart more and more in line with the will of God's heart.

Ironically, Wesley was also all about being organized. He was organizing believers into small groups before his "warmed heart" experience, and he continued the practice afterward. The groups confronted their members about sin, provided continued education and study of the Bible and Christian faith, and gave a place for mutual support. It was this systematic discipleship that he and his brother followed with a small like-minded group of Oxford students that earned them the derisive name "Methodists" for the methodical and systematic way they seemed to go about their faith journey. The irony now is that the label is worn proudly by the denomination he founded out of necessity during the Revolutionary War in America in the late 1700s.

The more you think about John Wesley, what he was able to do, and the times he lived in, the more you realize that you don't know much at all. All I can tell for sure is that this was God's man for this time, he was called and said "Yes," and said it over and over again until his time on Earth was done. He set into motion, along with George Whitfield, significant spiritual revivals in the English speaking world whose effects continue to this day. Many significant denominations and church movements can look back to John Wesley for their inspiration.

When he was told by Anglican church officials in England that he could not preach because he had no parish (of course, he had no parish because the Anglican bishops, offended by the nature of his preaching and his open air preaching, refused to give him one!), he responded, "I look on all the world as my parish."

Image: One of many portraits of John Wesley--this is the "Don't mess with me." picture. I'm not sure I would want to see that look if I was trying to soft pedal a sin in a small group meeting!

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