Reclaiming the Heart of the Wesleyan Way #15 ©

Our Present Prospects

 An old story ascends the dim recesses of my memory. Back prior to World War II a guy living in a small town is noted for being what we used to simply call a “bad hombre.” He is perennially rude and mean-spirited towards others. He lies and cheats. He has been known to take what isn’t his. He has been in and out of jail for stealing and drunken disorderly conduct numerous times. Strangely he is also someone who shows up at every revival held it the small town. It does not seem to matter if it’s a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal group that is sponsoring the revival.

Finally he is arrested once more for drunken brawling on Main Street. When he is released from jail a couple of months later he promptly heads to the edge of town and takes in the local protestant tent revival. At the close of the service, the preacher gives a stirring heartfelt invitation for people to give their lives to Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Seemingly deeply moved, the fellow comes forward to the altar weeping and crying out. As he kneels and the pastor lays his hands on him, he shouts out loud, “Fill me Lord, fill me with the Holy Spirit! Listening from the rear of the tent, another person shouts out over the din of conversion crying. “Don’t do it Lord!  He leaks!”

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For far too long we have leaked. Those who call themselves Methodist have largely aped the culture of what passes for modern day success. Our present prospects will not continue on this same path. As the tsunami of secularity (a post-Christendom culture) sweep over us, the day of casual Christianity is over. In the years ahead there will be painful separation of those who take seriously the life of Christian discipleship and those who are hangers-on. This will not be a clean, neat split but a messy jagged rip frayed at the edges. From a prospective of the early Methodists, it involves recovering our original understanding that Methodism was an “order” within the larger church. Put differently, we Methodists didn’t come into being to be a new denomination. We came into being as a “new faith community” to reform the larger church with a true holiness of heart and life (i.e. a holiness that was and is both personal and social). Professor Scott Kisker puts it this way: “Methodism needs to realize that we are not the Church: we are a way of being Christian within the Church” (Scott Kisker, Mainline or Methodist? Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission, p.120).

A few months ago, Lovett Weems spent a day with the Cabinet in training. As a part of our extended time together he noted that, at the height of our growth in the first part of the 19th century, over half the delegates to Annual Conference didn’t have church building. One person was given an appointment that was so vague that when he asked about the boundary lines (mission field) of his appoint he was told: “To the north Tennessee, to the East Georgia, to the South the Gulf Coast, to the West, the setting sun.”

In a blog entitled “The Four Marks of  the Next Methodism,” Dean David Watson of United Theological Seminary writes that the “next Methodism” will:

“1. The Next Methodism will feed the hungry, physically and spiritually.
2. The Next Methodism will be Spirit-filled.
3. The Next Methodism will be rooted in Scripture.
4. The Next Methodism will be truly Wesleyan.”

He adds, “Earlier this year I read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. Its basic premise is that the culture has turned against us as Christians. We need to retreat and form tightly knit communities that will serve as arks in which we can ride out the flood of neo-paganism in Western culture. This is the best hope we have of preserving a Christian identity in the midst of a hostile world.

“After I finished it, though, I thought, What if John Wesley had done that? Thankfully, he didn’t. In fact, he did the opposite. He preached in the fields and where anyone would listen. He went into the places where he knew people were hostile to him. He was attacked by mobs. He was badmouthed and ridiculed. He didn’t retreat from the culture. He confronted it. And in the midst of all this, he led a revival that swept through England and eventually became a global movement.

“I don’t want the Benedict Option. I want the Wesley Option: high-octane evangelism with a deep commitment to Scripture and an emphasis on sanctification and social holiness”  (https://davidfwatson.me/2017/06/13/four-marks-of-the-next-methodism/).

I could agree more! We move forward on the reclaiming of the heart of the Wesleyan Way centered on Christ, through commitment to Christian growth and spiritual maturity. This will necessitate the recovering of some version of the Class Meeting and love for others that stands apart from our common culture in its holiness and compassion. This will be yoked to the recovery of a real discipline and accountability with each other. 

Did you know that Wesley refused to preach where the Class Meeting was absent? Wesley was clear that if one was not willing to be in a class meeting and be held accountable (“watching over one another in love”) you weren’t allow to be a part of the Methodist societies. Oh, to be sure, you were invited and encouraged to come to the preaching and worship, but you were not a Methodist without real submission to spiritual discipline and practical engagement in the deeds of love, justice and mercy. Methodism was both tough and transformational! Faith sharing and caring for the hungry, hurting and homeless were inseparably linked. Methodists were a sent people. Sent to church needing reformation and renewal. Sent to those who did not know the Lord. Sent to nurture each other in the way that leads to life eternal. This was and is our glory. This was and is our calling. “If our ministry is to be effective in the present age, we must recover what they provided: small disciplined, hospitable, caring fellowships for non-Christians and Christians alike” (Scott Kisker, Mainline or Methodist? Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission, p.83).

God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is not done with the Methodist Movement, the Wesleyan Way, yet. The Lord’s claim and call still rest upon us in divine glory and to divine purpose. We are to “reform the church and spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”

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