II. A THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY
Experientially: Wesleyan & United Methodist
The United Methodist Church (UMC) is truly a national church in that it is found in every area of the United States. A few years ago at a workshop on Baby Boomers we were told that our denomination had at least one church in every county or parish in this country except two. We emerged as a denomination in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. With Francis Asbury at the helm we progressed westward as the country moved on. As people settled, the circuit rider came along establishing churches and classes that later developed into churches. Today there are at least 33,000 United Methodist Churches, along with another 32,000 that began with the same heritage in the U. S. A. Our church grew with the population in the early frontier. One third of our current 8.6 million members lives in the Old South.
The UMC has the fifth largest constituency of black members of any church in America. It has more Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Cambodian, and Pacific peoples than any other denomination here at home. It has a growing number of Hispanic, Vietnamese, Jamaican and other Island peoples.(22T), p. 446
The theology and structure of the UMC is rooted in eighteenth century evangelical Anglicanism. Although many would say it is far removed from its roots. Basically Methodism began as a lay movement with a few clergy at its helm. John Wesley, spurred on by people like George Whitefield, took Christianity to the people wherever they were. From that societies and organizational structure began to form. Structure came as need presented itself. In 1784 the Methodist Episcopal Church formed as an antipode to the Church of England in America. Although Wesley is given credence to its founding, he himself did not ever surrender his credentials within the Church of England. It was a disciple of Wesley by the name of Francis Asbury who developed and nurtured the early denomination into fruition. The church was Asbury’s life and family. His energy, personality and devotion are key elements to the spread of the Methodist movement in America. Like Wesley in England, Asbury adapted structure to meet the needs of this growing nation. The key to both Wesley’s and Asbury’s motivation was the “saving of souls from the perils of hell.”(see Original Sin & Conviction)
The denomination has been in membership decline for the past thirty-three years. Much scholarship has been devoted to the reasons for this. I see three: First, the denomination has not built any significant number of new churches since the fifties. Through two and half centuries, even with the disenfranchised and the disgruntled that went off and formed their own denominations, mainline Methodism grew through new churches in new locations. Where the population went the church went and grew. As early suburbia developed in the 1940s and 1950s the church was there. With the coming of the 1960s the UMC began to think that a saturation point had developed. This misconception cost them dearly.
Second, the UMC has softened its evangelical thrust. By evangelical thrust I mean assertive invitations issued to bring new people into the life of existing churches ceased. Someway or somehow the UMC as a whole became complacent with who they were in the arena of personal evangelism. The social consciousness was strong, social witness was strong, but personal ministry began to wane in Sunday School and ultimately the church.
Third, for the past four decades and until recently most United Methodist seminaries did not prepare new pastors to help train their churches for growth or spiritual outreach.
MINISTRY IN THE CONTEXT OF RECENT HISTORY
Ministry in the United Methodist Church has changed in the past three decades in many aspects. However, in some areas ministry remains the same. People still feel lonely and depressed more so now than ever before. The stresses that play on modern life seem to be ever increasing. The baby boomers are bringing a change into the way we think, the way we act, and the way we conduct all areas of our lives.
United Methodism as well as mainline churches found their membership apex in the late fifties. A transition of authority began to happen in the fifties that affects the aspects of life in our culture. This transition spills over into the ministry of the church. Intellectual awareness and reading were at an all time high. Education was esteemed and pursued in record numbers. Clergy were automatically given respect and authority because of position in society.
Deterioration of authority came with the onslaught of the sixties. This decade challenged us in such a way that we were confused and constrained. The civil rights movement which began in the fifties influenced large scale civil disobedience in the sixties. The Viet Nam War brought about a slow and growing powerful objection to government and business institutions. Civil disobedience grew until all institutions were questioned. Add to this the ‘death of god’ movement with its seminary proponents. Time Magazine, April 8, 1966 presented on its cover the question “Is God Dead?” News media which seem to hold the church in awe now began to ridicule and bemoan the place of church in society. Thus, authority of the church came under question.(7H)
Additionally, a whole generation of people were raised with indulgent parenting. Educational systems became more permissive. Respect for law enforcement waned. An erosion of personal morality and integrity permeated society. Declining membership which was inaugurated in the sixties is still happening in most United Methodist Conferences in the United States today. Clergy left disillusioned and the integrity of the church was undermined in two ways. Those that supported civil liberties felt the church did not move fast enough. Those that did not openly support civil liberties, believed the church had no business meddling in social activism. Thus, the church discovered itself in a no-win dilemma.
Seminary graduates were most often assigned to churches where they were found in opposition to their congregations culturally, theologically, politically and liturgically.
The seventies produced turmoil and aggravation in the church with a tremendous amount of blaming and fear. In 1978 Dr. W. E. Knickerbocker stated at Memphis Theological Seminary that, mainline protestant churches are in an identity crisis.(12K) They are in search of who they are and what they are. Through this confusion new movements swayed people from mainline churches. Neo-pentecostal, neo evangelical, and independent groups began to become more attractive to those caught in confusion. The push for the emotional, the dogmatic, and the ultimate spiritual trip became the motif.
The eighties were a sorting out period. Many things were tried, and many things failed because we were to close to the scene. Several religio-sociological studies have given us some insights.(20) It is my hope that the nineties will bring a better understanding of what our primary mission is. I believe that the desire is with us. I believe that there is a longing to pursue the business of being the church. With that goes both open and hidden agendas from various factions within the church.
WESLEY’S THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY
Wesley’s impact on ministry still influences the church today. Most of his life was a search for fulfillment in his personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A basic survey of Wesley’s theology would indicate an emphasis on the soteriological aspect of ministry. He would further emphasize scriptural holiness as part of the soteriological process. Salvation of souls is the purpose of the Christian church. Ministry is primarily concerned with salvation or evangelistic outreach. To Wesley, saving faith and the assurance of salvation are evidenced in a true Christian. Wesley’s ministry focus on the concept that people of all statures need to be saved. Without salvation through the work of Jesus Christ they are lost to the eternal pit fires of hell.(2C), p. 58ff
Ministry concentrates on the gospel to show what scriptural promises are available to us now and to us when the end comes. The life of the righteous is available in Christ and is free to those that accept it. The work of ministry then is to help make Christ available to all. We find this thought imbedded in the Discipline of the United Methodist Church today:
“The Methodist Church believes today, as Methodism has from the first, that the only infallible proof of a true church of Christ is its ability to seek and to save the lost, to disseminate the Pentecostal spirit and life, to spread scriptural holiness, and to transform all peoples and nations through the gospel of Christ. The sole object of the rules, regulations, and usages of The Methodist Church is to aid the Church in fulfilling its divine commission. United Methodism thanks God for the new life and strength which have come with reunion (1968), while realizing the new obligations which this brings. At the same time it rejoices in the fact that it is a part of the one Church of our Lord and shares in a common task. Its spirit is still expressed in Wesley’s words: “I desire to have a league, offensive and defensive, with every soldier of Christ. We have not only one faith, one hope, one Lord, but are directly engaged in one warfare.’”(BOD), pp. 10-11
THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH IN MINISTRY
Ministry in the United Methodist Church is seen in a new convenant relationship in and through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament illustrates covenant relationships where a people were called out or chosen to receive God’s grace and blessings. Each time though God gave responsibility to those chosen to be a universal witness to the divine will and way. In the new covenant Jesus is at the head calling out and gathering up a community of hope, the Church. The gathered are given the grace of God with all the blessings that ensue. All who obey and believe in Jesus Christ shall be saved and at the same time become ministers.
God through the work and saving grace of Jesus Christ by death and resurrection has issued a new covenant. We are reconciled, justified by faith, given new birth in the Spirit, and marked by holiness. Jesus did not come to be served, but to be a servant (Mark 10:45). The Discipline states:
“God’s self-revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ summons the Church to ministry in the world through witness by word and deed in light of the Church’s mission. The visible Church of Christ as a faithful community of persons affirms the worth of all humanity and the value of interrelation-ship in all of God’s creation.
In the midst of a sinful world, through the grace of God, we are brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We become aware of the presence and life-giving power of God’s Holy Spirit. We live in confident expectation of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose.
We are called together for worship and fellowship and for the upbuilding of the Christian community. We advocate and work for the unity of the Christian church. We call persons into discipleship…
The heart of Christian ministry is Christ’s ministry of… love.(BOD), p.113
Within the Church there is general ministry of all Christian believers, and there is representative ministry. All the people of God are called into the general ministry of the visible Church. The representative ministry of the visible Church are the ordained and the diaconal. “Diaconal ministers are called to specialized ministries of service, justice, and love with local congregations…”(BOD), pp. 114-115 Diaconal ministers are servant ministers. They usually are specialists in a particular area such as administration, evangelism, music, Christian education, or health ministries.
Ordained ministers are called to specific ministries of Word, Sacrament, and order:
“…Through these distinctive functions ordained ministers devote themselves wholly to the work of the Church and to the upbuilding of the general ministry. They do this through careful study of the Scripture and its faithful interpretation, through effective proclamation of the gospel and responsible administration of the Sacraments, through diligent pastoral leadership of their congregations for fruitful discipleship, and by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in witnessing beyond the congregation in the local community and to the ends of the earth. The ordained ministry is defined by its intentionally representative character, by its passion for the hallowing of life, and by its concern to link all local ministries with the widest boundaries of the Christian community.(BOD), p. 115
At ordination the Bishop asks nineteen questions. The expected response is to be in the affirmative in all questions except question #18. These questions have been asked of every Methodist preacher and require answering before granting full relationship to an Annual Conference. Only slight modification of wording has been made over the past two hundred years. They come climatically after a process of five to nine years for most ordinands. It could be as little as two years for those transferring ordination from other denominations. The questions follow:
1. Have you faith in Christ?
2. Are you going on to perfection?
3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and His work?
6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
7. Will you keep them?
8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
9. After full examination do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
10. Will you preach and maintain them?
11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
13. Will you support and maintain them?
14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?
16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
19. Will you observe the following directions?
a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place that is strictly necessary.
b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.(BOD), pp. 232-233
In the UMC, a pastor is an ordained or licensed person approved by vote of the clergy members in full connection. He or she is appointed by the Bishop to be in charge of a station, circuit, cooperative parish, extension ministry, or on the staff of one such appointments.(BOD), p. 244 Pastoral ranks as follows:
Elder in Full Connection – will be appointed with full range of pastoral duties. May officiate over the Sacraments, weddings, funerals, and so on, as long as not infringing another’s charge. An Elder in Full Connection would be similar to a presbyter in the Episcopal Church in America. An Elder is ordained (BOD, 2012, No longer for life), and because of her/his relationship with an Annual Conference.
Deacon as Probationary Member – may be appointed with full range of pastoral duties for the charge to which he or she is assigned. He or she may assist an elder by invitation.
Affiliate Member – will be appointed with full range of pastoral duties to the charge to which assigned.
Local Pastor – is a lay person licensed to serve a specific charge with pastoral duties only for that charge.
Student Local Pastor – is a lay person seeking ordination and who serves a specific charge with pastoral duties only for that charge. This person serves while working on the educational requirements for ordination.
Others – sometimes due to need an unlicensed lay person will be assigned the responsibilities of pastor with responsibilities usually limited to preaching, and some administrate duties. On occasion ordained clergy from other denominations will be asked to serve with specific and limited duties. This happens mostly with union churches, but when shortage occurs UMs borrow where they can.
Summary for Ministry
In spite of the problems of recent years, and in spite of the uncertainty of the future in ministry, the UMC is making a witness for Jesus Christ in the world today. The UMC through its pastors and churches minister to many more people than are on the denominational roles. Love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace and justice are central in our thoughts. There is a renewal to bring redemption, reconciliation, and rejuvenation to this great and wonderful church. I expect to be part of the process. I believe there is a resurgence for those that want to bring the witness of Christ to the unchurched, not for the survival of the institution, but for the sake of the gospel for which there is healing, hope, and always room for one more at the table of the Lord.
SCRIPTURAL HOLINESS AND EVANGELISM – SCRIPTURE:
An Epistemological Statement
Epistemology (the philosophical theory of knowledge.)
Twenty-five years ago a candidate for ministry was immediately informed that one’s theology was shrouded by Wesley’s Quadrilateral which included scripture, reason, tradition and experience. From the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church we are still told that these elements are the essential to epistemology the Christian faith. Those that approached the throws of ministry were told:
“Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.(BOD), p. 74
Thus, our epistemology of the Christian faith is informed by the quadrilateral with scripture being the essential entity.
In actuality the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is seen by many as a myth that came together as a string of theological statements in the uniting of Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church in 1968.(6G), p. 9 However, a case can be made for the each component of the Quadrilateral, especially scripture, tradition, and reason. These three came out of the Anglican tradition which was almost two hundred years old by the time Wesley was in the full bloom of ministry.
Scripture from the Anglican perspective emphasized its authority concerning the path to salvation. The Calvinist saw scripture as authoritative in all matters. The Church of England established the primacy of Scriptures in its Articles of Faith and emphasized Scripture’s normative authority for doctrinal belief and ethical behavior. Much to the chagrin of the Puritans, Anglicans drew from tradition that which was not forbidden by Scripture.(6G), pp. 33-34 Richard Hooker who was given the task of presenting the Anglican perspective over against the Puritan perspective in about 1560. He presented the Anglican perspective with respect to scripture as soteriological in essense and practice. He view of scriptures was that God has provided all that is necessary for the salvation of the believer, thus, he wrote, “In the number of these principles one is the sacred authority of Scripture… laying before us all the duties which God requireth at our hands as necessary unto salvation”(10H), p.1 Hooker in defense of the what became known as part of the Middle Way goes on to say;
“Let them with whom we have hitherto disputed consider well, how it can stand with reason to make the bare mandate of sacred Scripture the only rule of all good and evil in the actions of mortal man. The testimonies of God are true, the testimonies of God are perfect, the testimonies of God are all sufficient unto that end for which they were given… we do not think that in them God hath omitted anything needful unto his purpose, and left his intent to be accomplished by our devisings.”(10H), p. 2:5
W. Stephen Gunter in summing up Hooker’s defense claims that:
“It is very important to remember that Hooker understood himself not to be formulating a new theology, but rather to be dealing with the interpretation and application of the theology that had been given in Scripture, defined in the early centuries of the primitive church, and affirmed in the Anglican Articles… Hooker’s apologetic is a culmination of the identity-defining process that began with Thomas Crammer, and the result is a comprehensiveness of perspective that became an identifying trademark of Anglican identity.”(6G), pp. 34-35
Wesley was steep in Anglican identity. He was at home in The Church of England. His understanding, view and teaching indicated that Scripture was the sole authority for Christian faith and practice. His Anglican understanding undergirded this in all that he did. There is no way to separate Wesley from Scripture.
Through the years of his ministry he claimed to be homo unius libri – a man of one book. This began in his very early experience in the Holy Club. In his sermon On God’s Vineyard we find these words:
From the very beginning, from the time that four young men united together, each of them was homo unius libri – a man of one book. God taught them all to make his word a lantern unto their feet, and a light in all their paths. They had one, and only one rule of judgement, with regard to all their tempers, words and actions, namely, the oracles of God. They were continually reproached for this very thing; some terming them in derision Bible-bigots; other, Bible-moths – feeding, they said, upon the Bible at moths do upon cloth. And indeed unto this day it is their constant endeavour to think and speak as the oracles of God.”(29W), p. 3:504
Just a little later in the same sermon that Wesley claims to be a man of one book we find quotes form Homer’s Iliad. Wesley was widely read in Greek, German, Latin, Spanish and English writings from literature, philosophy, spirituality, medicine, and science. Scott Jones explores the many authors and topics of Wesley’s studies. Scott indicates that Wesley adds appeals to reason, experience, the writings of the Anglican Church, and the primitive church. Underlying all this Scott indicates that Scripture is primary. However, Wesley would never see tradition, reason or experience having authority over scripture.(11J), pp.129, 224-225
Wesley’s epistemology begins and ends with his unequivocal stand on scripture as the rule for all doctrine. He will refer to scripture as “the law and testimony.” From his “The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained” the following reference is made:
“These need no outward miracle to show them his will: they have a plain rule; the written Word… Through this they are enabled to bring all doctrines “to the law and to the testimony.” And whatsoever is agreeable to this they receive without waiting to see it attested by miracles. As on the other hand, whatever is contrary to this they reject – nor can any miracles move them to receive it.”(29W), p. 9:219
Wesley’s writings are saturated with scripture. He quotes scripture far more than he does anything else. Scott J. Jones claims that Wesley, “In one representative sample of his writings, he quoted Scriptuer 2,181 times.(11J), pp. 129,224-25 Wesley uses references from 2 Corinthians 7:1, Hewbres 4:1, 10, Philippians 3:13-14 and Romans 8:21 in the following passage on “Christian Perfection” without making reference to his use of scripture.
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved,’ both in the law and in the prophets, and having prophetic word confirmed unto us in the gospel by our blessed Lord and his apostles, ‘let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ ‘Let us fear lest’ so many promises being made us of entering into his rest’ (which he that hath entered into’ is ceased from his own works’) any of us should come short of it.’ ‘This one thing let us do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, let us press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,’ crying unto him day and night till we also are ‘delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.’”(29W), p. 2:121
Wesley views the Bible as authoritative from cover to cover, in all that it has to reveal as the source of God’s message. Scripture the essential and basic understanding epistemologically as attested to:
“I believe the Bible as far as I understand it, and am ready to be convinced. If I am an heretic, I became such by reading the Bible. All my notions I drew from thence; and with little help from men, unless in the single point of Justification by Faith.”(29W), pp.18:234-35
Wesley goes on to indicate that we must look at the whole of the Bible. The epistemology of the scripture can be proofed by scripture in order to gain knowledge in an attempt to go on to “Christian Perfection” and to live a life endowed with scriptural holiness. He declares the Bible to be required in teaching the Christian message. He poses the following questions:
“But are they (expressions that teach perfection) not found in the oracles of God? If so, by what authority can any messenger of lay them aside, even though all men should be offended? We have not so learned Christ; neither may we thus give place to the devil. Whatsoever God hath spoken, that will we speak, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear: knowing that then alone can any minister of Christ be ‘pure from the blood of all men,’ when he hath ‘not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God.’”(29W), pp. 18:234-35
Also, “a most solid and precious system of divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.”(29BW), Preface, Article 10
Not only is scripture to be as wholeness, but the epistemology of this wholeness is soteriological. The whole message is a message of salvation. Wesley directs our attention to:
“St. Peter expresses it, ‘as the oracles of God;’ according to the general tenor of them; according to that grand scheme of doctrine which is delivered therein, touching original sin, justification by faith, and present, inward salvation. There is a wonderful analogy between all these; and a close and intimate connexion between the chief heads of that faith ‘which was once delivered to the saints.’ Every article therefore concerning which there is any question should be determined by this rule; every doubtful scripture interpreted according to the grand truths which run through the whole.(29BW), Romans 12:6
Wesley out and out rejects the concept that God predetermines some to be saved and some to be damned. In his concept of the whole Bible giving soteriological expression and understanding. Wesley parts with George Whitefield over this, or more aptly Whitefield parts with Wesley. Wesley makes a strong declaration in:
“Better it were to say it had no sense at all than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it means besides, that the God of truth is a liar… No Scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works.(29W), p. 3:556
Again for Wesley scripture is the natural and pervasive method for confronting and struggling with the understanding of Christian faith and practice. The Bible provides answers where experience falls short. The Bible exclusively provides the terminal conclusion. Wesley confirms scripture as the final authority in the following dialogue:
“I conceive therefore this whole demand, common as it is, of proving our doctrine by miracles, proceeds from a double mistake: (1) a supposition that what we preach is not provable from Scripture (for if it be, what need we further witnesses? To the law and the testimony!); (2) an imagination that a doctrine not provable by Scripture might nevertheless be proved by miracles. I believe not. I receive the written Word as the whole and sole rule of my faith.”(29W), p. 26:155
Wesley view of the authority of scripture is contained in the way he perceives revealed Word, inspired Word and the quality of Scripture never making mistakes. In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament he writes:
“Concerning the Scriptures in general, it may be observed, the word of the living God, which directed the first Patriarchs also, was, in the time of Moses, committed to writing. To this were added, in the several succeeding generations, the inspiried writings of the other Prophets, Afterwards, what the Son of God preached, and the Holy Ghost spake by the Apostles, the Apostles and Evangelists wrote.”(29BW), Preface, Article 10
The words of Scripture to Wesley are God’s words. God is the author even though individuals may have actually penned the words through divine inspiration. And further he writes:
In the language of the sacred writings, we may observe the utmost depth, together with the utmost ease. All the elegancies of human composures sink into nothing before it: God speaks not as man, but as God. His thoughts are very deep; and thence his words are of inexhaustible virtue. And the language of his messengers, also, is exact in the highest degree; for the words which were given them, accurately answered for the impression made upon their minds: And hence Luther says, “Divinity is nothing but a grammar of the language of the Holy Ghost.(29BW), Article 12
Wesley claims that there are no mistakes in the Bible. He states, “Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.”(30W), p. 6:117 Also he claims, “O how hard a saying is this to those that are at ease ‘in the midst of their possessions’! Yet the scriptures cannot be broken.(29W), p. 3:527
The sum of Wesley’s understanding of scripture is the providing the knowledge of what it means to walk in scriptural holiness, living a life that loves God and loves neighbor. The source of that epistemology is scripture so imbodied in the thoughts of men and women that it becomes natural in daily living.
SCRIPTURAL HOLINESS AND EVANGELISM
Wesleyan theology is diverse and unique; a fresh breath of air running through a cigar filled room of stale dogmatism. However, Wesley’s theology is not unique . Most of it is borrowed or from other sources. Even his methodology is not unique. Again, much of Wesley’s teaching and writings are borrowed from other traditions. Wesley the man pulls from a very wide variety of sources. He certainly was a compulsive ‘work-a-holic.’ What we find unique about Wesley was the way he mixed everything together to give common people an opportunity to experience the depth of a lasting and knowing relationship with God through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He culled the tares away from the wheat to produce a different theology than the theologies that were prevailing in his day. He organized lay academies of spirituality known as Methodist Societies, classed and bands.
He combined theologies and methodologies in such a way that made it possible for plain ordinary folk to grasp the gospel. He took the doctrine of sanctification which had been part of the English tradition for a couple of centuries and gave it a new twist. Sanctification became part of the doctrine of perfection whereby the Methodist Societies (Lutheran), bands and classes (Moravian) were wrapped around it to feed, cloth, and minister to thousands. He discovered inward and outward spirituality as products of the same process which produces scriptural holiness. Embodied in scriptural holiness is love of God, love of neighbor. Love of neighbor mean inviting others into the process through Jesus Christ. In essence, Wesley married outward as well as inward expressions of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
This writer finds it difficult to be objective. How do you separate the man from the myth? When looking to Wesley we see a companion, a teacher, a mentor, and a hero. Thus, if one were to push he/she might find this report subjective. John Wesley was compulsive in his work, his reading and his writing. His writings and abridgements are bounteous. Many are happy presenting Wesley the myth. Today, it is the hope of this writing to be able to project Wesley the man and the spirituality that issues forth as scriptural holiness. Wesley the man is Wesley the evangelist.
Wesley is the kind of person many of us would like to be if we had the time. He is also the kind of person that many of us would like to hate, because most of us lack the discipline and motivation to be that kind of person. It takes dedication to the task at hand that is beyond the scope of most of us. It takes a commitment to see the job through. It takes someone who knows what he or she is about.(16O), p. 2:237-240Of course the Americans under the leadership of Francis Asbury took it further than John Wesley would imagine. Asbury had Thomas Coke and then himself consecrated as Bishops.
Scriptural Holiness in the Wesleyan Tradition
Scriptural Holiness is not just a doctrine within the Wesleyan tradition, but it is the object as well as the process of that tradition. It is founded in scripture and culminated in the movement of salvation from original sin, prevenient grace, conviction, conversion (justification by faith), assurance, and Christian perfection.(16O), pp. 111-112 Scriptures are the guide or map showing the way, the truth, and the life. Holiness is the trip or the progress that one makes. The goal of John Wesley and the Methodist movement, at least until Wesley’s death, was “not to form any new sect; but to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.”(32W), p. 8:299 The organization, the rules of the societies, the methodologies, participation in revival, and the work of the early Methodists was bound to scriptural holiness.
Scriptural holiness propagates and appropriates the means necessary to bring in the fullness of Christian perfection, whether the means of Christian perfection are outward or inward. (More will said about this later.) Christian perfection and holiness are synonymous terms as illustrated by Wesley’s sermon “Christian Perfection”.
“Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply (as some men seem to have imagined) an exemption either from ignorance, or mistake, or infirmities, or temptation. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. Thus, every one that is holy is, in the Scripture sense, perfect. Yet we may, lastly, observe, that neither in this respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase. So that how much soever any man has attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to ‘grow in grace,’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Savior.”(26W), pp. 461-462
We will also see the terms love, perfect love and sanctification used interchangeably with Christian perfection and holiness.
Essential to Wesleyan doctrine are scriptures. Wesley states in his sermon, “The Witness of Our Own Spirit” that scripture is the “rule where by men (humanity) are to judge right and wrong.”(26W), p. 125 He goes on to say:
“But the Christian rule of right and wrong is the Word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; all that the prophets and ‘holy men of old’ wrote ‘as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’; all that indeed ‘profitable for doctrine,’ or teaching the whole will of God; ‘for reproof’ of what is contrary thereto; for ‘correction’ of error; and ‘for instruction,’ or training us up, ‘in righteousness’ (2 Tim. iii. 16).”(26W), p. 125
The training in righteousness is instruction for holiness or Christian perfection. Wesley goes on to illuminate scriptures as:
“This is a lantern unto a Christians’s feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right and wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequence; he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor enjoins, either directly or plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.”(26W), 125-126
Conversion comes to fruition in Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection. Wesley viewed the growth and establishment of Methodism coming out of his and his brother’s (Charles) experience at Oxford in 1729. Charles had his reformation (conversion) experience in 1729. He was advised by a faculty member at Oxford to gather two or three like minded persons to pray and study scripture lest he lose his salvation. This he did. In November John was recalled to assume his duties as Fellow of Lincoln College. John assumed leadership of the group shortly after returning to Oxford. John believed God raised Methodism to propagate the Doctrine of Holiness.(24W), p. 8:238
The Holy Club provided an opportunity for accountability and deepening their understanding of God and Church. The Holy Club developed into what we would call works of mercy and justice. (see below) They took seriously the call to visit the sick and those imprisoned, and to help the poor, while developing a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Wesley’s difficulty lies in defining a perfection that is not perfect.(see quote above on terms perfect and holiness.) Thus, we see two extremes within in which sin is defined. First, one of conscious separation from God; second, one of absolute conformity to the perfect will of God.(33W), 170
Wesley places stress on continuing sin in the believer, while emphasizing the promise of sanctification. Wesley maintained “to retain the grace of God is much more than to gain it.(30W), 365-66 Wesley cited the Apostles as struggling with sin. Perfection must not be seen as a work, but gained through salvation by grace and through faith only.
Wesley sees the Roman Catholic perception as containing an establishment of working ones way up to higher levels of grace. While He modifies the Classical Protestant understanding of Original Sin, he categorically rejects the other four points of Calvinism, and claims that grace is the free gift of God. Ultimately, he holds that sanctification is by faith alone, where he incorporates a modified Protestant view of justification by faith.
Holiness is not being perfect like God, or having perfect bodies, or even obtaining perfect knowledge. In fact, Wesley strongly warns against “angelism.” Perhaps the most consistent thought on holiness comes from the outward as well as the inward form of love. God loves us and is calling us into a relationship of love with Him and with our neighbors. Holiness is becoming the embodiment of love. Wesley would refer to Christian perfection as perfect love.(29W), 11:384 W. E. Sangster says, “In the sixty years that he (Wesley) was thinking and writing on the subject (Christian Perfection), he defined it variously, but most often in terms of love…”(21S), 77f For Sangster the sum of Wesley’s doctrine is culminated in the ‘four letter’ word love.(21S), 124f Love overcomes sin and the result is holiness.(21S), 155 Christian perfection then is being filled with love and giving love in return to God and others.(21S), 163
People can and do make mistakes even while seeking perfection. That is why we need the merits of Jesus Christ to help us toward scriptural holiness and not our own merits. The person who is perfect is free from sin, because of her or his relationship through Christ. Christ is their savior and guide. God gives holiness moment by moment. Therefore, in terms of conscious separation from Christ one can come into a perfect relationship. However, in terms of sinlessness as meted by a “perfect law” it is impossible to obtain perfection in this life. Total perfection (pure perfection or entire sanctification) usually comes the moment before death.(30W), 6:373-427
To Wesley the end of the law in Adam and Moses came with Jesus Christ. Christ replaced the old laws with the law of faith. Holiness then is the unbroken relationship with Christ, and not the complete elimination of sin. Perfection in this sense is both instantaneous and gradual. One should expect the gift of perfection and wait for it at the same time.(30W), 6:374-427
Colin Williams views the Wesleyan understanding of scriptural holiness as having escatological implications. The life of holiness in God’s heavenly family is the goal the Christian seeks. Our life on earth is a training ground for the one in heaven.(33W), 191 Wesley gives strong indication that we can experience the Kingdom of God now, on earth. The Christian is free from the bonds of the world.(26W), 103, 195 The kingdom of God we experience is through the “realized escatology”(33W), 194 in Wesley’s teaching of holiness.(26W), 103, 195 A new way of life is formulated with an inward religion and an outward religion (social religion).
Inward religion is the search for the gift of holiness. Outward religion means truly loving your neighbor in the broadest sense of who your neighbor is.(26W), 36, 76, 170, 232 However, faith does not depend on social reform. Social reform is an evidence of faith. True religion through scriptural holiness will bring about moral and ethical reform as well as social reform. Christians have responsibility before God and each other to help bring this reform about. This is God’s call on our life to help our neighbor (Luke 10:25ff.), whoever our neighbor is and wherever a neighbor has need. After all, did not God save us from the clutches of hell? Thus, we are called to help others in fulfillment of their relationship. Inward holiness has a natural expression of outward holiness where this reform will take place. Wesley looked toward final salvation where everything will be perfect in the true sense of the word.(26W), 461
Before pure perfection comes there will be the general resurrection, and the judgement where Christ will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. The righteous will live in perfection with eternal life, while the unrighteous will be damned to an eternal hell.(30W), 6:430-431 We have a double responsibility escatologically where scriptural holiness is concerned in bringing the gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:16ff). First, it is a mandate from God through Jesus Christ; second, it prophylactically saves humanity from hell.
Wesley concentrates on scriptural holiness to show what promises are available through the gospel to us now and to us when the end comes. The life of the righteous is available in Christ and is free to those who accept it. The work of God’s grace is in operation in us and for us continuously.
Holiness as we have seen is both inward and outward. It is also personal and social, where each of these are tied together.
Wesley’s search for personal holiness was elusive for much of his life. From his search flowed his doctrine which has fed millions spiritually for almost 270 years. The period from 1725 to May 24, 1738 was the roughest period in his life. He wanted the union with God the mystics proclaimed. He experimented with the mystic way from August, 1727 – November, 1729 while the Curate at Wroot. His difficulty laid with the “dark night of the soul.” From 1729 till 1735 he tested meditation and the mystics to no avail with others in the Holy Club. In 1732 William Law became his spiritual guide, but it was still fruitless. While in Georgia 1736-1737 he examined thy mystic way still further, but not finding. The guidance and counsel of August Spangleberg, who Wesley met on his way to Georgia, Peter Bohler, and the piety of the Moravians caused Wesley to investigate and preach justification by faith alone.
Robert G. Tuttle, rightly suggests that, “I am… convinced that the nature of Wesley’s religious conversion in 1725 and the relentless consistency of his religious pursuits beyond, made Aldersgate inevitable. Wesley between 1725 – 1738… was a determined seeker, through and through. God would not have denied grace to a man in dead earnest about being altogether a Christian.”(23T), 216 Tuttle sees Aldersgate as part of Wesley’s coming of age, maturing in the conversion process. Tuttle goes on to claim that
“… Aldersgate was inevitable, it also was absolutely necessary for Wesley, both as a Christian and an evangelist. Aldersgate did not… make him great, for the ingredients for greatness were already there; it made him useful. Aldersgate made Wesley a Christian in the full sense of the word and directed his greatness to the needs of the people. Aldersgate was necessary for revival. Without it, Wesley would not have known an effect upon men beyond his own special gifts. Revival is the work of God through men, not of men alone, no matter how great. Wesley would now trust God for the change he had so diligently sought to create himself.(23T), 217
Accordingly, on May 24, 1738 we find recorded the now famous “Aldersgate” experience, where Wesley gained an affirmation of assurance. This affirmation was a confirmation to Wesley in support of justification of faith. Further confirmation came with his trip to Germany, June 14, 1738 – September 16,1738, where the seeds of breaking with the Moravians began. From Count Zinzendorf in Germany Wesley learned that assurance came to some people quickly and to others slowly, but that did not deny their salvation. Wesley found that holiness came with justification even if we do not feel it experiencially. It is a gift given by God’s grace.
Affectively the events between December, 1737 and September, 1738 found John Wesley and his brother Charles different people. The search culminated in an assured holiness through justification. This was possible because of the atoning affect of Jesus Christ on our lives. This is the promise of the Word of God. This is scriptural holiness.
As of October 9, 1738 eight bands (small groups) had formed in the newly formed Methodist Society. Some churches were barring the Wesleys. People were groaning and shouting as a result of feeling spiritual ecstasy and release. Wesley began his first experience in field preaching outside Bristol on April 2, 1739 to a crowd of three thousand. By the time he left Bristol on June 12, 1739 the Methodist Revival had begun. Wesley truly came to see his charge to be anywhere there were people to be saved.(29W), 1:200-202 For the next fifty years he would travel over 250,000 miles and preach over 40,000 sermons. Charles (his brother) on the other hand would write over 6,000 hymns.
After singing Charles’ hymns and hearing John preach people would cry out for mercy, pleading to God for forgiveness. While speaking at a Society meeting in London eight people fell down to the floor wreathing and moaning. Then they became very still, almost as if they were dead. There were torments and pain and then peace with rejoicing and praising God.(29W), 1:205-206 The preaching, the writing, the organizing, and all the travelling was to help others find the God that the Wesleys had found.
It is appropriate at this time for a more detailed and descriptive account of Social Holiness. One is cautioned to remember that social holiness is part of scriptural holiness and it is not a doctrine distinctive unto itself. It is part of the larger doctrine, but bears illustrative as well as salutatory commentary. Also, remember that social holiness is an outward expression of scriptural holiness. It is the works of holiness or righteousness included in mercy and justice. Wesley viewed good works and morality as part of scriptural holiness. There is no way to separate these. Rebekah Miles states that, “For Wesley, moral living is absolutely necessary to a life of holiness.”(3C), 98 Pushed to its fullest it is a demonstration of love of neighbor.
A further caution is that we do not confuse the works with righteousness earned or merited. In other words we can not work our way into holiness, but the works are an expression of the fulfillment of holiness that is within us. Faith produces the desire to participate in these works. Wesley would say that the works are an evidence of the faith working within us.
Christianity for Wesley was being and doing. He stated, “Christianity is essentially a social religion, and to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it.”(30W), 5:296 and “The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”(31W), 7:593
The first and most essential task for Wesley was methodological soteriology. Reform was a product. He lived in a chaotic time. Decadence pervaded every level of society in England. Children were hung for stealing bread. Wife swapping had become an art among the aristocrats and landed gentry. The Industrial Revolution was exploding. New towns were forming, and old towns were bulging. The smell of garbage was everywhere. The stench in London was horrendous. Seats of learning had strayed from their original purpose. There was a great disparity between the very wealthy and the stricken poor. What Wesley and the Methodists did was raise the consciousness of England and America and to open their eyes to the evils of their day. This resulted in healing, relief, and reform. Slavery was not eradicated until after Wesley’s death, but his influence caused abolitionary leaders like Wilberforce to come forward.
Although the word evangelism was not a word in the eighteenth century Wesleyan vocabulary, evangelism was Wesley’s method of bringing about the soteriological (this is a more resent term.) process, or confronting others with God’s saving grace. Wesley the evangelist pleaded for personal change and motivated men and women to rectify social ills. An outward sensitivity to righteousness, culminated in a deep relationship with God, produced the platform for social healing.
This emphasis for individual personal change helped to avoid the pitfalls that are representative of many social reform movements. Wesley’s strategies came out of necessity rather than a grand design. His emphasis was on embedding scriptural holiness in the hearts and minds of plain folk. He did not set out to reform, but reform came as the offspring of love of neighbor. (see above.) This genuine love of neighbor tempered with humbleness of heart might have been lost in a more militant social reform crusade.
It was rather uncommon for Wesley and the Methodists to challenge government policy for social change. They would approach it from the point of view of what can we do, instead of what can the government do? How can we feed the hungry? How can we clothe the naked? When can we visit those imprisoned? Each class would collect a penny a week from each member, or what they could give in clothing or food to help others. It was done humbly, otherwise, it was not received. Wesley was quick to condemn slavery, and the inhumanity of the prison system. Albert Outler proclaimed Wesley “as much an atypical revolutionary as he was an atypical evangelist.”(Outler, Wilson Lectures, 1973) The Methodists in England led by the example of John Wesley gave a sense of importance to tens of thousands that went without notice by government officials. It did create a political impact in a crucial time in the England of the Wesleys.
The Effects of Social Holiness
A more detailed look at the type of moral or social issues that the Methodists became involved will give us a better understanding of social holiness. These issues include slavery, liquor, prisons, politics, elementary training (education), war, the poor and admonishment to the rich. All of these could be categorized under ministry to the poor, because each issue had its influence on the poor in a very dynamic way. However, we will look at each issue individually:
Wesley’s sharpest challenge to the government and slave holders was his strong words against slavery. He profusely condemned slavery from the pulpit and with open letters printed in the newspapers and notices sent to the Methodist societies.. He rejected the financial demand of keeping human beings in bondage. He claimed any profit originating from slavery was an outrage before God. Wesley wrote, “Better is honest poverty than all the riches brought in by tears, sweat and blood of our fellow creatures.”(29W), 11:75 The majority of Methodists supported Wesley in his stand against slavery. However, there was a good size minority that were proponents of slavery for various reasons.
Wesley’s last letter was written to William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was leading the crusade in the anti-slave fight in Parliament and in England. Wilberforce gave the totality of his strength and life to moral righteousness in England. He completely wore himself out bringing slavery to a close. Wesley writes, “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw sun) shall vanish away before it.”(32WW), 170-171.
Wesley’s stand against liquor was only second to his stand against slavery. His campaign was not against beer or wine, but strong whiskeys and rum. Here again Wesley preached against the liquor trade and published notices and letters against it. He saw the liquor trade stealing grain that could be used to feed the poor. The money that was used on liquor could have been more effectively used to feed families, to buy books, and to share with those in need. The use of liquor ravaged bothe mind and the body, and was sin before God according to Wesley. Wesley strongly implored Methodists not to purchase, drink nor merchandise liquor. The General Rules prohibited drunkenness, buying or selling spirituous liquors; or drinking them (unless in cases of extreme necessity).
The Wesley brothers were actively working in prison ministry from the time of the Holy Club in 1729. (see above.) They knew the inequity of the prison system especially its inequity toward the poor. (see below.) Prisons were in a very sad state of difficulty that needed to be resolved. Prison officials especially at the incarceration level were lacking in integrity, vulgar and lewd. Prisoners were abused by prison officials and other prisoners. Drunkenness, vulgarity and gambling were overwhelming. Punishment not only included incarceration, but it often included starvation and degradation to the highest degree. Justice and mercy were terms that often went unnoticed. Parliament established a committee on February 25, 1729 to relieve the conditions of prisons. It took almost the whole 18th century to get it done prison by prison.
The Holy Club was very much concern with debtors prisons, and those prisons who inmates consisted of debtors. Then later on the concern grew to the conditions at all prisons. Since Charles and John’s father had been incarcerate as a debtor on several occasions, this was of particular interest to them. By 1732 prison work was overwhelming the Holy Club. They provided education for the children of prisoners, help with food, clothing and jobs for the spouses of prisoners. They even secured funds to pay off some debts. Much of the work for the poor was an offspring of the prison ministry.(23T), 117-118
On March 27, 1738 Wesley preached at Oxford Castle (prison). He prayed with a prisoner for the remission of sins who received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He used several written forms of prayer before and then began extemporaneous evangelistic prayer, “in such words as were given us that hour.”(30W), 1:448. Wesley wrote about this form of prayer later on, “…my heart was so full that I could not confine myself to the forms of prayer which we were accustomed to use there. Neither do I purpose to be confined to them any more.”(30W), 448-449 Thus, Wesley’s thrust for evangelistic praying was born in a prison.
Wesley continued to visit prisons as he had in Oxford often finding them in deplorable conditions. He kept going back again and again. On February 3, 1753 he visit Marshalsea a prison which he describes as
“a nursery of all manner of wickedness… O shame to man that there should be such a place, such a picture of hell, upon earth! And shame to those who bare the name of Christ, that there should need any prison at all in Christendom!”(30W), 4:52
Wesley called his preachers, and leaders to call on prisons and help alleviate the misery of humanity bound in iron. He noticed eleven hundred prisoners in New Castle prison near Bristol so crowded that there was only a few feet of space to lay down on the floor with dirty rat infested straw to lay on. He complained that they die like sheep.(30W), 2:173 The Methodists raised money for clothes, blankets, and mattresses in order to relieve the distress in prisons.
On December 26, 1784 Wesley was ministering to death row prisoners. He writes:
“I preached the condemned criminal’s sermon in Newgate… Forty-seven were under the sentence of death. While they were coming in there was something very awful in the clink of their chains. But no sound was heard, either from them or the crowded audience, after the text was named: ‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need not repentance.’ The power of the Lord was eminently present, and most of the prisoners were in tears. A few days after twenty of them died, at once, five of whom died in peace.”
Ministering to prisoners was not easy, but it was a call that Wesley felt from God as part of his ministry to the poor. It was part of his ministry of scriptural holiness of love of God and love of neighbor.
Wesley disclaimed any notion of political activity. However, through the societies, he had a political impact through printed tracts, sermons, and pamphlets. He was a conservative Tory from his early family life. He sided with the Crown against the American Colonies, while supporting their plight at the beginning. He favored the limited monarchy of his day. He supported the social order and civil authority of his day. It may seem unusual that he was so close to the common folk, and would deny their voice in government. It is suggested that he had no concept of people becoming the source of power in government. Even in his own societies and conferences he governed with autocratic fervor.
Elementary Training or Education
Even before the revival was to break out Wesley was involved in educating those that did not have the opportunity for formal education. While in Georgia he started a school to teach children about church and found that many could not read. The Holy Club was involved in establishing schools. Preachers and laity needed to become literate. First, schools were started using Methodist meeting houses. Gradually, separate schools were built. Methodists were responsible for a new middle class rising up in England.
Wesley was a proponent of peace with justice. However, he was not opposed to an unpreventable war. He declared, “I am persuaded love and tender measures will do far more than violence.”(24W), 2:361 Early Methodists in England were challenged to become peacemakers. The soldier had the difficult task of serving both king and God. Of course the king was the “Supreme Governor” of the Anglican Church, which Wesley never left.
The Poor and Admonishment of the Rich
Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. saw the thrust of Wesley’s theology and thus the emphasis of Wesley’s work of ministry as ministry to the poor. He downplays Wesley’s ‘Aldersgate experience’ and elevates the ministry to the poor as the essential motivation and the underlying ingredient to the Wesleyan movement then, and an example of the involvement of ministry to the churches of today. Jennings would plead for the church today to get back to the emphasis of moral living where our primary ministry is ministering to the poor. Jennings claims that:
To Wesley moral living is inclusive with the understanding of ones use of or lack of use of money. He admonishes the rich to give, or suffer the consequences of losing their soul to their riches. He lingers on the benefits of giving to the poor.(29W), 2:263-280 As Wesley grew older, his preaching on money increased in fervor and numerically. He seemed to single out the dangers of being rich. However, many adherents to the Methodists movement diligently practiced working hard, gaining all you can by honest healthy industry, not wasting time, but being diligent in your work and saving all you can by avoiding luxurious spending. They thrived and became moderately wealthy. Wesley, states over and over again that one must, “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”(29W), 2:2630280 Wesley framed the ‘Protestant work ethic’ a little differently than most perceive it as being part of the American dream. His conviction is demonstrated in the following:
“What way then… can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell? There is one way, and there is no other under heaven. If those who ‘gain all they can’ and ‘save all they can’ will likewise ‘give all they can’ then, the more they gain the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven.(32W), 7:317
We today have no problems with gaining and saving all that we can, but when it comes to giving we still think of it being our money rather than God’s.
Wesley became apprehensive of those that did not save all they could. His apprehension was multiplied to those that were not giving all that they could, but lived excessively. The inclination of increasing one’s wealth and not giving to the poor, or giving to the Methodist Societies, who in turn would give to the poor, was disheartening at the least and alien to the very heart of scriptural holiness. Wesley believed that the not giving all that one could would have damning results for the souls of those that could give and at the same time ruinous effects on the poor. He would go on to claim that not giving when one could was in effect a sickness of the spirit. He writes:
“You may find many that observe the first rule, namely, ‘Gain all you can.’ You may find a few that observe the second, ‘Save all you can.’ But how many have you found that observe the third rule, ‘Give all you can?’ Have you reason to believe that five hundred of these among fifty thousand Methodist? And yet nothing can be more plain that all who observe the two first rules without will be twofold more the children of hell than ever they were before.”(29W), 4:90-91
Wesley was not only apprehensive of the very wealthy making it into the kingdom of God and striving toward scriptural holiness, but those who had come to a position in life where they were comfortable or just had a little money left over after taking care of their necessities. He viewed these persons as rich. Thus, those that worked hard became contemptuous if they became comfortable through their ability to gain more, not for themselves, but because they could contribute more to the poor. To Wesley Methodists were mandated not to use their money foolishly on fashionable clothing and hoarding but to give generously. The Methodists who were previously poor were not to laurel in their new found gains, but called on to help others along the way. This was the essence of moral living and the fruition of the fulfillment of the call of God on their lives and holiness through scripture. Listen to Wesley:
“O ye Methodists, hear the word of the Lord! I have a message from God to all men, but to you above all. For above fourty years I have not varied in my testimony… I fear there is need to apply to some of you those terrible words of the Apostle: Go to, now, ye rich men! Weep, and howl for the miseries which shall come upon you. Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall witness against you, and shall eat your flesh, as it were fire. Certainly it will, unless ye both save all you can and give all you can… By the grace of God begin today!”(29W), 3:240.
Wesley becomes more insistent as he sees Methodists become more prosperous through his years of ministry. He condemns spending on luxuries in clothing and items that are frivolous. Wesley claims:
When you are laying out that money in costly apparel which you could have otherwise spared for the poor, you thereby deprive them of what God, the Proprietor of all, had lodged in your hands for their use. If so, what you put upon yourself you are, in effect, tearing from the back of the naked; as the costly and delicate food which you eat you are snatching from the mouth of the hungry. For mercy, for pity, for Christ’s sake, for the honour of his gospel, stay your hand. Do not throw this money away. Do not lay out on nothing, yea, worse than nothing, what may clothe your poor, naked, shivering fellow-creature!”(29W), 3:254
Wesley on occasion would change his planned message in midstream to fit the audience. He was surprised by the number of qualified rich in the congregation. Upon finding this to be the case Wesley would make fast accommodations and change his sermon to the reach those in attendance. He writes in his Journal:
“In the evening I was surprised to see, instead of some poor plain people, a room full of men daubed with gold and silver. That I might not go out of their depth, I began expounding the story of Dives and Lazarus.”(32W), 2:178
With time most Methodists become prosperous as a whole. As such, Wesley becomes concerned for their souls. He states, “I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God. I am there fore clear of the blood of those that will not hear. It lies upon their own hearing.”(29W), 3:258 He further states, “For considerably above half a century I have spoken on this head, with all the plainness that was in my power. But will little effect.”(32W), 4:181-182 His disappointment is culminated in following words:
“O that God would enable me once more, before I go hence and am no more seen, to lift up my voice like a trumpet to those who gain and save all they can, but do not give all they can. Ye are the men, some of the chief men, who continually grieve the Holy Spirit of God, and in a great measure stop his gracious influence from descending on our assemblies.(32W), 4:91
Probably Wesley’s last word on his apprehension to the rich came at the age of 88 in the form of a sermon. It was his desire that all should prosper, but that in not sharing their prosperity they would fall from grace and perish and be plunged into the pits of hell. He states:
“After having served you between sixty and seventy years; with dim eyes, shaking hands, and tottering feet, I give you one more advice before I sink into the dust. Mark those words of Saint Paul: ‘Those that desire’ or endeavor ‘to be rich,’ that moment ‘fall into temptation’… ‘They fall into a snare’… ‘and into divers foolish and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and perdition.’ You above all men, who now prosper in the world, never forget these awful words! How unspeakably slippery is your path! How dangerous every step!”(32W), 4:185-186.
Working with the poor was essential to the early Methodists. Wesley inspired others by his personal example. He led the way in giving away several fortunes in his lifetime. He could have been well off in his later years. His writings brought vast amounts of money. All of it he gave away. He gave of himself over and over at immense personal peril. Most of the ministries mentioned above were ministries to the poor. The prison and education ministries are good examples. The societies either housed or began many ministries such as schools, clinics, pharmacies, and hospices. Money was provided for destitute widows, orphans, the blind, and the aged. Self help was brought through home or cottage industries, and a prelude to credit unions were formed.
One must conclude that to Wesley the issue of money and the accumulation of wealth was of extreme concern. This issue went to the core of what it meant to be a Christian. It was a faith issue that encompassed his entire ministry. Wesley concerned about the accumulation of wealth stratified his theology. Giving to the poor was basic and fundamental to faith and paramount to the works of mercy. All of this was essentially scriptural holiness as epitomized through love of God, and love of neighbor. Wesley did not condemn money, just the unwise use of it. He exemplifies the use of money in ministry to the poor through the following words:
“In the hands of his children it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked. It gives to the traveler and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless; we my be a defense for the oppressed, means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death.”(32W), 2:268.
Wesley saw impoverishment as a societal sin, and severe misemployment of local resources. He understood God to be owner of resources and men and women as stewards. Being good stewards had a positive influence on the poor. Not only did it provide for their hunger and nakedness, but it provided for the souls of those who were successful. Good stewardship deterred the misuse of money and encouraged its proper perspective. Without a proper perspective on the use of money one would fall to the desire of using more than necessary or laying up more than was necessary. We see Wesley cautioning us in claiming that:
“Riches, either desired or possessed, naturally lead to some or other of these foolish and hurtful desire; and by affording the means of gratifying them all, naturally tend to increase them. And there is a near connection between unholy desires and every other unholy passion and temper. We easily pass from these to pride, anger, bitterness, envy, malice, revengefulness; to an headstrong, unadvisable, unreprovable spirit… indeed to every temper that is earthly, sensual, or devilish. All these the desire or possession of riches naturally tends to create, strengthen, and increase.”(32W), 3:236
Careless employment of resources, especially spending on luxuries was viewed not only as wasteful, but sinful. Wesley’s view of money is that it is a great benefaction from God. He would emphasize that the “love of money” was the root of all evil. It was this evil that the Methodists fought against. Money itself was not evil, but essential for what it could be used to obtain. He warned of the relation of gaining material wealth and the resultant falling away from grace. Wesley openly confronted people to be good stewards of God’s money, and to remember that God is the owner of money and not them.
“But now the time of our parting is at hand: my feet are just tumbling upon the dark mountains. I would leave one word with you before I go hence; and you may remember if when I am no more seen. O let your heart be whole with God!.. Sit as loose to all things here below, as if you were a poor beggar. Be a good steward of the manifold gifts of God, that when you are called to give an account of your stewardship, he may say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”(32W), 3:528
Wesley’s interests with the rich is not the political correctness, nor even that it is basically the right thing to do, but it is monumentally the scriptural thing to do. In fulfilling the good news it undergirds the essential of the first and second commands from God as disclosed by Jesus Christ in loving God and neighbor.(32W), 4:185.
In the 1760s Wesley had pragmatic methodology culminated in ministry to the poor. The whole of this ministry was motivated by love. Ronald H. Stone proclaims this love as follows:
Wesley was accused of threatening the social order of his day. This he did through visiting house to house, posting notices of needs, publishing tracks, preaching, distributing sermons for his preachers to study and through the organization of the Class Meeting. (see above.) Wesley did this not because he was politically inclined, but because he saw the image of God in poor and rich alike. He treated the poor as an integral part of humanity with respect, with love of God and love of neighbor.(29W), 4:185
The visiting the poor from house to house consistently began early for Wesley at Oxford. He saw this as part of the way to scriptural holiness even then. It was a means of grace in following the commands of Christ. This is referred to as ‘the walking.’(32W), 7:117
Wesley saw the misconception of the rich stemming from lack of knowledge of the poor. His claim was that, “One great reason why the rich in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because they so seldom visit them.”(32W), 7:119 Thus, in order to break down the great wall that existed between rich and poor, was for the prosperous Methodists to visit the poor. To get to know them in such a way that they became brothers in Christ and became aware of the plight of poor, “I visited many poor, to see with my own eyes what their wants were, and how they might be effectually relieved.”(32W), 4:296 Wesley was not above asking for donations for the poor and encouraged the Methodists to do likewise. He stressed that he asked for donations for the poor and not for the Methodist Societies nor for himself:
“At this season (Christmas) we usually distributed coals and bread among the poor in the society (of London). But I now considered, clothes as well as food. So on this and the four following days, I walked through the town, and begged two hundred pounds in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work, as most of the streets were filled with melting snow, which often lay ankle deep; so that my feet were steeped in snow-water nearly from morning till evening.”(32W), 4:295.
As mentioned previously Wesley helped the poor help themselves. The evangelization of the poor encompassed not just preaching, but the organizing of classes on proper use of money. He established clinics and hospitals to take care of the poor that were sick. He developed cooperatives to purchase food, clothing, drugs, furniture and necessities so that the poor could purchase these things at a reasonable price. Through the societies he opened credit unions where borrowing for the poor was without the penalty of going to jail. The good news to the poor was preached and practiced.
Loans were secured through the societies for those starting businesses. These loans were made without charging interest. Women that had skills taught others and cottage house industries were started. Loans were provided for these start-up industries. Ronald H. Stone gives Wesley credit for a distinct lending ability:
The Methodist Revival effectuated a social reformation of monumental proportion that has projected into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some scholars suggest that England avoided the bloodbath of the French Revolution, because of Wesley and the Methodists. It has been suggested that the Methodist movement of the eighteenth century was a revolution in itself — a revolution that altered the social order and deportment of a nation. Wesley the evangelistic priest, in seeing the world as his parish empowered men and women to give leadership for fair labor laws, prison reform, and the abolition of slavery.
Jennings claims that the growth of Wesley’s Methodism grew because of focusing on the evangelism of the poor. He indicates that in order for any evangelism to be worthy of the good news of Jesus Christ it must focus not on the rich nor even the middle class, but essentially on the poor. Scripture and tradition proves this out. Even the life of Jesus from birth until his death is a focus on the poor. Jennings reminds us that the good news was not good news to everyone. The chief priest and the scribes were not adherents to this good news. Many of the Pharisees were not appreciative of the message of the good news. The prosperous, the powerful, the respectable and the very religious of Jesus’s day did not view Jesus’ message or ministry as good news.(14L), 147-49
Jennings would assure us that the thrust of evangelism must be with the poor. He would go on to say that, “An evangelism that is not first and last good news for the poor can have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”(14L), 149.
Jennings indites the United Methodist Church as pandering to the rich and the middle class in its mission, outreach, and church growth. This has left the denomination as a dying sect, and the cure is to restructure its ministry to the poor.(14L), 149-156 He claims, “Whatever his defects of understanding, Wesley saw this far more clearly than the denominations that claim him as ancestor.(14L), 149
A Partial Summary of Scriptural Holiness and Evangelistic Concern
If you see elements of Christian evangelism and Christian perfection in this work then I have accomplished my task with respect to scriptural holiness. Wesley the evangelist instructed early Methodists how to be martyrs and ministers. Ministry was the business of all believers, hence scriptural holiness. It helps one to hear the gospel when she/he sees it demonstrated in real life, by individuals who really love God and love neighbor, hence again scriptural holiness. It is easy to indignantly stand up and declare something morally or ethically wrong. It takes an inner fortitude, tempered by God, to give up yourself so that others might experience the fullness of their humanity through a relationship with God.
The early Methodist movement unfailingly bound personal and social holiness together. Their witness speaks ever so loudly to our times, especially to us of mainline denominations. As we minister, have we become, as one speaker suggested, “keepers of the aquarium rather than fishers of men?”(9H) Are we busy greasing the wheels of the institution, because it pays us a nice little salary? Or do we see the spiritual, ethical and social evils of our day and face the challenge given to the church to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, to visit the sick and those imprisoned, and to give a cold drink of water to one of the little ones?
The life of holiness is available in Christ and is free to those that will receive it. The work of God’s grace is in operation continuously. The 1988 Discipline of the United Methodist Church states:
“The Methodist Church believes today, as Methodism has from the first, that the only infallible proof of a true church of Christ is its ability to seek and to save the lost, to disseminate the Pentecostal spirit and life, to spread scriptural holiness, and to transform all peoples and nations through the gospel of Christ. The sole object of the rules, regulations, and usages of the Methodist Church is to aid the Church in fulfilling its divine commission…”(BOD), 10f. 1988.
Even though the above quote was omitted from the 1992 Discipline, and further editions, it is the hope of this writer that we will bathe ourselves anew in the tradition of scriptural holiness. In 1978, in the keynote address of the Congress on Evangelism, Billy Graham said the United Methodist Church is a “Sleeping Giant.” When it wakes up, it will be one of the most powerful force for Jesus Christ on the face of the earth. His prophecy has partly come true in Africa, Estonia, and Russia. This writer hopes that he is not being naive in seeing a stretch and a yawn of the awakening in North America. I believe the first decade of the 21st Century to be the time to see millions of men and women relate to God through the toil of mainline churches, especially the United Methodist Church.