Thu. 23/06/11 — Lodewijk Den BreejenJohn Wesley.
John Wesley was an Anglican minister (until the day he died), a founding member of a group that came to be called Methodist, a great revivalist, and an avid defender of Arminian Theology. Shortly after Wesley and his small band of friends began to meet at Oxford to read the Church Fathers, pray, study scripture and fast, they began receiving criticism from ‘outsiders’ (mostly the religious elite) and terms such as ‘Holy Club’, ‘The Enthusiasts’, ‘The Reforming Club’ or ‘The Methodists’ was used to describe them with the intent to be derogatory (Wesley always embraced those terms, and Methodist stuck).
Wesley wrote a letter on October 18th, 1732 that opposition to their gatherings increased with people requesting know on what grounds “the Holy Club” was gathered, visiting the prisons or helping the poor and sick. In response Wesley writes, “we proposed to our friends or opponents, as we had opportunity, these and the like questions:”
I. Whether it does not concern all men of all conditions to imitate, as much as they can, Him “who went about doing good”?
Whether all Christians are not concerned in that command, “While we have time, let us do good to all men”?
Whether we shall not be more happy hereafter, the more good we do now?
Whether we can be happy at all hereafter unless, according to our power, we have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those that are sick and in prison; and made all these actions subservient to a higher purpose, even the saving of souls from death?
Whether it is not our bounded duty always to remember that He did more for us than we can do for Him, the One who assures us, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me”? (Matthew 25:40).
II. Whether, upon these considerations, we may not try to do good to our acquaintance? Particularly, whether we may not try to convince them of the necessity of being Christians?
Whether of the consequent necessity of being scholars?
Whether of the necessity of method and industry in order to either learning or virtue?
Whether we may not try to persuade them to confirm and increase their industry by communicating [receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Supper] as often as they can?
Whether we may not mention to them the author whom we conceive to have written the best on those subjects?
Whether we may not assist them from time to time, as we are able, to form resolutions upon what they read in those authors, and to execute them with steadiness and perseverance?
III. Whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are hungry, naked, or sick? In particular, if we know any necessitous family, whether we may not give them a little food, clothes, or medicine, as they need?
Whether we may not give them, if they can read, a Bible, Common-Prayer Book, or “Whole Duty of Man”?
Whether we may not, now and then, inquire how they have used them, explain what they do not understand, and enforce what they do?
Whether we may not, more especially, enforce upon them the necessity of private prayer and of frequenting the church and sacrament?
Whether we may not contribute what little we are able toward having their children clothed and taught to read?
Whether we may not take care that they be taught their catechism and short prayers for morning and evening?
IV. Lastly, whether, upon the considerations above-mentioned, we may not try to do good to those that are in prison? In particular, whether we may not release such well-disposed persons as remain in prison for small sums?
Whather we may not lend smaller sums to those that are of any trade, that they may procure themselves tools and materials to work with?
Whether we may not give to them who appear to need it most, a little money, or clothes, or medicine?
Whether we may not supply as many as are serious enough to read with a Bible, and “Whole Duty of Man”?
Whether we may not, as we have opportunity, explain and enforce these upon them especially with respect to public and private prayer, and the blessed sacrament?
Reading this list of questions one is given insight into the driving motives behind the roots of the Methodist movement. I’d like to highlight three points:
1. I am struck with how closely Wesley links social activism with the “necessity of being Christian”.
There is a perception that either we need to share the gospel to convince people of the necessity of being Christian or we need to be socially active since Jesus himself was concerned about social matters. Wesley does not separate the two and in fact the one follows the other. If you’re a Christian, you will be socially active. But one may be socially active yet not necessarily a Christian.
2. Wesley does not neglect the necessity of reading, going to church and partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
There’s a tendency to think that we don’t need church anymore, at least not the institutional kind, and Communion can become a meal involving a glass of Coke and a hot dog. As long as we do good, that’s all that really matters. Wesley did not share this philosophy. He held that doing good, as good as that is in and of itself, is not enough. Not only should one do good and be a Christian, but one should be an active member in a local community of the People of God. For Wesley, this meant being Anglican.
3. Wesley’s emphasis on the necessity of being socially active is astounding and groundbreaking for his day.
One of the reasons he wrote this letter was in response to the negative criticism he and his friends were receiving for going into prisons and ministering to those there. Here he says that if the cost to set a prisoner free is do-able, he believes it is even morally responsible to pay the price to set the criminal free. Interestingly enough, reading Wesley’s questions above caused me to reminisce of some of the occasions in which I got to hear Tony Campolo speak. In fact, you’d almost think Campolo took notes from Wesley. And like Wesley, Campolo’s approach to how Christians have been dealing with Homosexuality is as groundbreaking in our day as Wesley’s visits to the prisons were in his.