John Wesley: Model for Ministry

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We embrace the ministry of John Wesley

John Wesley

We believe that Wesley’s ministry is in substantial continuity with the church of the New Testament, the Apostles, and the Early Fathers.

Wesley integrated disparate components of the Christianity of his day because he saw them as a whole work of Christ and the church:  the ancient and new, the charismatic and liturgical, and the communal and personal.  We desire deeply to do the same.

ANCIENT

Supernatural:  the reality of the in-breaking of God’s miraculous works

Liturgical:  the pattern of Word & Table infused with Prayer that has nurtured the church since the beginning

Sacramental:  the symbolic actions that partake of the reality to which they point (for example: Wesley believed that Christ is truly present at Holy Communion, and that Communion ought to be offered and taken frequently) 

Episcopal:  tri-fold order of ministry: Deacon, Presbyter, Bishop

RESTORATIVE

Holiness: union with God for the restoration of the whole person- heart, mind, body, soul and spirit.

Healing: Wesley emphasized the need to be always progressing in holiness.  The Gospel of Christ is about more than forgiveness of sins.  It is also about Christ healing his followers of their brokenness, woundedness and destructive behaviors.

Spiritual Training: Key to restoration and healing are the ancient practices of spiritual discipline:  prayer, fasting, Scripture, sacraments, acts of service, solitude. 

COMMUNITY

Fellowship: Wesley established “classes” and “bands” for those who were responding to the Gospel message.  He understood that we progress in holiness together or not at all.  These groups, to be effective, must be small but also connected to the larger church. 

Opposition: we need others in small, intimate fellowship because we have an Enemy who constantly assaults us.  We need to band together not only to provide accountability and encouragement, but also to bear one another’s burdens in prayer and to fight for each other in spiritual warfare. 

Identity formation: As believers come together to practice and enact ancient, restorative community, they are deeply formed into Christ-likeness.  The communities where these believers reside will be truly transformed. 

Music:  Music is a powerful tool for the community of faith, providing tangible means for: the praise and adoration of God, identity formation in Christ, and restorative ministries.

(In the pages that follow you will find extended quotes from Wesley and Wesley scholars that seek to substantiate the claims of this first page.)

1) Supernatural:  the reality of the in-breaking of God’s miraculous works

  • Acts 2:43; James 5:14-16
  • What follows all comes from Robert Tuttle, Jr., “John Wesley and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit”, (http://ucmpage.org/articles/rtuttle1.html):
    • Wesley clearly believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were relevant for the church in any age. He defined them. He described them. He experienced them. He defended them.
    • Wesley defended the gifts of the Spirit. In a letter to Conyers Middleton (Works, 10:1-79), Wesley defined, described, and defended a whole host of spiritual gifts, including: “1. Casting out devils; 2. Speaking with new tongues; 3. Escaping dangers, in which otherwise they must have perished; 4. Healing the sick; 5. Prophecy, foretelling things to come; 6. Visions; 7. Divine dreams; And, 8. Discerning of spirits” (Works, 10:16). Although the order and even the mention of some “gifts” not normally associated with the biblical accounts (such as visions and dreams) may seem a bit strange, the fact remains that Wesley believed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not only important but also were active during the 18th century Evangelical Revival.
    • As to how these “demons” might be overcome, Wesley is adamant: “All this is indeed the work of God. It is God alone who can cast out Satan. But he is generally pleased to do this by man, as an instrument in his hand; who is then said to cast out devils in his name, by his power and authority. And he sends whom he will send upon this great work; but usually such as man would never have thought of (Works, 5:484).
    • We may conclude this examination of Wesley’s views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit with mention of his defense of “raising the dead.” Wesley objects to Middleton’s insistence that “there is not an instance of this [raising the dead] to be found in the three first centuries.” Wesley quotes Irenaeus, the influential 2nd century Bishop of Lyons: “This was frequently performed on necessary occasions; when by great fastings and the joint supplication of the Church, the spirit of the dead person returned into him, and the man was given back to the prayers of the saints.” (Works, 10:39).

2) Liturgical:  the pattern of Word & Table, infused with Prayer that has nurtured the church since the beginning.

  • Acts 2:42; Luke 24
  • The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, was composed by John Wesley in 1784 for the growing Methodist Church in the brand new USA.  Wesley offers a Word & Table, infused with Prayer liturgy largely based upon the Book of Common Prayer about which Wesley says the following:

“I believe there is no liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety, than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.  And though the main of it was compiled considerably more than two hundred years ago, yet is the language of it, not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree.”

3) Sacramental:  the symbolic actions that partake of the reality to which they point (for example: Wesley believed that Christ is uniquely present at Holy Communion, and that Communion ought to be offered and taken frequently because it is a means of God’s grace) 

  • Acts 2:46; John 6:25-63
  • From Wesley’s sermon entitled, The Duty of Constant Communion:
    • It is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can.
    • The First reason why it is the duty of every Christian so to do is, because it is a plain command of Christ. That this is his command, appears from the words of the text, “Do this in remembrance of me:” By which, as the Apostles were obliged to bless, break, and give the bread to all that joined with them in holy things; so were all Christians obliged to receive those sign of Christ’s body and blood.
    • The grace of God given [in the Lord’s Supper] confirms to us the pardon of our sins, by enabling us to leave them. As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection. If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us. We must neglect no occasion which the good providence of God affords us for this purpose. This is the true rule: So often are we to receive as God gives us opportunity. Whoever, therefore, does not receive, but goes from the holy table, when all things are prepared, either does not understand his duty, or does not care for the dying command of his Saviour, the forgiveness of his sins, the strengthening of his soul, and the refreshing it with the hope of glory.
    • In order to understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it would be useful carefully to read over those passages in the Gospel, and in the first Epistle to the Corinthians [1 Cor. 11], which speak of the institution of it. Hence we learn that the design of this sacrament is, the continual remembrance of the death of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, which are the outward signs of the inward grace, the body and blood of Christ.

  • Eucharistic (Communion) Hymns of Charles Wesley

We come with confidence to find

Thy special Presence here.

Who can say how bread and wine

God into man conveys?

How the bread His flesh imparts,

How the wine transmits His blood,

Fills His faithful people’s hearts

With all the life of God!

Sure and real is the grace,

The manner be unknown;

Only meet us in Thy ways,

And perfect us in one.

Let us taste the heavenly powers;

Lord, we ask for nothing more:

Thine to bless, ‘tis only ours

To wonder and adore.

  • Wesley did not profess to explain how the Lord’s “special Presence” was thus found in the divine ordinance: he was content to accept the fact. “While Wesley evades any definition and commits himself to no theory, he has no doubts that the Sacraments are channels through which the grace of God flows.  (Frank Colquhoun, Churchman, 63/2, 1949)

4) Episcopal:  tri-fold order of ministry: Deacon (“servant” or “minister”), Presbyter (“elder” or “pastor”), Bishop (“overseer”)

  • Philippians 1:1; 1Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:4-9
  • “Bishops and Presbyters are the same order [as the early church], and consequently have the same right to ordain.”  (from Wesley’s preface to: The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America)
  • Wesley goes on to say that he ordained overseers (“superintendents”) and elders for the Methodists in America so that they would not be deprived of ministers who could baptize and administer the Lord’s Supper.

5) Holiness: union with God for the restoration of the whole person- heart, mind, body, soul and spirit.

  • Matthew 5:48; 2Peter 1:3-4; John 17:15-23
  • Wesley’s sermon, The Circumcision of the Heart:

“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness:  the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’  The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end.  One thing shall ye desire for its own sake,– the fruition of Him who is all in all.  One happiness shall ye propose to your souls, even a union with Him that made them, the having ‘fellowship with the Father and the Son’; the being ‘joined to the Lord in one Spirit.’  One design ye are to pursue to the end of time,– the enjoyment of God in time and eternity.  Desire other things, so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the Creator.  But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view.  Let every affection, and thought, and word, and action, be subordinate to this.  Whatever ye desire or fear, whatever ye seek or shun, whatever ye think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.”

6)   Healing: Wesley emphasized the need to be always progressing in holiness.  The Gospel of Christ is about more than forgiveness of sins.  It is also about Christ healing his followers of their brokenness, woundedness and destructive behaviors.

  • John 10:10
  • Wesley, being a child of 18th Century England, did not think in terms of ‘woundedness’ and ‘brokenness’ like we do (which we do because we are children of a therapeutic age).  But he did talk of “giving God all our heart, and having one desire rule all our tempers” (A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, chp. 28).  “Tempers” were generally understood as the emotional part of a person’s life.  And Wesley viewed the “heart” as the center of our life (and not just feelings or emotions).  But because of the Fall and sin the heart was fractured and could only be united by the love of God in Christ.
  • Wesley believed that becoming holy involved both “instantaneous” acts of God’s grace penetrating deep into our lives, AND a steady and purposeful progression (see chp. 26 in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, where Wesley summarizes his doctrine)
  • Wesley often talked like this: “We should be continually laboring to cut off all the useless things that surround us.”  Or again, “If, after having renounced all, we do not watch incessantly, and beseech God to accompany our vigilance with His, we shall be again entangled and overcome.”  (chp. 25, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection

7) Spiritual Training: Key to restoration and healing are the ancient practices of spiritual discipline:  prayer, fasting, Scripture, sacraments, acts of service, solitude.

  • Matthew 6:1-18
  • “God hardly give His Spirit even to those whom He has established in grace, if they do not pray for it on all occasions, not only once, but many times.”   (chp. 25, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)
  • “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”  (chp. 25, A Plain Account of Christian perfection)
  • “The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying grace.”
  • Wesley also emphasized “works of charity” or “works of mercy”—acts we do for others out of love for God.

8) Fellowship: Wesley established “classes” and “bands” for those who were responding to the Gospel message.  He understood that we progress in holiness together or not at all.  These groups, to be effective, must be small, but also connected to the larger church.

  • Hebrew 10:24-25; 1Thess. 5:11
  • “[Wesley] believed that authentic Christian experience had to be nurtured in community.  He cared little for solitary religion.”  (Steve Harper, in chp. 9 of John Wesley’s Message for Today)
  • “The chief criterion for entrance into the United Societies [local small groups] was not a particular theological stance, but ‘a desire to flee from the wrath to come.’”  (Steve Harper, in chp. 9 of John Wesley’s Message for Today)
  • In his Works, Wesley states:  “In the mean time, let all who are real members of the Church, see that they walk holy and unblamable in all things.  ‘Ye are the light of the world!’  Ye are ‘a city set upon a hill’ and ‘cannot be hid.’  O ‘let your light shine before men!’  Show them your faith by your works.  Let them see, by the whole tenor of your conversation, that your hope is all laid up above!  Let all your words and actions evidence the spirit whereby you are animated!  Above all things, let your love abound.  Let it extend to every child of man: Let it overflow to every child of God.  By this let all men know whose disciples ye are, because you ‘love one another.’  (quoted in chp. 9 of John Wesley’s Message for Today, by Steve Harper)

9) Opposition: we need others in small, intimate fellowship because we have an Enemy who constantly assaults us.  We need to band together not only to provide accountability and encouragement, but also to bear one another’s burdens in prayer and to fight for each other in spiritual warfare. 

  • 2Corinthians 10:3-5; 1Peter 5:6-9; Ephesians 6:10-18
  • John Wesley’s Rules for the “Band Societies” (1738)

“The design of our meeting is to obey that command of God, ‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray for another – that you may be healed’” (James 5:16).    “To this end we intend. . .

3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour with singing or prayer.

4. To speak, each of us in order, freely and plainly the true state of our souls without the faults we have committed in thought, word,
or deed, and the temptations we have felt since our last meeting.

5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.”

“Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may be to this effect. . .

3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your Spirit that you are a child of God?

4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?   . . .

8. Do you desire that ever one of us should tell you from time to time whatsoever is in his heart concerning
you?

9. Consider! Do you desire that we should tell you whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning
you?

10. Do you desire that in doing this we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?

  • (From Wesley’s sermon: Of Evil Angels)

But what is the employment of evil angels? This is the Second point to be considered.

They are (remember, so far as God permits!) kosmokratores, — governors of the world! So that there may be more ground than we are apt to imagine for that strange expression of Satan, (Matt. 4:8-9,) when he showed our Lord “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,” “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” It is a little more particularly expressed in the fourth chapter of St. Luke: “The devil showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” (Such an astonishing measure of power is still left in the prince of darkness!) “And the devil said, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: For that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will, I give it.” (Matt. 4:5, 6,) They are “the rulers of the darkness of this age;” (so the words are literally translated;) of the present state of things, during which “the whole world lieth in the wicked one.” He is the element of the children of men; only those who fear God being excepted. He and his angels, in connexion with, and in subordination to him, dispose all the ignorance, all the error, all the folly, and particularly all the wickedness of men, in such a manner as may most hinder the kingdom of God, and most advance the kingdom of darkness.

This enemy of all righteousness is equally diligent to hinder every good word and work. If he cannot prevail upon us to do evil, he will, if possible, prevent our doing good. He is peculiarly diligent to hinder the work of God from spreading in the hearts of men. What pains does he take to prevent or obstruct the general work of God! And how many are his devices to stop its progress in particular souls! To hinder their continuing or growing in grace, in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ! To lessen, if not destroy, that love, joy, peace, — that long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, — that fidelity, meekness, temperance, — which our Lord works by his loving Spirit in them that believe, and wherein the very essence of religion consists.

  • “The best means of resisting the devil is, to destroy whatever of the world remains in us, in order to raise for God, upon its ruins, a building all of love.”  (Wesley in chp. 25 of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)

10) Identity formation: As believers come together to practice and enact ancient, restorative community, they are deeply formed into Christ-likeness.  The communities where these believers reside will be truly transformed.

  • Matthew 5:13-16; John 13:34-35; Acts 2:42-47
  • Wesley was a key contributor to a revival and an over-all improvement in 18th century England and beyond.  For example:  Wesley convinced a young William Wilberforce to stay in parliament and to work for the end of the slave trade and for the “reformation of manners.”  In the wake of the Wesleyan revival, many charities were strengthened or started, including hospitals and orphanages. Wesley believed that the best way to improve society at large, was to produce committed Christians who live out Scriptural holiness everyday.

11) Music:  Music is a powerful tool for the community of faith, providing tangible means for: the praise and adoration of God, identity formation in Christ, and restorative ministries. 

  • The entire book of Psalms (the ancient hymn-book of God’s people); Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:14-17; James 5:13
  • How important was music to Wesley’s ministry? John’s brother Charles, wrote thousands of hymns and Wesley wrote some as well.  They knew and understood the power of music and poetry to form and strengthen the hearts and minds of worshippers.
  • Here is one example, Charles Wesley’s Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
‘Til in heaven we take our place,
‘Til we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

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