Wesleyan Walking

Setting aside creedal and canonical differences that require attention beyond the stated topic of this respectful conversation, Millet’s description of following Jesus looks very much like what Wesleyans do. Daily searching of Scripture, prayer, serving and loving others, and church attendance all resonate with my tradition. John Wesley identified three especially important means of grace for Methodists to make use of: searching Scripture, prayer
(in both public worship and private devotion), and receiving the Lord’s Supper. Serving others was also considered a means of grace because we open ourselves to God’s work in us every time we offer ourselves for Christlike service. Wesley encouraged church attendance (which in his context meant attending the Church of England) and Methodist meetings were to be scheduled so they did not conflict with parish worship. Between the two (church and meeting) Methodists were quite regularly in the company of other Christians. I will focus on Millet’s list in this response.

I think all these means of grace are used by Wesleyans regularly, although probably not attended to as diligently as they might be. The Wesleyan tradition is big enough and varied enough that I can’t speak for all, but I do have some observations that come from my own social location.

First, searching Scripture. On the one hand, United Methodists in North America were a big audience for the Disciple Bible Study published by Abingdon Press (I think late 1980s). It combined videos of biblical scholars with small group meetings, a perfect blend for the education and small group experience that allows Wesleyan Methodism to thrive. This study expected a 34-week commitment to its lessons, with a weekly Bible reading schedule. Despite this fairly serious expectation for involvement, it was so popular that the original 34-week series was extended into three more series for deeper study. On the other hand, I once heard Methodists described as people who “want to want to” read the Bible. In other words, we know it is important and that we should spend time with Scripture daily, but we want this more than we actually do it. I cannot know the actual habits of the millions of Wesleyans in my own church, much less in the Wesleyan tradition as a whole, but the little joke in the comment is probably onto something about the difference between our desire and our practice. I appreciate the LDS example of daily searching of Scripture.

No one has a monopoly on prayer, but United Methodists in North America pray in every setting in which they gather: meals, meetings, choir rehearsals, visits to hospitals, etc. Most congregations I know solicit prayer requests so that members of congregations may be held in prayer in times of trouble or thanks may be given in times of joy. We have no prescribed form or frequency for private prayer, and private practices probably vary a great deal. The expectation that prayer is a frequent and important connection with God is understood.

Because of the way Wesleyans have understood holiness, service to others has been an essential aspect of living faith in the Wesleyan tradition. Individual members take on service projects, but also collectively the United Methodist Church aids others in times of crisis through agencies that have personnel and resources to provide assistance around the world.  Service includes but extends beyond helping individuals. United Methodists have become quite concerned about the conditions that create need and disparity. We empower people through education and training to work on community organizing and creation care to cultivate conditions for wholeness.

Church attendance matters because worship in community shapes character and spiritual formation. Because numerical growth is easier to measure than spiritual growth, there can be an emphasis on numbers that deflects from the importance of growing together in Christ. John Wesley encouraged attendance in the Church of England because that is where the Eucharist could be received. He understood that holy communion brought us into the presence of Christ and one another in a powerfully enlivening way. He urged frequent partaking of this means of grace.

1 reply
  1. Robert Millet
    Robert Millet says:

    June 20, 2022

    Thank you, Sarah, for your comments. Your comparisons between Methodist and Latter-day Saint beliefs and practices were fascinating to me.

    At the time of Joseph Smith’s search for truth in 1820, the fastest growing church in the nation was Methodism. Many early Latter-day Saint converts came from the Methodist Church, including Brigham Young, the second President of the Church and John Taylor, the third. According to Joseph’s younger brother William, in one of the camp meetings held in Palmyra, New York in the spring of 1820, young Joseph heard a Methodist minister, Reverend George Lane, quote and discuss James 1:5 regarding the need to go to God to obtain wisdom.

    As the story goes, Joseph came home, opened the Bible, and found the passage. Here are his words, written some eighteen years later: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act [how to gain a remission of his sins and which church he should join] I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.”

    Five or six years ago, three other BYU colleagues and I were invited to begin an academic dialogue with four professors of theology from the Church of the Nazarene. Because the writings and speeches of John Wesley are so important to the Nazarenes (they go to him often for scriptural insight and understanding), we began reading Wesley, as well as Latter-day Saint leaders and scholars. I quickly read about five biographies of Wesley, dove into his sermons, and enjoyed my time immensely. Three years ago I even went back to Point Loma Nazarene University in the San Diego area as a visiting scholar and read Wesley for five or six hours a day many weeks. I have been challenged by his words, have found clarity in his scriptural interpretations, and in general have had both my mind and heart stretched and soothed. I have become a big fan, not only of John but also of his brother, Charles. Many of Charles’s hymns are found within the Latter-day Saint hymnal and are favorites of mine.

    Once again, thank you for your response to my essay. Blessings to you and yours.

    Bob

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