‘John Wesley is not our pope’

I read this comment recently. “John Wesley is not our pope.”

It was someone taking exception to something that was being passed off as a saying of John Wesley. I am never sure how to react to people who have such pride in their own spiritual understanding and attainment that they are prepared to dismiss those who have come before with a clever phrase.

I do not confuse John Wesley for a pope, but I do see in him someone who has spent much more time and energy than I have wrestling with the souls of men and women. He has spent much more time than I have seeking to submit his will to God. When I read his sermons, I am often struck with the subtlety and vigor of his spiritual insights.

Just yesterday, I read his sermons on “The Wilderness State” and “Heaviness Through Manifold Temptations.” I discovered in this pair of sermons a careful and perceptive discussion of the various degrees and stages of spiritual unease and darkness that can beset a Christian. Perhaps you will disagree with Wesley’s diagnosis and prescription, but I find he has thought much harder and longer than I have about such things. Before I dismiss him as a old, dead white guy, I’m going to see if I can pick up anything by paying attention to the way he works and what he sees.

John Wesley may not strike you as a good interpreter and guide to the Christian life. That is fair enough. You have many teachers to chose from. I have found Wesley a good teacher.

We have some sort of spiritual pride that believes no one has ever trod the ground we walk. We often get caught up in thinking that our souls and our times are radically different from any that have come before. Well, we may be unique, but we are not so mysterious as we think. Many have gone before. Like trusted guides, they can help us find our way through the crags and canyons of our own spiritual frontier.

No, John Wesley is not our pope, but neither are you. He is an old hand. He has been there and done that. I have found him to be an excellent guide. And if I do not always see what he is getting at or I think he must be wrong about what he wants me to do, well, I’m still prepared to doubt my own brilliance enough to at least give him a long, hard listen – and even a trial or two – before I come up with a clever quip to explain why he is not worth listening to anymore.

I am a Christian. I am striving to be that peculiar kind of Christian that is known as a people called (United) Methodist. Old John has taught me a great deal. I am eager to learn more before my time on this earth is over.

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