Why has the church done so little good? Why does it falter?
Our answer and John Wesley’s are quite different.
In his sermon “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” Wesley lays out three problems. The people do not known scriptural Christianity — that is sound doctrine. The people are not under proper discipline. The people do not practice self-denial.
The problem of the church, from Wesley’s point of view, was theological and spiritual. The solution was proper doctrine, good discipline, and daily self-denial.
When we talk about the problems of the United Methodist Church these days, matters of theology and spiritual disciplines barely come up. They are viewed as secondary or even the by product of other practices.
Field preaching and class meetings were ways Wesley could get doctrine, discipline, and self-denial into practice among the people. The practices were based on a clear understanding of the content and meaning of Christian life.
We go about it the other way. Not wanting to get tangled up over theological disagreements or tricky discussions about what kinds of things we should deny ourselves, we talk and act as if the forms of ministry are empty vessels. Once we have those, we can pour in whatever theological content we like. The theology is secondary to the forms.
Preach a certain way. Use multimedia. Organize small groups. Rotate lay leaders. Do this stuff, and everything will be good. The Call to Action report states plainly that theology has no bearing on church vitality.
Wesley would say we’ve got our cart and horse mixed up. Do our bishops think Wesley was wrong about this?