Standing on the tomb

John Wesley once said he did more good preaching one day while standing on his father’s tomb than he did for all the many days he preached from a church pulpit. (See picture in blog header for an illustration of this.

He’d been denied preaching from a pulpit because of the doctrines he insisted on preaching with great energy. So, he climbed on top of his father’s tomb in the church yard and preached to the crowds.

Last week, I heard an early Pentecost sermon that emphasized the message that the church became the church when it was gifted with the ability to preach in the languages that people could hear. When I reflect on this story about Wesley, I think 18th century field preaching was a kind of Pentecost preaching. The language was not changed, but the mode was. Preaching was made audible to the people so that it might be heard.

I’m often not creative enough to figure out how to carry the examples of the early Methodists into our own context. I am too wooden and literal in my attempt to think about applications. But as Pentecost approaches, I am convinced this kind of pentecostal preaching is needed among us. We need to preach in the languages people can hear. We need to find modes and places of preaching where it can be heard.

In all this, we must not abandon the gospel and our convictions about it. We don’t want to confuse speaking in a language that people can hear with preaching “peace, peace” when there is no peace.

But how do we find the boldness to follow John Wesley’s example to climb upon the tomb’s of our fathers and preach the gospel in languages and ways that allow it to be heard to the millions among us who do not hear it today?

9 thoughts on “Standing on the tomb

  1. Public speaking in person outdoors was commonplace in Wesley’s day. The closest analog we have now may be street performers, but this is only marginally acceptable, and maybe about to be outlawed in Indy (as a form of panhandling).

    I do believe the medium AND the venue dramatically condition the message. Field preaching or market cross preaching (still possible in England) are very different animals than preaching in worship in church buildings or even in indoor spaces rented for use as worship space.

  2. I’m starting to think that when some do “speak the language of today,” that they criticized for “watering down the gospel.” I’m not sure that is the case many times (although some may/do). I think preceding generations find it uncomfortable to give up their traditional way to preach, and making the tradition into a de facto doctrine.

    1. I have no doubt that some people do make tradition a doctrine. What I contend for are only our actual stated doctrines, though. I misunderstand them, I’m sure, but I try to be faithful to them.

      If preaching in a voice that can be heard today results in ignoring our doctrine, then I don’t think it is doing what I am trying to figure out in this post.

      1. I’m not saying that you are. I’m saying that just like Wesley was criticized to the point where he had to preach on his father’s tomb to reach the masses, because the church wouldn’t let the masses in, so to will anyone trying to reach the masses in a way that speaks to them will be criticized, and possibly have to go outside the church to have the message heard.

        1. I hear you on that point. The trick is to discern faithful rule breaking from self-indulgent flouting of order. I suspect we tend to be too tight on rules and too quick to misread innovation as unfaithful. I know my instinct is toward good order, perhaps to a fault.

  3. “But how do we find the boldness to follow John Wesley’s example to climb upon the tomb’s of our fathers and preach the gospel in languages and ways that allow it to be heard to the millions among us who do not hear it today?”

    What did Wesley have?…Confidence & knowledge.
    There was no question in his mind.
    How did he get that confidence? Where did Paul get his confidence?

    Both had a lifetime of training.
    Both went to the best schools.
    Both studied and worked hard at their profession.
    Both were challenged and both were great apologists.

    Since you are the expert on Wesley:
    I have read because of a shortage of persons to preach and share the gospel, Wesley would turn to the layperson. He would come to understand those persons were not equipped to do the job that needed to be done so Wesley would write sermons for them.
    Is that true?

    If the above is true, consider the following.

    What do people come to the church for?

    If their questions are not answered, what do you suppose they will do?

    Does the church risk having the writings of the bible (issues of the day, topics of interest etc.) stolen, twisted and reconstructed to fit others agendas because of our inability to answer ,explain and teach?

    A novice unsure is easily recognized by an experts in any field.

    1. Wesley did provide sermons and told preachers to preach his before trying to preach their own.

      1. It is interesting to note that both Wesley and Luther would come to realize there were a lot of people with the will but not the skills to do the job.
        Luther’s surprise was noted in the Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism
        Wesley would write sermons.
        Both made the same mistake.

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