Curse of respectability

Reading John Wesley and about the early American Methodists always gives me a sense of deep conviction. These were people who took God seriously. They knew that what they did was important. They were willing to suffer for it.

It is not that they did not feel the same pull and tug that we feel. John Wesley wrote more than once that if it were up to him he would not have moved around so much, but he felt God had put it on him. He famously described his first round of field preaching with a biblical quote about submitting to be more vile by taking to the fields.

These tensions did not go away when Methodism moved across the ocean. John Wigger reports in his book Taking Heaven By Storm the social pressures on circuit riders not to take up the hard, poorly paid, and disrespected calling of itinerant preaching.

Dan Young’s mother urged him to join the Presbyterians or Baptists rather than the Methodists, and John Littlejohn’s mother threatened to disinherit him if he persisted in his preaching. Benjamin Paddock’s father found the Methodists to be “about as distasteful to him as any thing well could be.” Word that his son planned to join the itinerancy “frenzied him.” John Cooper’s father “threw a shovelfull of hot embers” on Cooper when he discovered him at prayer, but Cooper became a Methodist preacher anyway. Even the audacious Billy Hibbard has his early doubts about the Methodists. Following his conversion, Hibbard was torn between his desire for respectability and his attraction to Methodism. “I wanted to be a Congregationalist, and to be respectable. But I wanted the love and seriousness of the Methodists.”

I know in my own heart the desire for respectability. I fear that too many of us have given into that desire, to the end that Methodism itself is no longer controversial.

In his book Mainline or Methodist?, Scott Kisker argues that is precisely our problem.

We United Methodists have become a privileged lot. We are educated well beyond the majority in our society. We pay our clergy, as distinctly mainline, beyond the majority in our society. If we are to recover Methodism, freed from its addiction to the American mainstream, it will require the kind of conversion Wesley experienced that day in Bristol [when he submitted to be more vile by preaching in the open air]. It is a conversion to god and neighbor because we are witnesses to God’s ultimate kingdom of the new creation. For such a recovery, we must humble ourselves before almighty God, trust in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and expect a blessing through a miraculous anointing of the Holy Spirit. Following that we must take some risky, perhaps uncomfortable steps.


3 thoughts on “Curse of respectability

  1. I do not think the problem is in the fact that Methodists are more educated, thus more respectable. but striving for respectability and education as a goal, diverts focus on holiness. We should strive to make our talents and resources as effective as possible, “Earn more that ye may give more.” is good advice. Work in the world, but always seek holiness is also a good motto.

  2. Or maybe the church is cursed with a “I know better than God” mentality and are not doing what they were told to do.
    Maybe the church has usurped the primary goal of the Christian Church with social engineering thinking they have a better way than Christ.

    The Great Commission calls followers of Christ to teach the teaching of Christ.
    To evangelize the world so they will know the one true God, baptizing them in the name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit , missionary work and ministry.
    That is Gods plan on “How to change the world”.

    We are not instructed to accept other Gods, preach a foreign man made gospel or to social engineering.
    We are not called to win a popularity contest with the world or appease every complainant because they disagree with Christian doctrine, teachings and/or practice.
    We are commissioned to “  teaching them to observe all that that I have commanded you.”
    And that is exactly what the apostles did. The teachings of the apostles are found in the Book of Acts thru the Book of Revelations and I am sure they were about as popular in that culture as they are today.

    We know the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul, as well as the other disciples of Christ faced opposition. The culture the first apostles knew was a culture filled with false Gods, promiscuity, abortion, exposure of children, Roman Baths, man boy relationship and same sex relationship and marriage, prostitution and slavery. We know because they are written of.
    No one writes against things that do not exist. They write against practices that do exist and those practices were contrary to the teaching of God.
    We also know these are the very things the apostles fought against.

    Why not try being a little brave and doing it Gods way as instructed by the God you say you worship. The world may not like you but Christ said:

    “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

    That truth is found in the Book of Mark, Luke & John.

Comments are closed.