Would I make John Wesley’s grade?

My Lord, give me leave to say once more, I willingly put the whole cause upon this issue. What are the general consequences of our preaching? Are there more tares or wheat? more good men destroyed (as Mr. Church once supposed,) or more wicked men saved?

— John Wesley, 1750

In this letter to a critic and bishop of the Church of England, John Wesley brings forth his ministry for examination and defense. If the bishop can refute the evidence of men and women being turned from wicked and God-denying ways of life toward lives of holiness, then Wesley will relent.

How prepared are we to put our ministry to the same test?

One of the greatest failings I feel in our denomination is that it has put people like me in a pulpit with little expectation and zero coaching about how to spread scriptural holiness. We raise up preachers to manage the system we have not to reform the church and nation by spreading scriptural holiness.

And so, by Methodist standards, we have no way to tell whether we are doing well.

The old Methodist way to do this was to look around at the state of life in a town before and after the Methodists started preaching there. Were open sinners repenting and crying out to God? Did drunkards put away their drink? Did profane men cease their cursing? Were the poor clothed and fed, and were their children put in schools?

I will confess that I don’t know how to do this in the United States in 2014. I don’t know how you get heard. I don’t know what words to use to rattle sleeping sinners awake.

But I don’t get the impression anyone actually cares that I am not competent for that work.

Will Willimon in Advent preached a sermon about John the Baptist calling the people a brood of vipers. He ended that sermon by talking about the way his church had tried to reach out to a family that lived near the church. It was a family in distress, and so they had invited them to church and tried to extend care. Nothing came of it.

Willimon said that he ran into the father of the family some time later. He was cleaned up so much that Willimon did not recognize him. The man said a Pentecostal preacher had burst into his house one day, grabbed him up beneath the chin, and lit into him with hellfire and damnation. “Anybody’s done what you done to your wife and children is going to hell.” And the man said he got redeemed right there on that sofa.

Willimon said he felt bad that his church could not do what he needed. The man said, “You Methodists were offering me aspirin. I needed massive chemotherapy.”

I can preach a decent sermon. I care about people. I pray well enough with those in distress. I listen. I can teach a Bible study lesson. These are good enough for what we seem to want and need.

The United Methodist Church will have me. But would John Wesley have allowed me to preach in his connection?

12 thoughts on “Would I make John Wesley’s grade?

  1. Does the preaching lead one to God or does God draw us to him?
    In my case, it was the Holy Spirit over several years that tugged at me before I ever walked through that church door.
    Grace was the cake, the church was the icing.

    1. God calls us through means such as preaching, liturgy, the witness of other Christians, sacraments, prayers, and the rest. Grace is mediated through ordinary things.

  2. What do all the great movers of the faith have in common?
    They knew. They where sure. There was no question in their minds .
    They were great apologists for the faith and we reference them even today.
    They knew where they stood on the issues.
    They dedicated their lives to their calling and they studied all the time.
    They were prepared with an answer to questions asked.
    Their confidence or knowing showed in their speech and writings and both made great impression on those that listened .
    Unlike some pastors and bishops of today, who compromise position to appease the masses and hold few if any unwavering positions on anything up to and including the resurrection of Christ, the movers and shakers of the Christian Faith stood firm.
    Luther would classify those that lead and waver in the faith as shameful Today pastors take pride in not being sure and with no hesitation declare their “not knowing” and “unsure-ness”
    Maybe they should get sure before they entertain leading and teaching others.

    Parts of The Small Catechism by Martin Luther published in 1529

    Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. 

    O ye bishops! [to whom this charge has been committed by God,] what will ye ever answer to Christ for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment discharged your office? [You are the persons to whom alone this ruin of the Christian religion is due. You have permitted men to err so shamefully; yours is the guilt; for you have ever done anything rather than what your office required you to do.] 

    I can only imagine what Luther and Wesley would say today if they saw and heard what was being taught in the CC today, who was doing the teaching and how ignorant they are of the very thing they are suppose to teach.

    Luther began his education at a Latin school in Mansfeld 1488.
    1497 Luther attended Magdeburg
    In 1501 the University of Erfurt one of the most distinguished universities in Germany.
    Luther earned a  Baccaleureat in 1502 and then received his Master’s degree in 1505. 

    1713 Charterhouse School
    1720 Christ Church College, Oxford

    Some think one of John Wesley’s greatest accomplishment was higher education of the masses.

  3. John, you are on to something here, though you may not know it (or maybe you do). The hardest aspect of ministry is confrontation in the field. I like to think of it as “closing the deal” (without displacing the Spirit). That’s the part we are squeamish about (for all the right and wrong reasons). But haven’t we in our ordinary relations “required” of our friends that they tell us the truth? “Real friends won’t let friends drive drunk.” Wow! Do we not get it? That’s what there must be resistance to dissemblance and collusion with sin in the United Methodist Church.

  4. Why do you care if you would make “John Wesley’s grade” ? Is that the standard by which God is measuring you? Will that fulfill the purpose God has intended within you? Is it clearly determined within you that what God did in John Wesley by His Spirit in the past is some sort of everlasting blueprint for our world today? Is the goal…the finish line….the mark you aim for….to become as John Wesley was? The first Scriptures to come to my mind are in Galatians 6, verses 13 and 14. What was Paul saying….what did he mean in verse 13. Basically if I”m hearing it correctly, he is saying that they want to say….see how many proselytes we are making! See how many followers and disciples we are getting! See how successful our movement (denomination) is! See what a power we are becoming in the world! See all the marks of divine blessing that are resting on us! But Paul says….That is nothing but worldliness in principle and spirit…That IS the world. Then he compares this to his own CLEAR spiritual position. He says…Do I seek glory of men? Do I seek to be well-pleasing to men?….dead men?….John Wesley for example. He says….NO. None of that weighs with him. What weighs with him is not whether his movement is successful, whether he is getting a lot of followers, whether there are all the manifestations outwardly of success, whether he is “making the grade” of some preacher past. It was Christ being formed in himself and those he spoke to.

    It is amazing how the world can creep into our hearts and thoughts…of how we measure ourselves and/or ministry according to how others will thing and talk, what they will say, the attitude they will take, of the measure of our popularity, the talk of our success. That is how the world talks and thinks….it is the spirit of the world. Those are values in the eyes of the world….but not in the eyes of the risen Christ.

    On the resurrection side of the cross….one thing alone determines value…..one thing alone “makes the grade”…..and that one thing is the measure of Christ in EVERYTHING! Nothing else is of any value at all….no matter how big the thing may be….whether a dead man would think favorably of us or not….on the resurrection side of the cross none of that has any value. When we examine ourselves and our ministries before God….what is it that God desires we see?…..what is it He wants to open our eyes to?………Is it not that we might finally see how much of Christ there is? Is not our God’s full end for us the conformity to the image of His Son? Is not the standard we should measure up to the resurrection standard? That would “close every deal”.

    1. I hear you rejecting Wesley’s test — and perhaps Wesley himself — as any kind of guide for the ministry of the United Methodist Church today. I don’t think we are trying to duplicate 18th century England, but I do find that what Wesley did, wrote, thought, and taught has value for us today — if nothing else by putting to the test our assumptions.

      My hope is to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” at the end of my days. I believe we can learn from Wesley about running our race well. Of course, we must run our race today in our world. Of course, others are free to disagree. But I still find him a valuable witness to what it means to be a Christian.

      1. I have nothing against Wesley, I did not personally know the man. Nor do I have anything whatsoever against what he taught. But he, nor Paul, nor any of the prophets, nor any man past or present is the standard by which God measures anything against… especially in the revelation of who and what a Christian is. The only standard God gives to us is whether or not we are conforming into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Christ in us is our witness. Christ alone fulfills the definition of what it means to be a Christian. Why place any man in that place? If there was “power” in Wesley’s ministry it was because his eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit and he saw….and he spoke what he saw. And if God was using him it was because he continually poured over the Scriptures painstakingly, diligently with an unquenchable desire to see more of Christ knowing that there was so much more to see.

        And if these things were all true of John Wesley might he respond to your post in this manner: Where is Christ, where is the Holy Spirit in your words…”I can preach a decent sermon. I care about people. I pray well enough with those in distress. I listen. I can teach a Bible study lesson.” How much different might your list of “I” cans” look if the “I” was replaced with a by? By the Holy Spirit through me….Because of Christ in me.

        I wonder what Wesley would say to you in response to your post? What would Paul say….Peter say…..any of the apostles or prophets? Might they each say……your church….your people need to hear what YOU see?….what God has personally opened YOUR eyes too see? And if you trust what the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see…..if you can honestly rejoice each time you are able to shout out…. “I once was blind but now I can see!!!”……would you not know that it is that which you are to share? Wouldn’t those around you then wonder at your excitement? Would they not see something different about you? ….hear something new in your voice? Would you know that with each new revelation….greater clarity….clearer vision God gives to you increases the conformity to Christ within you?

        I don’t question the value of Wesley to some……I question just how high that value seems to be to some.

  5. You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. James 2:19

    James confirms the truth found in Mark 5:7
     “And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God. Mark 5:7
    They knew who Jesus was.

    So faith, belief in and knowing that Jesus was the Son of God was not enough.

    How does one measure Christ being formed in us?
    What are the outward signs of the working the heart of man?
    Why where the apostles and prophets sent?
    What do we learn from them?
    What are the standards of conduct, practice and qualifications set down for?
    For naught?

    2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

    That is the goal. A goal the Apostles, the prophets, the Early Church Fathers, Luther, Wesley and others were trying to reach. To teach what they understood so we would learn. Perfectly Biblical.

    1. I’ve read this post over and over again not wanting to misunderstand what it is you are saying here. Perhaps I am simply reinterpreting what you have already said, but there are a few things that you have written here that I struggle with. The first is the comparison you are making between the letter written by James and what was written in Mark. I’m not certain that the two groups lead to the same conclusion. James was writing to whom he refers to as his “brethren”. So these are individuals who have received Christ, but, as so very many Christians do, they are trying to live their new life in the “old man” and this simply cannot be done. Its not that their faith, belief in and knowing that Jesus was the Son of God was not enough….it was enough to be counted among the brethren…..the Christians….but that alone is not the God’s ultimate purpose for them. His ultimate purpose is that they be conformed into the full image of Christ which could not happen if they continued living out a carnal Christianity.

      In Mark…..they were demons…..who clearly are aware of who Jesus Christ is. They are incapable of faith, belief in, or forgiveness from the Son of God, our Lord Jesus. Nothing will ever be “enough” for them.

      “How does one measure Christ being formed in us?” If I am reading this right your questions asks how does one measure growth in Christ. I think first we have to ask ourselves this question first…on what foundation does our Christian life rest? Is it on something outward?…something we have been told?….something we have been commanded?…..something we have been frightened into?….something we’ve been emotionalized into?…..OR….is it based upon this foundation: “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me”?….as Paul said. Paul was simply saying here that God opened his eyes to see Jesus. So to the question how do we measure growth…..well, just as it was in the beginning….growth is by seeing. Spiritual growth is all a matter of seeing. We need to let that sink in I believe. I think the question of growth needs to be answered very carefully within each individuals own life. Some imagine that spiritual growth is getting to know a great deal more truth…..No, not necessarily. One may increase in such knowledge as you grow it is true…but it is not just that. Growth is conformity to the image of God’s Son. That is the end…and it is toward that which we MUST progressively and steadily and consistently move towards. If we do this then Paul would say to us….”We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit” 2Cor. 3:18.

      Outward signs? The fruit of the Spirit. No need to elaborate for the sake of space and I don’t want to use up your time or interest.

      I believe the prophets were sent to reveal the voice of God….speak His mind and words…..not to teach….but reveal. Which really are two different things.

      The apostles were sent to reveal the Son of God….Jesus Christ. To reveal Him in contrast to humanity. To reveal the new creation each could become and the differences between that new creation and the old.

      As for the rest I will try to sum up my thoughts quickly. First of all….teachers and preachers are ministerial offices established by God….I understand that and believe that. My whole point is that, in my most humble opinion, this question: Why must Christians….who have the knowledge of the Scriptures in the letter….run about here and there to seek advice from others on matters which vitally affect their own spiritual knowledge? I am not saying that it is wrong to get counsel, or wrong to know what other children of God of experience thinbk or feel about matters…..BUT….if we are going to build our position upon their conclusions, we are in great danger. The final authority and arbiter in all matters is the Spirit of God….the Spirit of the anointing. We may get help rom one another, but I do hope that Christians are not going to build their position upon what any one says. We can be assured God will corroborate the truth or show otherwise if we simply ask Him.

      Where would Paul have been had he taken the opposite course then he had taken? He “conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went he up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before him; but he went away into Arabia Gal. 1 15-17. I wonder what would have happened had he had gone up to Jerusalem and laid every matter before those who were apostles before him? What if he had said Jesus told me to go to the Gentiles? I mean….Peter struggled with this for along time after even.

      Think of the confusion coming from so many different denominations right now as we face the worlds ways taking root in our strongest denominations. Homosexuality etc…. . Just think of how fewer denominations there would be! How…..like Jesus….we would be speaking with authority.

      Sorry so long….I just have so many thoughts on this.

Comments are closed.