Friday, May 23, 2008
John Wesley rode a horse
In an article in a Fiji paper today is the line 'John Wesley rode a horse and started the Methodist Church.' Well, that is rather an over-simplification isn't it. Actually he never intended to start a new church as he was an Anglican clergyman, but something new eventuated. I am an apologist - some of the time - for the Methodist Church in Fiji - so here's one view about Wesley - from a website of a sermon in Ely and an Anglican at that. I have just copied bits of it. May 24th is the day celebrating the time when Wesley's 'heart was strangely warmed' which is a nice way of saying that religion became strong and personal instead of abstract. In Fiji Methodist schools yesterday they remembered this event from 270 years ago.
....Why did it take root? Was the movement the product of a visionary or of an eccentric?
On 24 May, and still depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ' Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.' Later that day he heard Luther's anthem 'Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,' And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records 'while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed ... I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins ... and saved me from the law of sin and death.'
In one sense, this 'conversion' experience was typical of the instant certainty that is found in Puritan spiritual experience. So with his personal convictions thus confirmed and with many churches closed to him, he started field-preaching. He set up his own organisation of lay-preachers from 1741 onwards. Here were the first of the people called Methodists. By 1751 he had covered the whole of the British Isles, travelling nearly a quarter of a million miles and preaching some 40,000 sermons. In 1744, he held a lay-preachers' conference which became an annual event.
He died in 1788, by which time there were 294 preachers and over 43,000 members of the movement now known as the Methodist Church....
We cannot mention the name 'Wesley' without thinking about music. It was John's younger brother, Charles, who was the main creative genius behind so many of the hymns that we sing today...
In what ways was Methodism an innovation? Why had it become necessary? Was John Wesley merely an awkward eccentric who wouldn't fit in to the Church of England? And why is music such an integral part of this story?
. Human beings need assurance in their lives, and the emphasis that John Wesley laid on the emotional aspect of personal experience helped to give this assurance... Hymns were generally absent in the churches of that time. There was only the chanting of metrical psalms, which may have been led by a choir. What the Wesleys did was to create a compendium of hymns which were simple and memorable. By the middle of the eighteenth century there were substantial outside musical influences:
The hymn is a powerful tool of communication. It appeals to our cognitive realm (i.e. ideas and understandings); it appeals to the affective realm (i.e. values and beliefs). And it engages our psycho-motor realm (i.e. the bodily control of producing sound). In no other part of worship are all three quite so simultaneously engaged. Combine a rhythm of words with a catchy tune and four different voices in harmony and one has a forceful instrument for effective teaching, reflection, illumination and exultation. It was doubtless the Wesleys' hymns, sung in churchyards and market places up and down the land as much as John Wesley's sermons that captivated the hearts and minds of those who felt a lack of warmth in -- or who felt excluded by -- the Church of England in those days...
Perhaps John Wesley may act as a model for us, as we travel our own journeys of faith. To what extent are our hearts 'strangely warmed' in our studies of scripture? For God speaks to us through our hearts as well as through our minds. To what extent may our hearts be 'strangely warmed' through our compassion for our neighbours in their distress? Or in their lack of faith? And to what extent may our hearts be 'strangely warmed' in our acts of worship, offering thanks and praise to our creator and redeemer? A living, vibrant faith is one that is more than a cerebral exercise...