On this day in 1738 John Wesley found his way to a gathering on Aldersgate street. Remembering it, he wrote this in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street….”
At Aldersgate, following a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Romans, Wesley wrote that his heart was “strangely warmed.” He continued that he did, in that moment – from that moment on- trusted “in Christ, and Christ alone,” for his salvation.
And he went unwillingly.
The salvation for which Wesley trusted Christ from that day forward wasn’t just a warmed heart. He rarely referred again to that specific event or day or moment, but the life he went on to live changed the world.
Wesley organized small groups to disciple one another. The practices and disciplined life he had already been living, coupled with the warmed heart, brought many others into the fold of Christ. The small groups, the mutual accountability work done therein, would grow the members into people who followed Wesley’s example and followed Jesus.
Schools and hospitals were founded. Prisoners were ministered to. Some have gone so far as to allege that the Wesleyan revival helped England avoid the kind of bloody revolution France would face.
And Wesley went unwillingly.
In these days following #UMCGC, the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, we have a lot of unwillingness.
In response to much and loud and bitter dissension regarding, primarily, our church’s stance on LGBTQI matters, our bishops have called for a special commission to study the issue and present possible resolutions.
Many of us are not holding our breaths waiting for the conclusions reached by this commission. I, for one, am incredibly skeptical that resolution can be reached between the extremes within our denomination.
But then today I was struck by the word unwillingly.
My skepticism rests mostly on my presumption that many are resistant -no, beyond resistant – dead set against any compromise of their position.
But maybe, at least on this Aldersgate Day, that’s exactly the Wesleyan place to be.
May all we United Methodists approach our future as unwillingly as Wesley approached the meeting on Aldersgate Street.
Look what happened that time!
Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
For at least the last 25 years, I have answered this question, “Yes, by the grace of God.”
The other seven members of my ordination class in the Texas Annual Conference in 1991 answered the same. As far as I know, every ordained United Methodist has answered the same way.
I was pretty sure that the eight of us didn’t have exactly the same understanding of what this question meant. No one asked. No explanation, no dissertation was required
I can tell you that I full on loved that question! Fresh out of Asbury Seminary, I was deeply committed to living into Christian Perfection. Wesley’s teaching on perfection played an essential role in my choice of seminary.
When I was 27 I fully expected, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.
Today, at 52 I still fully expect, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.
My understanding of what it means, and towards what, particularly, I am moving, has changed. If it hadn’t, I would have serious reservations about my fitness for effective ministry.
I haven’t talked to anyone from my ordination class in at least 20 years. This is partly because I have changed conferences; I am now a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference.
Occasionally I wonder what the 27 year old Steve Heyduck would think of the 52 year old version. There would be some serious disagreements. And yet, we are together. I wouldn’t be the me I am today had I not been him then.
I wouldn’t be committed today to being made perfect in love in this life were it not for my original commitment then. With 25+ years on this path, then, I have to think I’m closer now than I was then. If I didn’t believe this, I would owe it to the Church to surrender my credentials and find another vocation.