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.
Part of John Wesley’s genius, as the founder of the Methodist Movement, was the way he organized to make disciples. He established small groups everywhere he went. When these small groups met, they would go through a list of questions at each meeting. The questions were designed to guide the group members into a deeper walk with God.
Here is the fourth question:
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work , or habits?
Wesley knew better than to think that spirituality, or following Jesus, was simply a matter of spending time each day in prayer and bible study. He knew that following Jesus would affect every area of our lives: including the way we dress, our choice of friends, where and how we work, and habits we hold on to.
But the wording of this question reminds us that neither is following Jesus only about shopping at different stores, befriending a different group of people, etc. The beginning of the question is as important to the disciple of Jesus as the ending: “Am I a slave…?”
In John 8:31-32 Jesus said “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Following Jesus sets us free from all matters of bondage, including things like clothing, friends, work, and habits.
Perhaps the most basic way this question challenges us to grow is in facing the truth that everyone who follows Jesus doesn’t look exactly like us. They won’t all dress the same, have the same friends, work the same jobs, or have exactly the same habits.
I’m reminded of a story told by a deeply faithful Free Methodist college Professor. His young adult daugther was in a relationship with a young man of the Dutch Reformed tradion. Unlike the Free Methodists, Dutch Reformed do not carry the same social taboos on alcohol and tobacco.
Knowing the young man to be a committed Christian nevertheless, this professor told me how he and his wife sought to reach out across such different practices. If their daughter was serious about him, they would make every effort. They invited him to join them at the symphony.
The young man graciously declined. “While I very much appreciate the invitation, I would never dream of doing such a thing on the sabbath,” he told them.
When we find ourselves enslaved to some social particulars, we might set up barriers that keep us from fellowship, and that can poorly represent our Lord.
Dress, friends, work, and habits matter. They matter deeply. But they are not lord of our lives. That place is reserved for Jesus.