In today’s age, we are being hit with an onslaught of words and diatribes against ‘corporate religion’ – that belief that we are not saved alone, but saved together. If we are the Church of Jesus Christ, we are a corporate body, placed together, built together in a building, neatly framed, drawn together by the Spirit of the Living God. There is no corporation so effective as the Church – and no corporation which upholds individuality (such as the spiritual gifts) by joining people together as the Church. Yet, many, especially in the Wesleyan Tradition (that covers a lot, by the way) forget the conversation by the Serious Man with John Wesley.
Wesley’s motive never eludes us. In his early manhood, after being greatly affected by Jeremy Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying” and the “Imitatio Christi,” and by Law’s “Serious Call” and “Christian Perfection,” he met “a serious man,” who said to him, ” Sir, you wish to serve God and go to heaven. Remember you cannot serve Him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” He was very confident, this serious man, and Wesley never forgot his message. ” You must find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” These words forever sounded in Wesley’s ears, determining his theology, which rejected the stern individualism of Calvin, and fashioning his whole polity, his famous class meetings and generally gregarious methods. (Scribner’s Magazine – Vol 26)
While I might not characterize Calvinism as ‘stern individualism’ (sometimes, just the opposite), what Wesley was experiencing in the Anglican Church of his day was individualism – capitalist individualism – which disturbed him greatly. (For Mr. Wesley, I would suggest that it would be wrong to judge Calvin by his followers just as it is wrong to judge Mr. Wesley by his.) He saw that the Christians were concerned only with themselves, and not with the poor, downtrodden or the sinners.
I like Wesley’s polity and his focus on the small groups. These small groups are not mean to replace the larger corporate experience, but I know that those who make a point of meeting together weekly for prayer, fellowship, etc… are stronger and this strength must carry over to the congregation.
I was struck with this quote which was on the back of a card which I received from a fellow seminarian and a pastor from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I hope it sticks with you as well.