Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
October 14th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Charles Wesley: “I will…prove that…all (Methodists are)…true members of the Church of England’

English: Charles Wesley

“I’m not loyal to every Church, but when I am, it’s to the Church of England. Stay Anglican, my friends.” English: Charles Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take note Charles Wesley’s words here:

I told them I would remain with them as long as they remained with the Church of England but should they ever turn their back on the Church they turn their back on me.

In many places, C. Wesley sought to defend the Methodist societies not as an order distinct from the Church of England, but as an order of worshippers within the Church of England, complete with the loyalties therewith.

I rode to Wakefield, and at eleven waited upon Justice Burton at his inn, with two other Justices, Sir Rowland Wynn, and the Rev. Mr. Zouch. I told him, I had seen a warrant of his, to summon witnesses to some treasonable words, “said to be spoken by one Westley;” that I had put off my journey to London to wait upon him, and answer whatever should be laid to my charge.

He answered, he had nothing to say against me, and I might depart. I replied, that was not sufficient, without clearing my character, and that of many innocent people, whom their enemies were pleased to call Methodists. “Vindicate them!” said my brother Clergyman: “that you will find a very hard task.” I answered, “As hard as you may think it, I will engage to prove that they all, to a man, are true members of the Church of England, and loyal subjects of His Majesty King George.” I then desired they would administer to me the oaths, and added, “If it was not too much trouble, I could wish, gentlemen, you would send for every Methodist in England, and give them the same opportunity you do me, of declaring their loyalty upon oath.”

Justice Burton said, he was informed that we constantly prayed for the Pretender in all our Societies, or nocturnal meetings, as Mr. Zouch called them. I answered, “The very reverse is true. We constantly pray for His Majesty King George by name. These are such hymns as we sing in our Societies, a sermon I preached before the University, another my brother preached there, his Appeals, and a few more treatises, containing our principles and practice.” Here I gave them our books, and was bold to say, “I am as true a Church-of-England man, and as loyal a subject, as any man in the kingdom.” “That is impossible,” they cried all; but as it was not my business to dispute, and as I could not answer till the witnesses appeared, I withdrew without farther reply…[.1 Charles Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. Charles Wesley (ed. Thomas Jackson; vol. 1; London: John Mason, 1849), 358. Every quote herein pertaineth to this series.]

On 23 June 1746, C. Wesley preached on Jeremiah 31, noting the desolute-ness of the Church of England. Here, he used the Methodist focus on prayer (“the Spirit…came down”) to pray that all who had left the Church of England return.

Still yet on 17 September 1756 he writes,

At seven I left Bristol, with John Downes, and came to Walbridge by two. In the evening several attended the word, and seemed stirred up to watch and pray. I spake to each of the little steady Society. Forty-three have kept together for years, under the care of our brother Watts. There are no disputes or disorders among them. I added a few words, exhorting them to continue steadfast in the communion of the Church of England. We were much refreshed, and parted in great love.

A day later, C. Wesley remarks, “I did not forget to confirm the brethren in their calling; that is, to live and die in the Church of England.”

I suspect, heavily, that if John and Charles were alive today, we in the United Methodist Church would be out of connexion and out of communion with them. Yes, there was a time to do what Fr. John did, to ordain in the emergency, men of Christian character to carry out the witness of the Gospel. Yet, John and especially the brother with the more rational deportment, did not ordain schism.

Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, the United Methodist Church would rather dispose of John Wesley, perhaps having him as something of a figure head. If this is the case, then the United Methodist Church would likely insist Charles Wesley was a myth created in the wake of Fr. John’s kerygma so as to produce a certain amount of fear  and constriction in the new free-from-orthodoxy societies on the American frontier.

Are Methodists, as they were originally, still members of the Church of England (or the wider Anglican Communion)? Of course not. Should they be, however? Perhaps that is the better question.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

One Response to “Charles Wesley: “I will…prove that…all (Methodists are)…true members of the Church of England’”
  1. Hello Joel. Great post on Charles Wesley. If you are interested in more articles on the early Methodist movement. Please visit the website for the upcoming book series, The Asbury Triptych Series. The three-book novel opens with the book, Black Country, a book dedicated to the work of the Wesley brothers, George Whitefield and several other key players in the early Methodist movement in England. Naturally, the main character of the Asbury Triptych series, Francis Asbury is introduced. Black Country does what no on has attempted, to piece together Asbury’s evangelical efforts in England before he leaves for America. The opening book is available November 1. In the mean time, enjoy the numerous lengthy articles on the movement and its leaders. http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Again, thank you for the post.

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