could the #UMC use more of the class meetings?

This book was recommended the other day via twitter – not to just me, but to everyone interested in recovering the Wesleyan ecclesiology.

Here are some of Wesley’s initial rules,

John Wesley’s Rules for the Band-Societies (drawn up Dec. 25, 1738)

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

Stripped image of John Wesley
Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To this end, we intend,-1. To meet once a week, at the least.

2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.

3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.

4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.

5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.

6. To desire some person among us; to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

These classes have been replaced, it seems. Given the nature of things, how life moves onward, it is not a surprise, I guess. Although, any basic organization organizing guide will tell you to start small, start with accountability, and give a reward. Essentially, I see the same thing here. Wesley had small groups accountable to one another with the reward of an improved (Christian) life.

Yet, we don’t do that, generally. Perhaps it is because we are too busy. Or, because we do not place enough value on Christian accountability. I’m not sure, really. Whatever it is, we have gotten away from this and I now believe it not only imperils our United Methodist Church but so too our Christian witness in the West.

So, how do we adopt this model within the current church structure of an established clergy, with established worship times, and established spaces? Because if you don’t do it within these boundaries, you will lead to schism, sects, and cults. Even Wesley knew that,

“But it was not long before an objection was made to this, which had not once entered into my thought: “Is not this making a schism? Is not the joining these people together, gathering Churches out of Churches?” It was easily answered, If you mean only gathering people out of buildings called churches, it is. But if you mean, dividing Christians from Christians, and so destroying Christian fellowship, it is not. For, (1) These were not Christians before they were thus joined. Most of them were barefaced Heathens. (2) Neither are they Christians, from whom you suppose them to be divided. You will not look me in the face and say they are. What! drunken Christians! cheating Christians! If these are Christians at all, they are devil Christians, as the poor Malabarians term them. (3) Neither are they divided any more than they were before, even from these wretched devil Christians. They are as ready as ever to assist them, and to perform every office of real kindness towards them. (4) If it be said, “But there are some true Christians in the parish, and you destroy the Christian fellowship between these and them;” I answer, That which never existed, cannot be destroyed. But the fellowship you speak of never existed. Therefore it cannot be destroyed. Which of these true Christians had any such fellowship with these? Who watched over them in love? Who marked their growth in grace? Who advised and exhorted them from time to time? Who prayed with them and for them, as they had need? This, and this alone, is Christian fellowship: But alas! where is it to be found? Look east or west, north or south; name what parish you please: Is this Christian fellowship there? Rather, are not the bulk of the parishioners a mere rope of sand? What Christian connection is there between them? What intercourse in spiritual thingsWhat watching over each other’s soulsWhat bearing of one another’s burdens? What a mere jest is it then, to talk so gravely of destroying what never was? The real truth is just the reverse of this: We introduce Christian fellowship where it was utterly destroyed. And the fruits of it have been peace, joy, love, and zeal for every good word and work.” -Wesley’s Works Vol. 8. pgs. 251, 252-

There is no need to escape that which would benefit us because we would deem it counterintuitive to our demand for power. I would suggest that if small groups left the church structure they themselves, before too long, become that which they sought to leave. So, the question is — how do you form such a group that is inviting, renewing, and remaining?

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9 Replies to “could the #UMC use more of the class meetings?”

  1. Sorry to say this, but just what I want to do. Follow a set of rules drawn up in 1738. After reading the rules, if this was implemented and enforced today, there would be more people leaving UMC, than if they OK’d gay pastors. Only evangelical fundamentalists would be left in UMC. Group, guilt-trip, psychotherapy.

    1. I should say, I have always felt very uncomfortable hearing a person’s testimony in a fundamentalist church. I fear the worst, when what is suppose to be a short testimony starts with “I was born…”. Usually turns into a 30 minute or more life story about every sin the person ever committed. Many tears, many uncomfortable moments. This sounds like it could become a small version of a testimony meeting. Get me out of here.

    2. remember, this was for a group of about 8 or so. Yes, it was back in 1738 and things have changed. I’m not suggesting the same rules, but a nice, close-knit “cell” within the local congregation may be beneficial.

      1. I have no problem with it, as long as it is voluntary (which obviously it would have to be). And as long as it doesn’t turn into one of those voluntary tasks, but tied to doctrine, to the point that non-participation spells sin, itself. Or implied guilt trip in not participating. I find lighting a candle much more appropriate. Or if you must, talk to the pastor in private.i gave up pep rallies in high school, but that’s just my opinion. Since I was baptized as a Lutheran, it must be my Finnish reserve – showing outgoing emotion is like pulling teeth.

  2. Just the sheer size of many congregations would make this proscription for order of worship impractical.

    Moreover, given the many churches are little more than houses of gossip, delivering a self-assessment on “the true state of…souls” would likely invite a lot of what is known in legal parlance as painting lipstick on a pig!

    As with many things in life, things that look good on paper lose much of their luster in the practicum of implementation.

  3. I think it is brilliant. There is a group called Xenos fellowship that actually functions like this with some success. They essentailly several class meetings for personal growth and teaching and then once a month large worship services where all the home groups come together. The hard part is two fold. 1. Actually trusting eachother after the inevitable hurt happens and 2. Committing to the time.

  4. Hi Joel, One point of clarification: You cited part of the rules for the band meeting, which was quite different than the class meeting. Bands were voluntary, for people who had already experienced justification by faith and the new birth, divided by gender and marital status, had 3-5 people in them, and focused on confession of sin in order to grow in holiness. Class meetings were required of all Methodists, were co-ed, ideally had 7-12 people, provided implicit accountability to the “General Rules” (do no harm, do all the good that you can, and attend upon the ordinances of God), and where each person answered the question “How does your soul prosper?” This distinction might inform the reactions some of your readers have had.

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