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.”
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 things? What watching over each other’s souls? What 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?
- 7 Questions for the Potential #UMC Schismatics (pastormack.wordpress.com)