The Serious Man to John Wesley – Solitary Religion

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 “]]” and the “]],” and by Law’s “]]” and “]],” 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.

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9 Replies to “The Serious Man to John Wesley – Solitary Religion”

  1. Hi Joel, I’ve been in ministry for well over 20 years, I ‘ve been exposed to many, many theologians and ministers, some very well-known! Something about your articles and especially the series Unus Deus got my attention – I come from a Oneness background, but as you rightfully said I am not ‘Oneness’ but believe with my whole being in the One God, How can I relate more personally? I am from South Africa – the church here at present are in need of strong guidance – great emphasis lately on the ‘contemplative’ – What’s your view??? John B

      1. Joel, maybe I should express myself better – In a recent Seminar, the keynote-speakers(including Ron Martoia) emphasised the importance of a Contemplative Spirituality, focusing on the Contemplative Dimension of our Spiritual journey, emphasisng the words of Keating:…”The last twenty to thirty years of life will provide an enormous potential for Contemplative growth.All the stages of the great mystics of past times will be available.”

        1. I don’t doubt the mystical side of God, Johan – but I do think that we can take it too far and believe that we can achieve some sort of super-Christianity, a gnosticism if you will. I do think that we each have a journey and we must learn to dwell in the Spirit which dwells in the Church, but when I think of Contemplative Spirituality, I think of Mike Bickle and IHOP and the damage done there, as well as Beth Moore and the anti-intellectualism which she espouses. What sayeth ye?

  2. Thank you for sharing this marvelous bit of Wesleyan genius. We aren’t atomized “Christians”; we are, together, the Body of Christ. That is where we begin, and end, all our God-talk.

  3. There really is no individualism in organized religion is there?

    I organize small groups for prayer also and can say this is not only a great team building method it does speak well to the rest of the congregation to know that its leaders are all together in their belief system

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