Unit 7.3 John Wesley was a complex man living in complex times.



John Wesley was a complex man living in complex times. The Industrial Revolution brought a vast migration of people from rural to urban areas. The Methodist Societies became a spiritual village within the city for many dislocated people.[1] Wesley blended methods from Anglican religious societies and Moravian sources to create an evolving discipleship system that came to embrace laity in ministry first as small group leaders and then as lay preachers.[2] Wesley=s discipleship system trained people in holiness and spiritual maturity where they lived. Salvation was a process first of prevenient grace, then justifying grace and finally sanctifying grace. Methodists remained fully engaged with people at each successive stage of grace and helped one another to move onward toward perfection.[3]

A discipleship system is a teleological process of grace that moves disciples through defined, clear stages of growth. One can trace the pilgrim=s progress through these stages. Discipleship systems are relational and usually have a separate group for each stage. These stages are a Acommunity defined by a rule@ and took shape after 1743.[4] This barrier does not exclude people from grace or the sacraments as they still are a part of the worship system of the local parish church. Participation in the Methodist discipleship system was always voluntary in England, and as a voluntary movement they were able to set and keep high standards. Early Methodism was hard to enter and easy to exit.

True holiness is obedience to Christ; as the Great Commission requires, the purpose of the discipleship system is to teach behavioral obedience to all that Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:20). The definition of holiness in Methodism, however, extended far beyond the commands of Christ and into a definition of ethical and unethical behavior that was logically and culturally determined as holiness for Wesley=s day. These ethics have changed over the centuries and have been the cause of no little conflict in the history of the church through the 19th century American Holiness movement and through today. They are generally ignored in discussions of the General Rules for today and left up to individual interpretation of what it means to Ado no harm@ or to Ado all the good you can.@[5]

What would be the general distribution of members among the various levels for a society? A United Society of 100 members would have 50% of it=s members in classes (perhaps 4 classes of 12), 25% of its members in bands (3-6 bands) and 25% in the select band.

[1]According to sociologist Rodney Stark, dislocation from a stable social structure is a prime indicator of imminent conversion; the new religious community replaces the former social community. A question for historical investigation would be whether there are significant differences between Wesley=s practice of Methodism in urban and rural areas. It is possible that I term APrairie DNA@ began in rural England where the stimulus of a smaller rural population brought forth these patterns. If so, then Asbury would only be practicing the form of Methodism with which he was familiar.

[2]Steven W. Manskar, Small Groups and Accountability: The Wesleyan Way of Christian Formation, http://www.gbod.org/smallgroup/Manskar_Accountability.pdf (accessed June 18, 2007). Cf. David Hunsicker, AJohn Wesley: Father of Today=s Small Group Concept?@ Wesleyan Theological Journal 31, no. 1 (Spring 1996), under http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/31‑35/31‑1‑09.htm (accessed May 1, 2007).

[3]Hunter identifies four stages in Wesley=s process compared to nine for Willow Creek. George G. Hunter, III, Church for the Unchurched (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 154-156.

[4]I am indebted to Tom Albin=s research as the primary source for factual content of this entire paper; any misunderstandings, however, are entirely my errors. Sources other than Albin are footnoted.

[5]Others would argue the social principles and resolutions of general conference provide this definition. Others would argue the almost universal ignorance of the social principles and general conference resolutions as proof to the contrary. Wesley did not allow people to individually define the meaning of holiness; modern cultural diversity prevents one culture=s definition of holiness being able to dominate a pluralistic church.

NOTE (my response)



The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

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