WESLEY & 4 Reasons Why the Poor Mattered to Early Methodism

by Andrew Dragos, 7/20/14

“It is well known that early Methodism was especially concerned for the poor of society. The Methodist revival included field preaching to coalminers and the establishment of schools, employment opportunities, and special banks for the poor. Methodists felt compelled to reach out on a grande scale in ways unique to their movement. There are many reasons why Wesleyan spirituality was oriented toward the under-classes of society. The following are just 4 of those reasons.

1. Sin is the great equalizer—both the wealthy and the poor are affected….

2. A holistic view of the person empowers holistic ministry…John Wesley claimed that Christianity is “essentially a social religion, and . . . to turn it into a solitary religion indeed is to destroy it.” While this was primarily a reference to Wesley’s arrangement of Methodists into class meetings, it also points to the inherent relationality in his understanding of Christianity…. For Wesley this meant that all good works—works of piety as well as works of mercy—are “in some sense necessary to sanctification.” In at least five different places in “The Character of the Methodist” he equates love of neighbor and care for the poor with qualities of being a Methodist… He regularly advised affluent people to visit the poor in order to “improve life” and “use their health.”

3. Earthly riches are dangerous.

…Though not to be equated with inherent sin, Wesley echoed Jesus words in saying, “What a hindrance are riches to the very first fruit of faith, namely, the love of God!”…Thus one of the purposes of the Methodist societies was to proclaim, “All my riches are above! All my treasure is thy love.”

4. Caring for felt needs opens the door to caring for spiritual needs.

…John Wesley suggested that providing for the physical needs of the poor opens doors for spiritual ministry as well. In advising ministers on how to visit the poor, he suggested that the minister inquire of their physical needs which paves the way for things of ‘greater importance.

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