by Bob Whitesel, 9/15/15.
This morning I had an engaging conversation with my colleague and a Wesley scholar Howard Snyder. Howard presently serves as the director of the Manchester Wesley Research Centre. I shared with him the reaction I often receive from several Baptist seminaries at which I have been invited to speak on Wesley’s leadership. It seems while my Baptist colleagues readily embrace Wesley’s methodology of need-meeting, conversion and small group discipleship, they often reject further influence because he “cast lots.” This was brought home to me by a national Baptist leader (a friend whose name I will omit) who said, “Why did Wesley cast lots to make a decision?”
I responded that this occurred early in Wesley’s ministry and during an ill-advised church planting in Savanah, Georgia.
Howard Snyder gave me more insight. Howard noted that yes, this was during Wesley’s early ministry. But, this penchant to cast lots to make a decision had two rationales.
First Wesley felt that God was actively involved in humankind’s daily lives, responding to prayer and subtly giving direction. Casting lots was a testimony to Wesley’s deep conviction that God cares and wants to in a robust communication with His offspring.
Wesley had been influenced by the quitetude and deep spirituality of the German pietistic (and fellow church revitalizers) Moravians. He had witnessed their peace and assurances mid the pandemonium when the ship they sailed to the new world almost sank. Subsequently in Savannah and when he returned to England, Wesley attended their prayer and study meetings. It was at one of these meetings held on Aldersgate Street in the house of John Bray, that John Wesley had experienced a spiritual breakthrough, which changed his life. Soon thereafter he had traveled to the Moravian retreat village of Herrnhut on the continent. There, Howard reminded me, was where Wesley was exposed to the practice of casting lots among these spiritually sensitive pietists.
Howard made me realize that such casting of lots was the outgrowth, albeit in a phenomena way, of a spiritually sensitive life
Suddenly this conversation with Howard Snyder reminded me that this was an uncommon, but understandable action that emerges out of a person deeply convinced that God loves His creation and longs to guide them and communicate with them
Secondly, Howard went on to say that in later years Wesley softened such actions such as casting lots, though he retained his deep spiritual sensitivity. Wesley was able to see that God’s way was somewhere in between extremes. It was not uncritical supernatural direction, but neither was it onot humanistic determination. Rather saw, as we must see again today, that it is about living, working and ministering in a world that God cares about deeply … and wants to guide.