Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I recently completed a historically accurate￼ introduction to John, Susanna and Charles Wesley in the format of a devotional. While working on it my friend Ed Stetzer asked me if Wesley ministered to the poor because he wanted to get a hearing for the good news, or because helping the poor was morally good.
I responded to Ed that the Wesleys ministry to the poor began many years before their conversions and before they began to emphasize the importance of conversion. From their lives of giving most of their money to the poor, ministering to prisoners and even paying out of their own pockets for the schooling of the prisoners children,￼ it can be observed that the Wesleys ministered to the poor because it was the morally right thing to do n
Read below this helpful article which explains why those who seek to follow Christ will help the poor, not out of a manipulating interest in their conversion but because it’s the right thing to do.
Yet that also means … sharing with everyone about eternity is also the morally right thing to do.￼￼￼￼
by York Moore, Christianity Today, 1/16/21. Evangelism is a moral good and a key expression of our faith…
Evangelism is the highest expression of moral goodness. That is not to say that there aren’t other moral goods. Remember a moral good stands on its own as ontologically good. We do not serve the homeless in order to proselytize. This practice is exactly what has desecrated Christian evangelism. No, we serve the homeless because it is an end in itself, a moral good that cannot be diminished by doing it by itself and for itself. Having said this, however, evangelism is simply the very highest expression of moral goodness because it deals with consummate or eschatological realities bearing upon the eternal soul of all. One can cloth the naked, feed the hungry, free the slave but eventually, these same people who are made in the image of God, without being converted will all suffer a much worse fate than cold, hunger, enslavement and the like-they will suffer eternal separation from God in a place of suffering. This is at least the conviction of Bible-believing Christians, so we evangelize, in part, because it is an expression of moral goodness based on the concern for the eternal state of people.
“…evangelism is simply the very highest expression of moral goodness because it deals with consummate or eschatological realities bearing upon the eternal soul of all.”
Unfortunately, even among Christians, eschatological categories like wrath, hell, damnation, and eternal separation from God are rarely talked about-even from our best platforms and pulpits. This reality does not negate their ontological standing-these categories are real and the real consequences behind door #3. Again, the great news is what’s behind these doors is not unknown to the host, God Himself. They are also not unknown to the Christian who is tasked with the moral good of proselytizing or evangelism.
We are tasked with this out of the love of God who wants to give all people all of the blessings behind all of the doors of life and also to save us from each and every pain, heartache, and ultimately, eternal hell and damnation. It is a moral good and requisite expression of faith to help those around us make the right and good decisions about God, life and the afterlife. As we help them, we are asking them to risk what they have in hopes of something even better, to make a deal, knowing what they will win in exchange is eternally better than what they now possess.
“What’s on pastors’ minds? It’s not religious liberty” by Emily McFarlan Miller, Religion News Service, 2/10/20.
…According to the (Barna “State of the Church 2020″) report, three-quarters (72%) of Protestant pastors identify the impact of “watered down gospel teachings” on Christianity in the U.S. as a major concern. That’s especially true for pastors in non-mainline denominations (78%). Mainline pastors (59%) are less concerned.
About two-thirds (66%) of pastors say a major concern for Christianity is “culture’s shift to a secular age,” followed by 63% who identified “poor discipleship models” as a major concern and 58% who named “addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity,” the survey says.
In their own churches, most pastors reported that the major concerns they face are “reaching a younger audience” (51%) and “declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism” (50%), according to the report.
What doesn’t worry pastors very much: religious liberty — the stuff of Supreme Court cases, executive orders, campaign promises and a recent task force and summit. Only 23% of Protestant pastors identify it as a major concern or issue facing the Christian church today in the U.S., and 32% said it was not a concern or issue at all, according to Barna Group data.
Other issues low on pastors’ list of major concerns include keeping up with technology and digital trends (7%), online churches and other challenges to the traditional church model (11%), “celebrity pastors pulling people away from the local church” (19%), the declining influence pastors have in their communities (20%) and the role of women in the church (23%).
by Mark Travers, Forbes Magazine, 10/10/19.
…Perhaps the best way to correct people’s misguided assumptions regarding racial economic inequality in America is to simply present them with the numbers. And, in this case, a picture might be worth more than a thousand words.
… For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the average white family in the United States has $100. In those terms, how much money do you think a comparable black family has?
…The answer is less than $10. Most Americans guess upwards of $80. This is the crux of a new article appearing in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Specifically, a team of psychologists led by Michael Kraus of Yale University examined the extent to which people underestimate the degree of racial economic inequality in the United States. Their results are alarming, to say the least.
Key findings from their research are summarized in the five charts below.
Figure 1. The chart above illustrates the extent to which Americans underestimate the racial wealth gap in the United States. (Data was collected using a nationally representative sample of 1,008 American adults.) Perceptions of black wealth when white wealth is set to $100 are shown by the diamonds within error bars. The actual ratio of black to white wealth is depicted by the diamonds toward the bottom of the chart. It is easy to see the arrant disconnect between perception and reality. It is also the case that most Americans think the racial wealth gap is decreasing over time when, in reality, it has remained relatively stable, and exceptionally unequal, for decades.
Figure 2. The graph above depicts perception (diamonds with error bars) and reality (diamonds) of the racial wealth divide for people of varying levels of education. In both cases, the wealth gap decreases as education level increases. Still, the degree of overestimation is enormous. For instance, most Americans assume that the wealth gap between white and black families with post-graduate educations is virtually negligible. The truth is that black families with post-graduate degrees are still only worth about 30 cents to every white families’ dollar.
Figure 4. The chart above includes perceptions of income inequality for Latinx and Asian racial groups, as well as for blacks. Comparing perceptions (diamonds with error bars) to reality (diamonds), most Americans underestimate wealth inequality for all groups, but the misperception is largest for the black and Latinx groups.
Figure 5. What might cause the gross underestimation of racial economic inequality in the United States? While there are undoubtedly many factors at play, the researchers suggest that personal beliefs regarding the nature of success may contribute to the misperception. The chart above shows that people who believe in a “just world” (i.e., that people generally get what they deserve in life) are more likely overestimate the degree of economic equality between blacks and whites.
by The Highbury Centre, Islington, London, 8/13/19.
By Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D, 5/23/19.
Al & Pam Goracke are pictured with Rebecca and me in front of their church yesterday. It is a Thursday afternoon and behind us you can see people lining up two hours early for the food pantry at the Hope Church.
Al and Pam lead a Wesleyan church in Blaine, Minnesota that is ministering to over 2000 hungry people each week with a congregation of only 400.
Ministering to the needs of the community is how many churches today are finding they can best reach out and begin sharing the good news with people in a increasingly skeptical environment. “When these people go to the hospital they consider me their pastor. They ask me to visit,” said Al Goracke. “They attend our Thursday food pantry, and though they may not attend our worship services, they consider us their church family. It’s our way of beginning a relationship with them.”
“A lot of churches don’t like to have a food pantry, because so many people coming through their building tears up the carpeting. So we ripped up the carpeting,” said Al.
“And here we are a church that runs almost 400 in attendance, but we’re meeting the needs of thousands of lives each week.”
“But people often ask me, ‘Where do you get the volunteers to run it?’ At first we asked our congregants to do it. And they did. But over the years the people in the community who have been served by this come to appreciate it so much, that many volunteer. And they come to consider our church family, their family.”
Al is one of my students and a friend. To learn more about how they are building bridges to people in need, check out their website at https://everybodyneedshope.org/
And, if your church would like to launch such a ministry, Al can explain how even a small church can begin a ministry that will touch thousands of lives every week.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., February 6 2019.
Recent forecasts predict these 10 cities’ urban communities will grow exponentially in the next 15 years. John Wesley witnessed similar exponential growth in urban England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. He sought to help the displaced people of these communities have a faith community of their own. And, he sensed that such church planting began with meeting physical needs without asking anything in return. Simply by providing medical clinics, financial assistance, recovery programs, etc. he sought to demonstrate the Good News. As a result, people of faith could share how faith in Christ motivates and strengthens one to be sacrificial and charitable.
Then take a look at this forecast of worldwide urban growth. Then ask, “What is God calling you and your ministry to do to meet their needs?”
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I have pointed out in the book “Cure for the Common Church” that Jesus often met people’s physical needs before he told them that he could solve their spiritual needs. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, confirmed this as the most effective approach.
Thus, churches today that are leading people to Christ do so by first meeting physical needs to demonstrate our compassion, care and good news of salvation.
Here is an important article that reminds us that most people do not see us in this, but they should! To understand the dilemma read this article. To you understand the “cure” read “Cure for the Common Church” chapters 1 and 2.
Fewer Americans Believe Churches Solve Social Problems
by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Facts & Trends, 7/28/16.
America may be facing problems, but a growing number of people say churches are of no help in solving them.
Four out of 10 (39 percent) say churches or other houses of worship offer “not much” or “nothing” toward solving society’s problems. That’s up from 23 percent in 2008, according to a new survey from Pew Research.
Six in 10 (58 percent) say churches and other houses of worship contribute “a great deal” or “some” to solving social problems. That’s down from 75 percent in 2008 and the lowest number since Pew began asking the question in 2001.
White evangelicals (70 percent) are most confident of the church’s positive role in society. Nones (38 percent) are far more skeptical.
But both groups have lost confidence in the role of churches in society.
In 2008, 86 percent of evangelicals and 56 percent of nones said houses of worship contribute “a great deal” or “some” to solving society’s problems. Both groups saw a decline of at least 15 percentage points in the latest poll.
The decline cut across religious and political lines.
Speaking hashtags: #Kingwood2018
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 3/22/16.
Have you ever wondered where you can find innovative and field-tested ideas for reaching out to your community? As a researcher who studies how to connect people to Christ, I have found that effective outreach ideas are challenging to discover. But, one of the best resources I’ve ever discovered is the annual conference of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).
The CCDA hosts an annual gathering of thousands of Christian leaders who are not only meeting physical needs in their communities, but also developing a community socially, economically and most importantly in Christian transformation.
If you want a conference that will give you dozens of ideas, help you apprise suitability by speaking personally with those engaged in such efforts and result in better connecting a ministry to its neighbors, then the CCDA annual conference is the experience you seek.
Find out more at … http://www.ccda.org
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Kevin Watson is a Wesley scholar and professor at Emory University that is indigenizing John Wesley’s method for emerging generations. I agree with him that people misapply Wesley’s phrase, ” The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness” (John Wesley, 1739, “Preface” to “Hymns and Sacred Poems″). People usually apply this in a limited sense, e.g. to encourage social action, customarily through deeds of advocacy for the poor and disenfranchised. Yet Wesley saw social holiness as much more, meaning “communal holiness,” or in other words holiness bred in conferencing and intimacy between believers. Hence, Wesley encouraged participation in small groups (i.e. class meetings) and even smaller huddles (called bands) to foster this holy intimacy. Social holiness meant helping the needy as part of the task, but not as the complete task, because social holiness meant holiness bred of community and accountability. Read Dr. Watson’s helpful article for more on this.
The Methodist Band Meeting: Confession Is For Protestants Too!
by Kevin Watson, 1/21/15.
When was the last time that you confessed any known sins you had committed to another person, or group of people? When I discuss the value of confessing sin, people often seem uncomfortable with a practice that seems too “Roman Catholic.” Did you know that confessing sin was a very important practice that was at the heart of the early Methodist revival? Did you know the band meeting was the most concrete way Wesley put his understanding of sanctification and entire sanctification into practice?
Early Methodists were known for their organization and multiple layers of meetings and groups. In England, early Methodists gathered together in annual conferences, quarterly conferences, society meetings, class meetings, band meetings, love feasts, prayer meetings, select societies (or select bands), and even penitent bands. Historians have often noted the importance of conferencing for early Methodism.
Methodists gathered together because they were convinced that growth in holiness was most likely to happen in community, by “watching over one another in love.” Early on in his ministry, Wesley believed community was so important to the pursuit of holiness that he criticized the isolated individual’s pursuit of holiness as similar to pursuing holiness through the practice of idolatry. He wrote:
Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness. (John Wesley, “Preface”; in “Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739″)
This is the one passage where Wesley uses the phrase “social holiness,” which has so often been misused in contemporary Methodism. The best example of what Wesley meant by social holiness was the early Methodist band meeting.
In discussing the early Methodist approach to small group formation, people often confuse the class meeting and the band meeting. The class meeting was required for everyone who was Methodist and it often included women and men in one group. There were typically seven to 12 Methodists in a class meeting (though they were sometimes much larger). The basic question of the class meeting was: “How does your soul prosper?”
The band meeting was optional, though highly encouraged, for all Methodists who had experienced justification by faith and the new birth. Bands had about five people in them and were divided by gender and marital status. There were several prerequisites for joining a band meeting. Once you joined a group, five questions were asked at every weekly meeting:
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How was you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret? (John Wesley, “Rules of the Band Societies”)
The band meeting was a place of deep vulnerability and intimacy. It was a place where Christians were completely honest with each other about the ways in which they knew they had fallen short of who God was calling and enabling them to be in Christ. When Methodists discussed the rules or organization of band meetings, they nearly always started by stating that they gathered together in bands in order to be faithful to James 5:16, which reads: “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
The purpose of band meetings was not to shame one another or heap guilt and condemnation on one another. On the contrary, in telling each other the truth about their lives, particularly where they had fallen short, Methodists brought each other to the bottomless wells of God’s amazing grace. They sought to drench one another in God’s healing grace so that they could experience freedom from all that kept them from complete freedom in Christ.
Might this be a practice that God is calling members of the Wesleyan/Methodist family to retrieve? Confession of sin is a means of grace in multiple ways. Confession is a concrete act of repentance. As a result, it is a gracious act that paves the way for a new experience of one’s forgiveness and restoration as a beloved child of God. Confessing sin also expresses a belief in and desire for ongoing growth in holiness. One purges what is not of God to be freed from it, and in order to be further filled with the life of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the past, revival and renewal within Methodist communities tended to be preceded by humble, forthright confession of sin. This practice is not common in many contemporary Wesleyan/Methodist communities. This fact may say more about the extent of our current desire to hide, to cover up, and to avoid deep intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ than it says about the ongoing relevance of such a practice today.
May the Triune God enable contemporary Wesleyan/Methodist churches to boldly reclaim this practice. And in so doing, may we find genuine repentance for any sin that lingers in our lives, a new experience of the Father’s audacious and neverending love for us through what has already been accomplished for us in Christ, and a freedom and desire by the Holy Spirit to entirely love God and neighbor, to the exclusion of sin.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/9/15.
In several other postings, I have explained how a simple SWOT analysis can help ministry leaders make better planning decisions.
And, the best tactics are those that build on an organization’s Strengths and Opportunities, called SO-strategies.
To show how the same SO (Strength Opportunity) strategy can have different tactics, I will share a dialogue between myself and two former students. This should help clarify how you get tactics (i.e. planning processes) from the SO quadrant (i.e. cell) of the TOWS matrix (which is a grid made from your SWOT analysis).
It began when a student noted that for his church an “Opportunity” was that there were many “working poor” in the church’s neighborhood. And he also noted the church had a “Strength” for teaching and education. So, the student suggested an SO (Strength/Opportunity) strategy in their TOWS matrix which built on the church’s strength and an opportunity would be: “Offer Financial Stewardship Classes with childcare and a meal provided.”
My question in response was the following:
Hello (student name). I wonder how other churches have addressed the working poor. I’ve heard some anecdotal feedback that financial stewardship classes don’t reach the working poor, but the middle-class. Thus, can you do a bit more online sleuthing (and other students can chime in and help you as well – they will then receive more points too) and tell us some more programming to help the working poor? Thanks in advance. Your research can make your church (and other students’ churches) more effective. Dr. Whitesel
Here is how another student in the cohort proficiently responded. I’m sharing it here to help everyone see how there can be different tactics (financial stewardship classes or long-term solidarity with the poor) for the same SO strategy: help the working poor.
Author: Jack (last name) Date: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:14:13 PM EST Subject: RE: SWOT & TOWS
Dr. Whitesel’s statement, “I wonder how other churches have addressed the working poor. I’ve heard some anecdotal feedback that financial stewardship classes don’t reach the working poor, but the middle-class planning poor,” is very true.
Here’s more anecdotal feedback for you Adam, but it’s based on eight years of experience working with low-income families through a local non-profit social service ministry and the United Way. The most critical thing to recognize is that programs for addressing financial stewardship with low-income families do not work unless they take into account cultural differences between generational low-income people and situational low-income people. This is where the distinction in Dr. Whitsel’s comment between the “working poor” and “middle-class planning poor” is so important. If we assume that the “working poor” have been low-income for generations and the “middle-class planning poor” are low-income only due to a job loss, demotion or other circumstance, then how you reach them is very different.
Ruby Payne, Ph.D. has done some tremendous work on the cultural differences between typical low, middle and high income families in her book “Bridges Out of Poverty.” In it she points out factors like how these groups different core values impact their stewardship of money. For example, middle-income people tend to value the Puritan work ethic, gaining more financial security than the previous generation, etc. Wealthier people, who have typically always had money, value things that transcend monetary value (like art, culture, etc.). Low-income people, who often feel like they’ll never have money, value relationships. Thus, when one of their own starts to achieve financial independence or pursue higher education they can hear statements like “you’re getting above your raising.”
Another key difference between middle income and low income values is the tendency for low income people to feel like they’ll never get ahead. Thus, when they get a financial windfall, they are apt to spend it on something fun instead of save it. Saving for the future is a middle income value, not a low income value. These values often stick with a person even if their income status changes later in life. For example, I have a friend who grew up with generationally low income parents. He’s been low income his whole life. A few years ago, he got a $6,000 bonus at work. He spent it all in one weekend on a trip to a Nascar race using the rationale that “I’ll never have another opportunity.” Years later, he is now middle income but still lives paycheck to paycheck and is often facing financial trouble because his attitudes about money prevail. On the other hand, I was poor growing up but my family was situationally poor. Dad grew up in a middle income family and money was tight because he was getting his business going. I learned from him the values of hard work and saving. So, even though I was poor growing up and when my wife and I were first married, by saving and being disciplined, we have managed to become financially secure. Dr. Payne’s work was based on American society, but I assume it would translate for Canadian society as well.
The main point is this, often well-meaning middle-class people can set out to help the “poor” by offering financial programs erroneously thinking that the “poor” just need more education and opportunity. While it’s true that education and opportunity are necessary bridges out of poverty, it’s wrong to think that if they are offered for free, the working poor will see the fantastic opportunity before them and pursue it. The “middle class planning poor” probably would, but the “working poor” probably would not. It takes long-term relationships with generational low-income people to help them out of poverty and an understanding of the values they hold dear. You can’t impose your values on them and just say “here’s the plan….work it and you’ll be successful.” I think Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University stuff is good. But, it’s designed for people with a middle-class mindset and value structure. The same principles are lost in translation with most generationally low-income people.
by Bob Whitesel PhD, The Great Commission Research Journal (La Mirada, Calif: Talbot Theological Seminary, Biola University) Vol. 5, No. 1, Summer 2013.
Download the entire article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Wesley Holistic Good News GCRV5-1-052.
The Good News can be understood as the message of the missio Dei to which varying methods can be attached. Churches, however, often specialize in a specific part or method of that mission, e.g., helping the needy, emphasizing conversion, or promoting discipleship. This article suggests the Good News has yielded significant historical impact when churches embrace a comprehensive or holistic understanding of the Good News that includes three methodological components: establishing legitimacy by meeting the needs of non-believers, effectively facilitating conversion, and spiritual formation in small communal groups. Missional and effective evangelism nomenclature will be discussed in relation to this holism. Finally, examples of simultaneous methodology will be drawn from the experiences of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as well as from experiences of the author while studying Wesley‘s original letters and traveling the settings of John Wesley.
I recently visited in John Wesley’s haunts, from the high moors of Derbyshire, to the alleys of industrial Sheffield, to the cosmopolitan bustle of City Road in London. Amid these journeys I sought to better understand Wesley’s writings (to which I was kindly provided access to the originals in various locales) and the development of his holism regarding evangelism. Though for months I had been studying the massive reams of his journals, letters and books, I found his comprehensive view of the Good News because clearer as I trekked into his world.
Wesley lived in a world that was surprisingly not too different from the one we live in today. It was rampant with unethical new technologies that cheapened people, their self-esteem and their moral values. Compounding the problem, the Church of England had denigrated into parish fiefdoms where pastors amassed private fortunes, catered to society’s elite and harangued one another over private theological perspectives. Worship services had became uninspiring and lethargic.
This pattern was sometimes broken at regional-wide churches which adopted a performance-orientated tactic. In these regional churches only the best musicians and preachers were invited. Yet, still the masses were not attracted, for they had been driven to the cities by the promises of an Industrial Revolution where factories provided stability over agriculture. Here in the cities the masses struggled to recover a communal life they left behind. And churches who practiced excellence or preached politics did not offer them the communion with God or one another they sought. Into this unexciting, stratified and irrelevant church Wesley had felt called to be a pastor … but to pastor differently.
John Wesley & Social Advancement
The term methodist was used in a derisive manner to slander Wesley and his student friends at Christ Church College in Oxford. They had gained a notoriety for attempting to live lives more purposeful and godly. They drafted for themselves rules to help them grow in their Christian spirituality and service:
One of Wesley’s friends had suggested that the group go to Oxford’s most outcast inhabitants, those who were housed in the nearby Oxford prison. This had an amazing effect upon the Holy Club. Eventually Wesley and his friends would even ride with prisoners in the carts on their way to execution, consoling and comforting them.
From his years at prestigious Christ Church College forward, Wesley would view meeting the needs of society’s most estranged, be they believer or non-believer, as a fundamental element of the Good News. Though fellow Oxford students would derogatorily call them “The Holy Club,” their methods of holding each other accountable, receiving the Sacraments and helping the needy only required one more element for their movement to become whole. And that was for these young men, who grew up in Christian homes, to experience an inner transformation.
John Wesley & Conversion
As a fledgling pastor Wesley would not ignore the poor. After all, he had been involved in social advancement ministry since his days at Oxford. But still, he did not feel he had not experienced holistically God’s Good News. True assurance that he would be saved from damnation eluded him. The following recounts how I gained a better understanding of how Wesley’s holistic view of the Good News developed.
Wesley’s Conversion: From Savannah to Aldersgate
John Wesley, perhaps like some of the readers of this article, always knew he was going to be a pastor. In preparation, he had attended the best pastoral-training school in the British Empire and was now in 1735 was sailing to the New World. An impressive intellectual and well respected despite his Holy Club activities, Wesley had received a prestigious appointment to be the first pastor of the Church of England congregation in Savannah, Georgia.
On his voyage to Savannah a fierce storm threatened to sink the ship. Even hardened sailors were said to be in fear of eminent death. John Wesley was no different and by his own admission cowered in the ship amid many of the people he would soon be expected to pastor in Savannah. Cowering in fear of his life, he felt himself a poor example of the eternal certainly that he must soon preach to the congregants who traveled in the ship with him.
But on the ship were a group of Christians that demonstrated a remarkably different reaction to almost certain death. Known as “Moravians” they were Christian reformers from Germany who has emphasized quietude, mediation and prayer as a means to spiritual growth. In the midst of the tempest and impending death, Wesley and others were amazed at their calm and confident trust in God’s protection. Their resolve convicted Wesley that something in his life was missing: a lack of trust and assurance in God.
The ship weathered the storm, but a series of miscalculations in his first pastorate together with his spiritual uncertainty sent Wesley back to England with the thought that “I who went to American to convert others, was never myself converted to God?”
St. Paul’s and a Small Group Meeting on Aldersgate Street
Back in London, Wesley frequented the meetings of the Moravians and similar like-minded Christians who met in small groups for quietude, prayer, meditation and accountability. Wesley also kept up his attendance at Church of England worship services since he never wanted to leave the Church of England. Wesley always believed that the Church of England was God’s instrument and he never advocated leaving it, nor did he want to. Many years later when “preaching services” of the Methodists sprouted up all over England, Wesley asked that they never meet at the same time as Church of England services. Wesley did not want the Methodists to become a rival denomination with rival meetings. Instead Wesley always believed the Methodist Societies should be a renewal movement within the Church of England. If anyone was dedicated to turning around a church, even a denomination, it was Wesley.
One evening he attended Evensong at the mother church of the Church of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Only 27 years earlier this stately church facility had been completed from a design by the famed architect Christopher Wren. St. Paul’s had been Wren’s architectural tour de force, and in Wesley’s day as today, it was a hub of tourist curiosity.
I too attended Evensong at St. Paul’s at the same approximate time of year to take in for myself what Wesley saw and heard. Just days before I had been in the John Ryland’s Library at the University of Manchester, holding in my hands and studying Wesley’s letters about this and other experiences. I had read what he said in hindsight, but now I wanted to experience the intangibles. Though times have changed in many ways, they have not changed in other ways. The Church of England is in much the same crisis of faith and irrelevance that concerned Wesley. And though St. Paul’s Evensong on the night of my attendance was attractive, it was hollow.
The service began with a steward waving an incense censer as he lead the procession of priests and singers. Over the years ecclesiologists had reinterpreted these incense censers as symbolic of the soothing fragrance of the Holy Spirit’s presence. But in Wesley’s time, people knew the real purpose for incense censers. As a member of the aristocracy Wesley would have been particularly familiar with incense censers as standard fixtures in rooms where noblemen held counsel. Over centuries, this practice had slowly made it way into the church. On my trip I had toured the country homes of English noblemen and palaces of the their royalty, only to find in most large incense censers meant to protect the aristocracy from the putrid odors of the masses. Large metal burners, stationed in these homes directly between the aristocracy and the commoner conveyed an sense of elitism and separation. And this practice in the church, regardless of a theological attempt to reinterpret their function, would have conveyed at least a subconscious impression of exclusivity to Wesley’s generation.
Yet most notable in St. Paul’s was the massively artistic ornamentation and presentation. Here was everything the Church of England could muster in excellence and quality. Then as today only the best musicians, singers and pastors were invited to participate at St. Paul’s. Tonight was no different. The organ voluntary was magnificent, the surroundings heavenly with all the other-worldly flair that famed architect Wren could muster. The preaching was engaging and politically nuanced.
To Wesley this would have been the Church of England at its attractive best. Wesley had had been familiar with such attractional methods since his college days. Christ Church College had been the de facto college for the religious elite of the British Empire. Daily he ate dinner in its stately dining room, amid grandly set tables under imposing larger-than-life portraits of English statesmen and religious leaders.
At St. Paul’s this was reflected in a way that many churches tried to copy: an impressive atmosphere of religious excellence that would inspire the religious indifferent to exchange their old way of life for a journey into Christian maturity. But, the churches in the 1738 were largely empty, even amid a quest for attractive experiences that would lure the masses back to church.
As in Wesley’s time the majority of the attendees when I visited St. Paul’s where tourists. One small row was set aside for the “St. Paul’s Community” of which only a few seats were taken. The sensation was of grandeur, artistry and emptiness. And, this tactic was not wooing them in then, nor in my experience was it today. The large sanctuary, sized more for coronations and state funerals, produced only a hollow resonance. Thin echoes led to a feeling of beauty inexperienced. It was not too dissimilar to a mausoleum, where beauty seems wasted upon so few.
But when I left Evensong, I stepped out the front doors into one of the most bustling intersections of London. Here Fleet Street, the venerable headquarters of the British press climbs Lundgate Hill toward London Wall Road. This is the ancient center of the City of London. In 1738 this was also the center of English business life where the work of business did not subside at 5 pm. And the broad and central steps of St. Paul’s’ provided a fitting place to gather. Add to this the tourists from across the empire that visited this center of the ecclesial smugness, and the dissimilarity between what was going on inside of St. Paul’s and with out could not be ignored. In Wesley’s time the streets would have been teaming with humanity in all of its liveliness and energy. And, it was again today.
I had always envisioned Wesley leaving Evensong after twilight in a pensive manner. I had envisioned him as making his way down the dark Aldersgate street adjacent to St. Paul’s to the small group of Moravians where his heart was “strangely warmed” and where Wesley’s assurance became solidified. Yet here as in Wesley’s day, the daylight would still have rule. But, there were at least two more hours before dusk. And the masses, since Wesley’s day, have used the broad and stately steps of St. Paul’s as central London’s main gathering place.
Today the steps and streets were no different. What startled me was the drastic difference between the stately, yet lonely beauty of Wren’s magnum opus and energy of the teaming streets outside. It struck me, how St. Paul’s leaders so desperately wanted the masses to enter and experience God, but the masses seemed content to enjoy one another’s camaraderie on its steps. No amount of excellence in design or execution seemed to meet the needs the masses wanted. They wanted community, they wanted fellowship and the church had created edifices staffed by curators.
Before long, Wesley was headed down the adjacent Aldersgate Street to a meeting of the introspective Moravians. How much different that small group must have been from his experience only hours earlier at St. Paul’s. To compare the two must have been revelatory for Wesley as it was for me. People needed what the church had to offer. But despite its best attempts to recreate the beauty of heavenly realms and attract the throngs, the church paled in comparison to the spiritual assurance that came from a small group on Aldersgate Street that encouraged one another in faith development.
John Wesley & Spiritual Development
Wesley had always been impressed with how the Moravians organized their meetings to allow time for quite reflection (sometimes called quietude), spiritual assessment and communal accountability. Here in the midst of Scripture, friends and reflection came to Wesley something all the stately grandeur of St. Paul’s could not amass. Wesley stated that he felt “my heart strangely warmed” and forever recounted this night as a night that changed the course of his life.
What came out of that night was a John Wesley who had a new self-assurance that God could help him surmount the foibles that had dogged him most of his life. The smaller community of accountability and reflection gave Wesley something he had benefitted from many years earlier in Oxford. Here was a group that knew him, that knew his struggles and who helped him overcome his questions of faith. And, they gave him time to reflect and then commune with the heavenly Father who sought to reestablish a relationship with John.
In both Oxford and London were elements that helped Wesley see how he was to participate in God’s mission. In the sacraments administered in the stately halls of St. Paul’s were the mysterious workings of God’s Holy Spirit in His church. And in the company of fellow spiritual travelers were the accountability, support and divine communication he needed to embark on a journey to serve others.
A Holistic Method Emerges
Probably because Wesley’s conversion had been built upon many years of serving the needy, and then had been facilitated by the fellowship of a small cadre of friends, Wesley never seems to focus on one part of the Good News over the whole. Wesley had a passionate dedication to holism in his so-called method, that included social advancement, conversion and intentional spiritual maturity. Wesley would allow no one element to overshadow the others. They had been closely connected to one another in Wesley’s spiritual journey, and spent much of his life convincing others that they must be theologically and practically connected in the method that was emerging.
Wesley’s methods were so distinctively precise that over time the equally disparaging Methodist would replace the deriding term “The Holy Club.” Wesley never liked either, especially the term methodist, because he didn’t think that varying methods should eclipse a holistic mission. Though the mission was comprehensive it included varying methods that helped complete that mission. But any one or two methods, no matter how publicly criticized or glorified were incomplete without an understanding of the holism that Wesley experienced.
To read more, download the entire article by clicking on this link (courtesy of The Great Commission Research Journal): ARTICLE ©Whitesel Wesley Holistic Good News GCRV5-1-052
Speaking hashtags: #BetterTogether #TheologicalResearchSeminar
By Scott Clement, The Washington Post, 5/20/15
Inequality has become the hot issue in politics, and the latest squabble has scrutinized the efforts of religious groups – or lack thereof – to raise Americans’ focus on the issue.
In a Washington Post interview last week, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam claimed organized religion’s public agenda has “been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.” Putnam’s comments were blasted by several commentators, including the New York Times’s Ross Douthat, who noted religious groups spend far more on charity, schools and hospitals than pro-life causes or to oppose same-sex marriage.
Putnam’s research has been important in proving that religious individuals give more to charity , but Douthat further argued the atmosphere at church services and in statements of leaders is not obsessed with homosexuality and abortion. Beyond anecdotal claims, how much do churchgoers hear about poverty at worship services compared with hot-button social issues?
Fortunately, the answer is easily at hand, and Douthat’s observation is accurate. Just before the 2012 presidential election, a Pew Research Center surveyasked regular worship attendees what issues they have heard their clergy talk about recently. Roughly 3 in 4 said their clergy spoke about hunger and poverty (74 percent), while fewer than 4 in 10 heard about abortion (37 percent) or homosexuality (33 percent).
A breakdown of the data by religious groups shows that poverty dominates discussion even at churches with strong stances on abortion and homosexuality. Abortion comes close to rivaling poverty among Catholics: 62 percent of Catholics reported hearing about abortion in the weeks before the presidential election, though a still larger 82 percent said they heard about poverty. Among white evangelical Protestants who largely oppose same-sex marriage, far more said clergy spoke about hunger and poverty than homosexuality.
One caveat on these data is warranted. Talking about “hunger and poverty” is not identical to taking action on rising income inequality and the impact it has on the poor, which is the focus of Putnam’s recent book, “Our Kids.”
Much the same, religious groups may emphasize somewhat different themes in weekly services (such as raising charitable contributions) than when attempting to impact policy or influence voters. While Catholics attending Mass ahead of the 2012 election reported hearing more about poverty than abortion, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” bulletin places heavy emphasis on the former. The publication mentions the importance of a living wage, but also explains that abortion is an evil that “may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support.”
Religious groups are clearly active in discussing poverty at services, providing for the poor and taking stances on social justice. It’s an open question how much religious groups will weigh in and prioritize income inequality heading into the 2016 presidential cycle.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Recently Outreach Magazine asked me and four colleagues who study evangelism and culture about how a church can raise it’s visibility in a community. I joined Tony Morgan, Len Sweet, Tom Bandy and Will Mancini in explaining how a church becomes “visible” in a community when it serves the needs in the community. (Consider subscribing to Outreach Magazine, one of the best sources for helping a church reach out). Click here to read the article: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Beyond Branding OUTREACH Mag
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Recently corporations have been decreasing their charitable giving, after many years of increasing it. Will the church follow suit? I hope not. But we must recognize that social responsibility may be a fad, and the church must not be driven by fads. Read this important article from the Harvard Business Review on the topic.”
“Along with the mission went practical charity work to deal with poverty and homelessness. As Booth said: ‘The people must be fed, that their life’s work must be done or left undone forever.’ The Army organised shelters to get the homeless, the sick and prostitutes off the streets and ran its own emigration bureau. When Catherine died of cancer in 1890 the Army had almost 100,000 soldiers in Britain. Today it has 1.5 million in 125 countries.’
“William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, knew that you must improve people’s lives before they would listen to the Good News and be involved in sharing it. He famously intoned: ‘The people must be fed, that their life’s work must be done or left undone forever’.”
Read a short but insightful history of the Salvation Army by Richard Cavendish at … http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/funeral-general-william-booth
John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley – Sermon 98, “On Visiting the Sick.” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-98-on-visiting-the-sick/
Speaking hashtags: #BetterTogether
John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley – Sermon 98, “On Visiting the Sick.” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-98-on-visiting-the-sick/