Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Wesley Still Matters (one of many parts)

These two photos of Wesley are of the statue that stands outside St Paul's Cathedral.  It is iconic.  It is life sized, all 4' 6" of him AND it is outside the cathedral.

Wesley was an inside-outsider his entire ministry.  When the institutional church was slow to respond to massive population shifts due to industrialization, resulting in masses of urban poor Wesley took the gospel to them anyway.  He did not seek to replace the institutional church but rather augment it through preaching chapels and religious societies designed to shepherd the trajectory of conversion.  It is best to think of Wesley as a Protestant friar, committed to holiness, the poor and the preaching life - a sort of Anglican Dominican.  

Wesley's life long obsession was not evangelism as commonly thought. It was holiness!  He longed to "spread scriptural holiness across the land."  Evangelism was a means to that larger end.  And this is the key to understanding Wesley: he wanted holiness for himself and others and he devised means that would effect that desire.  Before people were sanctified they necessarily needed to be justified.  Thus, he started with evangelism.  The class meeting structure was the means for accomplising the goal of justification.  Sanctification was more challenging, so his system was more complex involving select societies, bands and the like.  They were a combination of the confessional and a twelves steps support group.  An audacious aspiration motivated this pastoral care system: he sought to democratize sainthood.  Holiness was not just for the clergy and cloistered. It was also for the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.

The secret of Wesley's fruitfulness (which is not  the same as success), was captured by the historian Herbert Butterfield, who said Wesley "saw all of his duck as swans."  Wesley's vision of what England's displaced poor could become in Christ, started a revival and changed a nation.

The sight of his statue today evoked this memory and brief thanksgiving for the life and witness of Mr. Wesley.  

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