Methodism as a global movement is the last in the series, “An Exploration of Methodism and Its Untimely Relevancy.”
In this series, and so far, I’ve talked about:
Click below to get a summary of what we’ve learned from Wesley’s Methodism and also what we’ll learn in this article.
Just in case you did not know, Methodists are all over the world today. Starting with a group of students, the Methodist movement would reach almost every corner of the world by early twenty-first century.
Today, we talk about over 12 million United Methodists and over 80 million people who have come from Wesley’s Methodism.
What helped the early Methodists gain a global identity?
There could be many possible answers to the above question. But, for the sake of our reflection, I am going to talk about three.
First, remember the hallmarks of early Methodism
Those hallmarks made them grow so fast in numbers:
- Methodists grew in faith.
- Methodists increased and abounded in love.
- Methodists turned everything into something good for their movement.
- Methodists lived with the end in mind. I talked more about these marks of Methodism in Methodism as a Christian movement.
Those characteristics about the Methodists made this a movement not only for those generations. However, we continue to talk about Methodism until now.I know it will continue for the generations to come.
The reason is that it’s an expression to help us live out what it means to be a child of God.
Second, John Wesley organized the movement to help the Methodists do all of the above.
He organized the Methodists into societies, bands, and classes with the goal that can translate today into:
- faithful discipleship, and
- mutual accountability.
John Wesley, after experiencing a similar situation like in Acts 2, was never welcome back in any of the parishes in the Church of England.
What made Methodism grow to become a global Christian movement?
The Methodists had a clear vision of who they were. The ticket to join a Methodist society was the desire “to flee from the wrath to come” and the choice to work on their salvation.
They had a new way of life: holiness, love and good works. Later on, John Wesley would talk about the general rules, which Bishop Job talks about in his book, “Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living.”
- Do no harm.
- Do good.
- Stay in love with God.
The Methodists had an active Christian fellowship among themselves. John Wesley, to help the Methodists move toward perfection, organized the movement into three groups.
- Methodist Society. Society is the gathering, which takes place once a week. Anyone can come, even those who are not yet Methodists. Today, it would make the position of the local Church.The other two groups started to help those who had lost their initial enthusiasm or zeal for righteousness.
- Methodist Band. A band is a gender or age-based gathering of Methodists. Women met with other women. Men with other men, and so forth.
- Methodist Class. A class is a small group of between 10 and 12 people. It initially started as a way of collecting money to pay off a debt for the building the first Methodist society was using. The decision was to group Methodists into classes, a model that had already existed before. Each class would have a leader who collects some money from every class member. Later, it was observed that some Methodists needed more help on their spiritual journey.Wesley would then establish a way to help with that.
Classes allowed Wesley to have spiritual oversight in the entire movement. A class leader, serving as pastor over his class members, met with the steward and the traveling preacher. Methodism was not just about the numbers, but people.
The preacher, when in town, would visit each class member in their house. The idea of having every Methodist in a class would also come to America when early Methodists began moving to the American colonies.
With the American revolution, the Church of England is banned from the United States of America. What that means is there were not enough ordained people to help with the sacraments. Wesley would request the Church of England to ordain Methodists to serve in the United States.
But, the Church did not approve of his request.He would then decided to ordain, even though Wesley had no power to do so, a few. Wesley sends Thomas Coke to the U.S. to consecrate Francis Asbury to oversee the newly established Methodist Episcopal Church. The Methodists established the Methodist Church on December 25, 1784.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was the smallest of the denominations in 1800. However, it becomes the largest by 1900.In the process, the Methodist Episcopal Church would go through schisms while experiencing growth until the 20th century.
Much decline begins happening soon after the Methodist Church joins with the United Brethren Church to become the United Methodist Church in 1968.
But, how do we reclaim our global identity as Methodists?
John Wesley used to say: “the world is my parish.” He embraced this attitude when none of the Churches in England would allow him to serve. He went out to the people in the fields, outside the Church’s building walls.
Three things that can help us maintain a global identity, which we can learn from Wesley and the Methodists.
FIRST, have the assurance of your salvation. The experience of salvation is a universal thing. It connects you with the rest of the body of Christ around the world.
SECOND, have your heart entirely fixed on God. The choice to let God be everything in life makes you an active member of the universal Church. Wherever you may be, you’ll be able to serve.
- Personal choice to move toward perfection.
- Have a time of the day to pray.
- Have time to study God’s word on your own.
- Have time to serve somebody: Church, family, Workplace, School, everywhere you areJoin a group.
THIRD, be a shouting Methodist. People made jokes of early American Methodists and referred to them as “shouting Methodists.” That pointed out that Methodists did not keep their faith to themselves. They shared it with everyone they encountered.
What does all that mean to us today?
Using Acts 2, it’s about three things:
- Let’s be One Community in One Place. Community is the place where we should all be.
- A Community grounded in the work of God’s Spirit is that, which impacts people’slives.
- Don’t keep it all to yourself.
Methodism is just one expression of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Wesley, with no intention of either starting a Church or even starting the Methodist movement, came up with a way to help us work on our salvation. His genius helps the early Methodists organize themselves in a way that they would best watch over each other’s souls. The result of doing so made this movement global. A translation of all what Wesley into our context could help our Churches thrive as a result of faithful discipleship and mutual accountability.