An item on the Be Alert
e-mail newsletter (for September 15 2005) from Moriel Ministries
attracted my attention and I wrote a comment. The item was a reference to something in a Roman Catholic newsletter claiming that Catholics and Methodists had a lot in common. In fact, they have very little in common - or at least did not have much in common in the early days of Methodism.
For other comment on the differences between Catholicism and Bible-based Christianity, see articles on the website of The Berean Call
, for example, the October 2002 Newsletter
My response : -
Dear Scott and friends at Moriel.
I am the son of a (retired) British Methodist Minister, and have studied Methodist origins and history. While far from being an expert, I have in my collection as much material as I can get hold of published in the 18th and 19th centuries. (www.rewlach.org.uk/books)
There are obvious inaccuracies such as "John Asberry" instead of Frances Asbury. But what I want to say is this. The overall description of Methodism given in the SJBRCC article linked in Be Alert bears no resemblance to the Methodism I have studied from early documents.
Yes, there is a semblance of truth in the SJBRCC article. John Wesley was, as he himself put it, "a bigotted High-Churchman." This included a reverence for the Church of England, including its liturgies, which has left a valuable legacy in Methodist worship and practice. And John Wesley remained an ordained Anglican clergyman all his life. But the similarities soon end.
Early Methodism was certainly NOT a movement "for greater reverence and devotion to the liturgy." It was a movement for preaching the pure gospel of salvation by faith. It was a movement for the revival of Biblical Christianity in England, and flowed out of an experience of new birth as the Bible defines it. John Wesley was far from being either the first, nor the only, Methodist preacher. For example, Hywell Harris began to evangelise Wales four years before John Wesley's heart was "strangely warmed" in that famous prayer meeting at Aldersgate Street. There were (and still are) various branches of Methodism founded independently from Wesley's, larger, Methodist movement, as well as those which split from Wesleyan Methodism.
John Wesley's was not a "mystical experience" as SJBRCC readers might understand it. That is, it was no "New Age" kind of thing. It was the response to the Gospel of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, of a man who was seeking as a result of being shown that he was a sinner who needed to be saved. In the book "Anatomy of a Conversion" (sadly out of print), Rev. Dr. Philip Watson records how Peter Bohler (a Moravian missionary) lead both John and Charles Wesley to the understanding that they were sinners. It was a battle. Until 1738, the Wesley brothers believed that their good life and piety was enough. Little by little, Peter Bohler was used by God to show them that they too were sinners. John Wesley's sermon, "The Almost Christian", includes some autobiographical comments on how easy it is to be deceived into thinking that your good life makes you a Christian.
At Aldersgate Street, while someone was reading from Martin Luther's Preface to Romans, John Wesley's heart was strangely warmed, and he, "felt that I did trust in Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation." No trust in the Eucharist. No trust in any other works. Only trust in the finished work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
John Wesley's Methodism certainly did not have an emphasis on "piety and morality" as a Roman Catholic would see it. The life-style emphasis of early Methodism was personal holiness - of heart and practical life - which is the outworking of our salvation, and never the means of being saved. Methodism had taken its name from a term of derision for the discipline of the "Holy Club" at Oxford University. Now that discipline which had been shown in trying to earn God's favour gave a name for the preachers who declared that God's favour can never be earned.
Wesley's early "Class Meetings" started as a mid-week meeting for Methodists to deepen their relationship with the Lord, and then to worship on Sunday in their own Churches - Anglican, Baptist, etc., taking the revival with them. A few "Preaching Houses" were built, but in the main early (Wesleyan) Methodism was a "house-church" movement. By the end of the 18th century, the vast majority of Methodists were new converts, mostly from the poor, who had little or no links with the Anglican Church. Coupled with a hostility from many Anglican clergy towards Methodism, this created a pressure within Methodism to build chapels for Sunday worship and not just as preaching houses.
The century after John Wesley's death saw branches split off from his original Methodism subsequently known as "Wesleyan". The Primitive Methodists were one of the largest, flowing from the conversion of Hugh Bourne in 1799 and his concern to evangelise. The first Camp Meeting, Sunday 31 May 1807, at Mow Cop on the Staffordshire / Cheshire border, was a significant event. Basically an all-day prayer meeting, with Bible-based preaching, the local Methodist Circuit opposed it as not "respectable". By 1811, Hugh Bourne and a number of his friends had been put out of Methodism. They began a new Methodist connexion, and took the name "Primitive" from John Wesley's reference to the "Primitive" religion of the book of Acts. Primitive Methodism saw vibrant seasons of revival, with Bible-based preaching, deep conviction of sin, and true conversion.
Wesleyan Methodism also saw true Biblical faith. For example, a young man in North Satffordshire, Sampson Warrington heard the Methodist preachers in his home vilage. He laboured under conviction of sin for about 6 months, because he did not want to profess conversion until he knew that it was real. Then his life was changed. One issue was over his father, the village butcher, opening the shop on a Sunday. After his father's death, Sampson never opened the shop on a Sunday, but saw the business prosper so that he paid off his late father's debts. He was also a leading Methodist, and his influence brought my great-grandmother's family to know the Lord.
The practical "catechism" of Methodism was the hymn book. Illiterate, poor Christians could sing their doctrines. To the believer, the old Wesley hymns (mainly by Charles, a few, often translations, by John) rejoice the heart as they contain much of the Bible in every verse. How different from many "worship songs" of the past 50 years.
The faith of the early Methodists was never that of Roman Catholicism, and well into the 19th century Methodists warned against the heresies of the "papists". But by the end of the 19th century, the Biblical base of Wesley and Bourne was beginning to be neglected and undermined. There was less and less exposition of the Bible. The fruit of this has been that 20th century Methodism drifted from its foundations, and the Methodist distinctives have been blurred.
SJBRCC would in no way have called the original Methodists "neighbours". Why can 21st century Catholics call 21st century Methodists "neighbours" and speak so favourably of all the things they have in common?
Original item in Be Alert
Our Methodist Neighbors
Monthly Reflections From The Saint Jean Baptiste Church Bulletin (Saint Jean Baptiste Catholic Church, Lexington Avenue at 76th Street, New York City) - By Fr. Ernest Falardeau, S.S.S. - August 7, 2005 - What do Methodists and Roman Catholics have in common? Perhaps a lot more than we realize. John and Charles Wesley started a movement within the Church of England for greater reverence and devotion in the celebration of the liturgy. They met for prayer in Anglican churches and extended their influence across the Atlantic to the United States. John Wesley died a devout clergyman of the Anglican Communion. When he could not find an Anglican bishop to ordain the priests he was sending to this country, he decided to ordain them himself. John Asberry was one of the first such missionaries sent to the New World.
The polity of the Methodist Church, especially in the United States, is very similar to Anglican polity. The House of Bishops is part of the Annual Conference (the name for the national church), with the other house being composed of clergy and lay members. The bishops have similar authority to assign clergy after consideration with the local congregation, and they exercise authority in matters of doctrine.
One of the outstanding similarities with Roman Catholics is the stress on piety and personal morality. The Methodist movement was historically grounded in the mystical experience of John Wesley at a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street, London. In Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States, Methodists attended Anglican services until a time came when they felt the need to have their own worship space. At the present time, especially under Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey (1961-1974), there is a continuing effort to reunite Anglicans and Methodists. Though the first effort failed in the 1970s, the current one seems to be succeeding and "full communion" seems possible in the near future...
This statement is on the church's main web page:
We will make our parishes into authentic communities shaped by the Eucharist, source and center of their life.
They shall be: places of proclamation and the living of the Gospel, places of prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and festive celebration, places of sharing and fellowship, places of freedom and human development. Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, Rule of Life 41