I have a fantasy of being on a road trip and driving past a church in any of the Wesleyan traditions which has a sign in front that reads something like, “By God’s grace, we have a method. Come live it to love God and others fully.”
Can you imagine what kind of difference it might make if every person in a local church could name that method? What if all of us could? Or, to say it from the other direction, why can’t we? If we can’t name what the method of Wesley’s methodists was, doesn’t it mean that their method has ceased to be ours, and we are therefore neither very Methodist nor very Wesleyan, despite whatever other parts of their tradition we have tried to hold on to?
By the end of the following post, I will summarize for you what their method was. It’s the kind of thing that I can write on a whiteboard in less than one minute when I am with a group. When I have done so, it has become predictable that some folks in the group will say something like, “I have been a Methodist my entire life, and I have never heard this before.”
Folks are often surprised for me to say that any such method ever existed. I have had more than one devoted, long-time Methodist say to me something like, “All these years, I thought the method part of our name had to do with the order of worship printed in the bulletin.” Thankfully, our tradition offers us more substantive guidance than indicating when it’s time for the ushers to take the offering.
When John and Charles Wesley began getting together with a group of friends to discuss the state of their own souls–and were made fun of with the derogatory term “methodist” for doing so–I’m quite certain they did not expect that almost three hundred years later, there would be millions of people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean still using the label they were given by others who disagreed with their methodical approach to spirituality. Surpassing that surprise would be their shock at how small a percentage of those using the name would be able to define any method to go with it.
Let’s do our part to change that right now (with the next post, “Introducing the Method”).