After the Wesley brothers’ first group was given the insulting name of “methodist,” they allowed it to stick, since they saw the benefit of having a method in place for people who wanted to grow in their love for God and others. They recognized that groups throughout Christian history had lived by such methods, even if they used different terms for them.
One such alternative term for “method” was “rule,” which rather than meaning (as we might understand it today) a standard which shouldn’t be broken, meant a lifestyle framework to which a group would mutually agree. It was as if to say, “If this is the kind of people we want to become, we recognize that we need to live together this way. Therefore, this is our rule.” Think of it less like the rules in a school handbook given by the principal to students whether they like them or not, and more like the way a successful athletic team agrees to arrange their lives in pursuit of their goal.
So, John Wesley described the method of the early Methodists as three General Rules:
Do no harm.
Practice the means of grace.
Before briefly describing the meaning of these, I’ll add an asterisk which was so implicit in the lives of the early Methodists that it didn’t need to be included as one of the General Rules, but we need it to be stated clearly now:
* Regularly answer, “How is it with your soul?” to others living this method.
That’s it. We will unpack each of these briefly in the following post, but for now it’s important to understand that the early Methodists knew this method, because they understood that they were signing on to live by it together. They didn’t have the danger of considering themselves Methodists because it was a name on a building they entered on Sundays, nor because it was their heritage. The only relevant issue was whether or not they were in a group committed to living this way together.
This is part of the series, “Put Some Meaning in Your Methodism”