PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
As I’ve noted before, I am reading Wesley’s journals and sermons with an eye toward ecclesiology. As such, most of my observations will pertain to Wesley’s understanding of the nature, purpose, mission, structure, and practices of the church. Undoubtedly, there will be observations regarding other aspects of Wesley’s thought, theology and practice that will make their way into these reflections; but my intent is to focus primarily upon matters pertaining to Wesley’s ecclesiology.
That being said, this post will pertain to Journal 2. (You can see my previous reflections from Journal 1 here and here.) Thus, these observations will span the period of time from February 1st, 1737, through February of 1738. My observations are as follows:
- In Journal 2 we find Wesley traveling to Germany and experiencing the Moravian Church. At times it seems as if Wesley idealizes the Moravian Church to the extent that he believes it provides a blueprint of what the ideal church should be. (In reading Journal 2 and Wesley’s grandiose statements regarding the Moravian Church––e.g., ‘O when shall THIS Christianity cover the earth, as the “waters cover the sea?”‘1––I couldn’t help but think of Nicholas Healy’s delineation between ‘blueprint ecclesiologies’ and ‘concrete ecclesiologies,’ and his caution about idealized, theoretical constructions of the church. Thankfully, in the Preface to Journal 2,2 Wesley writes,
If any should ask, ‘But do you think even this Church is perfect, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing?’ I answer plainly, ‘No; though I trust it will be, when patience has had its perfect work.’ But neither do I think it right to entertain the world with the spots of God’s children.3
- A statement made by Wesley in the Preface also seems to indicate a change in his thinking regarding the Eucharist. Whereas during his time in Savannah Wesley was quick to expel people from the communion table, he now claims, ‘A man may use the ordinances of God, the Lord’s Supper in particular, before he has such a faith that excludes doubt and fear, and implies a new, clean heart.’4 It is hard to tell how much Wesley’s own doubts and fears (see the final bullet-point of this post) played into his evolved understanding with regards to communion. What is clear, however, is that Wesley has at the very least begun to see the Eucharist as a ‘means of grace.’ (Rob Staples wrote a book, Outward Sign and Inward Grace, that is a fantastic introduction to Wesleyan sacramental theology.)
- Journal 2 opens with Wesley meeting with ‘a large company at the inn’ to read prayers and explain a portion of Scripture. In the entry, Wesley is noticeably vexed by the fact that the Christians with whom he is praying and teaching Scripture are ‘more savage in their behaviour than the wildest Indians [he has] yet met with.’5 Thus begins a season of life and preaching in which Wesley proclaims ‘hard sayings’ regarding the Christian’s relationship with and service to God. Preaching on these difficult (but necessary) texts/topics often resulted in him being forbid to preach in a particular parish from that day forward.6 In fact, Wesley seems to view himself as a prophet-of-old, commissioned by God to offend the Church and call her to transformation of heart and life. On Sunday, March 26th, 1738, for example, Wesley excitedly declares, ‘I believe it pleased God to bless the first sermon [preached at St. Lawrence] most, because it gave the most offence.’7
- During these years, Wesley continues to minister outside of the church building. He regularly meets with people to read prayers and explain Scripture in homes, at inns,8 in prisons,9 etc. At this juncture, however, the church building and the services held therein were still of utmost importance to Wesley. In fact, early in Journal 3, Wesley expresses angst regarding George Whitefield’s ‘strange way of preaching in the fields.’10 His next statement is even more telling, as he explains why Whitefield’s ‘strange way of preaching’ was so vexing. He writes, I have been ‘all of my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin, if it had not been done in a church.’11
- The first ‘society’ was started on May 1st, 1738. The little group met in Fetter-Lane and was guided by the following rules:
In obedience to the command of God by St. James, and by the advice of Peter Böhler, it is agreed by us,
- That we will meet together once a week to ‘confess our faults one to another, and pray one for another, that we may be healed.’
- That the persons so meeting be divided into several bands, or little companies, none of them consisting of fewer than five, or more than ten persons.
- That every one in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real estate of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last meeting.
- That all the bands have a conference at eight every Wednesday evening, begun and ended with singing and prayer.
- That any who desire to be admitted into this society be asked, ‘What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open; using no kind of reserve? Have you any objection to any of our orders?” (which may then be read.)
- That when any new member is proposed, every one present speak clearly and freely whatever objection he has to him.
- That those who against whom no reasonable objection appears, be, in order for their trial, formed into one or more distinct bands, and some person agreed on to assist them.
- That after two months’ trial, if no objection appear, they may be admitted into the society.
- That every fourth Saturday be observed as a day of general intercession.
- That on the Sunday seven-night following be a general love-feast, from seven till ten in the evening.
- That no particular member be allowed to set in any thing contrary to the order of the society: And that if any persons, after being thrice admonished, do not conform thereto, they be not any longer esteemed as members.12
These fundamental rules, shaped as they were by the suggestions of Mr. Peter Böhler, clearly evidence an infusion of thought and practice borrowed from the Moravians. Two such examples are: 1) the practice of an ‘Intercession-day’––a common practice amongst the Moravians in which they would gather together to hear ‘the wonderful work which God is beginning to work over all the earth; and in making our requests known unto Him, and giving Him thanks for the mightiness of his kingdom;’13 and, 2) the first rule of the society that members ‘confess their faults one to another, and pray for one another, that they might be healed’ was part of the discipline of the Church of Hernhuth.14
- Two final observations worth noting. First, when reflecting upon his time in Germany, Wesley notes on multiple occasions the opulence of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches. In each instance he is unimpressed and notably taken-aback by what he observes. Second, Wesley’s disdain for Lutherans and Catholics is to be contrasted with his undeniable fervor regarding the Moravian Church, its leaders, structure, discipline, and constitution, as is evidenced in his inclusion, at length of both ‘the discipline of the Church at Hernhuth (pp. 140-142)’ and ‘The Constitution of the Church of the Moravian Brethern at Hernhuth (pp. 142-147).’
Journal 2 evidences a continuation of previous themes. Wesley remains actively engaged in ministries both inside and outside of the church building. He remains committed to the Church of England, the regular and reverent observance of the sacraments, as well as his commitment to help people grow in their faith.
While there is a continuation of thought in Journal 2, there is also a significant evolution within Wesley’s thought. While remaining very much committed to the church, the sacraments, and the church’s teachings, Wesley finds himself increasingly at odds with the church, as his preaching of salvation by faith alone––a message which stemmed from Wesley’s heart-warming experience at Aldersgate while hearing Luther’s preface to Roman and his interactions with Peter Böhler and the Moravians––often led to his being uninvited to preach at a church on future occasions. Similarly, while following the CoE’s structure for Sunday services, Wesley is significantly influenced by the Moravian Church, incorporating many of its structures and practices into the societies that are beginning to be formed.
A final item of note: The Moravian Church had ‘women who performed each of the above-mentioned offices [Senior/Eldest, Deacon/Helper, Pastor/Teacher/Overseer, Deacons who are over the Orphan-house], among those of their own sex.’15 While there has been no mention of women-in-ministry to this point, this feature of the Moravian Church will influence Wesley’s thought and practice in the future.
- John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley: Volumes 1 and 2, 3rd edition, 7 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 120. ↩
- The Preface was written in 1740 with some much-needed perspective. ↩
- Wesley, 80. ↩
- Ibid., 82. ↩
- Ibid., 83. ↩
- Examples include: St. John the Evangelist’s (84); St. Andrew’s, Holborn (84); St. Lawrence’s and St. Katherine Cree’s (93); Great Saint Helen’s (93); St. Ann’s (95); St. John’s, Wrapping, and St. Bennett’s, Paul’s-Wharf (97); etc. ↩
- Ibid., 85. ↩
- Ibid., 83, 87. ↩
- Ibid., 86. ↩
- Ibid., 185. ↩
- Ibid. Emphasis added. ↩
- Ibid., 92-93. ↩
- Ibid., 107. ↩
- Ibid., 141. ↩
- Ibid., 143. ↩