Travels with John

Since last Thursday I have been on an EO (Educational Opportunities) Wesleyan Heritage tour.  We have been visiting the hallowed sites of Wesley’s England.  Our initial stop in London was at the great St. Paul’s Cathedral.  From there we went to Aldersgate Street where Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” by a sense of assurance of God’s salvation in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  (“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”)  The italics emphasis is in the original (written by Wesley himself in his journal.  While scholars debate whether this could be properly called a conversion, one thing is certain: at Aldersgate the head and the heart came together in a profound experience of grace that propelled Wesley to action.  Wesley saw the final verdict on the Aldersgate experience as lived out in love toward God and neighbor in need.  Heitzenrater writes: “Real test, however, of the authenticity of this experience was to be found, not in terms of whether or not he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed,’ but whether or not the expected fruits of faith and assurance … would be in evidence: freedom from sin, doubt and fear, and the fullness of peace, love, and joy in the Holy Ghost (otherwise called ‘holiness and happiness’)” (Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodist, p. 80). Our Sunday found us in Epworth where John and Charles Wesley were raised worshipping at Wesley Memorial Church and visiting the rectory where they lived as children.  Later in life, John was denied permission to preach in the church because of his “enthusiasm” and so instead preached from atop his father’s grave in the cemetery outside the church.  A throng listened with rapt attention as he shared the good news of God’s love, grace, and righteousness in Christ.  Once again the soaring history provided a marked contrast.  At our worship, the congregations (about 30 in number – which our group of 24 almost doubled) were, with 3 exceptions, all well on the upper side of 60. A Wesleyan movement that had begun with a strong connection to regular people has lost touch with the culture around it.  While tremendously welcoming, the good people of Epworth do not appear to effectively communicate the gospel to their secular neighbors.  John would see it as a ripe mission field.  (So should we!)  Wesley left the church to speak in the graveyards, market places (malls of his day) and fields (places of work).  Today’s church finds itself holding on to buildings as a shrine and missing the message Wesley gave his life to share.  This is not, I think, so much a judgment on them as a comment about us.  At its root remains the deep theological question that Christians must answer for and to non-Christians. Why?  Why bother?  What is there in the Christian message that would compel the hungry and hurting (physically, psychologically and spiritually) to stand in a graveyard to hear the news?  And secondly, are we willing to stand in a graveyard or mall or workplace and share this good news (gospel)?! This pilgrimage is exciting and deeply challenging!