Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Feast of John and Charles Wesley

During one of the moribund periods in church history, namely during the first half of the 18th century when [surprise!] usage of the Book of Common Prayer had fallen into an indifferent lassitude, the Wesleys, along with fellow students at Oxford, began to re-discover prayerful harmony through adherence to the Prayer Book's structure. Because of this, they were referred to by their fellow students as "Methodists".

As time went by, they graduated and moved to the colony of Georgia, where John served as an Anglican missionary and Charles as assistant to the governor. Neither found those positions particularly fulfilling. Then, within days of one another, the brothers received a moment of epiphany. As powerful as the intellect could be in proclaiming the Gospel, so, too, was to be honored the emotional response one may elicit. Thus began this evangelical strain within our tradition.

John was the preacher and Charles the hymn-writer. John believed in the use of lay preachers, sometimes ill-educated, to create a Paul-Peter type of proclamation dualism. While this practice may have caused the Wesley's homiletics professors to shudder, it could be effective. Consider the following anecdote:

The early Methodist meetings were often led by lay preachers with very limited education. On one occasion, such a preacher took as his text Luke 19:21, "Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man." Not knowing the word "austere," he thought that the text spoke of "an oyster man." He spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the sea-bed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with Him to the glory of heaven, His torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value He has placed on the object of His quest. Twelve men were converted that evening. Afterwards, someone complained to Wesley about the inappropriateness of allowing preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on. Wesley, simply said, "Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight."*

Charles wrote over 600 hymns, including such favorites as "Oh for a thousand tongues to sing".

The Methodist Society was intended to be a part of the Anglican/Episcopal Church as a place for evangelical zeal and teaching. So ill-received was it by the bishops, yet so popular with laity and clergy with common sense, that the Methodist Church eventually developed into it's own denomination.

The lections for today may be found here.

[*from John Wesley's Sermons: An Introduction, by Albert C. Outler.]