What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account? A Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.’” ~ John Wesley, 1742 (from The Character of a Methodist)
In our recent new member’s class, I was reminded (even though I’ve taught those classes over a dozen times) just how much there is to being part of the world-wide Church and what makes being part of the Methodist movement so important to me and to so many who have come before us.
In the early days of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley would train preachers to go into all parts of England, and eventually into the colonies in America, in order to spread the Gospel and train new disciples for Jesus Christ. As the movement spread, Wesley saw the need to define the doctrines and disciplines which both connected Methodists to the “universal” church and defined their unique call in the world. In 1742, he published “The Character of a Methodist” as a way of explaining that call and giving the new up-starts a good foundation to build on.
Many of those early Methodist preachers were not college educated, yet they were Spirit-filled, passionate speakers who wanted to serve God. In order to help them preach with confidence and strong theology, John Wesley began publishing his sermons for them to use as they traveled around. This practice continued as a big part of the Methodist Church as the “Circuit Riders” spread out across the frontiers of the U.S. These were ordained pastors who would start several new churches in an area then travel their “circuit” to one church each week, where they would preach, perform the sacraments, and train up new leaders to guide the congregation and preach in their absence. And this practice continues throughout the world today!
And so, as a start to the New Year and in preparation of Lent, I am excited to share a series of messages through January and February based on what the “marks of a Methodist” are through the doctrines and teachings of John Wesley. As Christians we have the foundations of Jesus and the Bible, as well as almost 300 years of solid Wesleyan doctrine and disciplines, to learn from. I hope we will all be strengthened in our faith by taking time to remember our roots!
Grace and Peace,