The Taser's Edge


John and Charles Wesley, Priests

John (d. 1791) and Charles (d. 1788)

 

When I was seeking United Methodist ordination, John Wesley in particular was one heck of a pain in the neck (and shoulders and lower back and knees).  The worst grade that I received in my time at Duke Divinity was on the final exam for Methodist History.  And there’s that whole Christian perfection piece, which I think was shaped (not fully formed, but warped) by JW’s particular neuroses and helped shape (didn’t fully form) some of my own particular neuroses.  Suffice it to say, just because you put ‘Christian’ in front of it, it doesn’t mean that perfectionism is a good thing.

Then I have this tic where I really cannot maintain respect for somebody who treats his own family as badly as John treated his wife and kids.

As for Charles, he always seemed a bit saner.  Charles Wesley fanatics are not so sane, but Charles himself seemed to balance the foolishness that imitation of Christ requires with some healthy groundedness.  (That’s code for, he put his love of wife over love of ‘ministry’, to John’s chagrin.)  Also, I love some of the guy’s hymns.  What’s to hate?

The interesting thing is that once the yoke of the Wesleys (okay, mostly John) was lifted (i.e., I left the United Methodist Church), I could begin to actually enjoy and learn from them.  Not that I’ve read tons of Wesley, but now I feel more free to learn because I don’t have to learn and I certainly don’t have to agree with them (and I certainly don’t agree with them, on plenty of things).

If you’re reading this and wondering if United Methodist clergy today actually read Wesley, some do, and all of them have had to.  And then a few really believe that he still has something to say to the church that the church desperately needs to hear.  Like this for just one instance.  I like those folks even if I’ll likely never be one of them.

And why talk about the brothers Wesley today?  Because it’s their shared saints’ day in the Anglican world.  Methodists don’t talk too much about shared Anglican heritage, Anglicans claim the Wesleys as their own, but really…they were Anglicans and they were Methodists.  They were Christians who helped spark a revival that not only was about a preached Gospel but a lived and concretely enacted Gospel that brought hope to ‘the least of these’ in the world in which they lived.

Please, God, send us more revivals like that, and more saints to lead them.  And give me the grace to receive from them, even when we have our differences.

***

Lord God, you inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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