The Wesleyan Way: John Wesley's understanding of Christian discipline
TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter I. Preliminary: An Introduction to the Study 1 Introduction 1 Statement of the Problem 3 General Purpose of the Study 3 Specific Purposes of the Study 4 Research Methodology 4 Selection of Subject 6 Identification and Collection of Data 7 Evaluation 9 Synthesis and Presentation of Data in Organized Form 10 Chapter II. The Milestones of Grace: The Life of John Wesley 12 Context 12 Wesley's Childhood and Youth 15 Young Adulthood 24 Life After Aldersgate 28 Chapter III. The Message of Grace: Sanctiflcation 35 The Historical Context 35 Love is the Key to Christian Perfection 43 Sanctiflcation Begins at Justification 48 Sanctiflcation is by Faith Alone 49 Sanctiflcation Restores the Image of God 50 Sanctiflcation Does Not Mean Complete Eradication of Sin 51 Sanctiflcation is a Gradual Process of Spiritual Growth in Grace 52 The Holy Spirit is a Primary Agent of Sanctiflcation 53 The Fruit of the Spirit Typifies the Sanctified Lifestyle 55 The Sanctified, Perfected Believer Has the Mind of Christ 56 The Goal of the Sanctiflcation Process is Christian Perfection 57 Christian Perfection Normally Occurs Just Prior to Death 59 The Paradigm for Christian Perfection 61 Chapter IV. The Milieu of Grace: Small Groups 63 The Historical Context 63 Societies 71 Bands 82 Conclusion 88
Chapter V. The Means of Grace: Spiritual Disciplines 90 Introduction 90 Theological Questions 94 The Instituted Means of Grace 98 The Prudential Means of Grace 119 Chapter VI. Postliminary: Conclusions of the Study 132 The Message of Grace: Sanctiflcation 132 The Milieu of Grace: Small Groups 135 The Means of Grace: Spiritual Disciplines 141 Final Conclusion 146 Recommendations for Further Research 147 Reference List 149
1 CHAPTER I PRELIMINARY: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY Introduction John Benjamin Wesley (1703-1791), famous as the founder of the Methodist Church, was a missionary, pastor, scholar, theologian, organizational genius, professor, hymnodist, author of well over 200 books, and architect of arguably the greatest revival in the history of the British Isles (Lunn, 1929, pp. ix-xix). During his ministerial career he zealously traveled over 250,000 miles on horseback and preached over 40,000 sermons (Demaray, 1993, p. 11). Wesley has been called the savior of England - the revival movement he led enabled England to avert a bloody political revolution such as the one suffered by their French neighbors in the 18th century (Wilder, 1971, p. 9). Biographer Arnold Lunn declared Wesley the most important Englishman of his era, greater in influence than Sunderland, Kings George II & III, Walpole, Berkeley, and Pitt (1929, p. xi). Even today, the largest group of Protestants in the world is theologically Wesleyan when his heirs in the Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions are included in the census (Hempton, 2005, p. 2). What an impact he made upon the world! Based upon the volume of verbiage vocalized and ink spilt, for nearly three centuries Wesley has been among the most popular subjects of study in English ecclesiastical history. This particular study will examine his Christian development, his written tenets and lifetime practices related to the concept of discipleship within the Methodist movement he led. Hempton notes: The problem before us, therefore, is the disarmingly simple one of accounting for the rise of Methodism from its unpromising origins among the flotsam and jetsam
2 of religious societies and quirky personalities in England in the 1730s to a major international religious movement some hundred and fifty years later. During that period Methodism refashioned the old denominational order in the British Isles, became the largest Protestant denomination in the United States on the eve of the Civil War, and gave rise to the most dynamic world missionary movement of the nineteenth century. For all these reasons, there are grounds for stating that the rise of Methodism was the most important Protestant religious development since the Reformation.... (Hempton, 2005, p. 2). According to Hempton, the problem is accounting for the rise of Methodism (2005, p. 2). How did Methodism rise from obscurity to prominence? The explosive growth of the Methodist movement was astonishing; obviously Wesley's abilities to organize, make disciples, and train others to make disciples were keys to the success of the revival movement (N. Harmon, 1977, pp. 9-14). What was Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship? How did Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship affect his leadership style? There are no entries under the topics of "disciple" or "discipleship" in the index to The Works of John Wesley, a complete, unabridged 14 volume set of hardcover books, each approximately 500 pages in length (Wesley, Works XIV, 1872, p. 408). The issue is partly semantic, in that Wesley used the word disciple sparingly, but he knew and lived the concept of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and he demanded the same high standards of those who followed him in the Methodist movement. This topic is ripe for synthesis, an intellectually honest attempt to represent Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship, utilizing a broad array of liberal arts disciplines to find the truth, including theology, history, sociology, psychology, and education. While Wesley did not have a formal definition for discipleship, he referred to being a disciple in various excerpts from his writings. He referred to disciples as "all who desired to learn of him" (Wesley, Notes on the New Testament, 1754, Matthew 5:1).
3 Wesley's own translation of the Great Commission passage in Matthew 28:19a began "Go ye, and disciple all nations," (Wesley, John Wesley's Translation, 1998), rather than "Go ye, and teach all nations" as in the King James Version of the Holy Bible. From Wesley's perspective, the verb disciple literally meant to teach, and the noun disciple referred to a learner. This is consistent with standard translations of matheteuo, the Greek word commonly rendered as disciple in the New Testament, meaning pupil or learner (Strong, n.d., p. 45). But there is more than just the concept of teaching and learning involved in discipleship. The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that "Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ, which is the law of the cross" (1959, p. 77). Becoming a disciple meant becoming like Jesus, even to the point of the cross (Wesley, Notes on the New Testament, 1754, Matthew 16:24). Preliminary study suggests Wesley believed that Christian discipleship involved not only teaching and learning, but also obedience to and thorough identification with Jesus Christ; however, nowhere did Wesley propose a complete model or taxonomy of Christian discipleship. There is a gap in the literature which can only be filled by thorough research and synthesis. Statement of the Problem What was John Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship, and how did he develop and implement this concept in the revival movement he led? General Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to examine the relevant primary and secondary sources and synthesize John Wesley's own concept of Christian discipleship.
4 Specific Purposes of the Study 1. To describe the family and social background of John Wesley, beginning with his early childhood, as a foundational context for understanding his Christian development. 2. To analyze and evaluate the impact of this Christian development in the life of John Wesley (the milestones of grace) as a profound influence on his understanding of discipleship. Included will be: A. The centrality of Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection in his thought and practice, the message of grace. B. The importance of small group ministry in discipleship, the milieu of grace. C. The spiritual disciplines as catalysts for Christian growth, the means of grace. 3. To synthesize Wesley's concept of discipleship. Research Methodology This study will identify, describe, and analyze the Christian development of John Wesley and determine its impact on his concept of discipleship, and carefully peruse his letters, sermons, treatises, books, journals, and commentaries in order to discern Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship. Historical research is the method chosen for this study, because it is the most logical way to analyze, reconstruct, and narrate biographical information (Lawson, 1989, p. 3). Leedy and Ormrod comment further on the relevance of historical research:
5 In and of itself, history consists of nothing more than an ever-flowing stream of events and the continuing changes in human life and its institutions - its languages, customs, philosophies, religions, art, architecture, and so on. Historical research tries to make sense of this maelstrom. It considers the currents and countercurrents of present and past events, with the hope of discerning patterns that tie them all together. At its core, historical research deals with the meaning of events... .The heart of the historical method is, as with any other type of research, not the accumulation of the facts, but rather the interpretation of the facts. (2005, p. 161). The historical method is considered the most ancient form of genuine research (Hillway, 1964, p. 141). In spite of this, historical research has often been viewed as inferior to other types of research within the field of education (Van Dalen, 1973, p. 159). Many contemporary researchers consider it a subset of qualitative research, while others see it as a unique genre of its own (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). Historical research is not considered mainstream by certain secular scholars of education (Creswell, 2003; Marshall & Rossman, 2006). Infinitely different from quantitative research (although it may occasionally utilize quantitative data), and somewhat dissimilar from other qualitative research forms such as case study, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory study, and content analysis, historical research traditionally has addressed countless great theories and personalities in the field of education. Historically, historical research has played a major role in the growth of educational research as an academic discipline. Because historical research involves a description of past events, it is not without pitfalls (Ary, Jacobs & Razavieh, 1972, p. 283). The historical nature of the research itself makes it very difficult for the researcher to control or manipulate the variables as in experimental design (Wiersma, 1969, p. 289). Therefore, it is more challenging than other forms of research. The ethical historical researcher is bound to report the facts as
6 they really are, not as they would ideally be. Christian historical research is bound by an even higher set of ethical standards, the standards of the Bible. There are a series of logical steps in historical research that aid in the understanding of research methodology. The following steps outline the activities of the researcher: 1. Identification and isolation of the problem, 2. The accumulation of source materials, their classification and criticism, and determination of facts, 3. Organization of facts into results, 4. Formation of conclusions, 5. Synthesis and presentation in organized form. (Hopkins, 1976, p. 119). The development of a research hypothesis is another potential step in the process of historical research. The use of the hypothesis in historical research has been critiqued because it is not methodologically sound in that particular setting (Hopkins, 1976, p. 119). Hypothesizing in the realm of historical research is directly related to the perspective of the researcher: the honest researcher must make clear his or her point of view and objective in dealing with the facts of history (Cook, 1969, p. 18). It is highly questionable whether the use of the hypothesis statement is appropriate in historical research (Hopkins, 1976, p. 119). The research hypothesis will not be used in this study. Selection of Subject The careful choice of a subject is a critical part in every historical study. Gottschalk recommended four questions be asked in identifying a topic:
7 1. Where do the events take place? 2. Who are the persons involved? 3. When do the events occur? 4. What kinds of human activity are involved? (1951, p. 381). When answered, these questions give the researcher an idea about the scope of the topic. Robert Travers noted: The scope of a topic can be varied by varying the scope of any one of the four categories: the geographical area involved can be increased or decreased; more or fewer persons can be included in the topic; the time span involved can be increased or decreased; and the human activity category can be broadened or narrowed. (1969, p. 382). Often the researcher begins a study with only a rough idea of the scope of the research. As research progresses, the researcher may discover that the proposed topic is too broad and involves too much material, thus the scope must be limited. In contrast, with too narrow of a topic, the researcher might find too little information, and therefore need to broaden the scope of the research in order to further legitimize it (Travers, 1969, p. 382). Identification and Collection of Data Historical researchers utilize a systematic approach to the identification and collection of data. The primary goal is objectivity (Wise, Nordberg & Reitz, 1967, p. 76). The conceptual framework for this study consisted of a preliminary reading of The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition (1872), a fourteen volume set of Wesley's sermons, letters, treatises, and journals, a perusal of Wesley's Notes on the Old Testament and Notes on the New Testament, as well as a review of the John Wesley Translation of the
8 New Testament. The preliminary reading unearthed three major themes in Wesley's thought related to discipleship: (1) the centrality of Christian sanctiflcation as the paradigm for the Christian life; (2) the necessity of small group accountability in Christian growth; (3) the importance of the practice of the spiritual disciplines. Further study in the works of Adam Clarke (a contemporary associate of Wesley) and numerous biographies written over an extended period of time corroborated and confirmed the significance of these three categories in Wesley's theological thought. Sources used in historical research are often categorized as primary or secondary. Ideally, in the search for unvarnished truth, the researcher should rely mainly on primary sources (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005, pp. 162-164). They define the two types: .. .we distinguished between primary data and secondary data, with the former being closer to the reality, or Truth, that the researcher wants ultimately to uncover... .Primary sources are those that appeared first in time. They take such diverse forms as letters, diaries, sermons, laws, census reports, immigration records, probate documents, deeds, photographs, paintings, films, buildings, and tools....In contrast with primary sources, secondary sources are the works of historians who have interpreted and written about primary sources. Secondary sources inevitably reflect the assumptions and biases of the people who wrote them. Such may be the case even when the sources were written soon after the primary sources were created. (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005, pp. 162-164). Borg and Gall (1983, p. 807) further delineate that primary sources are written strictly by eyewitnesses. Anything less is demoted to secondary status, even if written by a contemporary of the primary author. Both primary and secondary sources were utilized in the present study. In addition to The Works of John Wesley, he wrote numerous other published books, on topics ranging from medicine to the Greek language and theology. His Notes on the Old Testament and Notes on the New Testament are both theologically rich, useful primary
9 source commentaries. In addition, there are a plethora of letters, journals, diaries, hymns, sermons, pamphlets and books written by Wesley's mother Susanna, father Samuel, and brother Charles, along with correspondence between Wesley and other prominent ministers of the day such as George Whitefield and Adam Clarke. Although he died in 1791, there are ample primary sources currently available. In addition, secondary sources are worthwhile, even with the caveat related to assumptions and biases. Numerous biographies exist about Wesley: the researcher has read John Wesley by Lunn, John Wesley by C. E. Vulliamy, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley by Tyerman, John Wesley by McConnell, John Wesley by Ayling, Reasonable Enthusiast by Rack, Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Heitzenrater, and Methodism: Empire of the Spirit by Hempton. These biographies were intentionally chosen because they represent the different perspectives provided by different eras of history. Tyerman wrote in the 1870's, Lunn in the 1920's, McConnell in the 1930's, Ayling in the 1970's, Vulliamy in the 1980's, Rack and Heitzenrater in the 1990's, and Hempton in the 2000's. This extensive list of secondary sources provides a historiographically balanced perspective on the life of this dynamic church leader. Evaluation Evaluation is essential in historical research. After the research material is collected, the researcher must decide which information is genuine and trustworthy, and therefore worthy of inclusion in the study (Lawson, 1989, p. 9). This is the process of historical criticism, which includes both internal and external criticism. External criticism establishes the authenticity of the data, and works to eliminate any possible
10 forgeries or counterfeits (Best, 1981, p. 141). Hopkins points out that the researcher should consider the following questions in this process: 1. Did personal gain, interest, a practical joke, or pride cause the creation of the object? 2. Did the report closely follow the event? 3. Does the information include anything that could not have been known at the time? 4. Does it include everything that a person should know at that time? 5. Has anything been lost in translation? 6. Is this evidence typical of the author and of the time period? (1976, p. 125). After the authenticity of the information has been established through the process of external criticism, it will be necessary to analyze the documents regarding their meaning, accuracy, and trustworthiness (Hopkins, 1976, p. 125). This is referred to as internal criticism. The intent of internal criticism is to determine the conditions by which a document was created, the validity of the writer's intellectual premises, and the correct interpretation of the data (Van Dalen, 1973, p. 169). Although both external and internal criticism are utilized extensively in historical research, internal criticism will be weighted more heavily in the present study as a means of data evaluation. Synthesis and Presentation in Organized Form The process of compiling a document after the basic research on the sources is called synthesis (Travers, 1969, p. 389). The logical arrangement of the synthesis will be
11 determined by the problem statement as well as the general and specific purposes of the study (Lawson, 1989, p. 11). The construction of the narrative helps to develop the synthesis. Borg and Gall pointed out that the writing of the historical research dissertation specifically relates to the problem being investigated: The organization of the historical research dissertation does not usually follow the chapter outline of other types of educational research dissertations. Reports of historical research have no standard format. The particular problem or topic investigated determines how the presentation of the findings will be organized. (1983, p. 825). An historical dissertation may typically be organized in one of two ways, chronologically or thematically. If appropriate to the material, a hybrid approach may be utilized by the researcher, combining both the chronological and thematic approaches (Borg & Gall, 1983, p. 825). The hybrid method makes the most sense for the data which has been collected, and is utilized in this study. The family and social background of John Wesley is presented in a chronological framework. The remainder of the research follows a thematic approach based on the problem statement and the purposes of the study, consistent with synthesis. The chapters of this dissertation are also based on the particular purposes of the study. This includes chapters on Wesley's family and social background, his teaching on sanctiflcation, the impact of small groups on Christian growth, and the practice of the spiritual disciplines on the path toward Christian perfection. Ultimately, an academically honest synthesis will arise, and John Wesley's understanding of Christian discipleship will be clearly presented. The final chapter will summarize and evaluate the research.
12 CHAPTER II THE MILESTONES OF GRACE: THE LIFE OF JOHN WESLEY Context Labeled a greater influence on England in the 18l century than King George II, Walpole, Pitt, Sunderland, and Berkeley, John Wesley is certainly a worthy topic for study (Lunn, 1929, p. xi). Any consideration of Wesley's life would be woefully incomplete without a brief explanation of the context of English society in his era. Simply put, the time following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 has been called "the most immoral age of England" (Wilder, 1971, p. 42). The nation was gripped by an epidemic of alcoholism, with gin as the readily accessible, inexpensive drug of choice. Gambling was rampant, and the cities and countryside were covered with gambling houses. While a minority enjoyed Shakespeare, the majority preferred crass entertainment such as cockfighting, bearbaiting, dogfighting, and fistfighting (R. Harmon, 1968, p. 33). London, the pride of England, was filthy and foul smelling (Rack, 1992, p. 11). Adultery was flaunted publicly: Prime Minister Walpole openly lived with his mistress for over 20 years (Wilder, 1971, p. 73). Even women of the upper classes were vulgar and uncouth, and spat and cursed in public. Most Brits were illiterate (Wilder, 1971). Unfortunately, the Christian church had little influence (R. Harmon, 1968, p. 31). Religious life in England was at low ebb (Hempton, 2005, p. 13). The spiritual and political conflict between Catholics and various sects of Protestants in the previous two centuries had left many clergy apathetic and timid. Most ministers were bi-
13 vocational, others resided far from their assigned parish, and an even greater number were described as simply immoral (R. Harmon, 1968, p. 39). Church was "a laughing matter" for many Englishmen, an emotionless habit (Wilder, 1971, p. 9). Samuel Wesley's small town parish at Epworth was representative of this English malaise: a village on a swampy plain, surrounded by rivers on all four sides, Epworth was notorious for violence, drunkenness, dishonesty, vice and general crime (Vulliamy, 1985, p. 1). Samuel Wesley, an Oxford-educated Anglican priest, was assigned to Epworth in 1697, and remained there until his death in 1735 (Wilder, 1971, p. 18). A member of an old English family which dated beyond the Crusades and back to the Norman conquest, born Samuel Westley (though he later changed the spelling), he was from the social stratum much like the Indian kshatriya caste, highly respected and intellectually potent but hardly wealthy in a material sense (Wilder, 1971, p. 18). Samuel's father John Westley had also been an outstanding, Oxford-educated clergyman. Described as one of the finest classical scholars in England, Samuel taught Latin and Greek, wrote volumes of published poetry and ecclesiastical works, was a minor hymnodist, pioneered congregational singing in English church life, and along with famed author Jonathan Swift founded a magazine called the Athenian Gazette, to which he contributed over 200 articles (Wilder, 1971, p. 42). Lunn summarized: "Like many a country parson, he amused himself by writing books, some of which were published and some, perhaps, even read" (1929, p. 9). He was the only scholar in English history to have written books dedicated to and endorsed by three different English queens (Wilder, 1971, p. 10). In addition, he was the husband of the much-celebrated Susanna
14 Wesley, and the father of two of the most famous and influential men in English ecclesiastical history, John and Charles Wesley (McConnell, 1939). Though brilliant, Samuel was imperfect: he was notoriously inept at handling money, naive in the ways of men, and a grossly incompetent fanner (R. Harmon, 1968). Vulliamy (1985, p. 1) described him as "quiet, studious, and too quick to speak." Other contemporaries noted that he was "quick-tempered and hot-headed" (Wilder, 1971, p. 49). Hardly tactful, he was an incredibly unpopular parish priest, and his life was threatened numerous times by those whom he offended. The rough-hewn crowd he served at Epworth was vile enough to carry out such threats - during his tenure there they set fire to the rectory twice, burned his flax crop several times, stabbed his dairy cows so they failed to produce milk, and repeatedly taunted his children unmercifully (Lunn, 1929, pp. 2-3). Samuel Wesley was a Tory and a legalist who was often abrasive to his church, and sometimes abrasive to his faithful wife Susanna (Rack, 1992, pp. 46-50). A beloved figure in Methodist lore, Susanna Annesley Wesley was the 25n child of the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Annesley (Rack, 1992, p. 48). Her father was regarded as one of the most prominent Nonconformist ministers in England (Wilder, 1971, p. 15). Although nearly half of her siblings died as infants, Susanna described her youth in their London home as generally happy and comfortable (Wilder, 1971). Susanna was gifted with an extraordinarily strong mind, and although she was not formally educated to the same level as the male population of her era, she was confident enough in her reasoning
15 ability to leave the Nonconformist setting and join the Church of England at age 13. She married the Anglican priest Samuel Wesley in 1688 (Rack, 1992, p. 46).). Susanna Wesley was slender, with an inborn sense of dignity, often wearing a serious, yet pleasant expression (Lunn, 1929, p. 11). She was serene, affectionate, clear headed, never fussy, austere yet cheerful, strong willed and exceptionally pious (Vulliamy, 1985, p. 2). Susanna was the primary molding force behind the genius of her two famous sons, John and Charles Wesley (Heitzenrater, 1995, p. 26). Lunn agreed: John Wesley was his mother's son, and it was from Susannah (sic) rather than from Samuel Wesley, that Methodism received its imprint and traces its descent. Samuel Wesley was a devout Christian and a faithful shepherd of his flock, but it was from his mother that John inherited his sense of vocation....His mother was one of Nature's Methodists. It was from her that he inherited his executive gifts, his methodical genius for making the best of poor material. The care which Mrs. Wesley displayed in organizing the scanty resources of the Epworth vicarage so that 'strictly speaking nobody did want for bread' was inherited by her son. (Lunn, 1929, pp. 13-14). Wesley's Childhood and Youth John Benjamin Wesley was born to the union of Samuel and Susanna on June 28, 1703 (Ayling, 1979). He was their 15th child; nine of his siblings died as infants (Wilder, 1971, p. 60). While little is written about the first stage of John's life, from birth to eighteen months, much may be inferred from observation of his parents. For example, after the 1702 rectory fire, in which one third of their home was destroyed by arsonists, Susanna began to implement a formal program of home schooling for each of her children aged five and above (Wilder, 1971). Susanna was involved in the systematic instruction of her children for six hours a day, while the younger children were on a less strenuous schedule (Tyerman, 1872). Although their home environment was strictly
16 regimented, it was also known as "a happy home...the most loving family in the county of Lincoln" (R. Harmon, 1968, p.44). During the oral-sensory stage of his young life, when building trust is a key element for proper growth, John developed a strong bond with his mother. Samuel was often away, either engaging in parish business, feebly attempting to farm, or representing the Church of England as a delegate (Lunn, 1929). Therefore, while the bond of trust with his father was limited, Susanna was the primary nurturing force in the Wesley home, unafraid to use the rod as a "moral apparatus" even on an infant like young John (Vulliamy, 1985, p. 5). Overall, Susanna taught her children "a regular method of living, in such things as they were capable of, from their birth" (R. Harmon, 1968, p. 57). The fact that Susanna ably served as a wife, mother, primary teacher, and parish secretary/treasurer, all while she managed the rectory farm and family finances clearly showed her phenomenal organizational ability (Ayling, 1979). She kept John's life stable, even though their flax crop was burned when the baby was eight months old, and John's older brother Samuel went off to school in London shortly thereafter (Vulliamy, 1985, p. 8). John learned to trust through her, and this was borne out later in life by his unshakeable faith. Further trauma tested John's budding faith during the next stage of his life, when children often struggle to achieve autonomy. Between the ages of 18 months and three years, John faced several stressors. The spring of 1705 was especially challenging. First, Susanna became sick after giving birth to a son, so John was temporarily separated from a source of strength, his mother (Rack, 1992). The second stressor that he faced was