Wesleyan? What's That?
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 2, 2007
Main Passage: Hebrews
Show clip from Dick Van Dyke Show – Richie “Where Did I Come From?”
is the final week for yet another year of our annual You Asked for It
message series. Through August and right up until today, we’ve been
talking about topics or passages that you yourself requested. And the
question we’re addressing today is, “Where did we come from?”
don’t worry, I’m not pulling out a Dr. Spock book or anything like
that. Because this particular question wasn’t really about how life
began. And actually, we’re going to be talking about that later this
No, this question dealt with us as Wesleyans.
Where did the Wesleyan Church begin? What’s our history? What’s our
heritage? What is a Wesleyan, anyway?
After all, we are Sunrise Wesleyan Church. What does that mean?
today, we’re going to talk about our heritage. We’re going to talk
about where we came from. Because the truth is, as Wesleyans, whether
you know it or not, you’re part of a tremendous family. So I hope today
that you’ll gain a better sense of identity as a part of the Wesleyan
Church, and you’ll understand a little better why Sunrise is what
Sunrise is. Okay?
So let’s start right at the beginning. We’re
going to start all the way back with Jesus. And then we’re going to fly
through the first 1700 years or so, and slow down a little once we
catch up to John Wesley and the eventual formation of the Wesleyan
Church all the way up to Sunrise Wesleyan Church.
start right at the base. Before Jesus came on the scene, all of
humanity was lost to its sinfulness. In big and small ways,
individually and as a race, we had rebelled against our Creator. We had
sinned. And no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t measure up to
God’s standards. We were hopelessly lost. And there was nothing we
could do that could make up for it.
So God Himself decided to
step in. And He entered into His own Creation as the man Jesus.
Actually, He came as the baby Jesus. That’s what Christmas is all
about… celebrating the day that God wrapped Himself in flesh and bone.
He grew up. And sometime around His thirtieth birthday, He began what
we call His ministry years. He traveled all around Israel and even into
the surrounding territory, He healed people, He taught people, and He
told them about the Kingdom of Heaven. He offered forgiveness and
eternal life to all who would receive it. That was the Good News… that
was the Gospel He came to proclaim. And through His death and His
resurrection, He made it all possible.
And then He told His
followers to continue telling people about this forgiveness and life.
And they did it. They took the message all through the then-known
world. The church was growing. Things were alive. And even when they
encountered persecution and even after Christians began to be killed
for sport, their numbers continued to explode.
But it wasn’t
long before two different flavours of Christianity began to emerge. One
was found in the west, centered around Rome, thus the Roman Catholic
Church. And these people, they wanted to do things right. They wanted
to understand. They wanted to formulate doctrines. They wanted to think
things through. That was in the West.
While at the same time,
over in the east, there were the Orthodox Christians… and they didn’t
really want to figure things out. They liked the mysteries of the
faith. They were more touchy-feely. They wanted to experience what it
meant to be a Christian.
And eventually that led to the
formation of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And that’s all we’re going to
talk about them this morning. We’re going to stick with the Western
Church, since that’s the line we come from.
So let’s slide on
down that line about 1500 years. By the 16th century, the Roman Church
had become very rigid, very legalistic, and depended on a salvation
through mechanics… through the things you do. They believed that you
earn your salvation by doing good deeds. In fact, if you didn’t do
enough good deeds or you just didn’t want to do good deeds, you could
buy them. You could buy what were called indulgences. Basically, they
believed that all the saints who had lived before them had died before
using up all their good deeds, and so if you paid money to the Church
you could buy those leftover good deeds and apply them to yourself. I
know, sounds strange. But that’s one of the corruptions that had crept
into the Church.
And people like Martin Luther and John Calvin
disagreed with this type of practice. They didn’t believe that you
could earn salvation through mechanics… through good deeds… through the
sacraments… through the work of the Church. They understood the Bible
to teach that salvation is a result of God’s grace, and nothing else.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for
this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good
things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
so on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed what were called his 95
Theses onto the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Basically, this
door was the bulletin board for the university that was there. And
these 95 statements were meant to challenge the doctrines and the
practices of the Church.
The goal was to spark some debate, but
what happened was a split. And the people like Luther who were
protesting against some of the doctrines and practices of the church
began a reformed tradition. That’s the Protestant (protest)
Reformation. And just so you know, it also eventually sparked a
counter-reformation within the Catholic Church.
with me to England. The year is 1559, and Queen Elizabeth I is on the
throne. England has been hit hard with this Catholic/Protestant
division. And so Elizabeth sets out to try to bridge the gap. And what
she does is form a new church… the Anglican Church… which tried to find
a middle ground.
On the one hand, this new church kept many of
the Catholic traditions, and their services were very formal and even
stiff. But along with that, they tried to inject the Protestant
understanding of salvation by God’s grace. So this early Anglican
Church tried to please everyone and didn’t really please anyone. So it
kind of floundered along for 150 years… and it’s there that we meet up
with the Wesley Brothers.
John and Charles. How many of you can
quote from John Wesley for, say, one minute. I wouldn’t do very well. I
mean, I can quote “The world is my parish,” and “My heart was strangely
warmed.” And he said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but
sin, and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world.” But I
can’t do much beyond that.
How about Charles? Can you quote anything from him?
about, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” Or, “O for a thousand tongues to
sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” Or, “Love Divine, All Loves
Excelling”. Or, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Or, “Amazing love!
How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” You sang those
words earlier this morning. You were quoting Charles Wesley and you
didn’t even know it. He wrote something like 6000 hymns, may of which
are still used today.
But even though we know the words of
Charles better, it was John who changed the world. In fact, during his
lifetime, he was the most influential person in the English speaking
John was born and raised as an Anglican. His father was a
minister in the Anglican Church. John himself became a minister. He
loved the Anglican Church, and he declared “I live and die an Anglican.”
he also recognized that the Anglican Church was pretty dead and needed
some new life. So he set out to revive or reform the Anglican Church
from within. He had no desire to start a new church; he wanted to bring
alive the existing church.
And so what he started to do was form
societies. Not new churches, just groups to strengthen existing
churches. Kind of like what parachurch organizations do today… like
Promise Keepers, or the Billy Graham Association, or Campus Crusade for
Christ, or like Purpose Driven Ministries.
So Wesley organized
these societies, or these class meetings, in order to help people
become what he described as a real Christian.
to Wesley, a Real Christian…
Has an experience when they become a child of God.
means that it’s not enough to just be baptized. It means it’s not
enough to just attend church every Sunday. It means it’s not enough to
just believe all the right stuff and agree with the creeds of the
Church. You must experience a new birth.
John 3:3,6 (NLT)
replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot
see the Kingdom of God… Humans can reproduce only human life, but the
Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.”
for Wesley, it didn’t matter when this would happen. You could be a
child and experience a new birth. You could be a young adult and
experience a new birth. You could be… well, mature and experience a new
birth. But at some point during your life, you needed to experience
this climatic moment when you became a child of God.
believe did was it lead to a passion for evangelism. People needed to
hear about this, and so Wesley and his followers set about telling
people. And that continues today.
Develops a life of salvation.
meant a pattern of living. A real Christian would develop habits in his
or her life… habits of holiness. In fact, Wesley wasn’t afraid to call
them disciplines, because right in that word discipline is the word
disciple. You would practice habits of a disciple, like prayer, and
fasting, and Bible study, and doing good toward others, and taking part
in the sacraments. All of these were part of a life of salvation. They
didn’t earn salvation, but they followed salvation.
Philippians 2:12-13 (NLT)
hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep
reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire
and the power to do what pleases him.
Pursues a life that is Christ-like.
the intent of those habits. You live your life of salvation with the
goal of becoming Christ-like. They’re not just a meaningless exercise;
there’s a purpose. And Wesley believed that you could get to the point
that your love for God and others was perfect and pure. Now, that
didn’t mean that you would be perfect in your performance or in your
behaviour… you were still prone to mistakes and sinfulness. But despite
those vulnerabilities, you could be perfect in your love for God and
your love for others. That guy who cut you off on the bypass this
morning… you can still love him. That lady who told that horrendous lie
about you, you can still love her. Basically, Wesley taught that you
could really live out the verse you see on the wall behind me and now
on the screen. Read it with me…
Mark 12:30-31 (NLT)
you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all
your mind, and all your strength… Love your neighbor as yourself.”
believed it was possible for you and for me to become Christ-like. We
could love God and others with that kind of perfection. This is what he
understood it meant to be holy. It’s his doctrine of holiness. But it
all starts with the grace of God. God’s grace is extended to us, and
that always calls for a human response.
So, let’s get back
to what we were talking about with Wesley setting up these societies.
These would be similar to what we would call our LIFE Groups here at
Sunrise. And do you know who could attend? Do you think, anybody who
attends church regularly could attend? How about people who were the
core of the church… the ones who really keep things running? Is that
who the societies were for? Well, according to Wesley, you were welcome
to attend if you were afraid of hell and you wanted to get closer to
God. That was the requirement. Pretty open, isn’t it?
they had all sorts of people show up. Some of the men would arrive
still half tipsy from an earlier stop at the bar. But they were greeted
by open doors.
Oh, they might get asked, “Are you serious or
not? Do you want to get closer to God or don’t you? You do? Okay, then
come on in.” You could show up with a tattoo on your forehead or a 2 by
4 through your nose. “It’s okay, you can come. But you’ve got to grow.”
Wesley himself would visit the different societies that were meeting,
and maybe every three months he’d sit down and ask you, “How are you
doing? Are you getting any closer? Are you growing?”
of these groups, Wesley eventually formed more groups. And these groups
he called “Bands.” These bands were for people who wanted to go even
deeper into the Bible and pursue an even deeper relationship with God.
then he set up what he called “Select Societies”, and these were for
people to train to become leaders. If you wanted to become a leader in
these groups, you didn’t have to go off to seminary or Bible college.
But you did need to be trained. Now remember, this isn’t a church. If
you wanted to become a minister in the Anglican Church you still needed
to go through all educational requirements. But for Wesley’s
organization, you were trained in the select societies.
he was doing was empowering the lay people. The people who weren’t
formally trained to be professional ministers were still ministers.
They were actively involved in the work of God. And that’s something we
continue to emphasis today.
And finally, Wesley set up groups
that he called Penitent Societies and they were for people who had
gotten stuck in some kind of sin that they just couldn’t break free of.
And he decided this group would meet Saturday night. Any idea why he
chose Saturday? The pubs were open Saturday night and for many of the
people, that was their problem. And so these groups became their way
out of that addiction.
Now, I can remember 20-25 years ago
when small groups were the big new thing. I remember when mentoring and
accountability groups became popular a decade or so ago. Just last
month, several of us attended the Leadership Summit over in Moncton.
And the latest craze seems to be groups to help people get over
addictions and weight loss and recovery groups. Revolutionary stuff.
Wesley was doing it all 300 years ago!
So Wesley developed this
highly structure method of reaching people who were far from God,
bringing them to experience a new birth in their relationship with God,
and helping them grow on to maturity. And because of this method that
he developed, he and his followers became known as “Methodists.”
I find interesting is that the established church felt threatened by
Wesley. He was one of their greatest supporters, but he wanted to bring
a renewed passion and focus into the church. And as a result, he was
shunned by many Anglicans and many churches were closed to him. And so,
even though he originally hated the idea, he had to take to open air
preaching. In fact, there were times when he even had to preach from
his father’s grave, using his tombstone as his pulpit.
crowds would show up to hear him. Once he preached to a crowd of more
than 30,000 people. And he was one of the most active preachers the
world has ever known. He would preach up to eight times a day. And over
a forty year stretch, he averaged 5000 miles a year riding on
horseback, traveling around preaching. That’s the equivalent of
circling the globe 8 times.
And he had a tremendous impact on
society as a revival was sparked through his preaching. In fact, many
historians claim that England would have suffered a violent revolution
similar to what France experienced if not for the spiritual revival
sparked by Wesley.
And even though early on the church shunned him, but the end many
greatly admired and respected him.
let’s fly across the Atlantic. Let’s talk about Methodism in North
America. Wesley wanted missionaries to come here to North America. He
had actually been here years earlier himself as a missionary, but was a
miserable failure. Why? Because it was before he had experienced that
new birth in his own life. That didn’t happen until after he returned
to England, and he never made it back here again. In his old age, he
expressed his desire to come again, but he just couldn’t do it then.
he did send missionaries. Missionaries like Francis Asbury
Thomas Coke. And here’s where you discover what made Methodists so
unique. Because all the other denominations, when the minister arrived,
the first thing he wanted to know was where the stone quarry was. Why?
Because he wanted to get those nice pretty stones so he could build a
nice pretty church like they have in England. Like some of the ones we
have downtown here. Beautiful buildings.
That’s what those other
denominations wanted to know. “Where can I get the stone, where can I
get some stained glass, where can I get some walnut for the pews?”
Wesley sent his missionaries and he told them, “Let the other
denominations worry about building their nice little buildings. As for
you, you ride. Get on your horse and ride. You go out into the highways
and byways. You go out into the country. You don’t need a pretty
church. You can meet God in a school house. You can meet God in a barn.
You can meet God in somebody’s living room. You can meet God in an
Irish Hall with a bar at the back. Just spread the good news about
Jesus Christ. Don’t get hung up with looking respectable. Be passionate
about bringing people to Jesus Christ.
In 1765, there were 3
Methodists in the United States. In 1843, there were 5 million. It’s
the fastest growing group of Christians in any part of the world in
history, and all Wesley said was “Get out there and spread the
message.” And they did. And they created little societies all over the
place. And that’s still what they were. Societies. They weren’t a
church. And so the circuit riders would tell the people to be sure to
be in church on Sunday.
But where would they go to church? Well,
let’s say the nearest Anglican Church is in Halifax, 252 km away. Well,
that’s a problem. We’ve got a lot of Christians in these societies but
we don’t have a church.
And then in the U.S., you have the
American Revolution. The colonies rebelled against England, and when it
was all done there weren’t any Anglican Church anyplace to go to. And
that’s when Wesley made a pivotal decision in 1784. He said, “For the
sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in America, we’re going to have a
Methodist Church.” And so we had a church that formed over here south
of the border called the Methodist Episcopal Church. But in England,
Wesley remained in the Anglican Church and advised all the Methodists
there to do the same.
Well, Wesley would die in 1791 at the age
of 87. But the Methodist movement continued. Which incidentally, is one
of the wonderfully things about Wesley’s organizational skills. Usually
when a great leader dies, the movement dies shortly afterward. But in
this case, Methodism flourished.
And it continued to be inspired
by people like Charles Finney, a Presbyterian preacher in upstate New
York who came up with radical innovations like the altar call and
revival meetings. And then there was Phoebe Palmer. She was an
evangelist from New York City who built upon Wesley’s teachings on
holiness. And between the two of them, they greatly impacted not just
churches and not just theology, but all of society. And their influence
spread right on up to here in the Maritimes.
pick up the pace again. Over the decades, slavery became a hot topic in
the U.S. Now, Wesley himself had opposed slavery. In fact, his writings
had inspired William Wilberforce to make it his mission to put an end
to the slave trade and eventually slavery itself throughout the British
Empire. Earlier this year we talked about his decades long fight. And
one of the last letters that Wesley wrote was to Wilberforce,
encouraging him to press on. So Wesley opposed slavery, spoke against
it, and wrote against it. But the Methodist Episcopal Church failed to
take a stand against it.
So several people ended up leaving the
Methodist Episcopal Church and formed the Wesleyan Methodist Connection
in 1843 which eventually became known as the Wesleyan Methodist Church.
This new organization opposed slavery, opposed war, supported women’s
rights, encouraged child labour reform, supported the labour movement,
and battled for a variety assortment of other social and political
reform issues. They were involved with the Underground Railroad which
helped slaves escape to freedom. And the Wesleyan Methodist Church in
Seneca Falls, New York, hosted the first Women’s Rights Convention. And
they were among the first denominations (if not the first) to ordain a
woman as a pastor. By the year 1900, one third of all the ministers in
the Wesleyan Methodist Church were women.
And over the years,
several other smaller denominations that shared similar beliefs and
values merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Here in Atlantic
Canada, we were our own denomination… the Reformed Baptist Alliance of
Canada… formed with a passion for the life of holiness that Wesley and
Phoebe Palmer talked about. Well, zooming right along, we merged with
the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1966, which in turn merged with the
Pilgrim Holiness Church, another holiness denomination, in 1968 to
become the Wesleyan Church.
Today, there are some 5000 Wesleyan
Churches with over 400,000 worshippers located in close to 100
countries around the world. Including us right here at Sunrise.
will not be tested on this information. The important thing is that you
understand that we do have a history, that our heritage is based on a
strong commitment to the Word of God and to Biblical values, and that
these beliefs impacted society.
And you know what? We’re still
impacted today by people like John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney,
Phoebe Palmer, George Whitfield, Luther Lee, and Orange Scott and
others who have been part of the Wesleyan Methodist movement over the
past three hundred years. And I want to be impacted by them. Their
passion for God, their passion for others, their passion for holiness…
and the way that extended outward and transformed society… Don’t you
want some of that?
Plus, I think Wesley’s understanding of what it means to be a real
Christian is right on the money.
Has an experience when they become a child of God.
Develops a life of salvation.
Pursues a life that is Christ-like.
at Sunrise, we’ve spent a lot of time on that first one. And we have
addressed the others as well. But as we head into the Fall and as
things crank up for us for another year, we’re going to be focusing a
bit more on those habits… on what it means to live a life of salvation
and how that culminates in a life that is Christ-like. Okay?
Now, just as we finish up, let me quickly describe for you who we are
as Wesleyan today…
We Are Today:
We are people of the Book
believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and so we remain
faithful to the Bible and will not compromise on basic doctrines. We
believe in the virgin birth. We believe in the reality of the
crucifixion and the resurrection. We believe that Jesus is coming back
again someday. And the day we start to do away with our basic doctrines
is the day I search for a new church.
We are evangelistic
believe that there is a lost world, filled with people who are far from
God, and our job is to go outside our walls and reach them with the
message of new birth.
We are committed to holy living
understand that God has called us not just to believe certain things
but to live a certain way. And that it all needs to flow out of a heart
that has been transformed by the grace and love of God.
We are a Spirit-led Church
seek His leading not just in our denomination but in our lives. We
deeply crave to experience Him and His work in our lives. And we’re not
ashamed to express that outwardly as we sing, as we cry, as we clap…
we’re moved by the Holy Spirit. And that’s a good thing.
We are a mission-oriented Church
Charles Wesley put it well in one of his hymns. Read it with me…
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will!
summer at Beulah when we ordain new ministers, we sing that song. But
it’s not just a song for the ordained. We all have a calling to
fulfill… the serve the present age and spread the message of
forgiveness and life and new birth. That’s why we’re here. That’s what
we’re all about.
And aren’t you glad to be part of such a great
movement of God through the centuries? Chris read these words for us
earlier this morning, but let’s finish by reading them again…
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life
of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially
the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the
race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus…
greatly benefit from the heritage we have in Wesley… his teachings, his
theology, his social action, his methods… we respect him and appreciate
him. But we don’t worship him. We keep our eyes on Jesus!
this message adapted from material by Bud Bence]