A Wesleyan Response to the Present Age

Updated: Jan 22

By Chet Harris, Regional Director East Ohio WCA

Another act of violence shouts from our news sources. Innocent people randomly killed by a man with no connection to the victims. Rage. Confusion. Blame. The travesty of evil has become like a masterful networking of pain and suffering. The web of evil that plagues our society is frightening.


Consider:


The fact that 130 people die every day from lethal opioid overdoses makes this the number one problem in our country.


Human Sex trafficking is a blight on the conscience of America. Approximately 200,000 women per year become trafficked. The average age of the females trafficked in the USA is nineteen and the age of thirteen is often the age when first trafficked. The annual income generated from the sex trade is 32 billion dollars.


A statistic that should cause us to pause and consider is that fifty million Americans live on an income below the federal poverty level. This raw statistic touches the life of one in every four children. Poverty impacts health, education, family stability, and criminal activity. Our welfare system is inadequate and seemingly ineffective in addressing the root causes.


Our prisons house 1.5 million inmates and the numbers are increasing. The USA has the largest prison population in the world. Drug related crimes have dramatically inflated the prison statistics.


As a pastoral theologian I believe the root cause of this litany and much more that is eating away at the fabric of our nation and world is in a word ‘sin.’ We live in a sin sick – sin saturated society.


We need a grassroots movement of God touching the very souls of our neighbors with the redemptive love of Jesus. All of us are called to action. The day of the pew potato is history. And we have in the dusty pages of our Wesleyan heritage a model to follow. This model will require our most earnest commitment to a ministry of redemption, a call to scriptural holiness, and the piety of social holiness in action.


John Wesley’s England was not unlike our sin saturated society. Sin is never novel or original in application. One could say it is the same song sung with a different tune. Alcoholism was rampant. Cheap gin was the national drink especially among the poor desiring to anesthetize their plight in life. England had crept into an age when stealing anything over the worth of $8.00 meant the hanging tree. Prostitution was common and far too many fathers sold their daughters into the life of the brothel because of overwhelming poverty and the absence of a moral compass. Twelve years of age was often the beginning of such a life for a child. The Christian faith had become politized, secularized, and demoted to a religion foreign to the simplicity of the New Testament. The poor rarely heard or understood the meaning of faith and a commitment to Christ. The rich were haughty in spirit and void of the Holy Spirit. Formalized religion was base and devoid of any real connection with a God who transforms lives. There were of course exceptions, but the tenure of a spiritual void was evident across the land. Only the rich and privileged had an education. Children were mandated by the cruel reality of systemic poverty to work in textile factories, haul coal from the innermost recesses of darkness, or steal on the streets of the city to survive. The industrial age lauded and applauded as a turning point for civilization was for many an open door to wantonness, desperation, and a form of cultural servitude. There was a middle class that remained separated from the proper people. They served a purpose and were not permitted entrance into the life of the titled gentry.


Wesley was known for his emphatic call to accepting Jesus as Savior and the second work of grace being entire sanctification, Christian perfection. His sermons are lengthy orations calling people to repentance and the new life in Christ. Preaching to coal miners, traveling exhausting miles to preach in communities that had yet heard a Methodist sermon. Wesley is not an ivory towered theologian. He was a roll up your sleeves and get the job done practical kind of theologian and pastor. Let us begin with a view toward the ministry of John Wesley as he begs for the poor.


It is in the heart of winter. The sky filled with the smoke and ash of industry. The dirty slush filled streets and chilling temperatures that rob kith and kin of all comfort and pleasure was his path. His shoes were filled with industries grimy contribution to the cityscape of gritty dirt added to the snowy slush that penetrated his shoes and made every step known to him. The reality of his present world was of no concern. He persisted in knocking on door after door begging for a lump of coal, used clothing, or coin. He was recognized by few, not all. Doors slammed, curses shared, silence often his greeting and few kind people dropped a chunk of future warmth or a ratty piece of worn clothing in this old man’s sack. The coal was not intended to stoke his stove with penetrating warmth or the clothing to wrap his chilled body, rather it was delivered to homes of myriad forgotten poor unable to have a warm hearth on this winter’s night. One man, one sack of coal, one night among endless bleak frozen nights! What difference would it make in an age and time when life seemed cheapened by humanities dreamy forgetfulness that all are children of God. It mattered to John Wesley, weary after a day of travel and preaching, yet a heart filled with passion to do the right thing during an age that did not have a welcoming heart to do the right thing.


When I bemoan and whine about how difficult it is to reach people with the redeeming love of Jesus, I force myself to revisit the life and ministry of John Wesley. When I slip into the morass of blaming politics, our USA culture, or video games for the violence evident in our world, I force myself to revisit the life and ministry of John Wesley. Wesley was not perfect in all ways and his flaws only tend to make him more real and worth careful and prudent study. I do not worship Wesley as the ideal spiritual giant, rather I witness one person who dared to step into the fray of a cultural battle for the souls of all God’s people and the very soul of a nation.


The United States, very much like 18th century England, is experiencing a revolution. We are experiencing a cultural revolution that is confusing, threatening, and extremely diverse to the point of bewilderment for many. Our nation is becoming a mosaic of people from many lands once only viewed through the pages of the photos of the National Geographic magazine. Our curiosity was tantalized by the wonderment of the diversity of life in faraway lands. Today many of those glossy brightly colored pages live in our neighborhoods. If I might be so bold in language, ‘we felt more comfortable turning the pages of a magazine as we peek into the world around the corner.’ Now people of color, all kinds of color live around the corner. We need to admit that as European white people we have failed in truly embracing the people we forcibly transplanted into our nation and that racism is a reality. This statement alone will cause many people to become angry and defensive.


I included in this article a scene from Wesley’s personal practice of serving the poor. Even when John had become well known as a revivalist and organizer of the Methodist movement he never drifted from personal accountability in piety and service. In reading the life of Wesley I do not recall him seeking public affirmation, positional confirmation, or national declaration that he was anything more than a servant of God. He seemed to be motivated by the spiritual needs of poor and rich, the sins of poverty, and the recognition that all most come to God and welcome a life of holiness and perfect love.


He recognized that once a person accepts Jesus as Savior they need discipled. Although commitment to Christ as Savior is paramount in important one can topple from the mount of genuine dedication to the new life, when proper follow up is absent and/or failure to help the person in very basic ways to make a living. The tentacles of poverty and the bent toward sinning will reach out and drag you back into the embrace of sin if you fail to separate yourself from the former life and temptations of such life.


John Wesley refused to sit back and watch a society caught in the grip of sin destroy itself. Wesley recognized there were essential areas of life that required positive intervention or evil would win the day. Wesley supported the education of children. This was a novel and not popular idea in merry old England. The birth of the Sunday School was not his idea, but he applauded and encouraged it as an opportunity to teach children who worked six days a week. This was not welcomed by the titans of industry. Wesley was resolved and defended the practice of educating impoverished children. He witnessed the likelihood of former criminals and prostitutes who accepted Christ into their life with the distinct possibility of returning to their former life if they did not discover a way to earn a living. Wesley began and supported the idea of educating them in a trade. We all know the Wesley emphasis of small groups for accountability and teaching. Filling a filed or building with people eager to hear the message of God’s redemptive love was fantastic, but real sustainable growth came in small groups being taught the Bible and how to live a life of a disciple.


John encouraged and participated in visitation to prisons and hospitals. Caring for the sick with words of hope and essential items required for recovery was very much part of his discipline. Prison conditions in England were deplorable. Wesley wrote, “O shame to man, that there should be such a place, such a picture of hell, upon earth! And shame to those who bear the name of Christ, that there should need any prison at all in Christiandom!” {Journal Feb.3, 1753}


Returning to the premise regarding how we should respond to the evidential sin in our society, I believe the model of Wesleyan intervention is the answer.

First, stop blaming everything under the sun for the chaos of sin in your community and start claiming the territory in your community for Christ. Negativity is a destructive attitude that is contagious. God’s love manifested in our hearts is truly a Divine contagion.


Second, reach out to your community with the message of God’s redemptive love and God’s intended holy living for all who accept Jesus as Savior. This will require all of us to step out of our buildings and into the stream of life. Stop waiting for people to visit your church. Start reaching out to the spiritually lost. Ask a very penetrating question of yourself and your church. “How do we spend the majority of our resources? On the needs of our members or ways to reach out beyond our walls to people who need Jesus?


Third, after prayer and seeking the counsel of God tackle one or two areas of sin that is evident in your community. Human trafficking, poverty, education, prisons, hospitals, drug addiction are just a few of the headlining cultural sins the Church is called to offer the hope of Christ. Armchair Christianity is not the answer. Roll up your sleeves and start ministering like a Wesleyan. I guarantee you will experience a profound sense of inadequacy. Great! If you could fulfill this call totally within your resources, you would not need the supernatural counsel, empowerment, and resources of God.


What happens when churches take this seriously? How does this sound to you?


Five women delivered from human trafficking.


Church gives the first month payment on a house for a family they supported, loved, counseled for ten years. They no longer live in poverty. Jobs, dignity, and family life.


She lived in a shelter and never complained. Wrote an entire term paper on an antiqued phone and emailed it to her teacher. She was a stellar student. Mentoring, support, counseling, love, provided with essentials and encouragement she could go to university. She now attends a major university in Ohio.


Chuck was a thief and drug addict. I had the privilege of leading him to Jesus and baptizing him. That was two years ago. He is clean and sober. Works at a restaurant. Life is transformed.


One person? What difference does it make in this crazy world? Ask the women delivered from the bondage of the sex trade, the poor ignored family now living in their own home, the young girl that had such great promise, and the addict at the end of his life. Common factor in each case was that one person stepped out of the pew and security of self-reliance and dared to believe that in the power of God’s anointing they could make a difference. Sounds trite, but the world can change one person at a time.

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