Role models for renewal are much in demand as we face the prospects of entering the Third Great American Awakening. Two questions face us: How do we stimulate revival resulting in mass repentance and faith; and how do we conserve the harvest of regenerated souls that result? It appears that a consensus is emerging among church leaders that our churches becomes more than nurseries and diaper changing stations. No longer do we desire to perpetuate what Juan Carlos Ortiz calls the “eternal childhood of the believer” where the pastor stands in front of the congregation coaxing them to open their mouths wide while squirting a stream of milk from a bottle. While many are scurrying around hunting up innovations, a helpful example can be found in the pages of church history.
John Wesley, father of Methodism, lauded (SHOULD THERE BE A “BY” HERE?) the Holiness and Pentecostal movements for his theology, despised by Calvinists for his teachings on free will and Christian perfectionism, yet praised by them for his results in promoting and maintaining revival. The old adage that it is hard to argue with success comes to Wesley’s defense. Regardless of where one stands in relation to the Arminian or Calvinist dialogue, one fact remains: John Wesley’s fruit remained. Rousious J. Rushdoony, the competent apologist of five-point Calvinism, once commented that the Arminian successes for securing conversions far outstripped their own efforts (leaving the Calvinists with the task of properly re-teaching those converted under Arminian preaching.) The successes referred to by Rushdoony can, in large part, be traced back to the example set by John Wesley. Wesley helped establish the momentum of the modern evangelical proclamation.
First of all, Wesley was impassioned with the gospel, traveling for fifty-three years on horseback all over England and Wales, and visiting Scotland and Ireland as well. He viewed the world as his parish, traveling nearly eight thousand miles and preaching about one thousand times per year, always revisiting and teaching converts or organizing them into societies. He seemed remarkably tireless. His preaching was often extemporaneous, his exposition transparently clear and his application direct. The heart of his radically impassioned preaching can be seen in this excerpt from a sermon’s conclusion: “Thou ungodly one who hearest or readest these words, thou vile, helpless, miserable sinner. I charge thee before God, the Judge of all, go straight unto Jesus with all they ungodliness. Take heed thou destroy not thine own soul by pleading thy righteousness more or less. Go as altogether ungodly, guilty, lost, destroyed, deserving and dropping into hell; and thus shalt thou find favour in His sight, and know that he justifieth the ungodly. As such thou shalt be brought unto the blood of sprinkling, as an undone, helpless, doomed sinner. Thus look unto Jesus! There is the Lamb of God, who taketh away thy sins!”
Not exactly the milquetoast rendition of “come forward to get blessed” that American evangelicalism has grown so used to. The proclamation was bold, unrelenting and passionate. The results of this were hundreds o thousands who came to Christ. This success created a new set of problems. The existing religious order did not warmly receive these new zealous converts due to perceived “fanaticism” and since they were primarily from the lower classes. Wesley needed to care for his growing flock.
This brings us to the second cause of Wesley’s phenomenal success: order. Wesley has been called a master organizer, both of his time, plans and people. In every city or town where there were converts, Wesley or his itinerant associates would organize a Methodist society – consisting of all adherents in that locale. Within each society were classes, numbering approximately one dozen persons per class. Within each class meeting was the class leader who functioned pastorally toward the members. Each class would meet weekly for prayer; each person would report on his spiritual progress and would receive pointed biblical exhortations or corrections. Each class member was accountable to live in a Christ-like manner; if not, he would receive censure and lose the right to fellowship until such a time as repentance was made complete.