Here are my notes for Chilcote’s Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision, chapter 3: Shared Experience.
1. “Wesley’s goal was to cultivate personal religious experience in the context of supportive fellowship groups” (p. 45). His experience with and vision for these fellowship groups was that they would “watch over one another in love,” that is, take responsibility for helping one another stay on the Christian path. “The early Methodist people discovered the freedom of living in the grace of God within the context of a disciplined fellowship, a committed community. This brings up an irony and paradox of the Christian gospel–to experience freedom, we must be bound to the right Master and the right disciplines.
2. Personal: Wesley emphasized “the personal nature of faith, which is ‘a divine evidence and conviction, not only that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,’ but also that Christ ‘loved me and gave himself for me”” (p. 46). The defining moment in Wesley’s life was his Aldersgate experience when the truth of God’s love came home to him in a deeply personal way. “If faith is authentic, it will always find expression in the first person singular” (p. 47), which means there is some story, some witness to share. And the personal experience of saving faith, of encounter with God, brings us into relationship with God’s family.
3. Social: “The gospel of Christ know of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness” (p. 48, quoting Wesley’s preface to Hymns and Sacred Writings). Two points here. First, “community is necessary, and it is only in the context of a community that God’s love will grow in us.” Wesley used “mutual accountability in fellowship” to grow the people in faith and practice. Second, Christianity is not merely an “inward religion of the heart” (Wesley), but one that is expressed outwardly in relationship with others. Today, we might translate “personal and social” to “personal and corporate.”
4. “A Christianity that is both personal and social will always move individuals toward God and toward one another” (p. 52). Following Christ and life in Christ’s community go hand in hand.
4 thoughts on “recapturing the wesleys’ vision 3”
Just figured out why your posting this book now (OK, I’m a little slow sometimes!).
Hope you are doing well, and send us some photos of your little “O”.
It’s always interesting to me the way “social holiness” gets used in the church. Whenever you see it in print the person using it is almost always referring to social justice or social outreach efforts by the church. Clearly, those like Chilcote who really know Wesley don’t use it in that way. But just about everyone else does, including bishops! But social justice or social outreach is not what Wesley meant by social holiness in the two key places we most often look to: the preface to the 1739 Hymns and Sacred Poems (which you cite) and the sermon, “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, IV” (1748).
In both these texts, Wesley is essentially talking about the holiness that comes from social interaction through the kind of “mutual accountability in fellowship” that you are talking about. Basically, he’s talking about stuff like bands and class meetings, not changing the minimum wage law and building houses for the poor.
It’s not that Wesley didn’t care about what we would consider social justice and social outreach. It was one of the central features of his ministry, going back to his Oxford days. But he just had a different name for it: works of mercy, which were those acts of Christian charity toward the poor and suffering.
There is a sense in which you can think of social holiness as logically extending into the realm of the kind of social ministry that Wesley called works of mercy, but it’s just that that wasn’t the meaning he had in mind when he wrote the two passages cited above. It’s not splitting hairs; it’s rather a matter of being disciplined in our use of language.
Absolutely, Andrew! JW was as much a social justice guy as anyone, but that was paired with orthodox doctrine (crazy–social justice seemed to arise from a commitment to orthodoxy rather than apart from it), a strong evangelistic streak, and a rigorous discipleship agenda. Hmm. Thinking about a post on my favorite Wesley quotes taken out of context and misused today–this is one of them.
Oh my goodness, this is great stuff. I’ve been needing to have this exact conversation. Appreciate you and Andrew pointing me to some good resources.