Back to the Future

I’ve been a member of the First United Methodist Church of Crystal Lake for fifty years.

My family moved here in 1958 when I was sixteen. We transferred our membership from the Middletown, New York, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

You’d think that I would be over “firsts” in my church, but the weekend before last I heard the first sermon on Methodist Church founder John Wesley.

Maybe it’s just my failing memory or maybe it was a topic in one of the many sermons I missed, but our new minister, Steve Bullmer, who came from the Marengo United Methodist Church, explained how the Methodist Church came into being.

Who would have ever thought church history would be interesting, not to mention inspiring?

I won’t be able to replicate Bullmer’s energized delivery, but let me lay out what I retained.

John Wesley was the son of a Church of England priest who had gotten some influence from German Christians who believed in justification by faith. The Church of England was then basically the Catholic Church without the Pope. Wesley went to Oxford and became a Church of England priest himself.

He was asked by his younger brother to lead a group of students who wanted to practice Christianity in a serious way. They studied, did good works, carried Bibles and were ridiculed for it. They were called “The Holy Club.”

They practiced their religion so methodically, their detractors called them “Methodists.”

Wesley adopted the name for himself and his followers.

Wesley became convinced that his mission in life was to bring the Gospel to Indians in America. He took a ship across the Atlantic in the middle of winter.

In the middle of a storm—and my pictures are of Pastor Steve demonstrating how bad the storm was—Wesley stumbled into a cabin where a group of Moravians were quietly praying.

“We’re going to die!”

Pastor Steve shouted, explaining Wesley’s attitude. (If you slept through this sermon, you would have had to have narcolepsy.) One of the men in the cabin explained they were not going to die, that God intended them to get to America and that’s what was going to happen.

Wesley was quite impressed with their quiet faith.

In Georgia, Wesley did not convert one Indian. And his Church of England parishioners were not much into his calls for good works. Bullmer pointed out that Georgia was where England sent criminals.

But, Welsey, then in this thirties, did fall in love. With the governor’s 18-year old daughter, no less.

In a romantic moment on a sandbar, Wesley told her he loved her so much that he was never going to touch her.

She soon found someone who would and got married.

Wesley then refused to give her communion to which she, her new husband, and, most importantly, the governor took offense.

Wesley’s life was made miserable until he figured out that it was time to leave Georgia.

Crossing the ocean back to England was the low point in his life.

When he got back to England, he sought out the Moravians, finding a small group at Aldersgate where his heart was warmed.

That was the start of something big.

Today you would call it revival preaching.

One of Wesley’s Holy Club members, George Whitfield, was preaching to thousands (yes, thousands) in the open. He encouraged Wesley to try it.

Wesley, of course, prayed about it and finally decided to “become more vile.”

He began to speak to thousands outdoors.

He said he was on fire and people came to watch him burn.

The new movement didn’t need churches. They encouraged the formation of small groups for the intimate relationships that Christians need to develop in their faith.

It grew into a church whose tenants fused the views of those who thought faith in Christ was enough and those who thought good works were enough.

In the beginning of the sermon, Pastor Steve used a clock with a swinging golf club pendulum to illustrate how England religious wars swung between those who believed in good works and those who took the faith route to Christianity.

Tonight at five, Sunday at 8, 9:30 and 11, Associate Pastor Darneather Heath will discuss the character of a Methodist.

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