John Wesley, Prayer, and Holiness—Part 1

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The other day a package arrived in the mail. I was excited! It wasn’t a gadget, although i can be a geek for those. It wasn’t a bike part, although managing an aging family fleet of iron steeds occasionally calls for parts. No, it was a rather plain looking book with a white cover: John Wesley’s Prayer Book, The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. I know, you’re drooling already, right? (Maybe groaning is closer…) But as a good Nazarene, I’m a geek for anything by John Wesley. Oh I own his sermons, notes on the Bible, some of his journals, and his theological articles. But this was one of his final publications, just seven years before his death. It was written at the ripe old age of eighty-one. Over 2,000 copies were printed back in c1784. Only 39 survive today. And it’s not easy to get a look at one of those. When I finally found it had been reprinted I was elated. But then it was hard to find it for sale… I wish I had known of it 19 years ago, but it was just off the radar as I was graduating seminary… Yet, sometimes these things happen for a reason. It’s good timing for me just now…
It has been very interesting reading through Wesley’s guide to Sunday services and prayer. It’s both easy to see how almost all holiness theology was fed by his tradition and hard to imagine why his bishop couldn’t see it. Clearly, Wesley saw the U.S. as the place where the message of holiness, separated from certain political forces/hierarchy, could be freely spread. How ironic. At first he came here, as a missionary, to convert Native Americans. He was terrible at it. Then he was very suspicious of the American motives for seeking independence. But after Church of England bishops refused to ordain his trained preachers, America became, for Wesley, the great land of opportunity once again. In the preface to this work he wrote of the Methodist ministers who would be ordained here, “They are now at full liberty, simply to follow the Scriptures and the primitive church. And we judge it best that they should stand fast in that liberty, wherewith God has so strangely made them free.”
It brings to mind both Aldersgate, where Wesley’s heart had been “strangely” warmed, and the spiritual freedom afforded by the work of the Holy Spirit in a fully surrendered life. And now political realities, which had distressed and hindered, became a fresh breeze for this movement.
So how did this fiery, charismatic, oftentimes outdoor evangelist want his preachers and congregations to worship and pray? You might be surprised…but that will have to wait until my next post…

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Posted on May 17, 2011, in CotN, Spiritual Formation and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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