Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lessons from Methodists – Part 1 of 3

wesleyJohn Wesley is one of the names most connected with the Methodist church. Wesley’s disciples were called Methodists because they methodically sought to obey the Lord in all areas of their lives by observing three main rules:
  • Do no harm.
  • Do as much good possible.
  • Use every means of grace that God has given.

The result of this simple form of discipleship is seen in the history books. This revival became widespread and affected society to such a degree that it is credited with creating England’s middle class. This in a time when poverty was the reality for four out of every five Britons. The transformation brought about is also said to have saved England from a bloody revolution.1

Revivals that not only save souls, but transform families and change societies are acts of God that are worth studying and learning from. In this post we will look at the first area of change in the lifestyle of Wesley’s disciples: “Do no harm.”

They Abandoned Sinful Habits.

In teaching his disciples to do no harm, John Wesley led them to form small groups where they encouraged one another to abandon the sinful habits ruining their lives. These accountability groups, as we might call them today, provided a places where new followers of Jesus could confess their sins one to another and pray for one another. They prayed for self-control, something the Holy Spirit produces (Galatians 5:22-23).

The three sinful habits these disciples were admonished to abandon were drunkenness, fighting, and sexual immorality. These three sins in particular had caused a devastating effect on the society.

Widespread drunkenness caused a man-made famine. The demand for gin meant that half of the country’s grain crops went to making alcohol instead of bread. Drunkenness also led to fighting, of course. Violent crime was such a part of life that not even frequent, capital punishment in the forms of public hangings was an effective as a deterrent. Sexual immorality led to rampant illegitimacy, which continued the cycle of poverty.

When new converts became dedicated followers of Jesus they repented of these self-destructive habits. “Believers stayed sober and quit doing the crazy and dangerous things intoxicated people do. They stopped fighting and thus avoided the injuries and feuds that destroy productivity. They abandoned promiscuity and started valuing their families and raising their children. Simply renouncing these three self-destructive behaviors greatly improved the economic lives of the Methodists.”2

Outreach Means Calling People to Repentance 

Every sinful behavior is destructive. That is its nature. In every temptation to sin there is a lie that something good will come, but it is a lie. What really comes is loss, brokenness and finally death.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  - John 10:10

Calling people to repentance is good news, when offered with the hope that Christ brings. To all who repent, there is forgiveness. To all who have bartered their souls, there is life. To all those who desire an escape, there is strength.

Peter declared it plainly: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

An area in which we may have become weak in evangelism and discipleship is in helping people to see the consequences of sinful behavior and where it leads. For many, it is not enough to simply tell them “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We need to be able expose the lie behind each sin, and show clearly how that path leads to death.

The gospel is not simply, “believe like me, and get a pass to heaven.” There is no real hope in that. The gospel is that God will not only forgive us of our past transgressions, when we repent and believe in Jesus, but that as we become his disciples, he gives each of us the power to escape the enslaving power of sin, and to walk away from it.

What About Modern Day Hellholes?

There are places so overcome by sin that they are as dangerous as a warzone. Here in Brazil the favelas, or slums, have that reputation. Escalating violence, poverty, illegitimacy, drug use, drunkenness, organized gang crime, and all kinds of abuse are the reality. In places like these, it is easy to see how sin leads to a culture of hopelessness and death.

Who is willing to go into the dangerous places like these and proclaim the gospel that brings life, even if means laying down his own?

(In a future post, we will look at biblical strategies for going into murderously dangerous places.)
Notes

  1. This series of posts and the information with respect to Wesley’s revival contained therein is mostly a summary of an excellent piece written by Charles White and Robby Butler for Mission Frontiers outlining the impact of John Wesley’s ministry. The full article is available for download as a PDF file by clicking the picture below. I highly recommend it.
  2. Ibid.
john wesley cpm

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