The rise of Methodism and fruit that lasts

I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about how the Holy Spirit actually shows up. As I said in this post, I suspect much of what we attribute to the Holy Spirit is simply not within his character. Or we allow ourselves to be content with reports of the Spirit’s movement in other places, without doing the spiritual work to participate in what he is doing right here … right now. I cannot believe that all God’s mighty works are for other places and people. Can you?

In the midst of thinking and praying about this — asking the Lord to teach me more about how he actually moves — I discovered something about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, that strikes me as profound. In an article on the rise of Methodism Andrew Thompson writes,

“Ask your average Methodist what the turning point was in the history of the Methodist movement, and you’ll likely get the response that it was John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience in 1738. It was there that Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed and received the assurance of his salvation. Methodism couldn’t have grown and expanded in the years following had it not been for Wesley’s own encounter with Christ that fateful evening, right?”

Right … but

When Wesley himself reflected on what made his work so remarkably fruitful, Aldersgate is not what he referenced. Wesley remembered instead what he called “three rises” of Methodism. In writing about this, Thompson quotes Wesley’s own journal:

“On Monday, May 1, [1738,] our little society began in London. But it may be observed, the first rise of Methodism (so-called) was in November 1729, when four of us met together at Oxford: the second was at Savannah, in April 1736, when twenty or thirty persons met at my house: the last, was at London, on this day, when forty or fifty of us agreed to meet together every Wednesday evening, in order to a free conversation, begun and ended with singing and prayer. In all our steps we were greatly assisted by the advice and exhortations of Peter Boehler, an excellent young man, belonging to the society commonly called Moravians.”

The great revival that swept England then America was not rooted in a moment like Aldersgate, nor in the thousands who gathered in fields to hear him preach. No, Wesley credits the rise of Methodism with three meetings that gathered in homes over the course fifty years to press into the spiritual disciplines and pursue the heart of God.

Let that sink in.

A movement that shaped the face of contemporary Christianity began when a few men quietly began to meet together to hold one another accountable for the living out of their faith. The heart of those meetings was a series of questions that required participants to be honest about the state of their souls.

This was transparency before transparency was cool. 

The experiment in spiritual accountability was repeated over time in Wesley’s own life; then was replicated in living rooms, church houses and assembly halls across two continents. The upshot? By 1850 one in three American Christians was Methodist, and hundreds of thousands of people had come to Christ. Today, 900 million Pentecostals can trace their theological roots to Wesley’s Holy Club, along with another 70 million in various strains of Methodism.

THAT’S the fruit I’m looking for. I am looking for the kind of fruit that can’t be explained any other way than the power of God. In our churches and in The Church, I’m looking for fruit that will last. I am ready for those of us who follow Jesus faithfully to begin refusing anything less. If we are going to become hungry for genuine moves of the Spirit, we must stop feeding on snack food. We must stop calling warm moments and well-attended services what they are not, until we become so hungry that nothing short of the authentic will suffice.

And I suspect the greatest moves of the Holy Spirit are just as Jesus said they were — like mustard seeds or a little yeast. They begin in unassuming places, are fertilized by faith and discipline, and grow (perhaps quietly, perhaps not) into mighty movements that change people, change cultures, change the world. They are known by fruit that lasts and by fruit that far outstrips the effort. Maybe they are only known by the fruit they bear over time, even over generations. But they ARE known by their fruit.

That’s the point. Spirit-filled movements bear fruit that lasts. The Church of Jesus Christ must refuse anything less.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

2 thoughts on “The rise of Methodism and fruit that lasts

  1. Marie’s comments are encouraging! I am reminded of I John 1:3 “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” We were made for fellowship! My Small Growth Group leader recently pointed out that George Whitfield, a great evangelist who originally disavowed the importance of “weekly meetings”, later acknowledged how important they were. I am told that the increase and decrease in Christianity can be tied directly to the presence of “weekly meetings”. But these aren’t just any meeting or potluck supper. We need to meet regularly with intention of purpose to be transparent with and encouraging to each other about where we are and what is happening in our continued faith walk.

  2. “when forty or fifty of us agreed to meet together every Wednesday evening, in order to a free conversation, begun and ended with singing and prayer.” ~ John Wesley

    THIS is what has been lost! Free conversation rather than an ‘audience’ sitting silently for a prescribed amount of time, usually 1 hour length in it’s entirety, listening to someone pontificate on their thoughts, feelings, or educated guesses about the the gospel message.

    NO worshipful waiting on the Holy Spirit to move, lead, or guide
    NO lingering in prayer in hopeful anticipation of the Holy Spirit to lead our hearts
    NO stress free environment to sing to each other in hymns and spiritual songs in order to encourage and uplift one another as we are exhorted by the Apostle Paul to do on a regular basis in our times of gathering together

    Just a HURRY HURRY HURRY to complete the prescribed “service” agenda and get on with our wants – for lunch, for sports etc

    We most likely will not influence the rest of the so-called “church” to change, but each individual CAN decide in their own hearts to change and refuse to “go with the flow” any longer! When enough Christians don’t just say enough, but ACT on it, it will influence others for good! And perhaps THEN it won’t be about following John Wesley or following John Calvin or following Martin Luther or following ANYONE but Jesus, the Head of the Body! (see 1Corinthians 1:12)

    9 of us meet regularly in our home for the FREE conversation and encouragement, studying Gods Word to show ourselves approved and learning to apply that Word to our everyday lives. We love the Lord, His Word and His Church and we desire His will, His Glory, and to bear fruit to His honor.

    The POWER of the Holy Spirit is evident when we “die to ourselves” and live to HIM. Difficult, fraught with peril, sacrifice, suffering and tribulation along with the hatred of this world – but take heart, for HE has overcome the world!

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