I attend a Methodist church, so naturally John Wesley gets more attention than in other churches. For those who don’t know, the word methodist came to be used because Wesley and his associates were quite methodical in their approach to the spiritual life and held each other in loving accountability in small group meetings. The word was not initially a positive one, but used to make fun of them!
Also, did you know that Wesley never intended to start a new denomination? He was trying to bring reform within the Church of England (Anglicanism). At that point in time, Christianity had become dead and formal, and had little positive influence on society.
When Wesley’s “methods” came over to the colonies in the New World, the unique situation of an expanding continent/nation made the traveling circuit rider approach quite effective. Circuit riders (on horseback) would visit the “small groups” that followed Wesley’s methods. Eventually, these groups formed a distinct “connection” and a denomination was born. (That is a simplified history!)
In case you are not aware, the Methodist church was the leading denomination in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century – and very influential. Below I have posted Wesley’s rules for band-societies. I dare say that many Christians today (including many Methodists!) would find these rules…too severe or simply un-loving or putting your nose where it does not belong. “Tell me my faults? How dare you!”
We live in a profoundly INDIVIDUALISTIC age where we fail to see how much we need genuine community and honest sharing with one another as believers. Sadly, what we see as community in the church can be little more than socialization or superficial chat about the Bible. (A good book to check out is: The Community of God. My review here. The author is not Methodist.)
Wesley’s Rules for Band-Societies, Drawn up December 25, 1738.
The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”
To this end, we intend.
- To meet once a week, at the least.
- To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
- To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
- To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
- To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
- To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may he to this effect.
- Have you the forgiveness of your sins.
- Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
- Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart.
- Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you.
- Do you desire to be told of your faults.
- Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home.
- Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you.
- Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you.
- Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom.
- Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve.
Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion others; the four following at every meeting.
- What known sins have you committed since our last meeting.
- What temptations have you met with.
- How were you delivered.
- What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not.