Whitfield, Wesley and a Rope of Sand

John Wesley was not the greatest preacher of his day. His occasional friend and sometime nemesis George Whitefield was that. “My brother Wesley acted wisely,” Whitefield said. “The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.” …. Wesley himself used the image to describe the Christianity against which his people reacted in eighteenth-century England: “Those who were desirous to save their souls were no longer a rope of sand, but clave to one another, and began to watch over each other in love. Societies were formed, and Christian discipline was introduced in all its branches.” …. There are no Whitefieldian societies now. But there are tens of millions of Wesleyan believers around the world.

Thus write Jason Byassee and L. Gregory Jones of Duke Divinity School in a 2009 article at First Things. The article focuses on Wesley as the inventor of what is now known as the micro-loan or the micro-credit movement. It begins, however, by describing the difference between John Wesley and George Whitfield’s approach to evangelism and discipleship.

The authors use the word “organize” to describe the secret of Wesley’s success. I would prefer to use the word “community.” Organization is a method; community is the product, and organizational leadership is not the only key to its existence.