Charles Wesley and Samuel Seabury’s Plan for Ordaining Methodists in America

As a postscript to my posts on the failed union between Methodists and Anglicans in early American history, I note an article published by catholicity and covenant (“genuine, valid and episcopal”), which in turn quotes an article by Mark Michael at Covenant (“zeal and patience”).

I wrote that Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury rejected a plan to reunite with the remnants of the Church of England in America in 1784, but Coke changed his mind in 1791. Even then, Episcopal bishop William White responded positively to Coke’s initiative, but presiding bishop Samuel Seabury turned a deaf ear.

I was surprised to learn, then, that Seabury and Methodist co-founder Charles Wesley actually met in London in 1784 and created a plan by which Seabury would ordain Methodist preachers when he returned to America. About the same time, Charles’ brother John Wesley made his fateful decision to consecrate Thomas Coke as kind of bishop and to send him to America with the authority to ordain:


As [John] Wesley sent off his letter, and Thomas Coke with it to come to America with the purpose of ordaining his preachers, another Anglican priest was also travelling about Britain. Samuel Seabury, bishop-elect of Connecticut, was pursuing a different potential solution to American Anglicanism’s pastoral crisis, one he believed to be essential to “follow[ing] the Scriptures and the Primitive Church.” Seabury was in search of three bishops who would consecrate him, so that episcopacy might be carried back to his native land.

Seabury’s zeal in pursuit of his cause cannot be doubted, but he was above all a patient man. For nearly a year and a half, he met with a number of English bishops to plead his case, some of them multiple times. Like Wesley, he was rather woodenly rebuffed by Robert Lowth, the Bishop of London, who could not imagine the prospect of consecrating a bishop who lacked a warrant from the Connecticut state legislature. . . . .

Seabury’s patience was rewarded when three Scottish bishops consecrated him at Aberdeen on Nov. 14, 1784. Ironically, on exactly the same day, in a Methodist meetinghouse in Delaware, Thomas Coke had his first meeting with Francis Asbury to discuss Wesley’s plan for establishing a Methodist church and ordaining its first ministers. That meeting would set in motion a process that would end in their joint ordination as the first Methodist superintendents (later bishops) at the famous “Christmas Conference” in Baltimore just six weeks later.

It could have been otherwise. Seabury had met with Charles Wesley during his time in London, and he had agreed to ordain Methodist preachers upon his return to America if he found them suitable candidates for the ministry. There’s no evidence that Seabury also met with John Wesley (or that, if he had, Wesley would have trusted that he would find success in his quest). But Charles Wesley found Seabury’s plan quite promising, and would scold his brother’s impatience in a letter to an American priest the following year:

Had they had patience a little longer, they would have seen a Real Primitive Bishop in America duly consecrated by three Scotch Bishops, who had their consecration from the English Bishops, and are acknowledged by them as the same as themselves. There is therefore not the least difference betwixt the members of Bishop Seabury’s Church, and the members of the Church of England.

You know I had the happiness to converse with that truly apostolical man, who is esteemed by all that know him as much as by you and me. He told me he looked upon the Methodists of America as sound members of the Church, and was ready to ordain any of the Preachers whom he should find duly qualified. His ordinations would be indeed genuine, valid and Episcopal. (“Letter to Thomas Bradbury Chandler”)

Read both articles.

Repairing the 18th Century Methodist-Episcopal Schism in America

Yesterday I discussed the 18th century schism that separated the Methodist movement in America from its Anglican roots, primarily citing the work of John Wigger in American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists. The recently announced proposal for full communion between the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church addresses the 18th century schism between the two groups.

We affirm the ministry of bishops in The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church to be adaptations of the historic episcopate to the needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context. We recognize the ministries of our bishops as fully valid and authentic. We lament any ways, whether intentionally or unintentionally, explicitly or implicitly, that Episcopalians may have considered the ministerial orders of the United Methodist Church or its predecessor bodies to be lacking God’s grace. It is our hope and prayer that in this full communion proposal we may heal these divisions, right the sin of separation from the 1780s, and share in these mutual adaptations of the historic episcopate for the greater unity of the church in mission and ministry.

A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness
The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church
A Proposal for Full Communion

You can read more about how American Methodists “adapted” the historic episcopate to the American missional situation in post-revolutionary America at United Methodists and Apostolic Succession.

The Failed Union Between the Methodist and Episcopal Churches

On May 17, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church announced a proposed framework for full communion between the two denominations. Perhaps the proposal will produce better results than the first efforts at reconciliation which took place in when both churches were very young. Within the first decade of Methodism’s existence as an independent church, two half-baked attempts at reunion with the Episcopal Church failed.

Continue reading “The Failed Union Between the Methodist and Episcopal Churches”

John Wesley’s Definition of Evil Speaking

… to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:2

In his sermon on The Cure of Evil Speaking, John Wesley describes the sin of evil speaking this way:

“Speak evil of no man,” says the great Apostle: — As plain a command as, “Thou shalt do no murder.” But who, even among Christians, regards this command. Yea, how few are there that so much as understand it what is evil-speaking. It is not, as some suppose, the same with lying or slandering. All a man says may be as true as the Bible; and yet the saying of it is evil-speaking. For evil-speaking is neither more nor less than speaking evil of an absent person; relating something evil, which was really done or said by one that is not present when it is related. Suppose, having seen a man drunk, or heard him curse or swear, I tell this when he is absent; it is evil-speaking. In our language this is also, by an extremely proper name, termed backbiting. Nor is there any material difference between this and what we usually style tale-bearing. If the tale be delivered in a soft and quiet manner (perhaps with expressions of good-will to the person, and of hope that things may not be quite so bad,) then we call it whispering. But in whatever manner it be done, the thing is the same; — the same in substance, if not in circumstance. Still it is evil-speaking; still this command, “Speak evil of no man,” is trampled under foot; if we relate to another the fault of a third person, when he is not present to answer for himself.

In a world increasingly ruled by social media, that would be quite a standard to follow.

Continue reading “John Wesley’s Definition of Evil Speaking”

The Bishop’s Strange Translation

United Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough has issued a pastoral statement on the refugee situation. I have a number of questions about the letter, but the first thing that caught my eye was a really odd, off-the-wall translation of Matthew 16:25. Of this verse, the bishop wrote:

The original Greek language is far more poetic, powerful and prophetic. In finer translations of the Greek language, we hear Jesus saying: “Whoever seeks to build a wall around their soul shall destroy it; whoever tears down the wall (around their soul) shall bring their soul to a living birth.”

Huh? I’m not a great Greek scholar, but the passage seems rather straight-forward to me.

ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ, εὑρήσει αὐτήν.

“Whoever wishes to save his or life will lose it, but whoever loses his or her life because of me will find it.”

Or, if you want to make the subjunctive verbs more visible,

“Whoever should wish to save his or her life will lose it, but whoever should happen to lose his or her life because of me will find it.” 

Continue reading “The Bishop’s Strange Translation”