The General Rules are Living Prayer

There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation, ….

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In their original form, the General Rules of the Methodist Church were a kind of living prayer. Conforming to the Rules was not a means to earn God’s favor. Neither were Rules a prescription for virtuous and praiseworthy living in general. They were not even a roadmap for living gratefully and joyfully in response to what God had done. Rather, they were a way for people “deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly groaning for redemption” to wait actively and expectantly before God.

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How Wesley Organized for Transformation

After retiring last month from military service as an Army chaplain, I was able to attend my first district preachers meeting in 27 years last week. The district superintendent spent most of the meeting reminding us of Methodism’s earliest means of making disciples. John Wesley, he recalled, organized Methodists into societies, classes and bands.

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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:

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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.

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.

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Epiclesis: Body, Blood, Word, Spirit

The epiclesis is the part of the communion prayer in which the celebrant, calling on the Holy Spirit, asks God to make Christ’s body and blood real and present in the bread and wine. This, for example, is the epiclesis from a current United Methodist communion liturgy:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

Within the framework of the current ecumenical consensus, the epiclesis occurs near the end of the Eucharistic prayer, but it has not always been so.

Sixteenth century reformer Huldrych Zwingli denied that the bread and wine were Christ’s body and blood at all. The supper was a memorial. Although this is still a popular view, in this post I am more interested in those Protestants who remained firmly in the “real presence” camp. While they denied the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, they affirmed that communicants actually receive Christ’s body and blood during the holy meal. Their communion liturgies, however, did not require the Holy Spirit to effect a miracle to make this occur. They arrived at Christ’s “real presence” in his body and blood by another route.

I don’t know Calvinist worship history enough to comment on the Reformed tradition in Protestantism, but both the Lutheran and Anglican streams offered versions of the Eucharist without an epiclesis, and both strongly affirmed that communicants truly receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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