One of my favorite things about Wesley is the diversity of religious backgrounds that our students have. We have people who grew up in the church, people who didn’t, Catholics, Methodists, and everything in between! This allows for a really cool space where so many different viewpoints can be shared and everyone has something to learn. While in most cases this is something to be celebrated, there are times when different viewpoints on very critical issues can come between us if we are not careful. Today we are going to continue looking at early church leaders and see how one in particular addresses the issues of differences in beliefs and practices.
Even if you are not Methodist you know of our church leader today, John Wesley. John Wesley is the founder of the Methodist tradition and the namesake of our ministry! John Wesley lived during a very interesting time in the world and a very critical time for religion in America. Wesley was born in 1703 in England. Already, Wesley experienced different opinions from the time of his birth because his grandparents were strict dissenters, meaning they opposed the Church of England, while his parents were loyalist to it. While in Oxford, Wesley and his brother Charles began what was called The Holy Club. The Wesley brothers along with other Oxford students would get together to study scripture and grow in their faith. Many other students laughed at The Holy Club and called them derogatory names. One of those names was actually Methodists. It ended up sticking and thus began the Methodist movement. Both John and Charles would eventually go to America and begin a preaching circuit and grow Methodist followers. During this time in history, there was great controversy between what would be the religion of the Americas following the Revolution. This led to great conflict between believers as they were constantly arguing about who was right and who was wrong. Wesley saw this and it troubled him greatly. So he wrote what is known as the sermon on “catholic spirit”.
Wesley is not advocating for the Catholic Church to be the main and only tradition in the Americas. However, he uses the term catholic to mean inclusive and encompassing. Wesley’s main argument is this: though we all have different practices or beliefs, the only thing that really matters is if we are all of one heart. To have one heart means that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that we desire to grow closer to Him and one another. My favorite point that Wesley makes is that it is unrealistic to think that every belief that one person has to be true. What he means is that the odds are that at least one of your beliefs is going to be wrong. I like this because it is very humbling. Wesley is not saying that at least one belief is going to be wrong for everyone except Methodists. Rather, everyone including Wesley is bound to believe something that is incorrect. For this reason, Wesley believes that as long as we are in the same heart and have taken the time to discern which traditions, practices, and beliefs we choose to hold on to, that is all that matters and that Christian fellowship is possible for all.
I hope that there was nothing that you just read that came as controversial to you. Last time, we talked about what true identity is. You are a Christian first and foremost. You are not Methodist, or Catholic, or anything else. While we all may have different things about our faith as Christians that are different than the person we sit next to at The Table or Night of Worship, we are all there because we love Jesus and want to praise Him. Like Wesley, I argue that that is all that matters and that we all come together with the same understanding of who we belong to. When we do this something incredible happens. I encourage you to continue to live out this model for the rest of the world. Show them how differences are actually our strength. Then keep that mindset as you go out into the world.