“About this time some disputes took place in the Fetter-lane society as to lay preaching; and Mr. Charles Wesley, in the absence of his brother, declared warmly against it. While his brother was still at Bristol, he had also a painful interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who objected to the irregularity of his course, and hinted at proceeding to excommunication. This conversation was to him the occasion of great perplexity of mind, which being observed by Mr. Whitefield, he urged him to preach in the fields the following Sunday, and thus commit himself almost beyond the possibility of retreat. He followed this advice, and preached, on June 24th, to nearly a thousand persons in Moorfields. At Oxford, the Dean dealt severely with him in regard of field-preaching; but on his return to London, he resumed the practice in Moorfields, and on Kennington common; and many were aroused to a serious inquiry after religion. On one occasion it was calculated that ten thousand persons were assembled to hear him.”
I read this passage out of John Wesley’s journal’s this past week. I had to smile because I sometimes believe that there are new things! But this text reassured me that at least in terms of human relations in the context of the Church, there is very little new under heaven!
In case you are not aware of the issues Wesley is addressing, there was a brand new practice that Wesley and his friends were engaging in called “Field Preaching.” Field Preaching was basically preaching outdoors. Gathering a group of people in a place where people were and sharing with them the Good News of Jesus Christ. As Wesley’s journal indicates identifying a gathering of a thousand people at Kennington common, who were “aroused to serious inquiry after religion,” Field Preaching was working. It was reaching people in significant ways. It was making a difference.
But there was significant pushback against it. It was viewed by the religious elite as “vulgar.” It was not a “proper” expression. Worship was to take place in a sanctuary with specific liturgy and written sermons. Those in power even threatened to excommunicate Charles for his actions.
Wesley was perplexd at their resistance. To him the church was being the church. People were being reached with the gospel, lives were being changed. How could anyone be against that?!
And most of us who look at it from our vantage point today side with Wesley and scoff at the religious elites too.
But friends as I go from church to church and we talk together about mission and vision for today’s world, as we look at how we might be the church that sparks revival in our day, I too, often hear similar responses to what Wesley received. It’s shared in lots of ways from worship style preferences to the use of the pastor’s time. It shows up in the focus of energy and money inside as opposed to outside the current congregation. The struggle is alive and well today.
So, there is nothing new under the sun! But the same principles and values of outreach that created the Wesleyan revival in the 1700’s can create new revivals today. May we always be those who look beyond protecting to investing, from us to them, from religion to Spirit!