Methods employed by John Wesley for Evangelism and Disciple-making in early Methodism (Part Two)
Analysis of how Wesley’s Methods relate to timeless Disciple-making principles and Ministry in Africa today.
Wesley’s Methods of disciple-making are still potent today as they were in his days. The learning progress of the disciples was to be demonstrated in their daily lives. Wesley defined a mark of a mature Christian as “consistent obedience to God, in which the new relationship of justifying faith is no longer interrupted by a wayward disposition but firmly grounded in a service of love.” His modes provided sequential order, with each phase building on the previous one, and this is the actual process of discipleship development today. The Society Meetings of the Methodist systems are like what is today known as covenant groups called Come and See phase. Wesley’s Class Meetings represent the basic Accountability group known as come and follow me phase of today. Wesley’s Band represents the Ongoing accountability group of “Be With Me,” while Wesley’s Select group is the ‘Remain in me.’
Wesley’s principles are more potent today for a disciple-making Church to grow spiritually and numerically. The Ministry in Africa today has mature churches that are diverse and better articulated than at the time of John Wesley. Idol worshipping was more prevalent at that time. Missionaries like John Wesley brought the Christian religion to Africa through their evangelical outreach. Wesley’s timeless discipleship principles were to define the end product and develop the recipe at each phase. It has helped disciple-making churches to:
- Help newcomers understand the ministry they need when they join
- Help Ministry leaders understand precisely their objective in discipling persons.
- Articulating church programs to have “all the things” on its ladder.
Wesley used in the final analysis, behavior, and habits as the final indicator of success in discipleship. That is also true of today’s ministry. There is a dire need to train Church Pastors and leaders in African ministry on the timeless principles of discipleship as spelled out and practiced by Wesley. Today in Africa, a person is believed to be a good Christian if they go to Church on Sundays, balance up morally, and has a good relationship with others. The Scripture is not all that important to them; they failed to realize that God has His discipleship standards. Jesus’ standard of discipleship, which Wesley promoted in his methods, are:
- Studying the word of God – A desire to be in the Word of God. John 8:31b “If you hold to my teachings, you are my disciples.”
- Loving others – John 13: 34-35
- Developing much fruit – John 15:8
- Putting God first – Luke 14:26
- Picking up His cross – Luke 14:27
- Forsaking the old sinful ways – Luke 14:33
Most Churchgoers in Africa today hero-worship their church leaders and believe anything they say without crosschecking what the Scripture says. Regarding spiritual maturity, African ministry will be 60% Come and See, 30% follow me, and 10% Be with me & Remain in me. The effectiveness of the Wesleyan system was based on his foundation principle and technology.
Wesley’s foundation Principles, which formed his educational philosophy, were based on eight significant concepts, namely:
- Human nature is perfectible by God’s Grace
- Learning comes by doing the Will of God.
- Humankind’s nature is perfected by group participation, not by acting as isolated individuals.
- The Spirit and practice of primitive Christianity can and must be recaptured.
- Human progress will occur if people participate in the “Means of Grace.”
- The Gospel must be presented to the poor.
- Social evil is not to be “resisted” but overcome with good.
- The Primary function of spiritual, educational leadership is to equip others to lead and minister, not to perform the ministry personally.
Wesley’s Bands were set up with what in today’s curriculum is known as
- Seeking God
- Sharing Christ
- Committing to one another
- Serving Others
In a comparative analysis of the happenings in church ministry, these are not in total compliance, but the following do take place:
- Response to information about Christ and, at times, excited and wants to associate and tell others.
- Lack of total trust in the efficacy of Jesus’ Power and, at times, seeking out lesser gods.
- Reaches out to lesser gods for enhancement and traditional sacrifices
- Some church infrastructures, so disciples spend social and structured time around disciple-makers in the form of home fellowships, Bible Study, discipleship training, and Bible College.
- Answered Prayers make people believe in the supernatural power of God
- Many go for miracles and thereby idolize some church leaders
- Baptism and participation in church ministries, i.e., prison, hospital, social welfare, evangelical, etc.
- There are Few accountabilities
- They are Instrumented group activities
- There are No rehabilitative functions
Overview of Ecclesiology of John Wesley
Hars King put it well thus: “Ecumenical effort springs not from indifferentism, much though this might soothe our modern age, but from a new awareness of God’s desire that all might be one.” In a letter, Wesley declares, “What is the end of all religious order? Is it not to bring souls from Satan’s power to God and build them up in His fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not, it is worth nothing.” Personal awareness of the assurance of God’s favor was the cornerstone of his message and method. In 1741, Wesley broke with the Moravians when he stood by his doctrinal principles.
Ecclesiology is a component of Wesleyan theology. Wesley, as a logical theologian, believed in Justification and Sanctification. Wesley was convinced that faith was a gift from God and that God would surely bestow it upon everyone who earnestly and in perseverance sought it. He, therefore, resolved to seek faith by:
- Renouncing all dependence, in whole or in part, upon his works or righteousness, on which he had grounded his hope of Salvation, though he knew it not from his youth.
- It added to the constant use of all the other means of Grace, continued prayer for this very thing; justifying, saving faith, total reliance on the blood of Christ that was shed for him; trust in Christ, his soul’s Justification, Sanctification, and redemption.
Wesley’s two central soteriological doctrines are Justification and Sanctification. The balanced relationship between the two is found in all of his works.
In Wesley’s words:
Preveniently, there is a measure of Grace in every human life, drawing each person to a new relationship with God. In our Justification by Christ, there is a divine immediacy in every moment of our new relationship with God. That, in turn, is sustained by the Sanctifying growth of faithful discipleship, which leads to a maturity of consistent obedience, marked by a perfect love that is as much a gift of God’s Grace as everything else in the life of the believer.
Clarence Bence referred to the relevant feature of Wesley’s Ecclesiology as its soteriological focus. A statement from Wesley’s Sermon on “God’s Vineyard” is representative and informative of his ecclesiology. He said,
It is, then, a great blessing given to this people, that as they do not think or Speak of Justification to supersede Sanctification, neither do they think nor speak of Sanctification to supersede Justification. They care to keep each in its place, laying equal stress on one and the other. They know God has joined these together, and it is not for man to put them asunder. Therefore, they maintain, with equal zeal and diligence, the Doctrine of free, full, present Justification on the one hand and of entire Sanctification, both of heart and life, on the other hand; being as tenacious of inward holiness as any mystic, and of outward, as any Pharisee.
In formulating an ecclesiology, one must address the elements of nature and the function of the Church. Nature identifies marks of the Church, and the function of the Church speaks to God’s purpose in calling into being a people for His possession. A Church is both a ‘saved and saving community.
Wesley’s days saw the emergence of three significant ecclesiologies, namely:
- Catholic view: – the Apostolic tradition where the holiness of the Church and the presence of Christ maintained through Sacraments
- Classical Protestant Interpretation – Word and the Sacraments as creative of the Church.
- Believers’ Church Position – emphasis placed on personal experience and holiness of the individual believers who then constituted the Church.
The four emphases among protestant, which Wesley also acclaimed, are:
(1) Living Faith, (2) Biblical Preaching, (3) Sacraments, and (4) Discipline.
Three of these are present in the Anglican Church (Episcopal Church) article of faith to which Wesley gave loyalty:
The Visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful man in which the pure word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
Wesley puts a priority on the “Living Faith.” In his note on Acts 5:11, he describes the Church as. “… A Company of men, called by the Gospel, grafted into Christ by Baptism, animated by love, united by all kinds of fellowship, and disciplined by the death of Ananias and Sapphira.” Wesley introduced here the element of discipline. Wesley’s discipline is theological and not legalistic. “Living Faith” and Discipline are therefore central to Wesley’s Ecclesiology. He believes that you cannot come to Christ with the feeling of self-sufficiency. His Ecclesiology is noted in the fact that Spiritual re-birth passes through a process of transformation as in Prevenient, Justifying, and Sanctifying Grace. David L. Watson, in his early Methodism Discipleship on page 33, reported Wesley saying that;
- Prevenient Grace invites the sinner to reconciliation with God, a process that gradually wears down the spontaneous resistance of sinful human beings until there is despair, an “emptying of self-sufficiency
- Justifying Grace establishes a new relationship with God in which the human will finally submit to divine initiation and the indwelling Spirit of God, imparting a new life to the forgiven and reconciled sinners.
- Sanctifying Grace changes the forgiven sinner from someone whose instinct is to resist God to someone whose instinct is to seek God. It does not happen all at once but is a gradual transformation, and it follows the “new birth” in Christ, just as physical growth follows the birth of a baby.
Wesley declared that obedient discipleship is necessary for Salvation, not to earn it but to sustain it.