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Category: Mystic groups and systems
We have two entries on the site that relate to Methodism. One is this page which describes the Methodist movement, but we also have a page for John Wesley (28 June 1703 – 2 March 1791), the Anglican cleric and theologian who, with his brother Charles and fellow cleric George Whitefield, founded Methodism.
Methodism originated as a revival within the 18th century Church of England and became a separate Church after Wesley's death. Because of ‘vigorous missionary work’, the movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States and beyond, and today claims approximately 80 million adherents worldwide.
Although Wesley declared, "I live and die a member of the Church of England", the strength and impact of the movement, made a separate Methodist body virtually inevitable. In the 19th century Methodism in Britain flowed in several channels, including Primitive Methodism which began with 'camp meetings' in 1807 and was organised into a separate body in 1811. The Methodists grew to be a large, respectable and influential section of society; characterised by the 'nonconformist conscience' and also the 'temperance movement' and many members with poor origins became prosperous. In 1932 the three main Methodist groups in Britain came together to form the present Methodist Church.
Methodism as a mystic movement
There is no apparent emphasis in the Methodist Movement on direct spiritual experience as there is, for example, with the Quakers and Shakers. There are no methods related to jumping or twirling, no frenetic exercise and dancing and the Methodists as a whole shun all intoxicants – alcohol and drugs.
But spiritual experience does not have to be of the type where hallucinations or out of body experiences assail you, or visions flash across your eyes. You do not need to be a voice hearer, or a music hearer. One can still be a mystic as long as one is on the spiritual path and the receiver of wisdom or inspiration and divine love.
The Methodist movement essentially uses methods in the Suppression section - love, dancing, listening to music, exercising and keeping fit, humility [squash the big I am], serving others [charity], reducing threats [justice, truthfulness etc], reducing desires [selfishness, greed etc], communing with Nature, in order to progress spiritually towards the attainment of these three – wisdom, inspiration and divine love.
Furthermore it incorporates Wesley’s Doctrine of Christian Perfection.
Doctrine of Christian Perfection
Given that the roots of the Methodist Movement lie in the Puritan movement, one might be forgiven in thinking that a Doctrine such as this is inevitable, and probably involves considerable use of the words ‘Thou shall not’. But Wesley’s Doctrine is more subtle than this, instead of the word Perfection one might be better to use the word ‘purification’.
If we look at the spiritual path, we can see that after the early stages of testing, learning and a possible rebirth, one then has to go through a process of purification. During this stage one basically ‘cleans up one’s act’, by examining all the rubbish one has learnt – behaviour and information - stored in memory, and throws out everything that is harming you or harming and hurting others.
Wesley realised, for example, that there was a connection between physical illness and faulty behavioural patterns or memories that had been buried which were causing physical symptoms.
Primitive Physic: or An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases - John Wesley 1747 AD
1. When man came first out of the hands of the great Creator, clothed in body as well as in soul, with immortality and incorruption, there was no place for physic, or the art of healing. As he knew no sin, so he knew no pain, no sickness, weakness, or bodily disorder. The habitation wherein the angelic mind, the Divinæ particula Auræ abode, though originally formed out of the dust of the earth, was liable to no decay. It had no seeds of corruption of dissolution within itself. And there was nothing without to injure it: Heaven and earth and all the hosts of them were mild, benign, and friendly to human nature. The entire creation was at peace with man, so long as man was at peace with his Creator. So that well might "the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy."
2. But since man rebelled against the Sovereign of heaven and earth, how entirely is the scene changed! The incorruptible frame hath put on corruption, the immortal has put on mortality. The seeds of weakness and pain, of sickness and death, are now lodged in our inmost substance; whence a thousand disorders continually spring, even without the aid of external violence. And how is the number of these increased by every thing round about us! The heavens, the earth, and all things contained therein, conspire to punish the rebels against their Creator. The sun and moon shed unwholesome influences from above; the earth exhales poisonous damps from beneath; the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fishes of the sea, are in a state of hostility: yea, the food we eat, daily saps the foundation of the life which cannot be sustained without it. So has the Lord of all secured the execution of his decrees, -- "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."
We have a little more below about his interesting definition of ‘sin’, but you can see from this quote that ultimately the process of purification – Wesley’s search for perfection, was itself helpful in healing people.
Every erroneous hurtful belief and behaviour thus has to go and the difficult bit is that you have to do it yourself. But you do get help if you listen for it via wisdom and inspiration from your Higher spirit [Wesley's Divinæ particula Auræ], and at the end of the process you will be yourself wiser healthier and more open to genuine useful inspiration.
Wesley’s Doctrine of Christian Perfection - James-Michael Smith
It is quite possible that for all of the accomplishments of John Wesley and the movement known as Methodism, Wesley and his followers are most known for their adherence to the theological position that would come to be known as “Christian Perfection.” Though modern Methodism has drifted far from its Wesleyan roots and rarely would one hear Perfection preached in a Methodist pulpit, many in other denominations still stress the reality of such an experience (though often using different terms than those Wesley employed).
Though some type of Perfection has been taught by Christians since the time of Justin Martyr (or, many would argue, since the time of the New Testament authors), it was Wesley who popularized the doctrine of Christian Perfection during the mid to late 1700’s and those who followed after him spread it far and wide. Wesley’s view of Biblical Perfection was that it was not only attainable, but once having attained it, the Believer was able to walk in perfection through the power of the Holy Spirit all the days of his life.
Much of the argument that has taken place around the doctrine of Christian Perfection has been due to the lack of understanding of the concept of a spiritual path and the unfortunate use of the word ‘perfection’:
There is scarce any expression in holy writ, which has given more offence than this.
The word perfect is what many cannot bear.
The very sound of it is an abomination to them; and whosoever preaches perfection, (as the phrase is,) that is, asserts that it is attainable in this life, runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican.
The objective is a clean-up of all the things holding back spiritual progress.
Another argument that has taken place is whether one can launch into the perfection stage without having first been through testing, learning, and purgatory [rebirth]. But this assumes that we are in control – it is a very egotistical view to think that we control the spiritual path at all. We have to make the effort ourselves to learn and we will certainly be tested, but the spiritual path isn’t a series of hoops we jump through, set by our own agenda, we progress according to progress.
Wesley’s Doctrine of Christian Perfection - James-Michael Smith
…..misunderstandings occurred almost everywhere Wesley preached, as people equated his idea of ‘Christian Perfection’ with the Moravian doctrine of ‘Quietism’—where the believer stopped … until he experienced a filling of the Holy Spirit and the attainment of Perfect faith.
You follow the methods described in the Suppression section. If you feel in your heart that you need something more direct to give you faith, then you may use an overload activity maybe once or twice, as a means of giving you an hallucination, vision or OBE, but these get you nowhere spiritually. You have to move on using the suppression methods. Generally people are placed on the spiritual path by an accidental experience, they don't need to invoke one.
Wesley described the end state of the process as “a relationship with God and with others that is characterized from moment to moment by divine love”.
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God
The Great Work
Wesley had a most interesting conception of sin. ‘Sin’, according to his definition involved rebellion against the known will of God - God’s plan for the universe. In other words, it was going against the plan, - the Great Work - pitting our wills against the will of God – the ‘big I am’. In effect every person who says ‘I want’ and ‘I am going to get irrespective of its effects on others, the planet and other creatures’, is to a certain extent pitting themselves against their Creator.
Furthermore, if a person says – ‘to hell with everyone else’ – hell is actually what that person gets.
Wesley's phrasing is not always as clear as one would have liked, but there is actually no doubt of his meaning ‘purity of intention and the dedicating of all of one’s life to doing God’s will’.
The Great Work is very complex. It involves the use of both destructive and constructive tasks which to the individual may appear horrendous. How does one know that apparently wholescale destruction with pain and suffering, for example, is God’s will? The answer Wesley gave is that the destructive and hurtful or hateful person follow no spiritual path, but are being manipulated nevertheless, though they do not realise it.
Those on the spiritual path in contrast, are following the path of ‘love’, as such love has to be one’s guide. One is a white pawn – a worker in the Light and workers in the Light are on the path to ascension via Love – there is no other way.
Wesley - Works, vol.XI, p.394
“Question. What is Christian perfection? Answer…..loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by pure love.”
A Plain Account of Christian Perfection - Wesley:
But even babes in Christ are in such a sense perfect, or born of God as…not to commit sin. If any doubt this privilege of the sons of God, the question is not to be decided by abstract reasonings… Neither is it to be determined by the experience of this or that particular person. Many suppose they do not commit sin, when they do; but this proves nothing either way. To the law and testimony we appeal. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” By His word will we abide, and that alone. Hereby we ought to be judged.
Where Wesley’s ideas could have been helped, is if he had expanded upon and clarified a great deal more the notion of destiny. If one knows one’s destiny it is a great deal harder to make a mistake and commit ‘sin’ by going against God’s will. Or to put this another way if you know the role you are intended to play in the theatre that is the great work of evolution, then you are less likely to fluff your lines.
John Wesley wrote in a letter in 1756
We have found by long and consistent experience that a frequent exchange of preachers is best. This preacher has one talent, that another; no one whom I ever yet knew has all the talents which are needful for beginning, continuing, and perfecting the work of grace in a whole congregation.
But to say that the Methodist movement does not have the concept of destiny built in would be wrong. There is a system called the Itinerant system which is in every sense a definition of destiny being enacted:
United Methodist Book of Worship:
The itinerant system is the accepted method of The United Methodist Church by which ordained elders are appointed by the bishop to fields of labour. All ordained elders shall accept and abide by these appointments...Appointments are to be made with consideration of the gifts and evidence of God's grace of those appointed, to the needs, characteristics, and opportunities of congregations and institutions, and with faithfulness to the commitment to an open itineracy. Open itineracy means appointments are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status, or age.
The idea behind this system was Wesley’s:
The Itinerant System: The Method(ists) Behind the Madness - Methodist Itinerancy as Missional Theology - Jody Spiak
Because of John Wesleyʼs fervour and his religious views he suffered a great deal of antagonism and rejection. He was disallowed form speaking in many venues and began the practice of traveling with his message. This was the sprout which would grow into itinerancy. He soon realized his own limitations and enlisted the help of assistants. He used lay preachers to help in his mission. Great Britain was geographically divided into “circuits” which his lay preachers would be responsible for. These circuits were often so large that a preacher returned to a specific place about once every four weeks. In addition, the preachers would be rotated out of one circuit and into another annually. This gave rise to the name by which Methodist Pastors are still know, “circuit riders.”
I could find no reference to any astrological input to determining the destinies of all these helpers. It would probably have been an anathema to Wesley, given the Church’s persecution at the time of alchemists and astrologers, but there does appear to be some understanding now that astrological ideas do have their place and that an astrologer trained in proper analysis of birth charts can tease out some interesting features to guide the direction in which one travels. Helps ‘God’s will be done.’
The main failing of the current literal enacting of the itinerary system is that the moving around has become an end in itself, instead of the underlying purpose being the reason people are moved. There is actually no reason in today’s day and age for anyone to move anywhere. If one person in this movement becomes an expert on symbols or concepts for example, they have no need to move, they could just as easily broadcast their explanations via the Internet.
The current system of physical movement is also wholly disruptive to the life of the pastor’s family and the actual congregation he or she serves, meaning that love does not flourish as it should and hinders the pastor’s own spiritual progress and that of his/her ‘flock’.
It is worth pointing out that if appointments are made solely on the destiny and abilities of a pastor, any problems of race and culture dissolve and become meaningless. One is appointing someone for their abilities not their sex, racial or ethnic background. As it says “congregations can receive the gifts and graces of appointed clergy without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, colour, disability, marital status, or age”.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
The end of the spiritual path is ‘annihilation’ complete subsumation of ‘you’ as a personality and the transfer of all control to your Higher spirit. But as is made clear in the section on annihilation, this is not in fact the ‘end’ because work continues in this state. One is at this high level of attainment because it is needed to fulfil what is likely to be a very very difficult task – a very challenging destiny.
Wesley’s idea of ‘perfection’ was one that also looked to a continual increase.
Works volume VI
so that how much soever any man has attained, or in how high a degree soever he is perfect, he hath still need to ‘grow in grace,’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his savior.”
A number of sects of the Christian Church, had devised a dogma - unstated in any Biblical text - that indicated that since Jesus had died for 'atonement of our sins', it was thus Ok to sin, because that process of atonement was an ongoing one. The dogma states that Christians were somehow special in the eyes of God, because Jesus was holding a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Another way this can be stated is that they believed that one can be as disobedient as one wants and perform every abominable act because somehow Jesus takes the rap.
Only a small amount of thought is needed to realise this is ludicrous. Convenient of course, given the degree of corruption and ‘sinning’ that was taking place when all this was invented, but utterly ridiculous. It might be added that nowhere in the four gospels does it say even that ‘Jesus died for atonement of our sins’, as such even the basic premise is wrong, to then extend it is hardly worth discussing.
Wesley was not prepared to give this idea any time either and he rejected it totally.
Many Christians claim that the believer, upon conversion, is ‘positionally sanctified’—that is, given the righteousness of Christ in God’s eyes regardless of present sins. Though he still sins every day, that sin is not imputed to him because he has been declared holy by God in light of Christ’s death. …. the notion of ‘positional’ sanctification is unfathomable; the idea that a Believer is declared righteous, though he continued daily in sin, is nothing more than ‘fiction.’
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two[a] others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road...When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you.
9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ʻThe kingdom of God has come near to you.ʼ
10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,
11 ʻEven the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.
- Memories and Dreams: Four Clergywomen Reflect on Their Calling - Alsgaard, Erik - Circuit Rider Magazine May/June (2006)
- The Encyclopedia of World Methodism
- The United Methodist Book of Discipline
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