Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

English Christianity – Part 6

Returning briefly to the Moravian Brethren, it was at one of their meetings in London that John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” one evening in 1638. From that time he began to preach the Gospel wherever people would listen. He visited Count Zinzendorf and the Moravian settlements in Germany, and learned much from them. He remained a member of the Church of England all his life, but was refused permission to preach in their churches. Much of his preaching was in open air meetings to the poorest classes of people. In order to sustain and care for the many who were converted Wesley developed an elaborate system of class meetings and class leaders, lay preachers, circuit riders and annual conferences. All this took place independently of the established Church, yet he never intended to start a new denomination. The Methodist church was finally recognized as a separate denomination after Wesley’s death, and before many years it had divided into a number of competing Methodist churches and the labour movement.

The modern union movement had its beginning when some Methodist lay leaders decided that workers had more immediate needs than just salvation. So they began to organize the workers exactly along the lines that had proved so successful in the Methodist societies. That is why most unions are still named brotherhoods and union members call one another brother and sister.

A feature that often accompanied Wesley’s preaching was the strange, involuntary manifestations of some of the hearers. Some would fall to the ground in convulsions, or cry out with strange noises. Wesley was fascinated by these reactions and took them to be evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit. Later he developed a belief that it would be possible for a born-again Christian to have an experience where he would be so completely filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit that he would never sin again. Wesley never claimed to have attained to this himself, but did hold that such a thing was possible. Many churches developed which made this second work of grace a principal doctrine. As a group they are known as Wesleyan Holiness churches. Pentecostals originated from these Holiness churches, adding the belief that speaking in an unknown tongue is evidence of the second experience. This too is a natural development from Wesley’s approval of the manifestations which took place during his preaching.


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