Synthesis Warm Up 1: “Take Up Your Cross, Woman!”

Posted: November 20, 2008 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church

By Matt Horan 

wesley-statue-at-asburyIn 1727, William Morgan, a member of the Oxford “Holy Club” along with John & Charles Wesley, visited a prison.  The experience was transformative for him, and when the Wesleys joined him, such visits became… a regular part of their lives.  Before, the group had been mainly inexistence for accountability, but they’d been shown something that trumped their more “inward-focused” agenda.    

Richard Heitzenrater wrote extensively on the early development of the Wesleyan movement.  He said John Wesley understood that “the Christian life is not defined primarily by doing certain activities but by being a certain kind of person.”  His commitment to charity was both a means to virtue as well as a result of it—therefore charity had to be a way of life for the Christian, “having the mind of Christ and walking as He walked.”  Heitzenrater noted that, “This last phrase, a conflation of Philippians 2:5 and 1John 2:6, becomes the central image in his lifelong attempt to define the true Christian; it becomes the most common way of expressing the nature of Christian perfection; it is the most repeated biblical phrase (over fifty references) in his published sermons.”

John Wesley speaks passionately for himself.  In his Thoughts Upon Slavery, he says, “Every gentleman that has an estate in our American plantations; yea, all slaveholders of whatever rank and degree; seeing men-buyers are exactly on a level with man-stealers.  You therefore are guilty, yea principally guilty, of all these frauds, robberies, and murders.  You are the spring that puts all the rest into motion.”  Sadly, the Methodist church in America gradually retreated from this stance, as taking a hard-line on the issue of slavery would cost them the participation and allegiance of slave-owners. 

Wesley’s repeated admonition to the Methodists was that they “earn all they can, save all they can, and give all they can.”  He taught that God expected no less than the church’s fullest energies expended for justice for the poor and oppressed.  In a letter to a “Miss March,” dated 1775, he says, “Go and see the poor and sick in their own poor little hovels.  Take up your cross, woman!  Remember the faith!  Jesus went before you and will go with you.”  In his sermon on Zeal, Wesley says, “Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, and prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, at charity’s almighty call.”
          So, if we haven’t taken the opportunity to show charity in some way lately, then we should go and do that before we take the liberty to engage in other Christian practice?  Wow.

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