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John Wesley at Herrnhut with the Moravians

Though the title of this blog sounds more like the conclusion of a game of Clue, it is in fact, very descriptive. In 1738, after John Wesley had returned from the colonies and a rather tumultuous and unsuccessful missionary journey there, he went to Herrnhut to study with some Moravian brethren. Wesley had become impressed with the Moravians while travelling with them on his voyage across the Atlantic. Their devotion to the Lord and their piety in the faith as they made the treacherous journey put his fellow English brethren to shame.

As Wesley lived and worked and worshipped with the Moravian brethren he wrote the following words:

“God has given me, at length, the desire of my heart. I am with a church whose conversation is in heaven, in whom is the mind of Christ, and who so walk as He walked. As they all have one Lord and one faith, so they are partakers with one spirit, the spirit of meekness and love, which uniformly and continually animates all their conversation. Oh! How high and holy a thing Christianity is! And how widely different from that, I know not what, which is so called, though it neither purifies the heart, nor renews the life, after the image of our Blessed Redeemer. I grieve to think how that holy name by which we are called must be blasphemed among the heathen, while they see discontented Christians, passionate Christians, resentful Christians, earthly-minded Christians. Yea, to come to what we are apt to count small things, while they see Christians judging one another, ridiculing one another, speaking evil of one another, increasing instead of bearing one another’s burdens.”

No doubt Wesley’s words were influenced by the personal and professional struggles he was having within his own denomination and perhaps this experience with the Moravians, coming so soon after his disastrous missionary journey to America seemed to him a beatific departure from ministry as he had known it thus far. It is equally important to note how the Moravians emphasis on unity and brotherhood in Christ would have been a welcome break from the fractious Anglican church with which Wesley often found himself at odds.

A quick read of this passage and the context in which it occurred might lead a modern believer to conclude that Wesley had found the Perfect Church, that elusive (and quite mythical) holy grail for which so many well-intentioned believers today search as they traipse about from congregation to congregation. This modern American reader may quickly ask, “Why didn’t Wesley just join up with Moravians?

Wesley did not throw in his lot with the Moravians. He went back to the Church of England. It should also be noted that this “Father of Methodism” never gave up on the Anglican church. It was Wesley who intentionally kept himself in the Anglican church even when many of his English parishioners were clamoring for secession and even though the Anglican church continued to look down upon them and ostracize them. It is not until after Wesley’s death that the Methodists finally and fully break away from the Anglican Church in England (though American Methodists were free during Wesley’s lifetime). Wesley would die as a presbyter of the Church of England.

The example of John Wesley is a lesson for evangelical believers today. Wesley would have us know that being a part of a family of faith is important and as such, it must cost us something. In today’s culture, filled with pop psychology, narcissistic entertainment, and take-what-you-want buffets, it is easy to approach our church with the same give-me-what-I-want or else mentality. And so many believers merely “church hop” when things get tough rather than engaging in the hard, but Spirit-led ministry of reconciliation and fellowship. Wesley reminds us all that fellowship is more about “them” than it is about “me”, no matter whether “they” are outside of the church community or inside of it.

John Wesley shows us the importance of maturity in the faith. His example is both timely and relevant. We live in what is arguably the greatest time ever to be a human on this planet. Our knowledge, our innovation, and our understanding are far and away above what any other culture has ever experienced. Yet, so many of us struggle with relational superficiality. This is one of the few areas where our forebears outdo us and it is a place where we can learn from them.

This makes the legacy of John Wesley all the more potent and significant. His words are not to send us out on a useless quest for a mythical church that doesn’t exist. Rather, his words exhort us to do all that we can to make our place of fellowship and community “a church whose conversation is in heaven, in whom is the mind of Christ, and who so walk as He walked.” He is not calling us to find people like that. He is calling us to be people like that and may the Spirit of Christ Who is present in His church guide us to that very end.

For more information about Wesley and his experience the Moravians – check out some excerpts from his journal here.

The Moravian Revival that preceded Wesley’s visit is detailed here in this excerpt from Canandian pastor Oswald J. Smith’s book, The Spirit at Work.