Saturday, October 06, 2007

Iain Murray on what Presbyterians can learn from John Wesley

A while ago I read some of Iain Murray's book called Old Evangelicalism - Old Truths for a New Awakening. Below are some excerpts I found challenging, particularly in regard to having a too convenient view of ministry...

"The system Wesley inaugurated, instead of reviving debate on whether churches should be Episcopal, Independent, Presbyterian or whatever, aimed first at spreading the gospel by every available means. And the Methodist structure was flexible enough to operate effectively across the world - whether in England, or among the black slaves of the American South, or in Fiji, Tonga and other islands of the Pacific. What is beyond dispute is that in gospel effectiveness Wesleyan Methodism often outstripped other bodies; it reached slaves, soldiers, convicts and cannibals; it gave birth to vibrant churches which multiplied themselves as missionary agencies. This should at least make us cautious about dismissing the structure in terms of mere expediency... I am not about to suggest that we should all exchange our church structure for the one-time Methodist pattern. But I think Wesley prompts us to re-examine the relationship between zeal for the salvation of souls and church practices and procedures. We are prone to think that variations and changes in church order means laxity, but could it be that we need to re-examine what is most suited for the advance of the gospel in our generation? Is it not possible we could be in danger of allowing theory to prevent the introduction of changes that could be of blessing to people who are presently lost and far from God?" [pages 148-149]

"Wesley was accused of lowering the position of the minister. It is true that men were sometimes admitted as Assistants and itinerants who were unworthy, but taking the early Methodist history as a whole, failures were not the norm. The men who constituted the norm were often men of a standard which puts us to shame. The life of the itinerant preacher was a far harder one than the life of a man settled quietly to minister just to the needs of a local congregation. The itinerant had to find a pulpit wherever he could, whatever the weather, whatever the hostility. He was far more on horseback than ever he was at a fireside. Self-denial and sacrifice were a regular part of his existence, and, being married, he could not continue unless he had a wife of equal spiritual determination. We might think that they sometimes carried self-discipline too far, but there is no denying that they came closer than most to Paul's description of the gospel ministry in 2 Corinthians 6:4-9: 'In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distress, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in distresses ... By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold we live.'" [pages 149-150]