Our Founder: John Wesley the Resister

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, stood as a counter-cultural presence, daring to stand-up and confront the culture of his day. Wesley was a champion for the enslaved, the working poor, and all those who lived in the margins. But his resistance came at a cost as he struggled with the established church, culture, and even his own ideas about acceptable faith.  What relevance does Methodism’s founder have for the denomination today? Which of his lessons can impact our lives in significant ways?

Pre-Session Assignments

  • Article:Who is John Wesley Today?” by Rev. Mark Gorman. To help create a more accurate portrait of Methodism’s founder, Gorman suggests discarding three common beliefs about John Wesley and replacing them with three new understandings.
  • Scripture: Galatians 3:25-29

Small Group Session Agenda

Opening Prayer

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. - Psalm 103:8.

Compassionate and Gracious God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love: You are with us and You have time for us. Thank You. Thank You for the gift of Your breath. As You’ve anointed and sent Jesus, our Savior, into the world to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the oppressed, recovery of [spiritual] sight to the blind, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” anoint us to do likewise.

Cross and burden bearer, embolden us to share Your good news in ways that liberate right relationships, transform oppressive systems, and shift unhealthy mindsets. We are a part of Your family. Thank You for claiming each one of us and for giving us an opportunity to better Your world according to the gifts that you have given us.

With faith in You and Your ability to guide us, we pray in Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Who Are We Affirmation 

In the gift of this moment, we affirm that we are divinely loved and lovable.
We are the children of God
Together, we will learn from the actions and words of one another. 
Christ’s lessons on love are centered in how we treat others and in how we treat ourselves. 
We will exercise courage in this study as we share stories of struggle and strength
We will stay at the table and receive those stories with grace.
We will not be afraid to launch into the deep.
We will commit to the vulnerability necessary to allow God to break us open.
We will set and respect boundaries and honor confidentiality together. 
When uncertainty arises, we will remember the Spirit of “peace that passes our own understanding” and can intercede for us. 
We will remember that even when we don’t feel “United,”
The uniting love of Christ can reveal a pathway to greater 
wisdom and mutual respect.
No matter what, there is a place for each one of us in this study together.  
Let us hold each other up in prayer, hold each other accountable in love, and 
trust that our God is making all things new.
Thank you for the gift of being present to one another in this holy time.

 

Video Content

Video with Bishop Tom Bickerton
Bishop Bickerton is the episcopal leader of the New York Annual Conference.

Download

Head & Heart Discussion
  1. John Wesley said, I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” How is this playing out in your church and our denomination?
  2. We have a founder who renounced slavery even though it was legal and Christians owned other human beings, justifying their actions with Scripture. What was it about Wesley’s interpretation of Scripture that allowed him boldly to proclaim and work to transform systems that oppressed people?
  3. Bishop Bickerton said we must find courage and discover our voices, even when we are tempted to be silent. In our weekly affirmation we say: “We will commit to the vulnerability necessary to allow God to break us open.” In what ways do you need to be broken open today to resist injustice and oppression? As a Christ-follower, what will it cost?
Closing Prayer

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us —
yes, establish the work of our hands. So be it, Amen. Psalm 90:17

BEYOND THIS SESSION

Prayer and Pathway to Journaling
  • What surprised you or caught your attention? 
  • How does the discussion we had apply to your life, your church, our denomination? 
  • Where is the Spirit revealing to you areas for growth and transformation? 
  • How does what we talked about transform your relationship with God and others?
  • Write a prayer to ask for God’s support and enlightenment, which applies what you learned, and then go forth and live it.
Additional Resources 
  • Book: Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. In this premiere theological work, Thurman speaks for those in the margins, claiming that hatred can only destroy and that only through love can God’s justice prevail.  
  • Movie: Wesley: A Heart Transformed Can Change the World, 2009
  • Hymn: And Are We Yet Alive (sixth verse) #553
  • John Wesley Booklet, Thoughts on Slavery,” 1774:

“Perhaps you will say, ‘I do not buy any negroes: I only use those left me by my father.’ So far is well; but is it enough to satisfy your own conscience? Had your father, have you, has anyone living, a right to use another as a slave? It cannot be, even setting revelation aside. It cannot be that either war, or contract, can give any person such a property in another as they have in sheep and oxen. Much less is it possible, that any child… should ever be born a slave. Liberty is the right of every human creature, as soon as they breathe the vital air. And no human law can deprive anyone of that right, which they derive from the law of nature.

“If therefore you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor of the revealed law of GOD) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by their own act and deed, by their own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle towards all. And see that you invariably do unto every one, as you would they should do unto you.”