Friday, October 30, 2009
“[It is] impossible to tell from a typical sermon whether the preacher [is] a follower of Confucius, Muhammad, or Jesus Christ.”
Sir William Blackstone made this statement over 200 years ago “after visiting the churches of every major clergyman in London,” reports Chuck Stetson in his 2007 foreword to the reprint of William Wilberforce’s A Practical View of Real Christianity.
What led to Blackstone’s comment? For one thing, in 1661, punitive and vicious anti-Puritan legislation was passed by the British Parliament. As a result, priests who were Puritans (1/5th of all British clergy) were expelled from the Church of England.
By the time Blackstone toured London's churches in the 1700s, he “did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero,” writes Stetson.
But in 1739, John Wesley (1703-1791), his heart having been “strangely warmed” by the Holy Spirit, began to preach a different message in open-air meetings. Over the next fifty years, Wesley commissioned many preachers who were not ordained or licensed by the Church of England.
At the same time, Wesley encouraged small groups of believers to meet for the strengthening of their faith. Wesley’s new small group “method” of discipleship became a hallmark of “Methodism.” Sometimes persecution produces wonderful things, as was the case in early 20th Century Korea, when the Japanese imprisoned Korean believers who would not bow the knee to the Emperor.
Forty-seven years later, in 1786, when the "Methodist" movement was in high gear, William Wilberforce experienced his own personal spiritual awakening, just five years before Wesley passed on. Wilberforce called this his “great change.”
I wonder if William Wilberforce’s conversion would have occurred at all, apart from the spiritual awakening of 18th Century England in which John Wesley played such a significant role. I also wonder if Wilberforce’s “Clapham Circle” would have become a reality had it not been for Wesley's small group “method” whereby believers received encouragement in the practice of “real” Christianity," which they were not learning about in church.