|Statue of John Wesley at Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. (Photo by Adam Davenport. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.)|
"[It is] impossible to tell from a typical sermon whether the preacher [is] a follower of Confucius, Muhammad, or Jesus Christ.”
Sir William Blackstone, the famous 18th Century English jurist, made this observation after visiting the church of every major clergyman in London. Chuck Stetson, in his 2007 foreword to William Wilberforce’s A Practical View of Real Christianity, says Blackstone "did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero.”
It wasn't just British society that was in trouble. The church was, too.
But in 1739, John Wesley, his heart having been “strangely warmed” by the Holy Spirit, began to preach a different message in open-air meetings. It was during this period, in 1786, that William Wilberforce experienced his own personal spiritual awakening, which he called his “great change.”
I wonder if William Wilberforce’s "great change" would have occurred at all, apart from the spiritual awakening in which John Wesley played such a significant role. It was Wilberforce's personal "great change" that drove him to abolish the slave trade, and "reform the manners" of the British.
When it comes to evangelism and social reform, it is not a matter of "either-or," but "both-and." Yes, a personal relationship with Christ is at the heart of real Christianity. Without this, Christianity is a dead religion. But Christianity is something more than personal.
When we live out our faith in the context of our whole lives, including our work lives, we will affect the surrounding culture. The history of ancient Rome bears this out. Athenagoras described the early Christians of Rome to Marcus Aurelius this way:
"With us...you will find unlettered people, tradesmen and old women, who though unable to express in words the advantages of our teaching, demonstrate by acts the value of their principles. For they do not rehearse speeches, but evidence good deeds. When struck they do not strike back; when robbed, they do not sue; to those who ask, they give, and they love their neighbors as themselves." [Athenagoras, in A Plea Regarding Christians.]
As followers of Christ, we can make a difference, for individuals and for nations, if we "demonstrate by acts the value of our principles."