Sunday should have been a very special Sunday, for Wesley Day – 24th May, fell on Aldersgate Sunday this year. But as with most things at present our celebrations are somewhat muted. Both days commemorate and celebrate the famous conversion experience of John Wesley, Aldersgate Sunday is the Sunday nearest 24th May. Charles had a similar experience a few days before, but John being the bossy elder brother is the one we always remember.
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley Day is always a time to remember what Methodism has contributed to the ecumenical life of the church in our world today. Fortunately, the Wesleyan tradition is ecumenical, itself the child of other streams of Christianity, and one which invites us to be formed in relation to the depth and breadth of Christian thought. All this to say, the theology of love found in the Wesleyan tradition is the culmination of previous theologies in the Roman, Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican traditions. Wesleyan theology not only draws from the ecumenism of the past, but has also informed the theology of love in the ecumenical movement of today.
In addition to the breadth of its theology of love, we also find a depth such that many rightly describe Wesleyan theology as a theology of love. In demonstrable ways we see this.
First, with respect to theology itself. The fact that neither John nor Charles Wesley spent their lives in the academic circles of Oxford University has caused some to discount them as theologians, but that is a both a bogus claim, and one which reveals a too narrow view of the word theologian. Their media were different (e.g. sermons, hymns, treatises and letters) but their message has theological substance (As an aside I believe they would have relished engaging in the social media of today. Zoom , Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, all would have been grist to the Wesley’s evangelical mill!) And their message was rooted in the two great commandments — the love of God and the love of your neighbour as your self.
Second, love is seen with respect to the ministries that characterized Methodism. One of the guiding mantras for John and Charles (and other Methodists) was “faith working by love,” a conviction akin to St. James, who wrote that “faith when not accompanied by actions is dead.” (James 2:17). John Wesley called it “practical divinity,” — what we (and the larger Christian tradition) now refer to as social holiness.
The study of Wesleyan spirituality has shown how much John and Charles (and the Methodist movement) connected with, benefitted from and expressed the many theologies of love which preceded them. A number of academic studies have come to believe that they see Methodism as a ‘Third Order’, akin to what we have seen in the Franciscan order — a movement rooted in and expressive of love.
Love as the cornerstone of faith and life has generated this principle throughout the Wesleyan world, J. Kenneth Grider has stated that “Methodists move toward people who need help.” The help given is not generated solely or primarily by a sense of obligation or duty, but rather from compassion born of love — a sense of love rooted in the person and work of God, who in the Holy Trinity loves the whole world (John 3:16).
God bless and stay safe,