Five Keys to Wesley's Success
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted Nov. 03, 2013
The Third Key: His Discipline
Discipline. Is there anything more despised in the present age than this? In reference to the Christian this word speaks of a life of divine purpose, holy intention, and fiery commitment to the mission of God. It is a life with priorities and plans; both flowing from the agenda of the Lord Jesus Christ to seek out and utterly redeem those who are alienated from God.
In the language of early Methodism, discipline refers to the spiritual practices, polity, and doctrines which united the Methodists in service to God and his command to spread "holiness without which no man will see the Lord" throughout all the nations of the world.
There was a reason, after all, why their enemies began calling them "Methodists." They were devoted to an orderly way of life with regular times of prayer and fasting, faithfulness in attending the preaching of the Word of God and the Table of the Lord, and full of good works to the souls and bodies of humanity. Methodists were expected to strictly adhere to the governance, spiritual practices, and charitable work which had been developed in holy conference. Thus, in giving specific advice to his "helpers," Wesley makes a point of saying to them, "Do not mend our Rules, but keep them."
The discipline of Wesley and the early Methodists gave them an influence in Great Britain all out of proportion to their relatively small numbers. George Whitefield, said by many to have been the more affective preacher of the two men, would come to lament the lack of organizational cohesiveness and discipline among his own followers saying, "My brother Wesley acted wisely. The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand."
How sad that, in many respects, the spiritual heirs of the Wesleyan message would be compelled to confess that, lacking the good order and cohesive spirit of primitive Methodism, our churches and people have little impact for God and have become "a rope of sand." Former General Superintendent of the Church of the Nazarene, C. B. Jernigan, once declared that most churches need organization and discipline more than they need a revival. He said, "We have plenty of men and women in the Church of the Nazarene who are clean in their lives and holy in heart, and would die before they would knowingly do anything contrary to the will of God, but they lack system and real organization." And, "there are times when a church needs something else worse than it needs a revival. They have had many real revivals of old time religion but were sadly lacking in methods of conserving the results of the revival."
Wesley would have agreed. In his sermon on the Circumcision of the Heart he commented, "By the same discipline is every good soldier of Christ to inure himself to endure hardship. Confirmed and strengthened by this, he will be able not only to renounce the works of darkness, but every appetite too, and every affection, which is not subject to the law of God."
The work of God deserves and requires a people committed to consistent, concentrated, and consecrated adherence to the mission of God. In short, victory requires organization that is uncompromisingly loyal to the Lord and his Word and Christians who are, in turn, loyal to such an organization. Let Wesley's bold declaration reverberate in our hearts as we contemplate the disciplined lives and organizations necessary to fulfill the evangelism of the world, "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth."