On Sunday I spoke about how because I have been thinking about our Discipleship Pathway, I was reading John Wesley’s GENERAL RULES.
Probably the best way to think about early Methodism is as a discipleship movement. Wesley’s great genius to me, was to come up with a way of discipling converts who often had very little previous contact with authentic Christianity. Many of the converts were miners, and fishermen and other working people most of whom were largely illiterate. The Wesley’s had to come up with a way of discipling them so they knew what Christians believed and how they should live. So, Charles Wesley composed easy to remember hymns that taught the converts the essentials of theology as well has helped them express praise to God.
John had to come up with simple ways of helping these new converts who came from very irreligious and at times very immoral backgrounds how as Christians they should live. Part of the way he did this was by coming up with three simple easy to remember rules or principles to live by that he felt summed up much of the New Testament’s teaching.
These became known as the General Rules. They were
1. DO NO HARM
2. DO GOOD
3. STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD (this was originally “attend on the ordinances of God” but a Methodist bishop in the 19th century summed it up with Stay in Love with God, which he thought was faithful to Wesley’s intent and more memorable)
Reading about these rules and ruminating on them has made me think, simple as they are, they still have a lot to say us and provide a very good framework for thinking about how to live as a disciple of Christ.
DO NO HARM
A lot of the Biblical commandments, are about stopping behaviour that do harm, do harm to others, do harm to relationships, and do harm to society. Commandments like do not steal or commit adultery or bear false witness for instance. Wesley summed these up as “do no harm.” He also gave a long list of examples of how Christians could do harm in his contemporary culture and so what activities to avoid. He warned against things like owning or buying and selling slaves or buying smuggled good.
I think the importance of this rule is that it encourages us to think about the impact our lives are making on others. He was trying to give us a way to focus on our thoughts, words, and actions, and think about how they affect others. Wesley was trying to get us to see that we need to stop every once in a while, and ask ourselves, did any of my words or actions today cause someone harm?
Wesley’s examples are largely irrelevant today, the opportunities to own and sell slaves thankfully has gone. However, I think it would do us all good to think about how our actions are impacting those around us and whether they are bringing harm.
What if we thought about what it means to “do no harm” in our
Through our parenting?
What if we thought about whether the clothes or food we are buying are doing harm to people in the two thirds world?
What if we thought about whether what we have posted on social media could do harm?
There is controversy over whether Wesley actually said these famous words that are attributed to him
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Whether he said those exact words or not, the quote certainly sums up what he says throughout his writings. He believed that Christians should do good at every and all opportunities. He encouraged his converts to think about how in every situation that confronted them in life they could do good. Although he didn’t use the language, he was encouraging what we call today Kingdom living, living in a way that expressed the kingdom of God to others. Wesley here is simply echoing the New Testament, Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6;10
Here is part of what Wesley wrote about this rule
By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men: their bodies, of the ability which God gives, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison
This is part of the reason why the Wesleyan movement has always been so committed to what we call now “social action.” (The Salvation Army for instance comes from a Wesleyan background) The early Methodists set up feeding programmes for the poor, the first medical dispensaries for the poor, and even a lending society so that unscrupulous loan sharks couldn’t take advantage of people. They really were committed to doing good individually and as a community.
Sometimes my priority in a week is to get my to do list done. My unconscious agenda is TO DO rather than TO DO GOOD. This rule reminds me I have a greater purpose than just getting stuff done. As a disciple of Jesus, I am called to do good. To make lives for other people better whenever I have the opportunity and ability to do so.
I wonder how it would change the way we approach our work places, or friendships, or simply walking through town, if we remembered that we are called to do good?
STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD
I remember reading that children spell “love” TIME.
I think that essentially is what Wesley is saying about our relationship with God. When he says we are to attend to the ordinances of God, he is saying we need to spend time doing the things that nurture our love for God. This is what Paul was talking to us about on Sunday.
Here is the list of the ways that he said we were to be committed to stay in love with, and grow in love for God
The public worship of God.
The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.
The Supper of the Lord.
Family and private prayer.
Searching the Scriptures.
Fasting or abstinence
What I like is that Wesley balances private and personal activities devotional practices with corporate worship with others. He encourages us to give equal priority to both. I am more and more convinced he was right. I know from experience that people all too often grow cold in their faith when they have no private devotional habits and only worship or pray in worship services. I have also lost count of the number of people who have told me over the years that they didn’t need to meet with other believers to worship God or live as disciples and opted out of church life. I can’t think of any to be honest who are still passionately following Christ. Wesley was wise on this one, to stay in love with God we need private and public acts of devotion.
This is a real challenge for us at the moment. So many of the ways we would normally connect with each other corporately we can’t because of COVID. That doesn’t let us off the hook. I am not a huge fan of YOUTUBE services, I prefer face to face to ZOOM camera to screen. However, if those are the only ways that I can worship and have fellowship with my fellow believers that is what I am going to do.
I started off by saying that these are simple rules, and they are, in the sense of being simple to understand and remember. But when you think of the kind of life that is shaped by, doing no harm, doing good and staying in love with God, they are not only simple but also profound. These three simple rules, lived out have the capability of making a profound impact on our lives and through us the lives of those around us.
This week (and every week thereafter) let me encourage you to
DO NO HARM
AND DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO STAY IN LOVE WITH GOD