On the 275th anniversary, I invite you to pause with me for a time of reflection on the experience of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism that occurred on 24th May, 1738.
Here is what he later wrote about the events of that day, 275 years ago.
"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. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more special manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now felt in my heart....
"After my return home I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He ‘sent me help from His holy place.' And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often conquered; now I was always conqueror." (John Wesley's Journal)
Since the days of John Wesley, Methodists' primary and core teaching has been this: What is most important is the living and ongoing experience of God's love through Christ in our lives. For United Methodists, our experience of God at work in hearts and minds, more than anything else, is the core of our faith. Our Wesleyan tradition is distinct among the many wonderful varieties of Christian Churches and faith traditions because for us the focus isn't on right doctrine, but rather the question, "Is your heart right with God's heart?"
A few years before this pivotal event in his life, Wesley, ordained in the Church of England, responded in 1735 to an invitation to serve God in the new colony in Savannah, Georgia, in North America. After two years there, his ministry was virtually fruitless. John left for England in 1737 disillusioned about many things. The Spirit brought him to Aldersgate, London in 1738, and revived his commitment to Christ's mission and ministry again. You know the rest of the story, how from his experience has grown a movement embracing people of virtually every language, culture, color, and ethnicity world-wide.
In addition to the faith experience of Wesley, we have his teachings regarding being open to a variety of expressions of fruitful living and faithful serving.
"Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences." (John Wesley)
Because we are united in the love of God in Jesus Christ, we enjoy a wonderful and considerable sacramental and creedal diversity within our Church. We not only tolerate, but celebrate this diversity in our midst because at the core, we respect the multitude of ways in which each of us experiences God and express our faith.
The ultimate goal of our faith is not to be filled with knowledge about God only, but be the embodiment of love and grace for our world.
We believe that God loves all the world; we are passionately concerned that each person be treated with the social and economic justice demanded by the God who created and loves us all.
Although it's been 275 years since Wesley's heart was warmed and his life transformed, we know that the experience of faith and fruitful living is more needed now than ever.
May we seek today's Aldersgate in our lives.
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).