As part of my interest in seeing a renewal of small group ministry in North American churches, I did some looking back at the class meetings of the Methodist church. These were started in the ministry of John and Charles Wesley in the 1700s, and remained a big part of the ministry of the Methodist church for generations. Below are some things that I found. It is convicting how much more seriously they put the matter of living for Christ daily before the people who wanted to be a part of their churches.
Here are the questions for personal reflection and discussion that were given to those who wanted to be a part of a class meeting:
- Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
- Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
- Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
- Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
- Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
- Do you desire to be told of your fault?
- Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home [to the point]?
- Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
Here are the general rules of membership. I believe that they are the work of John Wesley himself. The list certainly goes into details of how a person is living as the evidence of genuine salvation. It’s notable that he did not go into much inquiry on how a person claimed to have been converted, but rather on the changes that were expected in the lives of those who were genuinely converted. I wonder at the reaction of many today would have to the general rules, to such things as avoiding self indulgence and to fasting.
THE GENERAL RULES
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
The taking of the name of God in vain.
The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
Slave-holding; buying or selling slaves.
Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
Softness and needless self-indulgence.
Laying up treasure upon earth.
Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Secondly: 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:
To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.
To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”
By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.
By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake.
It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
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.
These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.