Wesley Bros: Fetter Lane is in my ears and in my eyes



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he Moravian faith significantly impacted John and Charles Wesley’s personal faith as well as the theology of the Methodist movement.  Peter Bohler worked closely with John and then Charles for a few months.  He was a Moravian concerned with the Wesley Bros’ assurance of faith based solely on their own works of righteousness.  He convinced them that assurance could be felt, and that it must rest solely on the work of Christ “for me.”

John was very empirical, and very liturgical, and was conflicted by the confidence of faith he witnessed in the Moravians.  Bohler suggested that liturgy and preaching from manuscript might be what was hindering the movement of the Spirit.  So John attempted his first extemporaneous sermon to a death row convict (formerly not believing that a person could truly be converted on their death bed), only to be astounded at the salvation he saw come upon William Clifford (the inmate).

John joined the Fetter Lane Society, which he claimed to be the third rise of Methodism because of the influence the Moravian religion of the heart.  It was really just an accountability small group based on the model set out in Philip Spener’s book, Pia Desideria.  In this time period, George Whitfield, Charles Wesley, and John all were connected to the FLS, and had powerful, felt encounters with God.  (See Prilosec Pentecost and Charles Wesley’s Pentecost for those stories).  John began offending people by saying he was not a Christian before this “conversion,” even though he had been a minister for over a decade.

John and some of the other FLS people went on pilgrimage to Herrnhut in Germany to meet the famous Count Zinzendorf, instrumental Moravian leader.  John was heartbroken to be refused into communion based on the conflict between his head and his heart, but he had some important conversations with Zinzendorf that cleared some things up for him.  There was a disconnect between the German and English Moravian teachings about the link between salvation and assurance of salvation.  English Moravians were teaching that a person was only saved if he or she felt saved (sorry for my lack of nuance here).  Zinzendorf argued (much closer to Wesley’s thinking) that salvation could occur years before a person felt assurance.  Thus, Wesley stopped preaching that he had not been a Christian before his heart was strangely warmed, and emphasized the degrees of faith in which we grow (leading to his understanding of growing in sanctification, or going on towards perfection).

When John came back to the FLS with a new vigor and understanding of Moravian theology, he was disappointed to discover Philip Henry Molther had taken over and was teaching stillness, the idea that no one could practice the means of grace who had not had a powerful, felt conversion to faith.  This was based on the assumption that the means of grace (such as prayer, scripture reading, even worship) were just works righteousness.  Unable to convince many of Molther’s gross error and misunderstanding of true Moravian teaching, John quit the FLS (though 18 people did walk out with him).

Charlie Baber

Rev. Charlie Baber is author and illustrator of the weekly web comic: Wesley Bros. When he isn’t finding new ways to mash-up church history with modern culture, he has actual responsibilities as a Deacon serving at Highland UMC in Raleigh, NC. Check out Charlie’s site at www.wesleybros.com.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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