I’m taking a class at our church on John Wesley and am learning quite a bit. John Wesley was an ordained Anglican minister in England in the 1700s. The Methodist Church is founded upon John Wesley’s leadership despite the fact that he had never intended to create a new denomination.
I’ll write more about his history as I learn it. For now, I’m making my way through a little book I found at the library called The New Birth. It’s edited by Thomas C. Oden who has attempted to translate Wesley’s writing into modern English. Oden is considered to be the dominant figure in a movement called “paleo-orthodoxy”. This is based on church teachings prior to the great schism of 1054. It stresses the interpretations of the Bible in which both the East and West agreed and is supposedly an extremely conservative, non-denominational movement. Oden claims a literalist understanding of the Bible is a modern theology and therefore rejects it. He clearly isn’t conservative in the fundamentalist sense. But that’s all I know about him. It could be his translation of Wesley is a bit skewed because the book is now out of print, but I’m enjoying reading it.
The first sermon is “The New Birth”. Wesley says that the essential nature of the new birth is the great change that God works in the soul when he brings it into life – when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. What I find most interesting is this:
It is the change made in the whole soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is “created in Christ Jesus”; when it is “made new in mind and spirit,” having “put on the new nature of God’s creating, which shows itself in the just and devout life called for by the truth”; when the love of the world is changed into the love of God, pride into humility, passion into meekness, hatred and malice into a sincere, tender, disinterested love for all of mankind. In a word, it is that change in which the earthly, sensual, demeaned mind is transformed into the mind which was in Christ Jesus. This is the nature of the new birth. So it is “with everyone who is born from spirit”.
Richard Rohr said that church denominations are very rarely built upon the teachings of mystics. He says the possible exceptions are George Fox (Society of Friends), Menno Simons (Mennonites) and John Wesley (Methodists). Based on this sermon, Wesley certainly could have been a mystic! It seems to me what Wesley is saying here is what all mystical gurus of all world religions teach – in order to see with the third eye, we must transcend the ego. The New Birth is this new way of seeing through something other than our attachment to the ego (the demeaned mind).
I also find it interesting that he says that through New Birth, we gain a “disinterested love for all of mankind”. A Course in Miracles frequently refers to the difference between a holy relationship and a special relationship. A special relationship is based on the specific interests of egoic need – it maintains love for an individual based on what the other person can do for me. Loving someone, because you are afraid of being alone, for instance, is based on self-interest. The fear of being alone keeps you from being able to truly love the other. Fear can show up in even more subtle ways, but it is always based on the self-interest of the ego. This disinterested love perhaps points to something similar to what A Course in Miracles calls the Holy Relationship.
Another item of interest:
…all unholy temperaments are uneasy temperaments. I speak not only of the volatile passions such as malice, hatred, envy, jealousy, and revenge. They create enough of a present hell in our hearts. I speak also of the softer passions, which may give a thousand times more pain than pleasure if not kept within due bounds. Even “hope” when “deferred” (and how often must this be the case!), “makes the heart sick” (Prov 13:12).
Hope when deferred makes the heart sick! Proverbs. Of course! This made me think of Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus, which I spent a lot of time with a few years back. Camus tries to come up with a reason for people to live despite the hopelessness of the human condition. Maybe what Camus was referring to wasn’t so much hope, as hope deferred? I think we have had a tendency to misunderstand hope and faith. Deferred hope would say, "life isn’t how I want it to be now, but it will be one day." But true hope and faith don’t make any demands on how things are. They simply trust that all is as it should be – that all is right with the world despite appearances to the contrary. Those contrary appearances are always based upon the perception of the ego, not the sight of the third eye.
Wesley says that the reason new birth is absolutely necessary is because it is the surest basis of happiness in this world. He goes on to say, “as well as the world to come”. But the primary focus is on happiness in this world, now. The focus is not about achieving happiness in some distant place and time.
Wesley warns his followers not to tell those who seem intent on continuing their willful sinning that they cannot be born again. Apparently, this was a popular teaching back in his day – that some were beyond “salvation”? Wesley claims that anyone who tells someone else that they cannot be born again is showing them the way to hell in the name of charity, and that is not charitable at all.