A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57


Monday, June 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, John Wesley, I Think...


Today is John Wesley's (the 18th century founder of Methodism) birthday anniversary, I think.

Wesley's birthday is a bit confusing since he was born on June 17, 1703, according to the Julian Calendar in use at the time. In 1752 Britain joined the rest of Europe and shifted to the more accurate Gregorian Calendar. A consequence of this was to add 11 days to the calendar. From 1752 and for the rest of his life, John Wesley celebrated his birthday on June 28th.

For years, to help my 7th grade confirmation classes who were preparing for church membership to know that Methodism was started by John Wesley in 18th century England, I would remind them of John Wesley's birthday. I mistakenly gave them the date of June 17. A few years ago, I realized that June 28 (today) is the more correct date.

Putting aside the dating of Wesley's birthday for the moment, one of the theological doctrines I appreciate most about Wesley was his emphasis on prevenient grace which is the grace that comes to us before we are aware of it. Wesley believed that in order for someone to repent and enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, that person first needs God's prevenient grace to work ahead of his/her awareness and "stir" that person (Wesley's term) to accept God's grace through Christ for him/herself.

Prevenient grace is the reason why several denominations including our own practice infant baptism. We believe that God's grace works ahead of our awareness of it, although, I can make a pretty good argument that just as infants can know of their mother's love, they can also have a sense of God's love at that age.

So today, on John Wesley's birthday, I celebrate his emphasis on the theological doctrine of prevenient grace, which reminds us that grace is a gift, offered to us even before we are even aware of it.

1 comment:

Jeffrey said...

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, John Wesley,
Happy birthday to you!

Here's something that Wesley did on a birthday:

Mon 28 Jun 1742: I rode to Bristol. I soon found disputing had done much mischief here also. I preached on those words, ‘From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?’ Many were cut to the heart. A cry went forth; and great was the company of the mourners. But God did not leave them comfortless; some knew, in the same hour, that he had the words of eternal life.

Unless, of course, that's the wrong calendar, in which case here's something he did on his birthday:

Thur 17 Jun 1736: An officer of the man-of-war, walking just behind me with two or three of his acquaintance, cursed and swore exceedingly, by upon my reproving him seemed much moved, and gave me many thanks.