Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12 NIV
In 1742, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, published a short pamphlet titled “The Character of a Methodist”. In it, he emphasized the distinction between essential beliefs of the Christian faith and mere opinions.
He believed that Christians could be united by a few essential doctrines and yet have differing opinions about a range of other less important things, such as mode of baptism or style of worship. The pamphlet begins:
To The Reader
- Since the name first came abroad into the world, many have been at a loss to know what a Methodist is; what are the principles and the practice of those who are commonly called by that name; and what the distinguishing marks of this sect, “which is everywhere spoken against.”
- And it being generally believed, that I was able to give the clearest account of these things, (as having been one of the first to whom that name was given, and the person by whom the rest were supposed to be directed,) I have been called upon, in all manner of ways, and with the utmost earnestness, so to do. I yield at last to the continued importunity both of friends and enemies; and do now give the clearest account I can, in the presence of the Lord and Judge of heaven and earth, of the principles and practice whereby those who are called Methodists are distinguished from other men.
- I say those who are called Methodists; for, let it be well observed, that this is not a name which they take to themselves, but one fixed upon them by way of reproach, without their approbation or consent. It was first given to three or four young men at Oxford, by a student of Christ Church; either in allusion to the ancient sect of Physicians so called, from their teaching, that almost all diseases might be cured by a specific method of diet and exercise, or from their observing a more regular method of study and behavior than was usual with those of their age and station.
- I should rejoice (so little ambitious am I to be at the head of any sect or party) if the very name might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion. But if that cannot be, at least let those who will use it, know the meaning of the word they use. Let us not always be fighting in the dark. Come, and let us look one another in the face. And perhaps some of you who hate what I am called, may love what I am by the grace of God; or rather, what “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
According to Wesley in this pamphlet, a Methodist is one who has eleven distinct characteristics. Grade yourself and see how you measure up … as a Methodist is one who:
1) The distinguishing marks are not opinions – for they vary greatly. We believe in that “all scripture is given by the inspiration of God.” We believe that Scripture is sufficient in providing rule and practice for the Christian faith. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity – we think and let think.
2) There is no distinction in our words (creeds). Our truths are based in scripture.
3) Our actions will not provide distinction.
4) There is no single part of faith more important than another. There is more than “faith alone”. We must embrace the whole and not the part.
So if that is what we are not … then what are we?
5) “Loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, and with all his strength” and loves their brother and sister as themselves. (perhaps there is a sermon series in that …)
6) Thankful in all circumstances. And learns to be content in life.
7) Is happy in God … his joy is full, and all his bones cry out, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ“
8) “Prays without ceasing.” Not that he is always in a house of prayer … but at all times the language of his heart is (one of prayer).
9) Is “pure in heart.” Having set side vengeance, envy, malice, wrath, unkind temper and maligned affection, lust, pride, haughtiness. Instead practices mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience …
10) Seeks to do God’s will and not own – singular purpose to please God. Has the one design of his life not to do his own will but the will of him that sent him. He has a single eye.
11) A tree is known by it’s fruit likewise we are known by our lives. We not only loves God but we keep His commandments – all of them – not just some but all.
12) Continually presents his soul and body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. All the talents he has received he constantly employs according to the Master’s will. Using all that is at hand to bring glory to God – business, entertainment, family, life …
13) Does not let the customs of this world hinder from “running the race that is set before him.’ He knows that vices do not lose their nature even though they becomes ever so fashionable.
14) Does good to all using all the means at hand …
By these marks, by these fruits of a living faith, do we labor to distinguish ourselves from the unbelieving world from all those whose minds and lives are not according to the Gospel of Christ.
But from real Christians, of whatever denomination they be, we earnestly desire not to distinguished at all.
Obviously, then, there’s room for many under the umbrella of Methodist Christianity.
Of course, though, the goal was (and still is) not to make or become “good little United Methodists,” but instead to become the very best Christians that we can be. For Wesley and many others, living out the above-mentioned “Character of a Methodist” is the very best way to do this.
Your words still ring true today – John Wesley … thanks for the reminder!