80 Year Old Methodist Rules That Can Save Churches 

  1. “…doing no harm, avoiding evil of every kind…”
  2. “…doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible to all.” 

The early Methodists were well known for small groups of people who helped one another grow in Christ, by offering one another encouragement and support. They were little churches, and their life together was guided by John Wesley’s General Rules. 

With the emphasis on the individual and the deterioration of community in the world, it is easy to see these simple rules as only applying to individuals. However, our personal relationship with Christ should always support the church family’s life together. The General Rules can help believers orient both their individual and corporate lives toward Christ.

Methodist Class Meeting

Our need for community is constantly threatened by self-centeredness.  Churches have never been without controllers, dissenters, and faction builders.  The Church must take care that it is not killing community through divisiveness, pride, criticism, and selfishness.  Those who create such confusion in the body of  Christ should consider Wesley’s first General Rule to “do no harm.”

Just as the threat to community is self-centeredness, the vital builder of community is other-centeredness.  The second General Rule tells us to do every possible good to all persons.  Practical concern for the homeless, the orphan, the widow, and the social outcast exemplifies this principle.  This kind of corporate spirituality goes against our fallen instincts for isolation, self-gratification and control.  But the greatest experiences of joy take place when we are serving and sharing our lives with others.  Our personal relationship with Christ is expressed in the ways we love and serve the people around us.  

A congregation’s effectiveness depends on how clearly its members understand their purpose, and hold themselves accountable to that purpose.  By evaluating their work in light of the General Rules, they can measure their contribution to building the body of Christ and serving Christ in the world.  This corporate accountability would serve to keep the church’s work and the personal relationships of its members focused on its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ. If we do not seek to walk as Jesus walked, we weaken and ultimately break our covenant relationship with God and with each other. 

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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