My dear wife and business partner, whilst working with me and our business, mkpl.tv – is also pursuing her Masters in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. Last night, she invited me to attend a class being taught by a visiting Episcopalian, the Reverend Canon Kevin Martin. (With my love for the evangelical arm of the Anglican church, I will refuse to do jokes based on Anglican titles – wikipedia has a great outline of what they are.)
Martin spoke on John Wesley – an Anglican priest who became famous for Wesleyan Methodism. He described Wesley’s well-known line of his “heart feeling strangely warmed” – the moment that he realized he was actually loved by God – this after having been a “missionary” to the Americas from 1735 and 1738 – work Wesley and his brother Charles called “fruitless.” Kevin Martin described his own conversion experience after graduating from Yale Divinity School and working as a parish priest for many years. Something that surprised him and shocked many of his fellow former seminarians.
What we miss in Wesley too often, according to Martin, is his understanding of conversion. Wesley would have vehemently disagreed with the Four Spiritual Laws evangelicals of the last fifty years. He saw the assent to the Lordship of Christ as only the first step in the conversion process. When one made this assent, Wesley expected you to be plugged into (in today’s terminology) a house group – an accountability class where you would grow in your understanding of Christ, your call to Holiness – and with an expectation that like Wesley himself, you would have an experience of God. It wasn’t a “raise your hand, say the prayer, welcome aboard” conversion – it was a process of moving into Christ for Wesley – a process that could take as much as two years. As long as Wesleyan Methodism practiced this model of conversion, the movement grew exponentially. Abandoned (by vote) in the mid 19th century, the movement/denomination has been contracting ever since.
Alpha has been a key “evangelizing” tool in the Anglican church since the early 90’s – a course that has spread to many other denominations. Based around a ten week program of people meeting over dinner and discussion it has had a tremendous success rate in people assenting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, plugging those people into the local church has been a huge problem. This interesting article from the Australian Church Army site describes the problem:
Holy Trinity Brompton, home of Alpha, reports that 50% of their Alpha graduates do not make it into church after making a personal response. This is very troubling! One response from new believers is “I thought Alpha is church and now you expect to come and sit in this thing and put up with all this? We shared real meals and now you are offering me a wafer? We interacted and now you expect me to sit in a row and just listen?”
My own conversion experience in 1982 was based around being plugged into two communities – Little Trinity Anglican Church in Toronto – and into the young adults group of the Estonian Baptist Church. Without the relationships in both, I would have wandered away. We met in people’s homes, restaurants and coffee shops to talk, laugh and grow together – interesting that my growth would occur around food – but the hospitality of Christians drew me deeper into my understanding of my faith. Without the intentional teaching and guidance from these friends, I doubt I ever would have experienced my own heart being “strangely warmed.”
Geoge Lings who prompted the interesting article quoted above was part of team that prepared the Mission Shaped Church document available as a downloadable pdf. There is some great insight in it.
And The Great Giveaway is a very important book on this subject.
[I apologize that I’ve lost the links that got me to the quoted article. But the beagle search began at Daryl Dash’s blog, which is always worth reading.]