Monday, September 18, 2006

John Wesley: Advocate for the Eucharist

I have recently read Recapturing the Wesleys' Vision: An Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley by Paul Wesley Chilcote. Among other topics, Chilcote addresses John Wesley's sacramental theology. He argues that Wesley was unique among Anglican priests for not only his staunch advocacy for evangelism, but also for a revived sacramental Christian practice:

Most Methodists do not realize that the Wesleyan revival was both evangelical (a rediscovery of the importance of the Word) and eucharistic (a rediscovery of the importance of the sacrament of Holy Communion)...Sacramental grace and evangelical experience were viewed as necessary counterparts of a balanced Christian life. (81)

Wesley called for a rekindling of evangelistic theology in response to the deadened formalism in the Church of England in his day, but also for a renewed practice of the eucharist:

The general neglect of the sacrament of Holy Communion in the Church of England during Wesley's day is well documented. In many parishes the sacrament was celebrated only three times a year. This makes the facts concerning the Wesleyan revival all the more astounding. John Wesley communion on an average of once every four days throughout his lifetime. (84)

Wesley did not restrict this frequent communion to himself, but also provided it to gatherings of believers whenever possible. Chilcote provides a number of examples, including a gathering on July 29, 1784, when with the assistance of five priests, Wesley served communion to 1,600-1,700 people.


Stephen said...

As a member of the OSL, I have long been an advocate of increasing the sacrament of holy communion in the Methodist church. I find that resistance is often not with the congregation, but with the minister. They may have to shorten their sermon, they might have to lengthen their service, they might have to serve people every week. Remember it was Wesley who referred to Holy Communion as a means of grace that we can receive. Why wouldn't we want to magnify this in our churches?

Brian Douglas said...

Thanks for alerting me to the book of the Wesleys and their eucharistic theology. Like you I have been fascinated with the eucharistic theology of the Wesley, especially as expressed in many of their hymns. You might be interested in looking at Case Study 2.28 on site investigating eucharistic theology.

Go to:

Lorna said...

loved this. As a methodist I'd want the Eucharist celebrated much more frequently ...

Jonathan said...

Thanks for this John. It helps us remember that the modern split between evangelism and the sacraments is historically unintelligible, at least in terms of our earliest Wesleyan history.