Traditionally, Methodists today remember Wesley’s aldersgate experience based on his encounter with God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Today is also Trinity Sunday in the Christian calendar and it is a call to action. What is the Spirit calling us to today or is it just a coincidence? The idea of Trinity emerged at the Council of Nicaea in 325, hence The Nicene Creed, and the development that followed in the fifth century resulted in the Apostles’ Creed. The reflection for us today is that, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that was behind Wesley’s aldersgate experience.
Today, let us take time to look back again to see our past in future, to rekindle the Aldersgate/Trinity experience in connection with the founding of Methodism. ‘Re-Aldersgate,’ forward to the past, is a call to return to the DNA of Methodism for fruitful future. Methodist tradition is not just ‘a democracy of the dead,’ but a Spirit-filled and Bible believing faith of the Wesleys, though long dead, still speaks. The reflection is, do we still believe and experience today what they believed and experienced way back that brought reawakening? Have we become so cold to the Spirit that makes us distinct? Wesley’s words and fear remind us that the worst thing that can happen is to lose our vitality, “having the form of religion without the power.” ‘Re-Aldersgate, forward to the past recalls us to the roots of our formation and power by holding ‘fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’ Holy Spirit is associated with vitality and power for exploits.
Nancy Pearcey in one of her books, ‘Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its cultural captivity, provides a helpful insight on how backward reasoning could be use to illustrate how some gadget was manufactured. According to her, biologists have found that the best way to tease out the function of various molecules in the cell is to practice ‘reverse engineering.’ Methodism has a missional and spiritual legacy by which its DNA were designed and formed. 278 years ago, 24 May 1738, John Wesley received an experience that changed his life and ultimately lead to the development and heritage of the Methodist movement in Britain, Ireland, and America. The heritage is Wesley’s “Aldersgate” experience and often called his “conversion.” As heirs to more than 278 years of Aldersgate experience, ‘Re-Aldersgate,’ based on Wesley’s famous testimony ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt l did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation ,..’ provides an insight and need for personal conversion and renewal through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Prior to his Aldersgate experience, Wesley an ordained preacher, educated at Oxford and an outwardly successful men believed that sanctification preceded justification. His experience on 24 May, 1738, helped him “convert” his understanding of the order of salvation. Wesley’s conversion was from shallow moralism of his days that substitute good works to faith in Christ. It was a conversion of his conception of the way of personal salvation. At Aldersgate, Wesley got the order of salvation right, justification precedes sanctification. ‘It is God’s pure gift in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Grace upon grace.’ Despite critics misgivings about Wesley’s aldersgate experience, Albert Outler rightly summarised Wesely’s experience as ‘change from faith in faith to faith itself, from aspiration to assurance.’ Aldergate experience provides a source to the distinguishing marks in a ‘child of God,’ a transition from non-Christian to Christian, and a renewal of our ‘theological understanding than an assurance of faith and of personal trust in Christ, based on scripture, was indeed the common privilege of believers.’
Aldersgate/Trinity Sunday is a recall to our self- consciousness, identity, and ‘self-understanding that a transformation is occuring by grace, affecting both the inner person and outward actions.’ Therefore, our debt is not just to the past; our debt is also to the future. What do we who celebrate this anniversary owe to future generations? In Psalm 44, a community lament because national disaster has occurred. In vs 1-3, the glorious days of old is recallled when they experienced revival (Deut 3:20). Psalm 44 provides a clear biblical warrant for recalling and recounting the Aldersgate experience. There is also a biblical testimonies about the danger of forgetting the past. In Judges 2 we read about a generation that has no sense of history nor sense of their heritage, ‘another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord or what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” When people of God forget their history and heritage, we end up in bondage, human philosophy, decline and idolatry. Using the words of President Barak Obama, ‘ignorance is not a virtue,’ especially, spiritual virtue. The future of Methodism belong to the younger generation, experiencing and taking hold of the aldersgate heritage by retelling the conversion stories over and over and over again.
Aldersgate/Trinity Sunday beyond a liturgical celebration has everything to do with the health and future of Methodism. Will we have the faith that our founders had? Will we have the vision they had? Will we be willing to sacrifice and evangelise as they did?
Forward in the past is not a straitjacket tradition but a guide to our history and spirituality. History tells us who we are, our family tree, and where we came from. Aldersgate Sunday is a call to ‘Heart check,’ just as Clinics and hospitals hold ‘Coronary Risk Evaluations’ for men and women of any age. We continue to employ and apply different medication in form of fresh strategies and expressions forgetting that the concern is about the spiritual health of our hearts. Heart checks beyond bodily function is to rectify leakages and blockages to the free flow of the Holy Spirit. According to Ezekiel 36, we read about two heart – a heart of “flesh” and a heart of “stone.” The good news is that God is able to give, ‘a new heart and a new spirit …’(Ezk 36:26). Just as the old preacher Samuel warned Saul that God had rather have obedience and submission of the heart more than the fat of rams, God is saying to someone, obedience is better than sacrifice. Receive the Holy Spirit.