I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean … to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tiding of salvation – John Wesley

This is the original design of the church of Christ. It is a body of men compacted together in order, first, to save each his own soul, then to assist each other in working out their salvation, and afterwards, as far as in them lies, to save all men from present and future misery, to overturn the kingdom of Satan, and set up the kingdom of Christ. And this ought to be the continued care and endeavour of every member of his church. Otherwise he is not worthy to be called a member thereof, as he is not a living member of Christ[1]  – John Wesley

The foundation stone of the Methodist Mission House laid by a former President W. L. Wardle on 28th June, 1939 as the headquarters of the three main branches of British Methodism and as a symbol of global unity in mission provides an opportunity to reflect on the spread of Methodist Churches traditionally known as non-conformist ‘in nearly every country in the world.’ John Wesley in the “Large” Minutes summarised his understanding of Methodism’s purpose: “What may we reasonably believe to be God’s design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land.” Scriptural holiness for Wesley is a process, ‘a journey from new birth to spiritual maturity, from sinfulness to perfection, from ‘original sin’ through ‘justification by faith’ to ‘entire sanctification’

A key feature of the world according to Methodism is the ‘field preaching’ ‘when thousands came to hear Wesley preach up and down the country. He formed local societies of those converted and encouraged them to meet in smaller groups on a weekly basis.’ The testimony and story of the world according to Methodism and not Methodism according to the world begins with John Wesley’s own missionary instinct as recorded in his 1739 Journal. Wesley’s missional instinct points to his ‘pioneering spirit that combined evangelical zeal with social responsibility at home and expanded to ministry overseas.’ Methodism as the outcome of the eighteenth century was the culmination of the signs of a fundamental reconstruction of the vanishing age. After Wesley’s death in 1795, Methodists in Britain became legally able to conduct marriages and perform the sacraments and these became parts of fundamental liturgies that revived and shaped the world according to Methodism. The repeated theme of John Wesley’s to the world according to Methodism was that the nation was far from holy and, therefore, far from being Christian.’

Herbert Brook Workman (1862-1951), a leading Methodist and secretary of the Wesleyan Methodist Secondary Schools Trust explained that the expansion of Britain which resonates with the world civilization ‘owe the world wide extension of Methodism.’[2] Wesley’s missional instinct points to real parish as community for spiritual formation. The Greek noun paroikia meant those living near or beside, a missional sense from the verb form paroikein, meaning ‘to dwell beside’ as resident aliens, settled foreigners, non-native sojourners, in exiles, like the Israelites in Egypt (Exd 2:22). Wesley’s missional instinct before paroikia later came to mean individual churches living in the world summons us as temporary aliens, residing in a foreign land, those who ‘have not here a lasting city, but seek the one that is to come’ (Heb 13:14).  

At a time when the Church of England and ‘her parochial system had become stereotyped by the centuries … the English Church lost her opportunity. When, after the Oxford Movement, she awoke to the call, she found that the new population had largely fallen away from her to the older Dissenters and the new Methodists.’ According to Workman, ‘in her blindness … the worldliness of the Church of England in the eighteenth century … because of their inability to discern the signs of the times … we find both the occasion and the opportunity of Methodism.’  Workman explained that ‘in the hour of sensual indifference, hard materialism and contented blindness, England was saved by one man, “A mighty leader who brought forth water from the rocks to make a barren land live again.” In John Wesley the opportunity found the hero.’

The emergence of Methodism reminds us about the preaching and gospel revelation of a new heaven and a new earth; it brought religion beyond self-satisfaction, ‘soulless lives and reconstituted it as a comforter, an inspiration, and a judge. No one was too poor, too humble, too degraded, to be born again and share in the privilege of divine grace, to serve the one Master, Christ.’ The world according to Methodism and not Methodism according to the world reminds us how ‘Wesley wrestled with the evils of his day and proclaimed the infinite power of a Christian faith based on personal conviction, eternally renewed from within, to battle with sin, misery and vice in all its forms.’ I think, these reminders resonate with Martin Wellings’s reflection in Issue 15, Summer 2019 edition of the Connexion magazine on Methodism: Our heritage foretells our future. John Wesley aptly described the three stages of the origins of Methodism namely, the ‘first rise’ of Methodism in Oxford, the spread ‘across the Atlantic, in Georgia, where Wesley’s self –confidence was shaken and where his ideas of what constituted real Christianity were tried and tested, and the London event ‘in the spring of 1738, when Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” by an assurance of God’s love.’ Using the word of Wellings, ‘when we understand our Methodist roots, we can better see where God is leading us.’ The understanding of our roots suggests the world according to Methodism and not Methodism according to the world’s blindness and seductions.

Before John Wesley passed away on 2nd March 1791 after eighty six years of the world renewal, according to Philip Meadows, ‘Methodist missionaries from Britain, America and Europe have taken the gospel all around the world at great personal cost.’ Meadows explained that, from the earliest time Methodist men and women have shared this missionary impulse to communicate the gospel they have received, and to make disciples who share the blessings of this spiritual movement’ all over the world.[3] That was the world according to Methodism. Preacher-missionaries were sent to Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and by 1769 missionaries were sent to support the growth of Methodism in America.  Meadows explained that, the story of the world and mission according to Methodism usually begins with the journey of Thomas Coke in 1786 ’who was driven off course from his to Canada and landed at Antigua in the West Indies.’ Coke also initiated missions to West Africa and Ceylon following the ‘routes carved out by migrants, traders, soldiers, sailors, and other colonial powers. John Wesley saw the opportunity for the spread of the Gospel in the new areas of North America. He also speculated on the spread through Europe by way of England to Holland, then to all the Protestants in France, Germany, and Sweden. Finally this ever growing kingdom would encapsulate Sweden, Denmark, Russia, among others. By 1837, British Methodist missions had also reached Canada, South and West Africa, South India, and Australia.

The world according to Methodism points to two levels of reflection, namely individual religious commitment and church organization. Religious commitment is postulated to consist of three core dimensions of belief, practice and experience. Methodism spirituality presupposes ‘a system of beliefs, involvement in communal ritual reaffirms and strengthens shared beliefs.’ The world according to Methodism was focus on personal experience that does not undermine personal discipline and public practices corporate renewal. These involve a tie to the path to salvation. According to Meadows, ‘the biographies of Methodist missionaries display a confidence in the gospel of personal salvation, the life-transforming power of the Spirit and the promise of perfect love’ and not just sensual seductive love in today’s culture. The world according to Methodism reminds us about the early Methodist genes ‘transmitted through nineteenth Holiness Movements into contemporary Pentecostalism – which is perhaps the most widespread and vibrant form of Christianity in the world church.’             

Some historiography and bibliography of Methodism suggests that ‘the Wesleyan Methodist population of England around 1830 may thus have been of the order of 600,000-800,000 souls.’ Methodism experienced ‘the outcome of the “settling down” process through which every great movement and institution must pass.’ It is important to note the ‘influence of the strong democratic wave which characterised  the century after Waterloo, in producing friction in a body so conservatively organised as was Wesley’s Methodism.’ Divisions attended Methodism “settling down” like other great religious awakening. Beyond the dissension between Whitefield and Wesley over the question of Calvinism, Methodism experienced the rise of New Connexion in 1797 based ‘on personal misunderstanding.’ The next division in Methodism was the result of the emotional “revivalism” hence, the separation (1808-1811) under William Clowes and Hugh Bourne of the Primitive Methodism, and finally the Bible Christians dated from 1815 was founded by William O’Bryan, a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher.

The three main branches of Methodism – Wesley, Primitive and United after 1900 later realized that they ‘had far in common than the things that divided them’ hence, the close mission partnership which culminated in 1932 reunion to form the Methodist Church.

It is on record that the union of the three main branches of British Methodism in 1932 brought together their missionary societies into the Methodist Missionary Society, and ‘Mission House’ was begun as their headquarters in 1939 as a symbol of this unity in mission. Work on a new Mission House in Marylebone Road was started in 1939 and the Methodist Missionary Society moved in in 1946. Since 1996, the building has been ‘Methodist Church House’ when it became the offices for the major part of the British Connexional Team. A visit to the building provides names of many Methodist preacher-missionaries and leaders sent across the world according to Methodism.

Celebrating Methodist Mission House at 80, now known as Methodist Church House (MCH) invites us, all the Methodist family all over the world ‘to draw on Wesley’s missional instincts to inform, nurture and refresh the world according to Methodism and not Methodism according to the seduction of today’s culture.

[1] John Wesley, “The Reformation of Manners,” The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, (34 vols., Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), 2:302.

[2] Workman, Herbert Brook, Methodism (Cambridge: University Press, 1912), p. 8

[3] Meadows, Philip, Wesleyan DNA of Discipleship (Cambridge:Grove Books, 2013), pp. 25-26