by Lorette C. Luzajic
Part 2 of the Pillars of Faith series.
The Wesley Family
John Wesley was a social activist, evangelist, denouncer of “witchcraft” and a man who claimed he had raised the dead.
He was born an Anglican in 1703. The family lived in a rural village in England, where they were in the ministry, helping orphans and widows. Poverty was rampant given the sin of contraception — John’s mom was one of 25 kids and John had 18 brothers and sisters!
In 1709, the rectory where they lived caught fire, possibly set by disgruntled arsons who opposed the family’s social work. John was trapped, but managed to escape. To praise God for his life, he studied theology as a young man, and started a group called the Holy Club, dubbed “Methodist” for their structured method of bible study.
The “Whole World is my Parish”
John loved the Anglican church. Yet he opposed the exclusion of ordinary people from worship, and his opinions barred him from preaching. So he made the world his pulpit, preaching in fields and squares. John’s brother Charles helped spread The Word with a hymn we all know by heart: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as well as some 6000 others!
Pullquote: He railed against unbelief, slavery and predestination.
As an ingenious organizer and motivator, John trained and challenged “exhorters” to evangelize prisons and beyond. Advocacy for social reform drove Wesley’s work. He railed against slavery in the New World as “that execrable villainy,” refuting the still-popular idea that Africans were “lucky” to be taken from their heathen countries and brought to work for the white man. He wrote freely of heinous tortures of slaves by Christians.
Wesley also believed sinners could repent and be saved by faith. He thought Calvin’s predestination theory — that God handpicks a few souls ahead of time — was blasphemy, and Christians in non-evangelical traditions were “almost-Christians.” Sound familiar? Today these ridiculous ancient wars still wage over who should interpret God’s infallible word. “The doctrinally significant omissions are a sure mark of the apostasy of John Wesley,” writes Rev. Angus Stewart in the British Reformed Journal. Many believe Wesley was a “heretic” and preached a “false gospel.”
A Sorcerer Against Witchcraft
Pullquote: John Wesley believed in witchcraft because he practiced it himself.
Many don’t know that Wesley was quite the Pentecostal. He revved his audiences up into “holy laughter.” He worked them into a frenzy of holy spirit possession, beating the ground, speaking in tongues, or having convulsions. He used the Bible to predict the future by opening it randomly. He saw signs in the weather of God’s wrath or blessing. He predicted through dreams and visions. For all that, he railed against “witchcraft,” opposing the moderate laws that were moving away from the gendercidal atrocities of previous centuries.
“Most of the men of learning in Europe have given up all account of witches and apparitions as old wives’ fables…. The giving up of witchcraft is the giving up of the Bible. With my last breath I will bear testimony against giving up to infidels one great proof of the invisible world, witchcraft … confirmed by the testimony of the ages,” he famously wrote.
John believed in witchcraft because he practiced it himself, unlike most of those accused, tortured and killed before him. Stephen Tomkins wrote that John believed in his own powers to perform miraculous healings, and was certain he had at least once raised a man from the dead! He also exorcised “demons.” All of this hocus-pocus began when John was young, and was certain a poltergeist was haunting the rectory. The demon was named Old Jeffery.
A Doubtful Ending
Perhaps we should not judge another for his contradictions. But in 1766, as an old man, John wrote, “I do not love God. I never did. Therefore I never believed, in the Christian sense of the word. Therefore I am only an honest heathen…!” Even in today’s progressive climate, it’s still difficult to address doubt honestly, and impossible to address it without repercussion.
Wesley lived until he was 88 — his last words were “God is with us.”
Lorette C. Luzajic is a full-time freelance writer in Toronto. She blogs at Facinating People.