A lot of folks don’t like John Wesley. He lived in a much different time, of course (the 1700s), and he could be rough and abrasive when he wanted to. On spiritual matters, he was influenced by the Moravians of his day. In a letter to them, he once used the phrase, “Smite me friendly.”
He was asking them for some guidance and direction. While he was predisposed to their opinions, they also had their differences. If they were going to admonish him according to any of those differences, he was hoping it would be in a gentle way.
Wesley’s point was that they should disagree in love. He requested their patience in dealing with issues where he may have shown ignorance. He also said, “prod me and give me a kick when I need it.”
That seems like a rather balanced approach when dealing with others. I applaud him for his position. He was not afraid to seek critical advice (or give it), but he didn’t want to be tromped on either.
In today’s climate, it’s easy for us to veer from this attitude. We are surrounded by such polarization that it even infects the church. Disagreeing agreeably doesn’t seem to play a very strong role in the agenda.
Wesley wanted fellow Christians to desire what was best for others—including for him. He wanted the church to work together to iron out differences and to do the work of the Gospel hand in hand with each other. When differences remained, he was still adamant that we work together in the tasks of the Kingdom.
“We have little to lose and everything to gain…”
There’s little to refute in his stance (at least from what I can see). It seems to me, we have little to lose and everything to gain if we strive to do church Wesley’s way. I’m not talking about his theology, here. We are going to be at variance greatly when it comes to those kinds of differences. But when it comes to practical matters of mission and ministry, turning our backs on each other doesn’t seem like much of a winner.
I’m not pleading here for denominations to unite, or even for local churches to meld together into one body of believers. I am, however, asking that we work more closely together for causes that unite us. There’s plenty to motivate us to do so.
We all want to feed the hungry, for example. Yet, we’re quick to separate our efforts to do that. Everyone has their own deal and that’s that. We’re not interested in combining efforts with the congregation down the street because…well, you know what they believe about __________ (you fill in the blank). I wonder how many fall through the cracks because of our petty attitudes or just a simple lack of trying to cooperate.
As I write this, I realize some will readily agree with me. Others will take offense and pronounce me wrong. That’s okay. All I ask is that you smite me friendly.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]