–October of 1997
The Wind Should Be In Our Face
“While I was showing, at Charles’ Square, what it is ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God,’ a great shout began. Many of the rabble had brought an ox, which they were vehemently laboring to drive in among the people. But their labor was in vain; for in spite of them all, he ran round and round, one way and the other, and at length broke through the midst of them clear away, leaving us calmly rejoicing and praising God.”
The above memory preserved in the personal diary of Rev. John Wesley on July 12, 1741, is typical of a hundred other entries which he made in his now famous journal. Thumbing back a few pages on Friday, October 19, 1739, Wesley, preaching in Newport, lifted the text, “What must I do to be saved?” He then records that one old man “…during a great part of the sermon, cursed and swore almost incessantly; and, towards the conclusion, took up a great stone, which he many times attempted to throw. But that he could not do.”
The warm-hearted preaching of Wesley and his colleagues often touched off a hot-headed reaction in nobles and peasants alike, as the counter cultural influence of early Methodist checked and challenged the advance of evil at every intersection of life. It was said that an old Methodist meeting house could be identified by its broken windows, a witness to the opposition of offended and angry antagonists. However, at other times the straightforward preaching of Wesley and his army of circuit riders was rewarded when confronted sinners melted under the searing light of early Methodism’s “sin and salvation” message. Historian Mark Knoll records one such victory from the ministry of Burton Randall, a friend and comrade of the illustrious Peter Cartwright. Randall wished to preach in a town near Dubuque, Iowa, but the only building large enough to host a crowd was the pool hall. The owner consented to the meeting and, out of respect for the visiting ministry, covered his gambling table with a sheet. “Where upon Randall, noticing a similarity to a coffin, preached a vigorous sermon that resulted in the conversion of the proprietor and the sale of his hall!”
But whether they met with opposition or success, Methodist pioneers altered neither their message nor their method. They clearly understood that the gospel banner had always been carried forward while facing winds of opposition. However, it seems as if the world today neither opposes nor affirms the church. It appears that the church marches around carrying the gospel banner, invoking nothing more than a yawn from the opposing forces of darkness. While this is certainly not the case in many third world countries, here in the West it appears that even the holiness movement is in danger of settling in to a comfortable co-existence with a sinful society. We have perfected the art of preaching against sin, but not in such a way as to disturb a sin drunken culture around us. As Vance Havner once said, “We have developed the fine art of almost saying something.” We have separated ourselves from the world and the world is separated from us, and neither side seems to care. Where formerly the church was persecuted, today it is simply ignored.
I am not calling for, nor encouraging a bullish and offensive behavior simply to pick a fight with sinners so we can rejoice that we have been persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Nor is mistreatment in opposition being held up as a litmus test of genuine Christianity. Martyrdom itself is not proof of truth. But surely if we are indeed being salt and light in a sin-darkened world, if we are truly confronting society’s sins such as abortion, immorality, gambling, pornography, discrimination and homosexuality, if indeed we are denouncing the apathy, lukewarmness and deadness of those who sleep in Zion, and if we are openly challenging humanistic, atheistic and New Age philosophies, somewhere along the way we will encounter both opposition and success. Some will resent our message and retaliate. Others will respect our message and capitulate. Surely the wind will once again blow in our face.