« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Not to form any new sect; but to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and spread scriptural holiness over the land.” 103 And at the first Conference in 1744, the members asserted and reaffirmed in quite a little detail: that Methodists were Churchmen; they will not leave the Church unless put out; they have a proper definition of Church; their preaching will be to support the Church.104 But in spite of all these expressions of loyalty to the Church, the Methodists by action, did just the opposite. Every time they asserted the primary authority of their Conference they thereby denied any real authority of the Established Church over them. Hence one must conclude that the institution of the Conference worked for unity among the Methodists; and therefore, for a lack of unity with the Church. One will readily agree with Prof. Faulkner of Drew, when he says: “There were profound inconsistencies in Wesley's relation to the Church of England. Professing constantly undiminished love for that Church, circumstances were always driving him to acts utterly inconsistent with loyalty thereto.” 105
SECTION III. METHODIST CLASSES, BANDS, STEWARDS,
QUARTERLY MEETINGS As the Methodist societies were united into a larger unit called the Conference for the sake of furthering their practices and increasing their efficiency; even so were they divided into smaller groups for the more extensive furthering of their practices and the greater increase of their efficiency.
In a certain sense, Methodist societies were begun in 1739, but it was not until 1742 that they were divided into “classes.” 106
The immediate cause for their formation was a financial one.
The members of the societies at Bristol met together to find ways and means of discharging their common debt. A suggestion was made for doing this under three heads. a. Every member of the society contribute two cents, b. the whole society be divided into companies of twelve—these were to be called
Works, vol. v, p. 212.
classes, c. one person was to be appointed to receive a contribution from the members of a class and give it to the stewards. Wesley quickly fell in with these suggestions, and the system of classes was inaugurated. In the first instance, it was a system to
' The more deep lying cause for the beginning of classes was the problem of supervising the large numbers of people who came under Wesley's care. He could not attend to these individually, so he organized them into small groups, and placed a leader over them who could inspect their lives in some detail.108 “That it may be more easily discerned whether the members of our societies are working out their own salvation, they are divided into little companies called classes.” 109 Wesley summed up the reasons which prompted him to organize these classes as follows: “The need of comradeship to maintain loyalty to the cause of religion, and the need of an agency to pay the debts of the society at Bristol.” 110
The division of the Methodist societies into classes was made without regard to rank or distinction.111 The entire society was divided into these classes and every member of the society was expected to attend a class. In 1788, there were over nine hundred in the classes of Bristol, not counting those who had been lost through moving or misconduct.112 All kinds of people were members of these classes and Wesley recorded: “I met a class of soldiers.” Some of these were stalwart fellows, thus showing the popularity of the classes. 113
Indeed, these classes were so popular with the Methodists that one was able to restrict attendance upon them by means of admission tickets. These tickets varied in size and form at the various periods of time. 114 They were probably first given out to limit admissions about 1742. After the year 1750, texts of Scripture were printed upon them for the edification of the
107 Jour., vol. ii, p. 528.
Ibid., vol. ii, p. 535.
114 Vidé W. H. S. Proceedings, vol. v, p. 32, opposite, for good reproduc
holders.115 These small tickets were signed by John Wesley, or by the class leader, and were good for one quarter of a year. After that, they had to be renewed, or else the holder could not attend class. It was necessary to present a ticket to be admitted to a session of the class. 116 The Methodists must have valued these classes highly, else they would not have consented to submit to such restrictions as these.
Each of these classes was in charge of a man called the "leader". At first the leader visited from house to house; but this was dropped, for it was considered easier to get the people together.117 These men had no authority over the assistants of Wesley, and they could not eject any member from their class without the consent of either Wesley or one of his assistants. They could not displace another class leader and they had nothing to do with the temporal affairs of Methodism. The contributions which they weekly collected in their classes, they handed over to the stewards. All other money was collected by the assistant, and the leaders were not concerned with the collection. 118 These class leaders were men of importance and influence. In Dublin the class leaders insisted in a strong handed manner on conducting things their own way. Wesley finally went to Dublin and told the leaders to stay in their places. Men of less zeal and ability would not have shown this energy displayed by the leaders of Dublin.119 Once in a while, women were permitted to be leaders. In the old book of Yarmouth, begun in the year 1785, the name “Sister Mary Sewell” appeared as a class leader. This woman was a member of the Methodist Class, and doubtless acted as a leader. But as in the case of preaching, the woman who led the class was no more the rule than the woman who preached; although both were allowed. 120
Wesley was very careful to see that the leaders enforced the Methodist discipline in their classes; and went to considerable lengths himself to see that it was done. Class inspection Wesley
115 W. H. S. Proceedings, vol. v, p. 32ff.
Jour., vol. vii, p. 61.
Ibid., vol. v, p. 406.
considered one of the important parts of his work. At Newcastle, he spent three days examining the classes.121 He said with emphasis, that he would not give tickets to any who did not meet in their class twelve times in the quarter unless they were kept home by sickness or unavoidable business. He urged his assistants to enforce this rule and to remove all careless class leaders.122 Wesley's attitude may be shown by his frequent allusions to this visitation, such as: “I began visiting the classes in London, and that with more exactness than ever before. After going through, I found the society contained about 2,350 members, few of whom we could discern to be triflers, and none we hope, lived in any wilful sin.” 123
The discipline was so strict that many dropped out of these classes; but in their places many entered, so great was the prestige of the class system.124
The clergy naturally opposed the class, as they opposed everything else that was tainted with Methodism. Their opposition was based chiefly upon the fact that these classes fostered enthusiasm. “I forbear to relate the confusion, the tumult, the noise, and uproar, which at these times disgraced the order and scandalized the exercise of religious worship.” This was the view of the class-meeting held by the clergy. 125 They also objected to the intimate manner used in discussing the various phases of religious experience. “In short every case is canvassed and the great physician of souls is applied to for a sovereign balm for every wound—a salve for every sore. "' 126 The attack, however, on the class was not as well organized or concentrated, as against other factors of Methodism.
And where the class was “thought large to speak their minds freely, many meet once a week in smaller companies, called 'bands', consisting of four or five persons, men with men, and women with women. This was the purpose of even further sub-dividing the societies into bands: it was to furnish a group
our souls.” 128
of people where one might indulge in an intimate and personal conversation about his sins. One of the rules of the bands was, that each should speak “freely and plainly of the true state of
Each band was governed by a simple set of rules and in 1744, Directions given to the Band Societies were published.129 There were at least twenty of these bands in London in 1745, and their average attendance was five or six and never over ten. No money was connected with these bands.130 The purpose of having these bands consist all of women, or all of men, was to promote this perfect freedom of the members “to confess their faults to one another and pray for one another that they may be healed.” 131 The purpose in other words, was to intensify that same type of work that was being done in the class. It was a form of intensive specialization. Because of this Wesley tried to give the bands that close attention which he bestowed upon the classes. “I fix an hour every day for speaking with each of the bands, that no disorderly walker might remain among them.” 132
He saw to it that the Rules of the Bands were read over and kept.133 The Church opposed these bands; because such intimate talks of religious matters it thought undesirable. The Methodists were thought to indulge in auricular confession within these bands.134 So they did; but of a different type from that of the Church of Rome. The Roman Catholic confessed to the priest alone; the Methodist confessed to several of his fellowlaymen. Thus in the classes and bands we see two highly organized and specialized institutions to instruct in, and win loyalty to, the Methodist practices.
It was this tendency to concentrate in organization that brought in the steward to the Methodist societies. Wesley was burdened with much detail about financial matters. "A proposal was made for devolving all temporal business, books and all, entirely upon the stewards.. Oh, when shall it once be !” 135
Works, vol. v, p. 183.
Nightingale: p. 194.