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The Missionary

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He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?

-Micah 6:8 [KJV, the Wesley's Bible], A Path to Perfection

Methodism is a system of religious faith and practice. It originated in a movement dubbed the Holy Club, founded by John and Charles Wesley in 1729 at the University of Oxford, England. Members of the Holy Club wished to deepen their personal life of faith and grow in compassion. The movement developed into a number of overlapping groups in various colleges at Oxford and influenced many Protestant denominations. It eventually gave its name to a new denomination, the Methodist church. A concern for spiritual practice, the method through which one may grow in God's love and in service to the human family, is the reason the word "method" stands in its name.

The Holy Club encouraged classical and devotional reading, frequent Holy Communion and fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as was the pattern in the ancient church. They soon added various undertakings of mercy to their discipline including working with the poor, the education of children in the industrial centres of the United Kingdom and visiting those in prison.

Rundle's Communion SetJohn and Charles Wesley sought perfection and it is the teaching about the pathway to perfection and this immaculateness as the goal of spiritual life that sets Methodism apart within the Protestant family of churches. These teachings hold that every Christian could be perfect in the love of God and of human beings, whether friend, stranger or enemy. The spiritual disciplines practiced by Methodists prepared the way for the "Great Salvation," where all sin--the missing of the mark of life-is rooted out.

As was taught by the ancient church, those who are perfect in this way are in a constant state of prayer, attentive to the realities that they meet in daily life. They no longer respond to life out of self-interest, but in love for the human beings that cross their path and in compassion in the face of the terrors of history. They are, in the words of the creation story in Genesis, restored to the original image of God in which all human beings have been created.

John Wesley, in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, tells us that in 1725, in his 23rd year, he read Bishop Taylor's Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. He resolved, he says, to dedicate "all my life to God, all my thoughts, and words, and actions . . . that every part of my life must either be a sacrifice to God, or myself, that is, in effect, to the devil." 

Every person who has Christ within their heart, Wesley goes on to argue, "is purified from pride: for Christ was lowly in heart. He is pure from desire and self-will: for Christ desired only to do the will of his Father. And he is pure from anger, in the common sense of the word, for he is angry at sin while he is grieved for the sinner. He feels a displeasure at every offense against God, but only tender compassion to the offender." 

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