A Message from John Wesley to Kevin Rollins (& others)

A Message from John Wesley to Kevin Rollins (& others)

Last Saturday I heard a pretty awful sermon. I was at Western Quarterly Meeting of North Carolina YM-FUM.

(c) John Wesleys House & The Museum of Methodism; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“I’m John Wesley, and I approve of this message.”

The session began about 9:30 AM, and lasted til shortly after noon. After a break midway, the sermon was more or less sprung on us. It was delivered by Kevin Rollins, pastor at Plainfield Friends, and one of the leading voices for the Purge and Plunder campaign in the yearly meeting. (In fact, Plainfield Meeting declared that it would stop supporting the YM last April 15 unless all its grievances were DEALT with [their caps, bold, italics, oversized type & underlining], i.e., the targeted liberal meetings were expelled. But they weren’t and as noted in our previous post, the doomsday date passed, and Plainfield is still paying.)

The sermon was in the usual style of such efforts: a captive audience, no chance for response, heaps of straw men & women knocked about with poorly informed “arguments” and cherry-picked prooftexts.

It was evident that the harangue was aimed particularly at Spring Friends Meeting, which I attend. Spring is part of the Quarter, and one of the prime targets of the purge campaign in NCYM. We were accused of worshipping false gods, especially an idol called “Quakerism,” and ignoring Jesus, the Bible, its clear moral commands, etc., and so forth. It went on for half an hour at least.

Well, at Spring we’re pretty much inured to this kind of thing, and among our delegation, it mostly rolled off our backs.

Still, as the session broke up, Rollins came past me, noted my small iPad, and asked if I might have some response to it in this blog. 

My answer was: “I might.”

And so I do. But beyond this introduction, the response is not from me. Instead, I’m calling on the aid of someone Rollins and his cohorts have at least heard of, and claim to be favorably influenced by: John Wesley.

Wesley is not only revered as the founder of Methodism; the connection here is much closer than that. Evangelical Quakerism generally is Wesleyan through and through.  As evidence, the university Rollins just graduated from this spring is graced by the John Wesley College of Divinity; indeed the school itself was formerly John Wesley College.

Presumably then, its graduates have some regard for Wesley, his teachings and example.

So I hope they and their fellows in the current mad adventure will read through and consider Wesley’s message here, as expressed in his Sermon #38. Because his response is much more eloquent and trenchant than any I could come up with.

It is titled, aptly enough, “A Caution Against Bigotry.”

Take it away, John!

john-wesley-preaching
John Wesley preaching.

From “A Caution Against Bigotry.”

“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name: and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not.” Mark 9:38, 39. (Also Luke 9:49-50)

I am, in the first place, to show, in what sense men may, and do, now cast out devils. . . .

He [the devil today] less openly, but no less effectually, works in dissemblers, tale-bearers, liars, slanderers; in oppressors and extortioners, in the perjured, the seller of his friend, his honour, his conscience, his country. And yet these may talk of religion or conscience still; of honour, virtue, and public spirit! But they can no more deceive Satan than they can God. He likewise knows those that are his: and a great multitude they are . . . .

 But shall we not forbid one who thus “casteth out devils,” if “he followeth not us”? This, it seems, was both the judgement and practice of the Apostle, till he referred the case to his Master. “We forbad him,” saith he, “because he followeth not us!” which he supposed to be a very sufficient reason. What we may understand by this expression, “He followeth not us,” is the next point to be considered.

1. The lowest circumstance we can understand thereby, is, he has no outward connexion with us. We do not labour in conjunction with each other. He is not our fellow-helper in the gospel. And indeed whensoever our Lord is pleased to send many labourers into his harvest, they cannot all act in subordination to, or connexion with, each other. Nay, they cannot be personal acquaintance with, nor be so much as known to, one another. . . .

2. A Second meaning of this expression may be, –he is not of our party. It has long been matter of melancholy consideration to all who pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that so many several parties are still subsisting among those who are all styled Christians. This has been particularly observable in our own countrymen, who have been continually dividing from each other . . . .

3. That expression may mean, Thirdly, –he differs from us in our religious opinions. There was a time when all Christians were of one mind, as well as of one heart, so great grace was upon them all, when they were first filled with the Holy Ghost! But how short a space did this blessing continue! How soon was that unanimity lost! and difference of opinion sprang up again, even in the church of Christ, –and that not in nominal but in real Christians . . . . It is therefore no way surprising, that infinite varieties of opinion should now be found in the Christian church. A very probable consequence of this is, that whenever we see any “casting out devils,” he will be one that, in this sense, “followeth not us” –that is not of our opinion. It is scarce to be imagined he will be of our mind in all points, even of religion. He may very probably think in a different manner from us, even on several subjects of importance; such as the nature and use of the moral law, the eternal decrees of God, the sufficiency and efficacy of his grace, and the perseverance of his children.

4. He may differ from us, Fourthly, not only in opinion, but likewise in some point of practice. He may not approve of that manner of worshipping God which is practised in our congregation . . . .

5. But in a far stronger sense “he followeth not us,” who is not only of a different Church, but of such a Church as we account to be in many respects anti-scriptural and anti-Christian, –a Church which we believe to be utterly false and erroneous in her doctrines, as well as very dangerously wrong in her practice; guilty of gross superstition as well as idolatry, –a Church that has added many articles to the faith which was once delivered to the saints; that has dropped one whole commandment of God, and made void several of the rest by her traditions; and that, pretending the highest veneration for, and strictest conformity to, the ancient Church, has nevertheless brought in numberless innovations, without any warrant either from antiquity or Scripture. Now, most certainly, “he followeth not us” . . . .

 If we willingly fail in any of these points, if we either directly or indirectly forbid him, “because he followeth not us,” then we are bigots. This is the inference I draw from what has been said. . . . It is too strong an attachment to, or fondness for, our own party. opinion, church, and religion. Therefore he is a bigot who is so fond of any of these, so strongly attached to them, as to forbid any who casts out devils because he differs from himself in any or all these particulars.

4. “Search me, O Lord, and prove me. Try out my reins and my heart! Look well if there be any way of “bigotry in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

In order to examine ourselves thoroughly, let the case be proposed in the strongest manner. What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian [Unitarian; of Rollins argot, “liberal” or “progressive” Quakers] casting out devils?

 If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still.

5. O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that casts out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give himself wholly up thereto. Speak well of him wheresoever you are; defend his character and his mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, his sphere of action; show him all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in his behalf, that he may save both himself and them that hear him.

The full text of the sermon is here.

And his sermon #39, “Catholic Spirit,” which pursues much the same theme, is here. 

9 thoughts on “A Message from John Wesley to Kevin Rollins (& others)”

  1. As an ordained female clergy of the UCC, formerly pastor of a UMC church with family members in the Southern Baptist Convention, Wesley’s sermon is a wonderful reminder of the importance of following the lessons Jesus taught and lived. It is sad that as Christians, we often get more involved in proving ourselves right and others wrong than in loving one another. Still, it is not easy to accept those we feel wrong us. Thank you, Chuck, for bringing this sermon of Wesley’s to light again. May Jesus be among those at the YM of the Quakers.

  2. Sadly, the tradition of pastors among Friends seem always to led to both judgement and the desire to remove others. Those 19th century Quakers were quite right to distrust the evangelical judgement of Elias Hicks (and others), and also quite right to distrust the rise of the pastors. We see it yet again in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM).

    But for the noise and trouble, Friends would be well advise to consider that the troubles will continue until the pastors have their way. Friends might well consider – just what IS Friends United Meeting but a structure that serves neither the right or left hand. In this age of extremes becoming the political norm, the pastors will lead their followers in ‘holy war’. It is their world view, and their sense of the times.

    Consider the words of John Comly about making a quiet retreat…. Piedmont Yearly Meeting seems a good idea that has come.

    However, Friends ought to consider what extremes live in themselves. But regardless, the pastors will have their way – just like was the case in Indiana Yearly Meeting.

    1. I think thee’s right, Amicus, about the impact of the pastoral “system,” especially when most of the incumbents either come from other churches (and are “Quakers By Employment”) or have been shaped by them on their way.
      As for the outcome of the current kerfuffle in NCYM, we shall see . . . .

  3. Your argument against Kevin Rollins holds no merit, because you refused to share his side of the argument. So, it sounds like Kevin Rollins is speaking the truth and your feelings are hurt and you are trying to justify your immoral behavior of your church.

    1. Ah, Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. So don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters, or you may end up on your own, with no direction home, like a rolling stone . . . .

      1. I believe you are missing the point. I know this is your blog and you can lead the reader in any direction you want. However, you seem to be arguing with this Kevin Rollins about what he said in your meeting. So, since I, the reader was left without Kevin Rollin’s side of the story, you left my cup half empty leaving me to infer what point you are trying to make. With that said I am inferring you are upset with what he said, and that he is telling you the truth, the truth of God’s Word. Especially since you never mentioned God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible, and you are trying to pick and choose what you want the Bible to say.

        If you want your readers to have a better understanding you must present both sides of the argument to allow your reader to get a full understanding of where you are coming from.

        1. Well, Bobdylan, you already know you completely agree with what you think Kevin Rollins said, so all I have to to add to that is a verse from one of your best songs:
          They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown. The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town. Here comes the blind commissioner, they’ve got him in a trance; one hand is tied to the tightrope walker — the other is in his pants. And the riot squad they’re restless
          They need somewhere to go; As Lady and I look out tonight, From Desolation Row . . . .
          It’s all there.

          Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/desolation-row#ixzz3hTOkqAfn

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