Whitfield, Wesley, Wilberforce…and Waugh

The title of this post could be taken to mean that I put myself in their company. Certainly not! But I’m trying to think here about lessons I can learn from them. Last weekend (10/22 & 23) Dr. Honeycutt brought some dead men to life for us at ECC in the seminar on Evangelicalism (audio will be posted soon). The focus of the weekend was how evangelicals have united together through the centuries for the purpose of mission and ministry; proclamation of the gospel and living out the gospel in all its fullness for the good of their respective cultures. Here’s a few things that I’m speaking with God about now as a result of the weekend (including Dr. Honeycutt’s Sunday morning sermon).

1. I need tougher skin, and a more tender heart

All the men listed above, and Lord Shaftesbury (pictured left, also highlighted during the seminar, but his name didn’t begin with ‘W’, so I left him out of the blog title) had thick, thick skin. They had too as they were each the objects of scorn. Wesley and Whitefield were criticized for breaking with Anglican tradition and becoming ‘vile’ by preaching out doors and sharing ministry with non-Anglicans, even Baptists! Here’s that famous section from Wesley’s Journal:

“May 5th: A.M.: Preached in St. Ann’s; was asked not to come back. P.M: preached at St. John’s; deacons said, ‘Get out and stay out.’
May 12th A.M.: preached at St. Andrew’s; elders called a special meeting and said not to return. P.M.: preached on the street and was run off.
May 26th A.M.: preached in a field; got chased by a bull that was set loose.
June 2nd A.M: preached at the edge of town; police moved me. P.M: preached in a pasture and 10,000 people came!”

Shaftesbury and Wilberforce were attacked, verbally and physically for proposing legislation that would benefit the oppressed (slaves and the urban poor). Yet, none of these men allowed the criticism to dissuade them, showing remarkable perseverance and tenacity.

I need to learn that. I invite criticism, especially from friends. I think I take that kind of criticism well. But the kind that comes unsolicited, the kind that has a mean-spirited edge to it – that kind of criticism sends me reeling. Or, it causes me to dig my heels in and spit meanness back. Either is unacceptable.

Coupled with this toughness was an inner tenderness towards those who were disenfranchised and overlooked by polite society. Wesley and Whitefield preached out of door because the poor weren’t coming to the churches. They preached to slaves, they started orphanages, etc. Wilberforce and Shaftesbury were broken by what they saw in their nation and loved those they championed.

I’ll admit it, I need to learn from that too. Their tenderness wasn’t a sappy sentimentalism that did little but moisten dry eyes. No, it brought action too. Its easy to be overwhelmed by problems in our society, and allow that sense of being overwhelmed to prevent us from acting. The problems are big – they’re global. But, there also local, in our neighborhoods. We may not fix the system (though maybe some should be trying), but we can put food on the table of some underprivileged people in our town.

2. I need to respect that not everyone in the body is gifted in the same way or wired with the same passions. God wired and place Shaftesbury and Wilberforce in different ways and in different places that Wesley and Whitefield. He does the same today, and I honestly forget that sometimes. I think we all do. There are some who are great evangelists – they have the heart and the ability and share the gospel with people in check out lines and gas stations. They ought to be commended for this. We need these bold ambassadors in the church. If you’re one of them, keep on keepin on. However, there are dangers you need to be aware of. As Dr. Honeycutt made so clear, Jesus calls us to deeds of mercy and love as well as to preaching the good news of Jesus. First, don’t look down upon those who may be more timid in their verbal witness but are lions when it comes to helping those in need. It’s easy to forget that some will be Wilberforces and Shaftesburys. That’s good too. Second, don’t, in your passion to share the good news, forget to show the good news. Don’t forget that its not just the church that is called to deeds of mercy and proclamation of the gospel, but individual Christians too.

The same principle applies to those who have a bent towards mercy ministry – respect those who have a bent towards evangelism. I hear a lot, especially from the younger generation, that the church has been all about ‘saving souls’ and neglected mercy. A few things. First, don’t say ‘saving souls’ in a condescending way – it’s and incredibly important part of the church’s commission. In fact, it’s the only part that Christians alone can do! Second, vague generalizations are rarely true. I’ve met few people who are passionate about evangelism that don’t also care for the real physical needs of people. They may focus and talk more about souls, but most who are genuine in their love for people care about their bodies too. Even the Fundies started and ran inner city missions! Third, don’t allow your passion for mercy ministry, which is incredibly important too, to totally eclipse your responsibility to share the good news of Jesus verbally with others. The call to share proclaim the good news of Jesus isn’t just for the church, it’s for you too.

Just a few thoughts, I’ve been kicking around.