John and Francis

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

John and Francis

June 28, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0511}

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An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

Every Protestant church reveres its founder if it has one. The Lutherans revere Martin Luther; the Presbyterians, John Calvin; and the Methodists, John Wesley.

When you consider the other churches were founded by theologians, it is no wonder that we who are Methodists are not renown for our theological acumen!
Yet, I would prefer to have John Wesley as my spiritual father than Martin Luther or John Calvin. While no mean theologian, he was blessed with other gifts, especially evangelism, charity toward the poor and the ability to bring people into community for growth in faith in Christ.
Even so, Wesley should not be seen in isolation, but in company with other spiritual leaders raised up by God in the long tradition of the ecumenical church. One saint with whom Wesley had affinity from my perspective was Francis of Assisi. I considered the connection between John and Francis as I read “The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” the anthology of stories about Francis, who died in A.D. 1224 after having founded the Franciscan Order in the Roman Catholic Church. What did they have in common?
Simplicity was a mark of both men’s lives. Francis took a vow of evangelical poverty. Wesley’s course was less severe, but he also gave away his money, abstained for years at a time from meat and wine, and rejoiced in his freedom from things.

A love of other animals was also a trait Francis and Wesley had in common. Everyone has heard about Francis preaching to the birds. Once he had pity on some doves that were about to be sold for slaughter. He purchased them, took them to his brothers and made nests for them. They prospered and, as it was said, they were as tame as hens around them. Wesley loved his horses and advocated compassionate treatment of all animals. His occasional practice of vegetarianism increased his witness of respect for other creatures. The practices of both contain the seeds of an ecological wisdom needed today.
They cherished spirituality more than learning. Francis was aware of how intellectual pursuits may obscure the development of love of God and the virtues of humility and compassion. He looked upon the simple of the world as often possessing the most profound true knowledge of God from experience. Wesley was a learned man and an avid reader, but he did not let his intellectual interests get in the way of faith or the practice of the virtues. Like Francis, Wesley revered the unknown common people whom Jesus blessed as the recipients of divine revelation hidden to “the wise and the intelligent“ (Matthew 11:25-27).

Most of all, I think what Francis and Wesley had in common was that inner freedom that comes from giving oneself wholly without reservation to the will of God. I think each of us yearns to experience that freedom, and each of us can know it according to the purpose and situation God gives us.
Not everyone is called by God to forsake an ordinary life and live like Francis or even Wesley. Yet, each of us can know the freedom that God gives by responding as completely as we can to God’s call and God’s grace in our own unique situation.
In their own ways, both Francis and Wesley embodied the way of Jesus that has been forgotten by the church. Around each of them developed a covenantal communion committed to remembering their way of life and continuing it as a form of Christian discipleship.
Often, it seems to me that the statements made by Franciscans about the problems in the world of war and poverty reflect the opinions of many Methodists. Not only is there a core of common convictions, but also a common spirit.
I do not care if Methodists are not the most profound theologians in the church of Jesus Christ, but I believe it matters to God that we maintain the spirit and form of discipleship we learned from Wesley.
It is a sin that the body of Christ is so fragmented into different “denominations,” and we should never stop praying with the Christ “that they may be one” (John 17:11). Even in the midst of ecclesial brokenness we can possess what Wesley called “the catholic spirit” and embrace the whole tradition of Christian faith, East and West, catholic and evangelical. However, were the whole church to achieve visible unity, there would still be a need for different “orders” in the church, like the Franciscans and Methodists who learned from their fathers something of the way of Jesus that must not be forgotten.


This article relates to the United Methodism and John Wesley.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

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