Innovating with the Flow
Our new issue (starting this week at www.christianhistory.net) begins with the childhood years of John and Charles Wesley, but in many ways we are picking up the story mid- stream. For though the Wesleys are rightly known as evangelical pioneers, the momentum for the movement they founded had been building long before they arrived.
In the seventeenth century, frustration with the German state church led to the rise of Pietism, a renewal movement within Lutheranism led by figures like Philipp Spener and August Francke. The revived Moravian Brethren, centered at Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf's estate in Saxony, grew out of this movement. Pietism and Moravianism exerted a huge influence on Europe and beyond, partially through connections with the Wesleys.
Meanwhile in England, Dissenters (including the Wesleys' grandparents on both sides) offered their own alternative to the state church model. Their gatherings, or "conventicles," could meet anywhere and be led by nearly anyone, as long as the format was simple and the focus was on Scripture. Dissenters who eventually joined Methodist society meetings heard many familiar echoes.
The Wesleys consciously drew from all of these traditions in developing their movement. Both brothers experienced spiritual awakening among Moravians. John read and published Pietist classics. He also translated German hymns, while Charles wrote his own Moravian-inspired poetry. Methodist preachers often targeted enclaves of European immigrants, knowing their road would be smoothed by the influence of Continental traditions.
Yet the Wesleys, and Methodists after them, were not merely Pietists, Moravians, or Dissenters. In fact, the Wesleys developed grave concerns about each of these groups. They wanted ...