Missions, Outreach

The legacy of John Wesley for 21st century missions

John Wesley made it his life’s mission to proclaim the gospel wherever he was.  He was a man of passion, prayer and perseverance.  Yet, in this writer’s opinion, his preaching and practice of holiness and social justice distinguish him from other evangelical leaders.  Historians frequently use the word theopraxis to describe this aspect of Wesley’s theology.

Theopraxis is a combination of two Greek words: “theos” meaning God and “praxis” meaning to do or practice.  Unlike theology, which focuses on the study of God and religion, theopraxis is understood as observing, experiencing, and knowing God in the context of His actions towards us and the world He created. 1

It has been said that John Wesley united “theos” and “praxis” more successfully than any other theologian in Church history.  His sermons were not academic treatises; rather, they spoke plainly to the thousands of converts to whom he gave personal guidance, spiritual direction, and hope.2  People listened to Wesley because he spoke to their needs and because they observed him doing good.  In short, Wesley preached what God had done and continues to do in the world, and Wesley practised what he preached.

John Wesley believed that genuine holiness is an integration of both spiritual and physical needs. People might be able to do good without inner transformation, but there could be no inner transformation that is not expressed in outward action.3  Wesley’s concept of outward action is characterised by works of mercy, justice, truth and love.

In 1736, John Wesley took his evangelical brand of methodical Anglicanism to Georgia, USA.  His missionary efforts in the American colonies lasted less than two years and might well be described as unsuccessful due to the struggles he encountered there. Personal conflicts led to Wesley’s early departure but his influence and on-going support were instrumental in establishing what would later become the first Methodist Church in the USA.4

As MMS celebrates its 30th anniversary, it is timely to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going.  The mission mandated by The Methodist Church in Singapore in 1991 was for MMS to establish indigenous churches where none currently exist. This mission will require a variety of ministries depending on the field situation including, but not limited to, educational, medical, community development, and social services.5

Today, MMS continues to carry out this mandate in seven mission fields with sixty missionaries, their spouses and children.  Methodist churches have been planted in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal by sharing the gospel, discipling, and training local pastors and lay leaders.  Methodist schools have been established to offer quality education based on Christian teachings and values in Timor-Leste, Cambodia and Thailand, and we are partnering to bring education into a creative access country.  MMS has ministered to the needs of locals through student hostels, youth development programmes, medical outreach and livelihood projects. Through an integrated strategy of church planting and community development, MMS’ aim has been to share God’s love with our neighbours overseas by ministering in a holistic way.

John Wesley’s prayer, written more than 300 years ago, continues to inform and guide us:

Spirit of grace, and health, and power,

Fountain of light and love below;

Abroad thine healing influence shower,

O’er all the nations let it flow.

Inflame our hearts with perfect love;

In us the work of faith fulfill;

So not heaven’s host shall swifter move

Than we on earth to do thy will. 6

As we engage in 21st century missions, may Wesley’s proclamation of the gospel of God’s love in Christ through word, example and action remain central to all we do. Together, may we continue to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading as we seek to expand God’s Kingdom in new mission fields, through new ministries, and by using technology in new ways!

1 Duarte, Harold, Theology or Theopraxix, http://chatswithgod.com/chat/2015-01-08-theology-or-theopraxis-6042556/index.html, January 8, 2015.

2 Noble, Thomas A., John Wesley as A Theologian: An Introduction, paper presented at the conference of CERT (Center for Evangelical and Reformed Theology) at the Free University of Amsterdam, April 5, 2007.

3 “The Almost Christian”, Sermon 2, The Works of John Wesley, vol 1-33, Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 1984.

4 Online article entitled, John Wesley Charters first Methodist Church in U.S., https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-wesley-charters-first-methodist-church-in-u-s, November 13, 2009.

5 The Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church in Singapore, Revised Edition November 2013, Section VIII.

6 Extract from A Paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer from Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Sermon 26, The Works of John Wesley, vol 1-33, Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 1984.

Rev Teresa Wilborn was formerly The Methodist Missions Society (MMS) Area Director for Timor-Leste and Cambodia. She is now the Consultant for Timor-Leste. She worships at Aldersgate Methodist Church.