Monday, August 15, 2011

What John Wesley missed: family = church

250 years ago, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, glimpsed the simple but powerful concept that "family = church".

"In his sermon "Of the Church", Wesley said the church is, in the proper sense, "a congregation, or body of people, united together in the service of God."  Even two or three united in Christ's name, or a Christian family, may therefore be called a church."  Snyder, The Radical Wesley and Patterns for Church Renewal, p. 73.

Although Wesley saw this truth, as far as we know, he never implemented it.  Wesley was hugely gifted at developing a system of starting and overseeing small, house church-like small groups called "classes".  By 1798, seven years after Wesley's death, there were 101,712 members in these groups.  As powerful as this movement was, it began to erode over time.  Today, the class concept is largely unknown in the Methodist church and, in some cases, is actually opposed.

Contrast Wesley's strategy with a talk given by Dr. John Patrick with this title:  "Why There Are No Hittites on the Streets of New York".  The Hittites were a world super power 2500 years ago but today they have disappeared from the face of the earth.  On the other hand, the Jewish culture continues to thrive after 2500 years in spite of terrible persecution.  Why?

Dr. Patrick makes that case that the Jews have endured because the home was the center of their spiritual life.  The temple could be destroyed.  The synagogues could be destroyed.  But, as long as there was one Jewish family, that spiritual heritage would survive.  The Jews have survived and often thrived because they obeyed God's direction to make the home the center of spiritual life.  (Dt. 6:5-9)

The early church, which was thoroughly Jewish, followed this same pattern.  When a new church was birthed, it was always in the context of a household and a family. And, that church functioned like an extended spiritual family.  "A house church could only be established if a well-functioning family existed."  Gehring, House Church and Mission, p. 240.

How might the Methodist Movement turned out differently if John Wesley had followed through on his insight that a Christian family could be considered a church?  If he had taught each Christian household how to function like his "class" groups (ie, house churches)?

And, will the current house church movement recapture this foundational divine definition?

Family = church = family.

For more on this subject, see


  1. ummm.yeah. I guess if you think about it. The "institution of family" starting with Adam and Eve has outdated and will out last Facebook, IBM, Apple...Microsoft GE, ...or any institution that has billions or trillions...

  2. John, I too read this The Radical Wesley and Patterns for Church Renewal, by Snyder Back in 14 or 15 as part of my journey to this point. It was clear to me that Wesley should have focused on the 'Classes" and home groups/small groups rather than trying to renew the CoE.