Yes indeed, all the blame belongs to Rev. John Wesley and his brother who are the founders of Methodism. What am I blaming on them you ask? The contemporary methods of evangelism and especially music. After all, it was John Wesley who used the new methods of preaching in the fields and streets of his day. Still another method used was that of mixing Charles Wesley's poetry with the music of his time. These two singular methods, by the Wesley brothers, were hailed as something new in their day and which has become the most appealed to reason for the vast changes in evangelism in our day. When ever a questionable mode of evangelism is developed, out comes the name of Wesley no matter that the promoters may be Calvinists, Baptists, or Charismatics. The real question should not rest on their methods of presenting the Gospel, but rather what was the net effect or impact on those who followed their teachings? Did the Wesley's do this just to save souls, or did they have a greater objective?
With this in mind, I believe that the Wesley's get a bum rap for every new method that comes on the scene. While I feel that we need to do all that we can to win souls to Christ and strengthen His Church, I also believe that there are limits to what we can do. These limits will determine if our methods are of the flesh or truly of the Spirit. The truth is, anyone can build a mega church, but not just anyone can build "the Church." Nor does it follow that numbers and popularity indicate success and are proof of the movement of the Holy Spirit. The Bible itself declares that success is the Lord's determination, not mans.
Let me just focus again on the points that are normally cited to defend the secular methods of evangelism. They say John Wesley preached in the fields which was not in the tradition of his day. In other words, he went where the people were; as if Whitefield and Jesus never did. This method and others were once again appealed to in a recent book ,"Serious Times", by Dr. James Emery White. Dr. White also appealed to the events that took place during the Cain Ridge Camp Meetings in the early 1800's as proving a new method of reaching people. He, like the rest, concluded that because such methods were used, which want against the church of that time, that we too must continually seek new methods like Wesley and other old time evangelicals. He even appealed to Moody and the way he used music and the media of his time. Because what Wesley and others did seemed to break new ground in evangelism, their names are continually used to defend just about any new method that comes along. The only test that is applied to any modern evangelism is whether or not it is successful. And that success is generally measured in terms of numbers. This sort of test is nothing less then a real victory for humanism and falls woefully short of any Biblical test. A good friend of mine, Dr. Vic Reasoner, puts this problem more succinctly when he said, "The spirit of Methodism is not to preserve the tradition so much as to do whatever it takes to proclaim the message." Sounds good doesn't it, but then maybe not.
You can not read the scriptures and come away unconvinced that we are to go into all the world and bring others to Christ. This is an important commission for the Church. We must reach all the people of the world. We are to disciple as many as we can. All Christians are commanded to win souls. It is a task to be shared by both preachers, evangelists, and lay people alike. So how can the modern Church say that we can evangelize in a "do your own thing" fashion? Are there principals that we have willingly ignored in our earnest effort to save souls? Can one strip naked and go into a nudist colony to witness for Jesus? If you say no, I must remind you that in his hey day Billy Graham wrote an evangelistic article in the "Play Boy" magazine because he wanted to be where the sinners were to reach them. Let's face it, one of the major problems with America, and the civilized world at large is whether or not we want to have any restraints placed on our personal lives and also on those around us. This total lack of restraint in evangelism mocks the holiness of God.
More to the point, probably, the most controversial method of evangelism is in the use of music. I remember when I first started in the ministry, rock music was all but universally condemned by the Church at large. The UMC had their coffee houses and folk music. Beyond that not much was happening with music. Then there came the emergence of Bill Pearics and David Boyer and their night club style of writing and performing many of the standard gospel songs and hymns. While that was not so bad, it was not all that good either. This style did have it detractors, but not many. However, it was still more acceptable then rock. Then came Youth for Christ and their demand for new music that would be more attractive to young people. From there it only got worse. Finally the church was horrified at Cecil Williams, pastor of the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, because he had regular rock combos performing and at times even dancing in the nude.
No sane Christian at that time defended the actions of Rev. Cecil Williams. He piously proclaimed that he did so to reach out to the people in his community. He said it was to make his church and religion relevant. Most Evangelicals denounced him soundly. However, within few a years, the famous rock opera "Jesus Christ Supper Star" made its debut and became a shocking hit. It too had its detractors, however the difference is that Evangelist Billy Graham found some positive good in this egregious and blasphemous opera. As a result, many evangelicals viewed rock music as good and began to use it as a method of reaching the youth of their generations. And so it went. What was once denounced as wrong, now was just the right thing to use. Before long, commercial investors saw the wealth that could be made from Christian music. Shocking as this seems, the same music Williams used and was condemned for, is now the type that has spread throughout the Church like wild fire. The bottom line is that it is against the ‘new' Christian religion to have any standards for music or to question its intentions as long as it is used for the noble ambition of reaching out to save souls. This transition within Church music has happened over a fifty year period.
Contemporary Christian music has become the embodiment of all that is bad in evangelism. As a Methodist pastor, I am always concerned with the winning of souls to our Lord. That is part of the divine task that has been given to all who have been given the call to preach. I is my concern that they are using humanistic methods to win souls apart from prevenient grace. And with music we can certainly get confused between what is of the Spirit's moving and what is simply human emotions and reactions to a song.
At the beginning of this article, I asked the question, "are there principals that we have willingly ignored concerning Wesley and others as they reached out to the people of their day"? I believe there are. First, unless Christ builds the house, it will fall apart. What I mean here is that prevenient grace must be involved in all aspects of evangelism. Unless Christ truly moves in the hearts of the lost, all that is left is an emotionally "feel good" experience. In most of these contemporary proponents of evangelism, which appealed to the "new method" of their time, you will discover that the spirit moved first. The Wesleyan and Cain Ridge revivals give overwhelming evidence of this principal. First came the Spirit, which normally followed the preaching of the Word. If this does not happen, any apparent success will eventually be in vain. The second principal is, that after the Spirit moved, there was always a strong push by the ministers to move people into living a holy life in Christ. New converts were urge to repent and give up the worldly things. Emotionalism, and hype, gave way to the more or less traditional frame work of church, and the choruses that they sang during revival gave way to the great hymns of the faith. And finally, all the Churches benefitted from such revivals. The communities around the Churches were changed. People stopped drinking, dancing, and whatever else was against the laws of nature and God. This is hardly ever the case with our new contemporary Christian society for we always attempt to incorporate the world's way into the Church to make things relevant.
With the new contemporary religion, as evidenced in its music, nothing needs to change. Many of its artists dress in very loose styles and others dress in very licentious ways and all seemingly pick up on the popular styles of today. All of this just to win souls. From what I ask? The difference between Wesley, Moody, and Sam Jones, and these contemporary musical evangelists today is very profound when you think about it. When these men departed towns and cities, things changed. Families were reunited, alcoholism dropped, brothel houses closed, and the crime rate generally decreased. Today however when the latter have city wide revivals they use their contemporary methods to attract people. They sing and street jam with the young people, they pray and swing their bodies with hands raised in the air, and then they leave. And then they have some "powerful preaching." Here is an example of what I am talking about. Several years ago, Dr. Franklin Graham came to our city. Pressure was put on all the Churches to join the city wide Crusade. He brought with him many of the popular contemporary Christian musicians and entertainers of that time. They had their street Jams and concerts. It attracted thousands. A year after he visited our city, the newspaper truthfully mocked this new method of evangelism by asking, "Where is the change?" A year later there was none. Nevertheless, the Christian community declared it a great success. The world was pleased with the failure, as evidenced by the papers mocking.
Dear friends, while it is important to reach out in every way we can, there is such a thing as the right way. The bottom line is that contemporary Christian music evangelism really glorifies the glamour of the world. With it we now can embrace all the world's music and many of its standards and still be a Christian. The things of earth can be Christianized and acceptable as long as the cause is to reach the lost. This is not the message of Christ nor the Bible. Surely there must be a better way! I believe that the better way is best illustrated by a line from an "old time" song, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace." Let's face it, one of the reasons why this music is so popular is that you can have the world and be a Christian at the same time.
Finally, don't blame this Contemporary Christian carnality on Wesley. He believed in holy living. That means a lot less of the world and more of God. This kind of musical evangelism would clearly be repugnant to him and his brother Charles. They would have never allowed such sheer carnality in their music as you witness in music today. The ultimate goal that Wesley had for those who called themselves Methodists was a standard of holy living, and that standard at no point mimicked or desired any part of the world for any reason. So please, don't blame Wesley for this nonsense.