John Wesley had some pretty radical stuff to say. Joerg Rieger recently highlighted a specific example of this while in class at SMU. Wesley once wrote in his journal on May 21, 1764 that “religion must not go ‘from the greatest to the least,’ or the power ‘would appear to be of men.'” Wesley had this brief thought in response to visiting a “very elegant congregation.”
Such religion of those “on top” is fishy, for lack of a better word. It seems to be created by humans seeking to exercise their own power and protect institutional interests. Instead, religion from the bottom-up is from God. The incarnation of Jesus is evidence of this: God, the creator of the entire universe, is born as a little, helpless baby. He matures and intentionally dwells with people who are disadvantaged.
In many ways Anabaptist theology also rests on this concept as well. Anabaptist Christology and ecclesiology note the profound impact that the life of Jesus has on us as Christians. Jesus used non-coercive power and embraced non-violence. We are to do the same in order to live faithfully as disciples of Christ. Additionally, theology looks quite a bit different through this lens. Instead of wielding destructive lightning bolts against a rebellious, fallen people, Christ embodied grace to the least of these. The Son of God, though capable of all the power in the world, chose to serve others, even when it led to his crucifixion.
What does your theology look like? How do you see God?
Does God live in a church building? Does God “happen” on Sunday morning for an hour? Is God only active during a successful building campaign?
Does God only “show up” during economic prosperity? Does following Jesus necessarily lead to financial gain? Does it always cause upward social mobility?
Is God automatically on our side? Does God ordain us to use violence and coercion against those we hate? (I’m reminded of Anne Lamott’s well-known quote that “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”)
Does God only care about you when you “have it all together?” Is Christian community reserved for only those who have conquered certain sins?
Is your theology rooted in the greatest-to-the-least mindset? Is God primarily for those on the top end of the economic, social, and religious hierarchy? (As someone pursuing ordination in the UMC, this question really challenges me–especially the “religious” part…)
If your answer is “yes” to any of the above questions, then I would say that your religion “would appear to be of men,” to use Wesley’s words.