Several years The Wesleyan Advocate had an article regarding our Wesleyan heritage. The Wesleyan Church has a great heritage. As I read the article on Freedom’s Hill Church, it brought to my mind the early church and its fight for freedom. Freedom’s Hill Church was the first Wesleyan Methodist congregation in the south. The original location wasn’t far from here. The Wesleyan Methodist church in the south got its start in Guilford and Forsythe, North Carolina. As we will find out our denomination was formed in the late 1800’s. As we prepare for the season of Lent, I thought it would be good to see just how our denomination got started. Lent is a time of prayer in preparation for the season of Holy Week and Easter. We will be participating in Forty Days of Fasting and Prayer, which begins on March 1, on a day known as Ash Wednesday. We will be participating in a special service as an entire congregation. I encourage everyone to be part of that service. The theme for this year’s Forty Days is “A Place to Stand.” We will be taking a seven week look at The Apostle’s Creed. What are the seven foundations that our Christianity is based? I believe that this is going to be a very meaningful time.
Why am I bringing up the subject of our Wesleyan Heritage? Well, as I read the article in The Wesleyan Advocate, I began to wonder, “Do we have issues like the early Wesleyans did?” Are we going to have to take a stand for our beliefs? I believe the answer is yes. Let’s begin by taking a look at 2 Corinthians 11:16-29
16I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
22What anyone else dares to boast about–I am speaking as a fool–I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
What is Paul trying to get at here? Well, the first thing that we notice is that he is not trying to boast. So many times we as pastors get caught up in this. Well, we had this many in church this last Sunday and boy are we growing. It kind of becomes like the fishermen. Each bragging about the size of the one that got away. There are those who accuse Paul of doing the same thing, but he’s not. Paul is genuinely describing some of the things he’s gone through to encourage the people to keep on keeping on.
I believe that our heritage is important. It’s important that we tell our children. If you asked many people my age today, they would not be able to tell you how the Wesleyan Church came about. Now, just as Paul wasn’t boasting, neither are we. The story of The Wesleyan Church begins with John Wesley. John grew up in a large family and eventually he and his brother Charles came to know the Lord. Together they wrote over 6,000 hymns. John was responsible for much of what we know as Methodism. However, the Methodist church in America was not true in all ways to its founder. Wesley had been one of the first in England to oppose the slave trade. He wrote a book in 1774 entitled Thoughts on Slavery. The book was an early call for the Church and society to rid itself of this great evil. So the Methodist Church, founded by John Wesley without planning to do so, had an anti-slavery legacy and they should have opposed slavery. But you know what happens. The Methodist Church was the largest church in America and didn’t want to rock the boat on this issue. By the way, slavery was the issue of the day. Matter of fact, Congress was dealing with the issue. America was literally, legally, half slave and half free. But the church was strangely silent on the issue. The Methodist church did want to “rock the boat” on this divisive issue. In fact one Methodist bishop even owned slaves.
Now most of you know the name John Wesley, but how many of you have heard the name Orange Scott. If John Wesley was the founder of Methodism, Orange Scott was the founder of Wesleyanism. On November 8, 1842, five ministers (Orange Scott, Jotham Horton, LaRoy Sunderland, Luther Lee, and Lucius Matlack) announce that they we withdrawing from the Methodist Church. They had tried to reform the church from within but during the General Conference of 1836 one conference speaker wished that Scott were in heaven (A nice way of saying “drop dead.”) What were his reasons? There were two: 1.) the evil of slavery and 2.) the oppressive hand of the bishops. So this new denomination would have no slave holders and no bishops, either! To make it perfectly clear where they were coming from, they named their denominational paper The True Wesleyan. This new church grew rapidly. Some were drawn by their passion for social justice in the name of Christ. Scott said, “We are anti-slavery, anti-intemperance, and anti-everything wrong!” They also announced their intention, as a denomination, to disobey the Fugitive Slave Law which required anyone encountering an escaped slave even in the North, to return him to his owner. You’ll remember that Peter once said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
And so this little denomination got its start. Now if it was difficult to be a Wesleyan north of the Mason-Dixon line it was even more difficult to the South. However, believe it or not there were those south of the border who did not believe in slavery. Matter of fact, forty Methodist withdrew from their church and began looking for a Wesleyan pastor. The Wesleyans did not feel they could appoint a pastor. It would have to be a volunteer. Adam Crooks was the man of the hour. He said, “I will go, sustained by your prayers, and in the name of my Savior, I will go to North Carolina.” Adam Crooks was labeled an outside agitator, a dangerous radical, and a traitor to the white race. He was also labeled a “disturber,” and that charge was true. He was tarred and feathered in effigy. He was prohibited from speaking on the courthouse grounds in Forsythe and Guilford counties, despite the First Amendment right of free speech. North Carolina judges ruled that the constitutional guarantee did not apply to “True Wesleyans.” Crooks was dragged from the pulpit and beaten numerous times. Twice he was poisoned and he survived an assassination attempt. Though all of this, the question that challenged him was: “Can you give your life for the Cause.”
Let me ask you, “Can you live your life for the Cause?” Most of us live very comfortable lives. I never even realized what some of our founders went through. There were many other names in the “Wesleyan Hall of Fame.” Laura Smith Haviland, a Wesleyan Methodist from Michigan, who worked closely with Levi Coffin, the “Father of the Underground Railroad.” It was dangerous and illegal, yet they did what was right. Another name was Micajah McPherson. Our good friend Adam Crooks was forced from North Carolina in 1851. He had been arrested and convicted on the charge of distributing a tract on the Ten Commandments! McPherson was a layperson who took up the mantle in North Carolina. He understood what Jesus meant by the cost of discipleship. He was caught by a lynch mob and hanged from a dogwood tree on his own property, because of his Wesleyan principles. The mob returned to cut him down later, because they said they needed rope to hang another Wesleyan. What they didn’t realize was that he was still alive. His wife nursed him back to health, and he survived to age 85!
There are many other stories of our Wesleyan heritage. One of the other issues that we were on the front lines was the matter of women’s rights. The first convention held in the United States, for the rights of women, was held in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel at Seneca Falls, NY. In 1848, “women’s rights” was not the radical feminism of today. What were the issues? They were basic human rights for women, including the right to vote and in some states, to hold property in their own names. It also involved the right to ministry. The first woman ordained to the Christian ministry in the United States was named Antionette Brown. Her ordination sermon was preached by a Wesleyan – Luther Lee.
Wesleyan Methodists were also the first denomination in America to give an equal vote to the laity in church conferences. It was the consistent application of a principle – the rights of slaves, the rights of women, the rights of the laity.
Let’s go back to Adam Crooks. After he was forced out of North Carolina, he went on to serve his Church. He was denominational Editor and President of the General Conference (General Superintendent). Perhaps his greatest contribution came in the days of the Union Movement, when many Wesleyan leaders returned to Methodism because the battle against slavery had ended with the close of the Civil War. They saw no reason for the continued existence of the denomination.
Adam Crooks did. He saw it as a platform for the preaching of biblical holiness. After all, Wesleyan Methodists were the first denomination to have a separate article of religion specifically on entire sanctification.
And so I ask you again, “Can you give your life for the Cause?” This is a serious question. We have issues on the table in America that are just as great as slavery was in the 1800’s. One that comes to my mind is abortion. What are we as a church doing about it? Then there are the battle of tolerance and relativism. Christian again are facing free speech issues just as Adam Crooks faced. Now many of you personally won’t have to face these battles. I may be a little older, but I know my children will face these battles. Your children and your grandchildren will face these battles. It’s up to us to prepare them for the Cause. We need to live for the King.
To Live for the King(Livgren)© 1980 Kerygmatic Music
The rising of the sun is seen by everyone
And no one can deny that it’s real
And when you hear the call come crashing through the wall
You just can’t doubt the things that you feel
So lift me up the time has come to sing
And give up everything
To live for the King
Though we fight against the rule the genius and the fool
Are born to labor under the law
Before each man’s a choice
Reject it or rejoice the vision that the prophets saw
(So lift me up the time has come we’ll sing
And give up everything
To live for the King)
The Wesleyan Church has a great legacy. Preston Wesleyan Church has a great legacy. Our challenge today is to leave a great legacy behind us. We have no idea what we will be counted on to do. We may face challenges that we though we could never overcome. John the Revelator tells us that, “The Lamb has overcome.” We will overcome if we stay true to our mission.
For more information about Freedom’s Hill Church, please visit http://www.swu.edu/religion/freedom.htm. There are additional pictures and resources regarding this historic church.