In studying for my upcoming field exam in 17th and 18th century British and American Church History, I came across this quote from Sydney Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People(which is, incidentally, an excellent survey of American Religious History):
“So long as it prospered, the class meeting was the institution which did most to guarantee that church membership was not merely a nominal affiliation.” (373)
I am guessing that Ahlstrom would not be surprised, then, that Methodist membership today is far too often nominal.
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you are right on in my opinion. some other important text dealing with meaningful membership are Pliny letter 10.96-97 http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/pliny.htm
talks about the early church meetings one small group and one communion meal,
Henderson- a model for making disciples
talks about the class meeting,
and Cole- Search & Rescue http://www.amazon.com/Search-Rescue-Becoming-Disciple-Difference/dp/0801013097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1231686308&sr=1-1
talks about the life transformation group (LTG)
sorry about the formatting,
I’m sure that Sydney Ahlstrom’s historical analysis is correct although I’m wary of seeing class meetings as some kind of panacea.
In the UK, where almost all churches have some kind of ‘house group’ or another, it’s incredibly difficult to actually GET people to join them. (House groups are typically 5 to 12 people who meet at private residences during the week for study, support and fellowship).
My question is, do class meetings create enthusiastic disciples or do enthusiastic disciples create class meetings? Historically, I think it was the latter.
Kevin Watson said:
Bart – Thanks for the links.
Pam – Thank you for your very thoughtful question. Based on the way that you ask the question, I think you are right. However, the reason I lifted up the quote from Ahlstrom is because I think it points to the way in which the class meeting helped to keep people who had had an experience of awakening on the journey of growing in holiness. From my perspective the interesting question is how did the early Methodists so effectively help those who came to faith in Christ continue to move forward and become deeply committed Christians? I think the class meeting and the early Methodist practice of “watching over one another in love” is a major part of the answer to that question.
In other words, in American Methodism is it currently all too easy to be a Methodist who is a Christian in name only… I have found that when Christians participate in something like a class meeting, it is nearly impossible to do so and be a nominal Christian.
Thanks to both of you for commenting.