Early Methodism was a movement within the Anglican Church, much as early Christianity was a movement within Judaism. Both movements began in response to, and gained followers because of, a sensed need for reform in the larger context. Jesus was dismayed and disappointed by those who claimed to be God’s followers but who seemed to miss the point of the spiritual life and of caring for one another. John Wesley also saw a disconnect between these things among his fellow Christians. Wesley’s method of deepening one’s faith, walking with Christ, and living as a follower of Christ included small faith communities called classes, which formed larger communities called societies. The purpose of a class was to learn and be in community, but also to hold one another accountable. To study and claim Christianity was not enough; one had to exemplify the features of a Christian. If they were not able to do this, they were not allowed to stay within the community. This is because Christianity was a way of life to Wesley and others within the early Methodist church. Faith communities were important for the development of all people who sought to follow Christ, and all were accountable to nurturing one another and living out their own faith.
The way of Christianity is a rewarding one, but not an easy one. A life that exemplifies the fingerprint of a Christian is no less relevant today than it was in Jesus’ or Wesley’s times. It was not easier in their times either. Humans struggle now…as they did then…with the lure of fitting in and consumerism, with a sense of entitlement and placing one’s own needs above those of others, with anxiety, fear, and emptiness, which lead to destructive behaviors. Like fingerprints, each life of a Christian is unique. We need not all look and act alike. Yet, there are identifying characteristics, such as leaning on a God that is bigger than you and all your worries, or giving of one’s self for others, to name but a couple.
Following Christ is a practice; it is not a one-time decision. It takes attentiveness. It is humbling when we see our own shortcomings in comparison to Christ’s life and teachings. But, we are not meant to do it alone. We are meant to ask for God’s help, and then open ourselves to receiving that help. We also need the support of a loving and healthy faith community. How are you helping to support and nurture others in your faith community…both your smaller group and the larger church? How does your faith community help you develop as a Christian? How would you describe your own Christian fingerprint?