The class meeting wasn’t organized or arranged in advance. It was a fortunate birth. God, not man, was the one who accomplished it. It began as a financial scheme.
As Mr. Wesley was discussing the settlement of some chapel debts with the Society members in Bristol, one of them got up and said:
Let each Society member contribute one penny per week until all are paid.
But many of them are impoverished and cannot afford it, was the reply.
Put eleven of the poorest people with me, the first speaker continued, and if they can offer anything, great; I’ll call on them once a week. If they can’t give anything, I’ll give for them as well as for myself. And each of you visits eleven of your neighbors each week, accepting what they provide and filling up the gaps.
The recommendation was accepted. A few of the leaders soon alerted Mr. Wesley that they had discovered members who were not behaving properly.
Mr. Wesley remarked, “It struck me right away, “This is the item, the very thing, we have desired so long.”
He gathered all the leaders together and asked them to each look closely into the behavior of the people they observed on a weekly basis. Following this, it was discovered that many of the members were walking wildly. Some of these were banished, while others were claimed back.
The same approach was employed elsewhere, including London, and produced similar outcomes. Unworthy people were found and corrected. “If they gave up their bad habits, they were welcomed back; if they persisted in them, it was publicly stated that they were not part of us. The others wept and prayed for them, but they also expressed joy that, as far as we were concerned, the scandal had been removed from the Society.
(1) To ask about each member of his class’s spiritual condition once a week, at the very least; to counsel, rebuke, comfort, or exhort as circumstances may demand; and to receive whatever contributions each member is prepared to make to support the gospel and the poor. (2) To meet with the Society’s minister and stewards in order to report any sick or unruly members to the latter and to pay the stewards any money they have earned from the Society’s various classes during the previous week.
At first, each person was visited at his or her home, but this practice was quickly abandoned due to a variety of factors. Therefore, it was decided that each class would meet together, allowing for a more thorough investigation into each student’s experience. Mr. Wesley describes the outcomes as follows:
What benefits have been obtained from this minor prudential legislation are difficult to imagine. Many people now joyfully participate in Christian fellowship that they had never even heard of before. They naturally started to “care for each other” and to “carry one another’s hardships.” They were increasingly familiar with each other on a daily basis, and as a result, their affection for one another grew. Speaking the truth in love, they developed into Christ, who is the Head of all things, and from whom the whole body, when properly linked together and compacted by the material given by each joint, in accordance with the efficient working of each part, increased to the edifying of itself in love.
Mr. Wesley distributed tickets to the members in the form of little cards after reading relevant passages of Scripture, borrowing a usage from the early Church. These tickets had dates, the bearer’s name was written on them, and they were renewed every three months. They frequently had some kind of symbolic etching, such as a Bible surrounded by a halo, a guardian angel, an anchor, etc. The ticket served as his membership credential in the Society and satisfied all requirements for expulsion as outlined in the Apostle Paul’s commendatory epistle.
The Methodist Class-meeting began in this way, and it was unmistakably God’s doing—this was one of those occasions when he produces the greatest effects from the most unexpected and seemingly trivial reasons. A fire that has lighted entire continents and oceanic isles was started by an unidentified guy in Bristol who recommended paying chapel debts at the rate of one penny every week. Now that the light has been reignited, its rays will radiate brighter and further than they did at first. God of our forefathers, may it be so!