The Last Bastion of Eighteenth Century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism.
There is a church not far, far away that I drive past on a Sunday night after dropping my adult children off at their various residences. As I pass I see people leaving, having stayed behind for the familiar tea and biscuits after church fellowship. As I see them walk home I find myself wondering if they realise that they attend a church that can be thought of as the last bastion of eighteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. What is ‘eighteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism?’ I hear you ask. Well, it can be summed up by the phrase ‘It is better felt than telt’, as a way of expressing what is viewed as important in Christian experience.
Eighteenth century Welsh Methodist placed great store on subjective experience. It wasn’t enough to believe in Christ, you also had to ‘feel’ your belief in Christ. ‘Mere’ faith was viewed as inadequate, even dangerous and so Christians were encouraged by their leaders to ‘seek’ experience, ‘not to rest’ until experience was found and even to ‘sue God’ until you ‘felt’ what you believed.
This approach is full of dangers for God’s people. It teaches you to undervalue your faith and to overvalue subjective experience. A Christian learns to monitor herself, checking for signs of ‘feelings’ or ‘experiences’. When experiences do not come then the danger is that a Christian will then think of herself as second best compared to those who seem to have experiences or even as not a Christian at all.
On a rare Sunday night when I was not preaching I attended this church and heard the Pastor give the following illustration. He spoke of a successful Minister in the East of England at the turn of the twentieth century. He ministered to a packed and faithful congregation that was full of good works yet he felt dissatisfied. In fact he was so dissatisfied that late one night he wrote out his letter of resignation, left it on his desk and went to bed. What was making him so dissatisfied? He did not FEEL anything, anything about the love of God or concern for His people and therefore viewed himself as inadequate and not fit to minister. During the night he woke up, got out of bed, and went downstairs and in doing so fell over his dog. In that very moment the Pastor told us this Minister ‘experienced the love of God poured out in his heart’, got up, tore up his letter of resignation and continued to minister. This is an illustration of the ‘better felt than telt’ philosophy of eighteenth century Welsh Calvinistic Methodism.
What a terrible story to bring to your congregation! Why did this Pastor think that this was a good thing to do? What was he seeking to do? His message is clear: we are not good enough unless we feel things. Well, I felt something, I felt depressed and discouraged as a result of that anecdote.
So, back to my question: do those people I see walking home on a Sunday night know that they’ve just attended a church that sees it mission as keeping the flame of eighteenth century subjectivism alive in the twenty first. My guess is that they don’t and what I’m pretty sure about is that being exposed week by week to such preaching cannot be a good thing for them.