The moral pathway: toward the stranger in the life and thought of John Wesley
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, presents a robust and clearly articulated pathway for those who wish to come alongside neighbours, and others we might consider strangers, in a process that can impact and transform both parties.
Wesley’s daily practice was to engage with those who were not within his immediate circle and to make an effort to build relationships with those who might otherwise have been considered outsiders or unwelcome. Through his actions and his wide corpus of diaries, sermons and other writings, he documented his journey and put a framework around his beliefs and practices so that others could also engage with strangers in their midst. Wesley hoped to nurture a people who loved God and loved others.
A close reading of Wesley’s corpus gives a method or way to become emboldened and enabled along this ‘moral pathway’ of connecting with those outside of our comfort zone. Wesley names four enabling dimensions: doctrine, experience, discipline and practice. Doctrine has to do with the story of Christian Scripture and the promises embedded in that story, specifically about human maturation. Experience concerns the heart and its emotions and how these can be so affected by Scripture that a person becomes reoriented toward the stranger. Discipline encapsulates the organisational dimension which directs and sustains human transformation. Finally practice enlightens us to the practical duties involved in loving neighbour and stranger that turn theory into reality.
Wesley’s four dimensions form a moral pathway consisting of six ‘ortho’ strands. Doctrine equates to orthodoxy and experience to orthokardia. Orthopaideia expresses discipline and is further broken down into orthokoinonia and orthonomos. The equivalent of practice is orthopraxy. When all six “orthos” or strands are finely woven together, they form a moral pathway. It was this pathway that compelled Wesley and his Methodists to reach out the hand of fellowship and compassion toward strangers.
Wesley’s ideas go beyond contemporary perceptions of a three-stranded cord of orthodoxy, orthokardia and orthopraxy; instead, they suggest a cord of six strands, also including orthopaideia, orthokoinonia and orthonomos. Only this strengthened cord can properly communicate Wesley’s intent and method to those who would walk toward strangers in their midst.