Two hundred and fifty years ago (11 July 1764), John Wesley wrote to a Christian in fellowship, but not membership (‘society’ or ‘class’), with the Methodists. His letter remains relevant to all Christians today not in church membership.
There was one thing when I was with you that gave me pain: you are not in the society. But why not? Are there not sufficient arguments for it to move any reasonable man?
Do you not hereby make an open confession of Christ, of what you really believe to be his work, and of those whom you judge to be, in a proper sense, his people and his messengers? By this means do not you encourage his people and strengthen the hands of his messengers?
And is not this the way to enter into the spirit, and share the blessing, of a Christian community? Hereby, likewise, you may have the benefit of the advices and exhortations at the meeting of the society, and also of provoking one another, at the private meetings, to love and to good works…
Perhaps you will say, ‘I am joined in affection’. True; but not to so good effect. This joining half-way, this being a friend to, but not a member of, the society is by no means so open a confession of the work and servants of God. Many go thus far who dare not go farther, who are ashamed to bear the reproach of an entire union.
Either you are ashamed, or you are not. If you are, break through at once; if you are not, come into the light and do what those well-meaning cowards dare not do. This imperfect union is not so encouraging to the people, not so strengthening to the preachers. Rather it is weakening their hands, hindering their work, and laying a stumbling-block in the way of
others; for what can any man think who knows you are so well acquainted with them and yet do not join in their society ?
What can he think, but that you know them too well to come any nearer to them, that you know that kind of union to be useless, if not hurtful? And yet, by this very union, is the whole (external) work of God upheld throughout the nation, besides all the spiritual good which accrues to each member.
Oh, delay no longer, for the sake of the work, for the sake of the world, for the sake of your brethren! Join them inwardly and outwardly, heart and hand, for the sake of your own soul.
There is something not easily explained in the fellowship of the Spirit, which we enjoy with a society of living Christians. You have no need to give up your share therein, and in the various blessings that result from it. You have no need to exclude yourself from the benefit of the advice and exhortations given from time to time. These are by no means to be despised, even supposing you have yourself more understanding than him that gives them. You need not lose the benefit of those prayers, which experience shows are attended with a peculiar blessing.
‘But I do not care to meet a class; I find no good in it’. Suppose you find even a dislike, a loathing of it; may not this be natural, or even diabolical? In spite of this, break through, make a fair trial. It is but a lion in the way.
Meet only six times (with previous prayer), and see if it do not vanish away. But if it be a cross, still bear it for the sake of your brethren. ‘But I want to gain my friends and relations’. If so, stand firm. If you give way you hurt them, and they will press upon you the more. If you do not, you will probably gain them; otherwise you confirm both their wrong notions and wrong tempers.
Because I love you, I have spoken fully and freely; to know that I have not spoken in vain will be a great satisfaction to,
Your affectionate brother,