Do You Desire to be Told of Your Faults?’
How early Methodists practiced small-group accountability.
John Wesley and his friends were appalled at what the Church of England had become. In the words of Wesley historian Kenneth Collins, the church “had grown quite comfortable with and had been compromised by broader cultural trends.” In addition, Wesley was concerned that “the articulate and well-constructed theologies” of his day “left men and women in their sins under the most grievous bondages.”
In late 1738 and early 1739, under the influence of Moravian pietists, the Wesleys began forming small groups for mutual accountability. These groups, called “bands,” comprised about six people and made radical demands on the lives of believers—though no more radical than the gospel. Here are the 1744 Rules of Bands.
The design of our meeting is to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16).
To this end, we intend:
- To meet once a week, at the least.
- To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
- To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
- To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt since our last meeting.
- To end every meeting with prayer suited to the state of each person present.
- To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may be to this effect:
- Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
- Have you peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ?
- Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit that you are a child of God?
- Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
- Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
- Do you desire to be told of your faults?
- Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
- Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
- Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear concerning you?
- Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible; that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
- Is it your desire and design to be, on this and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise and without reserve?
Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion offers; the five following at every meeting:
- What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
- What temptations have you met with?
- How were you delivered?
- What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
- Have you nothing you desire to keep secret? (Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today)