Actually the first article on Wesleys group that got me thinking was this one - click here - from Christianity today in 2003.
Long have I believed that discipleship is the missing link for the church in North America, but this article took it to new levles. Literally. It shows how Wesley broke up his followers into 4 groups, meetings or "bands" and how strict personal discipline was the order of the day. The way you moved "up" in the group was by recommendation from those above you, gauranteeing everyone was personally discipled. Strict confidentiality was also practised and an environment was created so people could "confess their sins to each other" in privacy and get help with personal, moral problems.
To do this, Wesley introduced his most controversial (at least in my mind) method. He laid down severely strict rules for those in his "group". If one was broken, someone could be "cut off". They would not be cut off forever, but would have to go back to group 1 and start all over. Here is a sample of some rules (watch out this is long, but a good read):
John Wesley’s Rules for the Band-Societies (drawn up Dec. 25, 1738)
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."
To this end, we intend,-
1. To meet once a week, at the least.
2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
4. 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.
5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
6. 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.
These were the rules for people IN the group, but look at the rules he set up in order to JUST get in to the meeting!
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may be to this effect:-
1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
3. Have you the witness of God's Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
6. Do you desire to be told your faults?
7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
10. 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?
11. 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?
How many of us would even get into our own churches if they asked us those questions? Also, at EVER meeting these questions would be asked of EVERY person:
*Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion offers; the four following at every meeting:-
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
2. What temptations have you met with?
3. How were you delivered?
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
While these may be rules for entrance, really it boiled down to just one "requirement" for admission:
Conditions of Membership into Methodist Society:
There is one only condition previously required in those who desire admission into these societies: a desire "to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins:" But, wherever this is really fixed in the soul, it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation. Thus we say to those who unite with us:
You are supposed to have the faith that "overcometh the world." To you, therefore, it is not grievous:
I. Carefully to abstain from doing evil; in particular:
1. Neither to buy nor sell anything at all on the Lord's day.
2. To taste no spirituous liquor, no dram of any kind, unless prescribed by a Physician.
3. To be at a word both in buying and selling.
4. To pawn nothing, no, not to save life.
5. Not to mention the fault of any behind his back, and to stop those short that do.
6. To wear no needless ornaments, such as rings, earrings, necklaces, lace, ruffles.
7. To use no needless self-indulgence, such as taking snuff or tobacco, unless prescribed by a Physician.
II. Zealously to maintain good works; in particular:
1. To give alms of such things as you possess, and that to the uttermost of your power.
2. To reprove all that sin in your sight, and that in love and meekness of wisdom.
3. To be patterns of diligence and frugality, of self-denial, and taking up the cross daily.
III. Constantly to attend on all the ordinances of God; in particular:
1. To be at church and at the Lord's table every week, and at every public meeting of the Bands.
2. To attend the ministry of the word every morning, unless distance, business, or sickness prevent.
3. To use private prayer every day; and family prayer, if you are the head of a family.
4. To read the Scriptures, and meditate therein, at every vacant hour. And:
5. To observe, as days of fasting or abstinence, all Fridays in the year.
These are the General Rules of our societies; all which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written word, the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these, we know, his Spirit writes on every truly awakened heart. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that soul as they that must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: But then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls. -Wesley's Works Vol. 8. pgs 270,271,272-274.
The article goes on to say "Because the Methodist Societies were not controlled by The Church of England some Priests from the Church opposed them and said they were divisive. John Wesley pointed out that they were not dividing Christians but introducing true Christian fellowship and support where it had not been."
On top of that there is a list of things people had been kicked out for (again, this is long, but gives you a good idea of how serious he was):
Detailed account of those who had left the society: since Dec. 30 was 76:
14 (chiefly Dissenters) because otherwise their Ministers would not give them the sacrament.
9 because their husbands or wives were not willing they should stay in it.
5 because their master and mistress would not let them come.
7 because their acquaintance persuaded them to leave it.
5 because people said such bad things of the society.
9 because they would be laughed at.
3 because they would not lose the poor's allowance.
3 because they could not spare time to come.
2 because it was too far off.
1 because she was falling into fits.
1 because people were so rude in the streets.
2 because Thomas Naisbut was in the society.
1 because he would not turn back on his baptism.
1 because we were mere Church of England men.
1 because it was time enough to serve God yet.
Detailed account of those who were expelled from the society: since Dec. 30 was 64:
2 for cursing and swearing.
2 for habitual Sabbath-breaking.
17 for drunkenness.
2 for retailing spirituous liquors.
3 for quarreling and brawling.
1 for beating his wife.
3 for habitual, willful lying.
4 for railing and evil-speaking.
1 for idleness and laziness.
29 for lightness and carelessness.
-Wesley's Works Vol. 1, p. 415 March 4, 1741
Hopefully some of you have made it this far and have thoughts on these "rules". Are they too much? Is it legalistic? Where is the line between church discipline and legalism? Would a system like this work today? Why? Are we just wimps and too scared we will "lose people"? How can we implement this in today's churches? Would it be better or worse if we did something similar?