A recent post on Andrew Conard’s blog Thoughts of Resurrection discusses worship in the Wesleyan tradition. He asks some great questions. I would encourage you to visit his blog and be a part of this discussion by clicking here.
Here are my two cents:
I think Andrew is on to something when he mentions the means of grace as something that is distinct to the Wesleyan tradition. The main thing that I think comes from thinking about the means of grace as it relates to worship is the Eucharist. In other words, I think if John Wesley walked into your average UM church and sat through worship next Sunday, his first criticism would be, why didn’t you take Communion? (Most UM churches take Communion only on the first Sunday of the month, thought I am aware of their being exceptions to this.)
In his sermon “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Discourse the Sixth,” Wesley referred to Communion as the grand channel whereby the grace of his Spirit was conveyed to the souls of all the children of God (Bicentennial Ed. of the Works of John Wesley, vol. 1, 585). For Wesley, Communion, was the most obvious way that people could expect to receive God’s grace. Worship that is centered in the Wesleyan tradition, then, would take advantage of every possible opportunity to receive this means of grace.
I am aware that many churches have a sort of separate, optional Communion service. That is probably better than not offering Communion at all, but I still think that is missing the tenor of our tradition.
The second distinctive mark of Wesleyan worship that came to my mind is the love feast. This is a specific service of worship (a description of this service can be found in The United Methodist Book of Worship) that the early Methodists used on occasion to come together in fellowship and to give testimony to how God had been at work in their lives.
The third distinctive mark of Wesleyan worship that I thought of is accountability. This post will get way too long if I go into the Methodist structure (society, class, band) but Methodists were, well – methodical, about holding each other accountable for growing in their faith, for making progress along the way of salvation.
A final mark of Wesleyan worship is singing great hymns. Charles Wesley wrote literally thousands of hymns. His hymns used music that people of the time could relate to, they had profound, solid lyrics that told the story of the salvation that comes through a relationship with Christ. Wesleyan worship today will have hymns that are sung in a way that speaks to the people singing them, and they will have lyrics that make the gospel come to life in people’s souls.