The Critical Importance of Reaching the Working Classes

Howard Cook's 'Worker with Harvest, Factory' circa 1929

Brilliant New Song-Writing
In terms of the great hymns of the Christian Faith, the Methodist movement was a source of unparalleled treasures…and also some hidden ones!

And it’s the hidden treasures that we will enjoy together! But first, we’ll look at possible reasons why they’re still hidden.

How can you spot a movement on the wane?

It seems an observable reality that the beginning of the end of a great movement in church history is accompanied by certain features.

One of these – perhaps the most damaging – is a disproportionate desire for respectability. We might suggest a prevalence to preserve or promote Christianity as a respectable middle class religion.

Of course, I’m not advocating that our leaders should be anything less than truly respected in their own communities, nor that they should be deliberately rough.

I am certainly not criticising a hunger to improve in knowledge. We should all should aim to be good learners and students throughout life. It’s vital to gain theological insight. Ignorance is not good.

The true nature of Christian influence
But we must guard against snobbery. The twelve men that Jesus hand-picked to follow Him were not the most sophisticated or best educated. The point is that He took them to be with Him, He trained them and He was the source of their learning and their influence.

Paul, who had some rabbinical education, had to be broken utterly and come to the point of considering all he inherited as ‘rubbish’ for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

Christianity promotes knowledge
But the Christian Faith uplifts people. It changes us! And essentially because Jesus came teaching and healing, Christians have gone into the world and built universities and medical facilities.

Christian expansion at its best has been marked by educational (and scientific) endeavour and compassionate service to the suffering. It’s because of Jesus.

In a very real way, God takes hold of us and improves us! Therefore, may God protect you from automatically distancing yourself from anyone you consider ‘below’ you, in some way. How vile! How unlike Jesus Christ!

The first generation of leaders should, like William Booth of the Salvation Army, carefully gauge the influence on ordinary people of the leaders who are emerging (Elijah Cadman, a former prize fighter, became Booth’s right hand man).

Don’t overlook ‘unschooled, ordinary men’
We mustn’t overlook those who have been transformed into leaders by ‘grace and grit’, and who like Peter and the other apostles, might be considered ‘unlearned men’, or ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, as the NIV puts it (see Acts 4:13). We might be missing some ‘mighty men’.

We would have to put aside John Bunyan, Howell Harris, William Carey, DL Moody, Elijah Cadman, CH Spurgeon (perhaps the most remarkable example of self-education in a Christian leader), and a host of others – in fact, we might question God as to why He made His Son an apprentice labourer rather than a college lecturer!

Reaching the ‘working class’ is a key to transforming a culture
The point is this – that when Christianity really breaks into a culture, it breaks through to those who, in Europe at least, are usually called ‘working class’.

Christianity’s ability to lastingly change the culture has been when the working people, the ordinary backbone of the population, have embraced the faith as theirs.

This is partly why we’ve spent so long examining the incredible suffering and persecution that took place amongst the 18th century Methodists. Before conversion the ordinary people of Britain rejected the gospel – but the preachers wouldn’t give up, and in the end, the gospel won through.

Songs of the People!

As we will later see with the breathtaking story of the Salvation Army in the 19th Century, when ordinary folk take Christ to themselves, we get some great new songs and sayings. The whole church is enriched and refreshed – not by mere novelty, but by the cultural strengths of every grouping in our culture.

Well now, all of that was really an introduction to some wonderful, informal and hilarious segments from hymns of the Methodists from the 18th and 19th Century. To check out the hymns click here

Picture: Howard Cook, Worker with Harvest, Factory © The Smithsonian American Art Museum

© 2010 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog