Summary: This was a part of our 3:16 series and this message looks at how we can get to the place that we Agree to Disagree with others.
The date was October 1st 1770 and the event was the funeral of noted evangelist of the time George Whitfield. Whitfield was a contemporary of John Wesley and Wesley had been asked by Mr. Whitfield to deliver the funeral message.
It is interesting to note that their relationship went back to their days at Oxford and they had both been part of the group who formed what was known as the Holy Club, a group that would eventually led to the formation of the Methodist Church.
Whitefield was a number of years younger than Wesley and although he was close friends with Charles Wesley, John’s younger brother, his relationship with John was more mentor and protégée.
A few interesting facts about George Whitefield. In 1739, when he was 25, he visited the Colonies, in what would eventually become the United States, and held evangelistic meetings. One historian said that George Whitefield became America’s first celebrity and by the time he returned to England that 80 percent of all American Colonists had heard him preach at least once.
It is said that outside of royalty he was perhaps the only living person whose name would be recognized by any person living in the Colonies. It was during that time that he became close friends with Benjamin Franklin and Franklin once estimated that without amplification Whitefield could be heard by more than 30,000 people.
After Whitefield preached in one community Benjamin Franklin wrote, “wonderful... change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seem'd as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro' the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street."
One source stated that during this relatively short ministry, he died at 56, which used to seem really old, that he had He preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers. So you can understand what Whitefield meant when he said “I would rather wear out than rust out.”
But back to the funeral. I’m sure that there were those who were confused by the fact that Wesley was asked to preach Whitefield’s funeral, especially when they discovered that Whitefield himself had requested Wesley.
You see even though John Wesley had been George Whitefield’s mentor during the early years of Whitefield’s ministry the two had a falling out over doctrine. And for the past twenty years were at odds. You see Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Armenian. And if you know what that means then you understand the rift, and if you don’t know what that means you’ll have to buy me a coffee because we don’t have the time to get into it this morning.
Suffice to say that Calvinist and Armenians often find themselves on opposite sides of the theological spectrum.
And for years their theological views separated these two preachers. They spoke publically against the others views and wrote theological discourses defending their stands. It wasn’t bitter or nasty, they didn’t call each other names they just didn’t agree and they didn’t pretend they did.
Neither one of the men was a stranger to opposition or disagreement, as a matter of fact we are told that Whitefield welcomed opposition, he was quoted once as saying “The more I am opposed, the more joy I feel”.
And then something happened. Listen to how John Wesley described what happened at Whitefield’s funeral.
“There are many doctrines of a less essential nature ... In these we may think and let think; we may 'agree to disagree.' But, meantime, let us hold fast the essentials...”
Wesley and Whitefield had come to a place where they agreed to disagree. They decided that the kingdom was greater than their personal views.
I heard that phrase when I first began my ministry, when I discovered that one of my greatest supporters in our church and I differed theologically and Russell explained that we just needed to “Agree to disagree” and it worked. And through the past thirty years I have agreed to disagree with a pile of people.
It was only in the past couple of years that I discovered that was a Wesley phrase, but it wasn’t original with Wesley. In a letter to someone a few years earlier Wesley had written, "If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as ‘Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.’”
We are in week nine of our 3:16 series, which if you haven’t been with us through the summer we been preaching from various Chapter 3 verse 16s found in the Bible. We began back in June with the obvious one John 3:16 and have gone from there, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the staff has been really enjoying the series. Hope that you have as well, but if not then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.