Stop the Mad Perverting of the Circuit Riders of Old!

by Rev. Dennis Hartman

Published May 04,2013. Edited May 22, 2013

I have been carefully studying the Methodist Circuit Riders for the past few years and I notice one thing. The Grace that they preached then is not what grace is today. Today's doctrine of grace is powerless over sin to such a degree that it becomes our holiness. Therefore, we don't need to worry about sinning as long as we are saved by grace which makes us eternally secure no matter how we live, and I should add by water too. When considering grace these modern Circuit Riders, evangelicals, and Pentecostals, makes grace powerless to have victory over present sin.

In the process of this research I fell upon this group who seemed to clutter the search engines with their groups name called The Circuit Rider. I put in several search phrases and words together to try to find out who some of the past Methodist circuit riders were, and their testimonies. This is after reading about 30 books on this subject too. Time and time again this group's page cluttered web. So I looked over their site. While I am glad for the Gospels sake that Christ is preached, I am greatly disappointed that they have not carefully studied Wesley, Bishop Asbury, and much less that army of circuit riders for Christ's sake whose name they boldly claim.

They are largely a contemporary outreach which gives a cheap thrill in the name of Jesus. Some no doubt get save, thankfully, because His word does not return to Him void. However, their message is no different than most evangelicals, and Pentecostals, though they tried to change the packaging.

Grace has been cheapened in our modern culture. Grace and faith are to work together. Prevenient grace goes forth to convict all men that come into the world that Christ is the savior and that they are completely hopeless without him. It operates to convict, and strengthen the seeker of Christ unto faith in Christ. Once born again, it teachers the new believer in Christ and convicts the new believer of sin within so as to give power and strength to live holy. Now where in the Bible do we see grace winking at sin in the life of the believer, and where does grace allow a believer to continue in sin? God forbid, says Paul, that grace allows sin of any kind.

Also their dogmatic water god immersion, like the error that infant baptism saves, seals the doom of many who have no clue of what they are doing and why, when they come forward to "accept" Christ. That is the important magic mode for sure. Sadly, if mode of baptism is so important why was Paul sprinkled or poured instead of immersed? And besides, both Christ and Paul seemed to stay clear of preforming baptism themselves.

What did those Methodist circuit riders believe that this group and many evangelicals, and Pentecostals try to mimic in their evangelism? For in their mimic is the claim that what they are doing is no different than what those old circuit riders did. Wrong! There is no equating of the two when you examine the results of them and the moderns!

At this point all one can do is ramble concerning the results of the original Methodist Circuit Riders. Their fruit are overwhelming. Where to start and how to say it is not an easy task for such a poor writer as I. Volumes are written about them and their holy boldness along with their self-denial of all but the barest necessities of life for Christ's sake. Many struggled with prevenient grace until they got saved. And when that happened most knew it!, and most knew what salvation demanded and abundantly supplied. Their lives changed then and there. Totally! If they loved their drink they drank no more. Many changed their life styles. When they were called to preach, they realized the hardship that lay ahead of them. They slept under the stars when no house or "shack" was in sight. They struggled with continual hunger and exposure to the elements. At times they were threatened by thugs, and Indians. They battled cold and snow, heat and drought, flooded rivers, and had to contend with all sorts of wild animals with a particular eye out for bears. By 1843 the average Methodist circuit rider lived to be 30 years old at the most. Most died within three to five years after becoming an apostle for Christ. Loneliness was a continual enemy, but Christ's call and the Holy Spirit was an overwhelming friend. They used their fists, wits, and other abilities to bring peace and the Gospel to a community. They were not strangers to prayer and Bible study, though at times the mere demand for human survival interfered. They were quick to recognize when God moved and to get out of His way. During camp meetings and other revivals they realized that the power of the Holy Spirit did not rest solely on one man, one denomination, one theology, but exclusively on the preaching of the gospel no matter the man who preached it. Their battle cry was souls for Jesus and to flee from the wrath to come. They demanded holy living, which all men can do because salvation gives the power to do so and grace the ability and power to live it, and not that grace itself is your holiness. The results that followed radically changed both the believer and the community. The water god needed not to apply for a cheap thrill or "obedience" to anything because they understood the doctrine of grace which delivered power to completely forgive and gain perfect love right at the foot of the Cross. They knew they were children of God and sin had no dominion over them. This then is not the same message that is delivered by the Circuit Riders, or their cohorts in evangelicalism, or Pentecostalism.

While these three groups seem to have reasonable visions and values their fruits are generally carnal. Their contemporary concerts of rock and country gospel tends to totally stimulate the emotions and not doctrine. Their message sounds "cool" for Jesus in that it seems provoke action for Christ, and their gathering attracts large crowds. Low, who dare criticize such goodness of the Spirit?! Who dare raise their hands against God's work?! But wait! Many of these groups who evoke the name of the circuit riders, fail to look at their fruit. And what was that fruit?

They built a nation because of the Gospel they preached. They feared not the political, nor community thugs. They demanded that those who were born again live it at the outset. Why? Because they were born of God and had the Holy Spirit in them and therefore it was possible to be free from sin. The Holy Spirit immediately began the work of creating a holy creature for God's glory in the new convert. They became fruitful within their communities and withstood all evil, both political and other. When the circuit rider left a community his greatest fear was the proselyting Baptist preachers with their water god of deceit who tried to dunk Methodists and bring them into the Baptist church. For the Baptist then as today, water is the canal that leads to heaven. This is truer than ever today.

The point here is where is the change in all this? They sing the most popular Christian music, sway their bodies, hoot, and holler, speak in tongues, but when their crusades and revivals are over and the dipping is done many are sinners still. They need to be discipled is the cry? But still nothing changes in the community. Real Christian faith brings radical and dramatic change both to the Believer and the believer's community. For when your crusades leave the community, so does the faith, and all too many who received the holy dip in the water god simply go away a wet sinner. Not much changes. Compare this to what happened with those Methodist Circuit Riders that you like to cite to gain credit for your cause. They changed a ragged, rough and tumble vulgar frontier society. People's lives were really changed. They honored the Lords day. They desired from the beginning to be more like their Lord. Their faith became as much a part of them as their hands and feet. When called to stand, they did not back down. There was no gray area where faith could wiggle in order to tolerate sin. While I praise God for every soul who comes to our Lord through your efforts, I do not see any changes that are comparable to the originals.

Not only that, most new converts see nothing wrong with their life styles. Their half nakedness is tolerated, drinking alcohol accepted as normal - just don't get drunk, working on Sunday is okay, and worse, there is no need to try to be holy because that won't happen till the day you die. So you have to live in your sins, and if that be the case, why sweat sin in this life. That is you message of grace, not Paul's! Sadly your rock and gospel music concerts depends on the flesh at the outset to get attention, and not your holy living or burning desire to serve God as those riders had.

Your doctrine of grace both demands to much acceptance of sin, and to little intolerance against sin. It drops man completely out of the equation while in a real way making God responsible for sin. Under your grace, anything can go except for all out sin - whatever that would mean today. This is opposed to Paul and the other disciples understanding of grace. You claim to "Boldly preach the Gospel, accompanied with the demonstration of Holy Spirit power; manifested in supernatural healing and the salvation of souls in villages, towns, cities and regions." While there may have been some healing, the overwhelming power that was manifested with those early circuit riders was the really really really changed lives of the lost. The "supernatural healing" while not impossible is far from the Great Commission. For in it no mention is made of healing physically. Therefore, if that is your real sign of the Holy Spirit at work, you are in total error and know not the scripture, because even the devil can mimic that. The real power of God and the Holy Spirit is when men's hearts are changed totally and radically for Christ. And the sign of that change is not the acceptance of sin in their lives but power to live holy and the desire flee from sin. It is always this power, and not the supernatural healing that will bring "salvation of souls in villages, towns, cities and regions." And this is what it is all about. The change which you have brought? is not consistent when compared to what happened for God's glory in the lives of those early Methodist circuit riders. While God gives liberty in our approaches, the outcome is measure by the radical change in a person's life and their strong desire to be more like Him who love them first. Grace then gives power to be holy, but is not holiness for them.

When evangelicalism, Pentecostals and The Circuit Riders being to make the none essentials into a fundamental of the faith like "scriptural baptism" meaning immersion only, for the water god must be acknowledged if you are to be obedient to Christ, any supper natural signs no matter how they may help or harm, and a healthy dose of Bible prophecy declaring the last days are here now, none of which is necessary. And o yes, once your saved, you are on automatic pilot and nothing you do will send you to hell - its all of grace don't you know. All this adds up to both grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit which is as dangerous as liberalism in the ranks of the Faith.

So please my brothers, leave those Methodist circuit riders alone. It is painfully obnoxiously obvious that we in the modern Church have really lost something. What we are doing in the name of Christ and evangelism is more hyperbolic then Spirit lead. And our fruits prove that I am painfully right. O God, please send us that old time power that those great and most humble Methodist circuit riders had. Power to boldly take the gospel where it is not welcomed both back into the church and to all nations. Lord, we cannot do what you commanded without you. We ask not for the supernatural, but for the Holy Spirit to visit us afresh with power to live holy, power to flee the wrath to come, and because of your blood to win the world to you. Please Jesus in your name. Amen!

Pastor Hartman has been in the ministry for thirty seven years. He graduated from the Institute of Christian Service of Bob Jones University. He also holds B.S. and M.S. degrees from Columbus State University and did post grad work at the same school. He has taught in the public school system for fifteen years, and is currently working with a small private academy. He has traveled once to Russia, three times to the Ukraine, twice to England in a humble effort to help the missionaries spread the Gospel of Christ. After resigning form his pastorate in 2005, he does supply work for other pastors in the community. While he is Independent Methodist, he is currently attending and working with a neat conservative United Methodist Church. If you wish to contact Pastor Hartman, about this article, please feel free to do so.