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I don’t know about you, but I find it so encouraging when I read something outside of the church that highlights the value of what Christians do.

Here is an example I just came across:

One of the cornerstones of the Wesleyan movement throughout John Wesley’s lifetime was a small group called the band meeting. There was a list of prerequisites for joining a band meeting. But the basic activity of the band was pretty simple – confession of sin for the sake of growth in holiness.

At the weekly meeting, participants each answered five questions:

  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?
  5. Is there anything you desire to keep secret?

(You can read the entire “Rules of the Band Societies” here.) 

I first joined a band meeting when I was a seminary student. And joining that band meeting was, by far, the most important part of my seminary experience.

Not long after I graduated from seminary, I began to feel a more specific calling to pastor people who were preparing to become pastors. If I was going to pursue that calling, it would mean that I would need to complete a Ph.D. When I realized that no one had studied the band meeting in-depth, I decided to write my Ph.D. dissertation on the band meeting in John Wesley’s thought and in the popular experience of the first Methodists. I revised my dissertation and published it with Oxford University Press as Pursuing Social Holiness: The Band Meeting in Wesley’s Thought and Popular Methodist Experience.

During my work on the band meeting, I noticed that the fifth question was removed at one point by an editor of the original “Rules of the Band Societies” (the document where the five questions were published) sometime around the early nineteenth century.

As best I can remember, the fifth question was not used in the first band meeting I joined.

Is there anything you desire to keep secret?

It isn’t hard to come up with reasons why that question might have disappeared. It is intense! If you have a secret, kind of by definition you don’t want to share it. But the question is a game changer because it brings everything into the light of Christ and his healing grace in the appropriate place.

So back to the beginning of this post.

I just finished reading The Secret Life of Secrets by Michael Slepian. 

The book is an in-depth and interesting study of secrets and the role they play in our lives. 

The big takeaway at the end of the book could not have been much better aligned with the early Methodist band meeting and its simple question: Is there anything you desire to keep secret?

At the end of the book, Slepian shows that while everyone has had or has a secret, it is helpful to be able to share secrets with people you know and can trust.

All the way back in the 18th century, Methodists were creating band meetings in order to not only share secrets but to seek the wholeness and healing described in James 5:16:

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

Secular scientific study is confirming the instincts Christians have always had. How cool is that?

Want to know more about the band meeting?

For academic and historical work, see Pursuing Social Holiness.

For an introduction to what a band meeting is and a guide to starting band meetings in our own day, check out the book I wrote with Dr. Scott T. Kisker, The Band Meeting.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Kevin M. Watson’s website. Find more of his thoughts and writing at kevinmwatson.com.