Several years ago I read a column by Donald W. Haynes — and its content has stayed with me. Haynes used to write a regular “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter. (I always appreciated what he had to say.)
The one I’m thinking of was titled “Like Wesley, do we seek an ‘inward witness’?” It appeared in November of 2012. It was about the experience of the assurance of salvation. First, Haynes talks about Wesley’s religious life prior to his famous Aldersgate experience. Was he seeking God? Certainly. Was he seeking a holy life? Certainly. Did he have faith? Yes. But, there was a vital and missing element: an experience of inward assurance. It was this that he found at the prayer meeting at Aldersgate. Haynes writes:
Wesley’s doctrine was sound and his self-discipline was exemplary, but he still lacked what Paul called “witness of the spirit.” Wesley admitted later that he did not understand his father, when the old Anglican on his death bed in April 1735 told him that “inward witness” was the “strongest proof of Christianity.”Surely, many of us know how Wesley must have felt. In the years since revival altar calls gave way to confirmation classes, very little has been said in most United Methodist churches about an experience of assurance that one’s sins are forgiven. Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist children once learned a little chorus: “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart . . . down in my heart today.” The second stanza was the same except the last line, “down in my heart to stay.”
How many of us must confess—while we believe that God loves us, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we are to reach out with deeds of kindness and acts of mercy—we still have a missing link in our relationship with God? Deep in our soul, there is an empty spot which only the Holy Spirit can fill. Is this not the Achilles heel of multiple millions of Christians? Is this not one important clue to the net loss of 650,000 United Methodists already in the 21st century?
When I am away from the Internet, lots of good things still get posted, of course.
Here is another video in the Seedbed 7 Minute Seminary series. This is a presentation by Dr. Ryan Danker, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Dr. Danker discusses the historical sources of John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection. This is maybe not the best first introduction to the idea.
[kad_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/BQ1KMocOCoo” ]
There is also a study guide for purchase: PDF Discussion Guide.
The doctrine of Christian Perfection is often understood to be a Wesleyan or Methodist distinctive. It is something that is taught (or at least mentioned — albeit sometimes with embarrassment) in those Christian circles which have been influenced by the teachings of Wesley. It has sometimes been viewed as a Wesleyan oddity — even by those within the Wesleyan tradition itself.
But, I think we need to take a new look at that. Wesley didn’t understand himself to be teaching something new. He understood himself to be re-affirming something taught in the Scriptures and repeated in the teachings of the early Church Fathers. (more…)
In the early part of his 2012 book How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, N. T. Wright remarks on how the Church has not always allowed itself to hear the full witness of the Gospels to Christ. I won’t attempt to reproduce the argument here: read the book.
Wright begins by discussing some ways that the Church’s teachings unintentionally got off track. And, as he is discussing how these various theologians of the past attempted to defend orthodoxy in a way that misconstrued some of the Bible’s teachings, he says on page 37 that “the eighteenth century saw great movements of revival, particularly through the Methodist movement led by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield.” and, he goes on to say: (more…)
Following in the tradition of John Wesley, the Methodist outlook on theology is thoroughly based on scripture, but also enlivened through tradition, experience, and reason.
Methodists believe that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God.” They believe that the written Word of God is the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice in our lives.
Methodists live in a vital faith relationship with God. They turn from sin, and turn to Christ in faith. It is faith in Christ alone that can reconcile us to God.
Methodists are people who have the love of God in their hearts. This is the gift of God’s Holy Spirit; and the same Spirit causes Methodists to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength. Methodists believe that the power of God is greater than the power of human sin.
Methodists do good to all, neighbors, strangers, friends, and enemies. This includes every kind of good. Methodists provide food for the hungry and clothing for the naked. They visit people who are sick and in prison. Even more important, Methodists labor for the enrichment of the souls of all people.
Methodists believe that Christian faith relates to our social life in this world. They believe in the betterment of social conditions for all people.
Methodists seek to deepen their faith by opening their hearts and minds to all the means of grace, including scripture, prayer, worship, the sacraments, and works of service.
Actually, Methodists are nothing more than Christians and do not wish to be distinguished from any other genuine believers who are living the life of faith and hope and love.