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Did John Wesley Ever Claim Christian Perfection?

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

It is often pointed out that John Wesley never openly claimed for himself the experience of entire sanctification (or Christian Perfection). And, that seems strange since this doctrine was the centerpiece of his theology of the Christian life. Lindström, in his chapter on Christian Perfection says:

The importance of the idea of perfection to Wesley is indicated by his frequent mention of it: in his sermons and other writings, in his journals and letters, and in the hymn books he published with his brother Charles. He never abandoned the general position with regard to Christian perfection which derives from his introduction to practical mysticism in 1725 and was then first expressed; it is a continuous theme in his sermons and books. The year before his death he says of it: “This doctrine is the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.”

The point is often made. If this experience is so important — and if people are supposed to testify to what God has done in their life — than why doesn’t Wesley himself ever record in his Journal — or elsewhere — an experience he openly identified as “entire sanctification”? Randy Maddox says in his book Responsible Grace (in footnote 218 to Chapter 7):

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Eradication of the Sin Nature? Huh?

I am about to launch into a rather long post — and one that will not be of interest to everyone. Nevertheless, because of the nature of this site, and because of the issues I commonly address and raise here, I need to post a statement — about a problem often encountered in the literature of the holiness movement. It is common in these writings to encounter the language of eradication: the eradication of “sin” or of “inward sinfulness” or of “inbred sin” or of “the sin nature” or of “the carnal nature” — or similar language. What is to be made of these claims?

internet-wrldI have recently re-affirmed the purposes of this web site, saying: “I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living.” I have often expressed my appreciation of the Holiness Movement and (to a lesser extent) the Pentecostal movement for the formative influence they had on shaping the earliest stages of my Christian journey.

I maintain here a growing collection of resources on the holiness movement here — and hope to have more soon. I also maintain two blogs that feature the writings of nneteenth century holiness writers Daniel Steele and Thomas C. Upham. . All of this, I am presenting “as is.” I am seeking make this material accessible, so that people can grapple with these writings on their own — without having them filtered through my own opinions and evaluations of them.

I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I realize that the message of Christian Perfection / Entire Sanctification (the main theme of the Holiness Movement) is almost completely unknown among contemporary United Methodists. Many United Methodist pastors heard of this theme for the first time in their life while attending Seminary. (And, some who did may not have been paying attention that particular day.)

It has been my intention, from the beginning of this site, to raise up this particular part of the Wesleyan tradition — I am not seeking to indoctrinate anyone in anything — I am raising an issue that (I believe) needs re-consideration and re-appropriation. My personal reasons for harping on the Christian Perfection theme of the Wesleyan tradition are given here: Sanctification as a Central Theme.

This naturally raises the question: do I agree with everything in the teachings of the 19th Century Holiness movement? And, the answer is: no, I don’t.
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I’ve Been Busy Lately

internet-mapI haven’t had much time to blog lately — as you may have noticed. This fall was unusually busy. I served on the teams for 2 Emmaus Walks and a Keryx Prison weekend. In addition to that I served on a Vital Church Initiative consultation team — with another consultation coming up next week. When all of this was added to my other involvements, it simply became too much to try to continue with my usual Internet activities. The Steele’s Answers and Hidden Life blogs have not been well tended either — even though they don’t demand as much time from me. (I find writing much more time consuming than editing.)

I like to post every day when I can. But, there are times when I can’t, and I don’t think blog breaks are bad thing. (more…)

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Larry Wood & Frank Macchia on John Wesley and Pentecostalism

This video — just posted today at the Asbury Theological Seminary Seedbed blog — fits so well with the themes I’ve been addressing this week, that I thought I would include it here:

 

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I especially appreciate what Dr. Macchia says.

Apparently this is part one of a multi-part conversation, so be sure to be on the lookout for later installments at the Seedbed blog.

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John Wesley and Spiritual Gifts

What would have been John Wesley’s attitude toward the modern doctrine and practice of Speaking in Tongues? Pentecostal churches teach that this is a necessary initial sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (a empowerment experience subsequent to Christian conversion). Other churches teach that spiritual gifts and miracles were signs that ceased after the age of the apostles. Where would Wesley have stood on these issues?pentecostwindow-4360485489

The evangelistic ministry and teaching John Wesley provided the impetus for the development of the Methodist & Holiness movements. The holiness movement, in turn, provided the seedbed for the emergence of early Pentecostalism. And, the original Azusa Street Pentecostalism and thus provided the impetus for the development of the modern Pentecostal & Charismatic movements — which have (somewhat ironically) often lost or even explicitly denied the Holiness / Sanctification themes in Wesley’s teachings.

That is a rather complicated schema. Is there any evidence of this later unfolding that is already present in Wesley teachings?

Wesley distinguished between “extraordinary gifts” and “ordinary” graces of the Spirit. Speaking in Tongues would fall into the category of “extraordinary gifts.” Thus, he did not see the gift of Tongues as part of the abiding significance of the Pentecost event. (more…)

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Whatever Happened to the Wesleyan Movement?

John & Charles Wesley

John & Charles Wesley

The message of the Wesleys and of the subsequent “Methodist” movement was a message of radical faithfulness to God. It affirmed an optimism of grace which believed that people’s lives could be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that society could be changed — through the impact of prayer and through the impact of people who were filled with love for God and love for others. It was a movement that saw a progressive and liberating movement in Scripture that made it clear to them that the institution of slavery — the buying and selling of human beings — was wrong. It allowed them to see that God was calling both men and women into the service of Christ. It was a radical message of inward and outward holiness.

It can be hard to sustain a radical message. (more…)

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A Test of Spiritual Experiences

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

Another ground of these, and a thousand mistakes, is, the not considering deeply, that love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love; that all visions, revelations, manifestations whatever, are little things compared to love; and that all the gifts above-mentioned are either the same with, or infinitely inferior to, it.

It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this, —’the heaven of heavens is love.’ There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.

Farther Thoughts on Christian Perfection.

I think it is interesting that such a comment is made at the very outset of the Wesleyan movement. (more…)

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Why I Still Find Wesleyan Theology Interesting

This is a continuation of my previous post: “How I Still Think Like a Methodist.”

John & Charles Wesley

John & Charles Wesley

First, I need to explain this: when I say “Methodist” I don’t mean it in any denominational sense at all. Yes, I served for many years as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. And, at that time I was quite loyal. I came to Christ long ago at a holiness camp-meeting. But, I really don’t mean to speak of this in any sectarian sense at all.

I know many people who experienced the holiness denominations as spiritually oppressive and legalistic. This has not been my experience, but I know that it has been for many. (more…)

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Sanctification as a Central Theme

internet-wrldSince this is actually a blog re-boot,  I thought it would be good to re-iterate my intentions for this web site and this blog — and for my various Internet projects. In other words, I’d like to take a few moments to answer the question: why am I doing this?

There are days when that is quite a serious question. What has kept me at this so long, and what am I trying to accomplish? I maintain not only this blog, but a growing collection of old holiness writings, a blog drawn from the writings of Daniel Steele and a blog drawn from the writings of Thomas C. Upham. So, that’s really quite a lot. And I know a lot of people are on the Internet to convince the world of something — to win people to their point of view, etc. — and my intentions can’t really be described that way. I’m actually not especially interested in convincing any one of anything. My hope is that people will find something here that is interesting, challenging, encouraging, or thought-provoking. And, in another way, my web activities can be seen as my attempt to come to terms with my own past.

The following is my best attempt to explain what I’m doing and why. (more…)

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