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):
What if its not about your opinions but your choices? What if the Final Judgement before God is about how you lived your life, not what religious opinions you espoused — or even what religious experiences you had? What if our actions are more important than our words? What if what God really wants are people — and a community of People — of compassion and patience and peace? What if the most important expression of our faith is not a Doctrinal Statement signed but a life will lived, under the Lordship of Christ? What if the real evidence of faith is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23)? What if God wants us to be making this world a better place — and we’ve spent our days hiding in our churches?
What if the real scandal of Christianity is the huge gap that lies between our Biblical and theological knowledge and the actual lives that we lead from day to day? (more…)
Well, as you can see, I am taking a bit of a blog break. I’ve been slightly tired this week, and I need to get feeling better for next week. Tiredness affects my attitude about being at the computer — I get concerned about the possibility of vertigo. And, in addition to that, I have been doing some reading to prepare myself for next week — which will be a busy week, indeed.
One of the many things in which I’ve gotten involved these days is the Vital Church Initiative in the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. I have a Peer Mentoring session to lead next week on Tuesday, and directly from there I am off to Flint to participate in a Consultation Event at the Asbury United Methodist Church. That event will consume Wednesday and Thursday of next week. In preparation for the Peer Mentoring session (a meeting of clergy) I read the book Managing Transitions by William Bridgers — a very good and quite readable business management book. The session will be about managing transitions in the local church. So, having finished the book, I am now preparing myself to lead that session. And, yet ahead of me, I have some reading to do to prepare for the consultation event after that. (more…)
Christian readers need to continually remind themselves: the Old Testament believers had no developed doctrine of the afterlife. Whereas, in much of Christianity the idea of the afterlife — of rewards and punishments in the world to come — dominates the thinking of believers. This has become such a commonplace idea in Christianity, we must consciously remind ourselves that it is missing (for the most part) from the thinking of the Old Testament writers.
It’s not just Christians who may be surprised — or even shocked — by the absence of this theme. There are some observers who have theorized that religion exists as a way of addressing the fear of death. If that were the case, it would be impossible to account for the Jewish religion in Old Testament times (or: the religion of the ancient Greeks at the time of Homer, either. Just read The Iliad sometime.).
Because the believers of Old Testament times had no developed doctrine of the afterlife, they tended to see the issues of right & wrong / rewards & punishments as playing themselves out in this life. You can see this clearly in the book of Proverbs, for example: do right and things will go well for you, do wrong and you will suffer. (more…)