Conversion through faith in Jesus Christ: Why I am a Methodist and an Evangelical

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Third, Methodists affirm (along with most evangelical movements) the importance of conversion. On May 24th each year Methodism around the world celebrates one of the most famous conversions since St. Paul on the road to Damascus. On May 24th Wesley “unwillingly” went down to a Christian society meeting and there encountered a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. During the reading of Luther’s preface to Paul’s Epistle, John Wesley experienced a profound conversion. Listen to Wesley’s words as recorded in his diary:

About a quarter before nine, while the reader was describing the change which 
God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. 
I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that 
He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” 1

Scholars and historians still debate what precisely happened to Wesley that night. What is clear is that, at some deep level, Wesley really heard the central truth of the Reformation: namely, that we are justified through the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. We cannot add to that work. It is no mistake that Wesley’s transformation came as he listened to someone reading Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans. Martin Luther had experienced a similar conversion in his so called “tower experience” in the Augustinian Black Cloister in Wittenburg. As Luther read Paul’s words in Romans 1:17 on the way the righteousness of God is revealed through faith, he recalled: “I felt myself born anew and to enter through open gates into paradise itself!”

This emphasis on conversion was re-discovered in the Reformation, and by Wesley’s day, was a vital feature of the pietistic movement. Finally, conversion experiences became fully embedded in Methodism because of Wesley’s own experience, and later, through the strong emphasis on revival preaching and conversion in the camp meetings and in the frontier church planting work of American Methodism.

1 The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 5, First Series of Sermons (1-39), Journal Entry, May 24, 1738 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 103.

Comments

  • […] behalf of the sinner.” Means of Grace – Remaining in faith and avoiding antinomianism. Conversion – transformation Sanctification – The importance of holiness in the life of the […]

  • gary says:

    If Paul can see a bright light on a dark desert highway and believe that he has seen the physically resurrected Jesus then it is entirely plausible that this is what happened to Peter, James, the Twelve, and the “Five Hundred”. They all saw a strange bright light and believed it was an appearance of the physically resurrected Jesus. Paul may have believed that his bright light spoke to him, but a guy who believes that he has taken an intergalactic space voyage to a “third heaven” to hear confidential communications between space people is not dealing with a full deck.

    The Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses, decades after the death of Jesus, writing works of evangelism. The Appearance Stories in Matthew and Luke have nothing in common. Any non-biased reader would see these two stories are fictional embellishments of the bare-bones appearance accounts in the Early Creed. And John’s Appearance Stories, written one or more decades later, look like an amalgamation of Matthew and Luke’s Appearance Stories. Fleshed-out Appearances Stories involving seeing and touching a resurrected corpse are going to convert many more souls than a dry, non-descript list of alleged eyewitnesses.

    Unlike Jesus’ disciples, Paul was a highly educated Jew. He was also a pharisee. Yet he converted to the new Christian sect due to a (talking) bright light. How much more likely then are the chances that the “unlearned” disciples converted due to even less dramatic experiences, such as vivid dreams, false sightings, or non-talking bright lights!

    The Christian faith is an ancient superstition, originating in the fertile imaginations of first century zealots.