Four Great Wesleyan Distinctives (Part III)

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

This is the last entry of a three part series. Read Part I and Part II.

Third, the Wesleyan view of the holy Christian life.

A doctrine of justification separated from a robust doctrine of sanctification has left the church in a weakened state which compromises our witness to the world, dishonors Christ and denies the very power of the gospel which we proclaim. Wesley was first and last passionate about holiness. Today much of the church is not holy and there is no more important legacy we can leave the contemporary church than to fully embody holiness. The great ramparts, gates and walls of holiness which have long set the church apart today lie in ruins and the world is now freely importing wickedness into the church. This is our hour to rise up and re-assert one of the four marks of the church: holiness.

Wesley taught the doctrine of entire sanctification. For Wesley, salvation could never be simply God looking at us through a different set of glasses where he sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ, but we are still bound in sin. Wesley envisioned a holy church. He understood that God’s purpose is not complete until alien righteousness becomes native righteousness; imputed righteousness becomes actualized righteousness, declared righteousness becomes embodied righteousness. We do not put grace in a dialectic tension with the Law, but, rather see Christ as a new Lawgiver, deepening the moral call of God on our lives through the Spirit of God working in us. This is not justification by faith and sanctification by works. No, Wesley saw both justification and sanctification as gifts from God, wrought in us not by our own strength, but through His saving power.

Entire sanctification never meant that we never sin. Wesley actually rejected the phrase, “sinless perfection.” This is because for Wesley sanctification is not primarily a judicial, forensic term. Rather, it is a relational term. Entire sanctification means that your whole life, your body and your spirit have been re-oriented towards the joyful company of the Triune God. You are now oriented towards the eternal community of God himself. Entire sanctification was, for Wesley, not the end of some long drudge out of the life of sin, but joining the joyful assembly of those who have truly found joy. For Wesley, holiness is the crown of true happiness. Sin is still encamped around us on every side, but it is no longer our ally. We burn the secret agreements we have with sin in the night while we confess Christ in the day. We leave behind the agonizingly torn hearts, where we always live under condemnation because sin is always creeping back into our lives. To be sanctified is to receive a second blessing, a Spirit-baptism, a great gift from God. It is a gift which changes your heart, re-orients your relationships with the Triune God and gives you the capacity to love God and your neighbor in new and profound ways. It transforms your perspective – because your heart is re-oriented towards him in perfect love. In the life of a sanctified person sin becomes your permanent enemy, not your secret lover!

The language of “entire sanctification” uses the word “entire” in reference to Greek, not Latin. In Greek “entire” or “complete” can still be improved upon. Our founder H. C. Morrison once said, “there is no state of grace that cannot be improved on.” It is a new orientation which no longer looks back on the old life, but is always looking forward to the New Creation. It is a life which has been engulfed by new realities, eschatological realities, not the passing shadows of that which is passing away.

Wesley also understood that holiness is not merely a negative term. It is not just about sins which we avoid. If you were to eradicate every sin in your life, you would only be halfway there. Because, for Wesley, holiness is never just about sins we avoid, it’s about fruit which we produce! In Wesley, faith and fruit meet and are joyfully wed! We no longer have a view of holiness which is legalistic, private, negative and static. Rather it is relational, communal, and captivated by a vision of the in-breaking of God’s rule and reign!! The witness of the Spirit which confirms faith becomes in Wesley the power of the Spirit to produce fruit and to transform the world – to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world!

Fourth, the Wesleyan view of the world.

Our movement has never been committed to a precise theological system which becomes an overlay through which we view Scripture and the world. The reason we do not have our version of TULIP is not because we are not clever enough to come up with five points, the first letter of which spells a word. Many of us have actually worked out the “five points of Wesleyanism.” But, upon reflection, Wesleyans have rejected that kind of systematic overlay which creates a lens between you and the Scriptures. Those systems tend to domesticate the text, sand down all the mysteries, and rob us of all the necessary tensions. The Wesleyan vision of Christianity is not at root a theological system trying to solve theoretical theological problems and make everything fit into a single coherent system which is put forth over against other systems like dispensationalism or covenant theology, and so forth. Rather, our movement is fundamentally missional. Our theology is soteriologically framed and driven, not epistemologically framed and driven. Thus, our theology thrusts us out to a lost world. It is acknowledging that the Scriptures are, at root, a missional document which brings good news of salvation to the ends of the earth, or, as Wesley would put it, helping people to “flee from the wrath to come.”

Our vision for the world might be called mobile holiness because it is never static, but always moving us to the ends of the earth, since “the world is our parish.” We declare the year of Jubilee for those who are enslaved by human trafficking in Bangkok. Mobile holiness announces the good news to the Alagwa people of north-central Tanzania who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Mobile holiness shines the light of justice on child labor in China! Mobile holiness establishes peace in broken homes in America. Mobile holiness sets the drug addicts free right here in Highbridge / on OBT. Mobile holiness acts on behalf of the 40,000 Iraqis left to die on Sinjar mountain. You see mobile holiness is viral and there is no part of creation which it does not declare under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! We claim the “whole field” – no privatized religion for us! Remember how Jeremiah had the courage to purchase a field even as the Babylonians invaded and were taking everyone into exile. That’s the kind of global vision we need. We look at the most dismal situation on the planet and we declare, in faith, that we will buy that field. We will buy the field of Anathoth even as the Babylonians are moving in! We’ll buy the field of hope even when the drugs still hold on. We’ll buy the field of faith, even while the Alagwa are still resistant! We’ll buy the field of reconciliation, even when the divorce papers are on the table. Because we hear the strains of the New Creation! We have been caught up in a greater narrative!
A Wesleyan, neo-holiness vision does not fall into the trap of an over-realized eschatology which fails to take seriously the full force of human – personal and systemic – rebellion against God. However, it also avoids the trap of an under-realized eschatology which can only rehearse the bad news and does not see the New Creation already breaking in – in the faith, life, experience and witness of the church of Jesus Christ. We have a vision for the power of transforming righteousness in the world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it takes courage to occupy and hold the high ground of Wesleyan faith. It will empower us to announce the gospel, even as it is being decried as outrageous and offensive. It will send us into a world enmeshed in deep spiritual and moral chaos. It will enable us to descend into the gutter of despair to bring someone up to the high road of holiness. This vision will help us to boldly confess Christ when even big swaths of the church have lost the patience to listen to Him. It will enable us to stand firm on the Word of God, even when the prevailing winds of culture are blowing hard in your face. But, like the Taj Mahal, this great treasure has been passed on to us that we, in turn, might give it to the world. May we joyfully take up this mantle and be found faithful in our time. May Asbury embody that which we teach and so remain a beacon of hope and grace to this generation. Amen.

Comments

  • Mary Page says:

    Sin you can never escape. Over focusing on it results in apathy, inability to participate fully in events and movements and results in deep depressions. None of which works for God. You do have to lessen your sin but you also have to understand that in any day you will break the commandments directly and indirectly. There is no avoiding it. I would love to see an expansion of Wesleyan interpretations of fruit of the spirit in the here and now. How does it look like in the beginning? How do you know it is progressing? When do you know it has come to fruition and become ingrained in the culture? I helped with Habitat for Humanity this past month. From their site it began this way “Koinonia Farm
    The concept that grew into Habitat for Humanity International was born at Koinonia Farm, a small, interracial, Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia. Koinonia Farm was founded in 1942 by farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan.” Basically church based and supported by Christian communities. Now Corporate groups have become the voluteers. Only one church group was there this time. At first I almost felt sad but after hammering 75 nails into wooden panels my mind thought more clearly than it had in a long time and as I sat and ate my lunch I realized it was the ultimate success story in manisfestation of Fruits of the Spirit. I saw it all there in the secular world. God at work His Way some aware some not. A Christian group started it and now it has so transformed with those ethics as an enterprise that corporate groups can fulfill their social responsibility to community. Without the church it never would have happened but without corporate it would never develop to the degree we see now. The winds of culture has to blow in our face just like it did with Jesus and we have to take it and make the decision to let it be or transform it. When we hand it to the secular world and it prospers with ethics in tact is it not a manisfestation of the living Christ in the world? A visible symbol of an inward practice of a network of Christian Communities over a long period of time. Our problem is not a lack of success. Our problem here is success and our continued ability to hand what use to be the churches out to nonprofits and corporate. So how do we keep our presence felt while as Christian Communities we move on to the next task (poverty and hunger). We are called to go first and we do.:) We are called to partner with the secular world and we do. I laughed as they took down the Houston Methodist sign and replaced it with a corporate. We won. Corporate followed us. No prize, no bragging, no competition just a handing over of a program so steeped in Christian values that the business world sends its people there to learn a level of mutually beneficial cooperation unlike anyplace else. I found the group I was in was so large as a company they were all strangers to one another but there they all became friends and accomplished building a house and frame in a day with no prior experience, no fights, no jockeying for position, no politics just the hammering of the nails and the quiet instruction of construction men .So how do we make more programs like that :)That was very good fruit.

  • Terry Powell says:

    “This is because for Wesley sanctification is not primarily a judicial, forensic term. Rather, it is a relational term. Entire sanctification means that your whole life, your body and your spirit have been re-oriented towards the joyful company of the Triune God.” Exactly – God does not call us to an ethic, but into a relationship far beyond what we could ever imagine or earn.

  • Mary Page says:

    “In the life of a sanctified person sin becomes your permanent enemy, not your secret lover!” Hmmm how does that fit with Song of Solomon which is all about the Lover. If that is the ultimate relationship between God and His Bride then Wesley framed the faith with fruit in a way that plays into Wisdom texts particularly Song of Solomon. I have been studying Adam Hamilton’s Revival book. :)”Relational, communal, and captivated by a vision” is not fleeing from wrath but creating. Creating that which was lost in Eden. Christ comes and we have a new paradise since the old was closed to us. In the new paradise all generations are included through faith and the receiving of grace. Wesley took Luther’s idea and moved it into Grace land to the point the legalistic minimized. We went from a set of rules to think and let think written in our hearts according to scripture and reason. With thinking comes conversation, relationship, communal experience, a range if tolerance in which each person answers their conscience in accordance to their personal relationship with Christ. The Methodist church can easily do mobile holiness because of circuit riders and John Wesley trips we have always been mobile. So Adam Hamilton proposed a question to all the faithful, people on their own are creating communion in homes while on line to participate with the online church communion. So in this mobileness is it truly communion, how do we handle that to make sure the elements are sanctified and how do we increase that so shut ins, Hindus in transition, people in far flung places with no christian church available can participate in the most important ritual we have as a community. How engaging to hear people connecting to church so desiring communion with us that they get bread and juice of the grape so they can be part of us. Offer blessed bread and juice so it can be purchased or sent? Add a line in the ritual to recognize those who provide their own and bless it? All parts of this song is now true. A vision given in song and now fulfilled In Christ there is no East or West,
    In Him no South or North;
    But one great fellowship of love
    Throughout the whole wide earth.

    In Him shall true hearts everywhere
    Their high communion find;
    His service is the golden cord,
    Close binding humankind.

    Join hands, then, members of the faith,
    Whatever your race may be!
    Who serves my Father as His child
    Is surely kin to me.

    In Christ now meet both East and West,
    In Him meet North and South;
    All Christly souls are one in Him
    Throughout the whole wide earth.

  • Mary Page says:

    Great Heart

    John Oxenham’s poem: Tamate (words to In Christ There is no East or West)

    Great-Heart is dead, they say,–
    Great-Heart the Teacher,
    Great-Heart the Joyous,
    Great-Heart the Fearless,
    Great-Heart the Martyr,
    Great-Heart of Sweet White Fire.

    Great-Heart is dead, they say,–
    Fighting the fight,
    Holding the Light,
    Into the night.
    Great-Heart is dead, they say.–
    But the Light shall burn the brighter.
    And the night shall be the lighter,
    For his going;
    And a rich, rich harvest for his sowing.

    Great-Heart is dead, they say!–
    What is death to such an one as Great-Heart?
    One sigh, perchance, for work unfinished here;–
    Then a swift passing to a mightier sphere,
    New joys, perfected powers, the vision clear,
    And all the amplitude of heaven to work
    The work he held so dear.

    Great-Heart is dead, say they?
    Nor dead nor sleeping! He lives on! His name
    Shall kindle many a heart to equal flame.
    The fire he lighted shall burn on and on,
    Till all the darkness of the lands be gone,
    And all the kingdoms of the earth be won,
    And one.

    A soul so fiery sweet can never die,
    But lives and loves and works through all eternity.

    Merry Christmas 🙂

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