3 Reasons I’m a Wesleyan

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

I have a deep love for Wesleyan Christianity. There are several reasons for this.

First, one of the great advantages which Wesley had was that he was born in the 18th century, a full two centuries after the Protestant Reformation. This gave him the ability to look back and see first-hand the strengths and weaknesses of the Reformation. The resulting expansion and deepening of the Reformation which the Wesleyan revivals brought is truly a marvel to behold.

Five quick examples will suffice: (1) Starting with the Reformation recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith, Wesley developed a full-orbed doctrine of grace which included prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace and glorifying grace. (2) Starting with the Reformation recovery of a Christ centered gospel, Wesley developed a more thorough Trinitarian doctrine of salvation which emphasized the Father’s role in electing, the Son’s role in justifying and the Spirit’s role in sanctifying. (3) Starting with the Reformation tension between “grace” and “law,” Wesley had profound insights into Christ not merely “fulfilling” the Law though His own obedience, but actually becoming the new Law Giver empowering us through the Holy Spirit for a deeper obedience than the Law ever imagined. (4) Starting with the Reformation emphasis on the four solas (grace alone, Christ alone, faith alone and Scripture alone), Wesley saw the long term problem with the loss of ecclesiology and instituted, in effect, sola ecclesia, the church alone. The resulting emphasis on church discipline, church discipleship, church accountability and the corporate witness of the church in society (no ‘holy solitaires’ for Wesley!) were hallmarks of the Wesleyan movement. (5) Starting with the Reformation emphasis on God’s grace, Wesley developed a powerful understanding of how grace is conveyed into the life of the believer, the so-called “means of grace.” Prayer, Bible study, the Eucharist and serving the poor were filled with new dimensions because Christ joined us in each of these!

Every one of these examples could easily be an entire blog post, but you can begin to see some of the wonderful contours of the Wesleyan movements which today number approximately 80 million around the world. It is fairly obvious that these five themes (and many others which could be named) have been lost in much of the Western expressions of Wesleyan Christianity. Indeed, we are probably at least two generations away from the restoration of the Wesleyan message, because this next generation will be absorbed with fighting for our basic Christian identity. Nevertheless, we should not forget the insights of the 18th century, because the time will come when the church will be eager to be re-taught these great truths.

The second great advantage which Wesley had was that he was not a sectarian Christian. He saw the church from a truly global and historical frame. This is the great “catholic spirit” which Wesley embodied. He both loved and debated with all the major traditions of the church in his day. Wesley borrowed from Puritans, Pietists, Calvinists, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, to name a few. This, of course, had nothing to do with the contemporary trend to fall down and bow before false doctrines and novel teachings and call it being “ecumenical.” For Wesley it meant a deep embrace of the catholic tradition, i.e. the universal tradition, the great semper, ubique et ab omnibus (always, everywhere, by everyone) of the church through the ages.

Wesley was a thoroughly Christian man. He could say with Luther, “I am baptized.” He was a “man of One Book.” Today, the global church is finding their voice and they are re-introducing and re-presenting biblical, holiness Christianity back into our lifeblood. We would do well to listen to and heed their faith and their faithfulness.

The third great advantage is that the Methodist pastors were linked together into a common covenant, which was relational, theological and experiential. The itineracy system was rooted in this shared covenant to ensure consistency in both message and ministry. The earliest preachers were required to preach Wesley’s canonical sermons and show a deep knowledge of Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament. The UMC covenant has been broken since 2013 and the Discipline is now openly defied.

Francis Asbury, the great pioneer of Methodism in America once noted in his journal how on April 28, 1772 he was criticized for causing such offense among some of the Methodist leaders for shutting out several people from a society meeting. But, Asbury wrote, “this does not trouble me…I cannot suffer myself to be guided by half-hearted Methodists.” The broken covenant has made us all “half-hearted Methodists” and we long for the day when our covenant will be restored and we can, once again, be the great force for Scriptural holiness throughout the world.

Comments

  • Josh says:

    Amen. Great post. I’m going to be at the New Room conference and am eagerly looking forward to what is going to be said about committing to a new Wesleyan covenant that does center around an institution or denomination. I honestly have no clue as to the future of the UMC. It is deeply broken in a lot of areas. But on the other hand, there is some very strong life in a lot of other areas. In prayer the other night, the Holy Spirit was reminding me of the theology of Revelation 1-3. Christ is the Lord of his church – no one else is. He is speaking a word to each local church, communion, and denomination – right now. It’s a specific word that speaks of hope, encouragement, and even judgment. We can be sure that Christ is behind the scenes and that he will bless those who are holding tight, remaining faithful, and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. There is a chance for repentance for those who teach false doctrines and do immoral and ungodly things . . . but there must be repentance – real repentance. And there is judgment coming for those who refuse to repent. I’ve seen these truths lived out in my lifetime and I’m sure that I will see more. It’s time for us who do love the Methodist way to focus on what we are for rather than what we are against and make sure that we are following the Lord’s direction together. I’m actually pretty stoked to see and hear the ideas that are going to be shared at the New Room conference.

    • marc says:

      Thanks for your blog Dr Tennent. I hope you do not mind me printing it off for a good friend of mine who does not have an internet connection. I know he will find it fascinating – I would also like to let an Anglican priest friend of mine have a copy as well – we all meet together once a week on a Thursday mornings for tea at the Anglican church church of the Holy Spirit in Bedgrove, a suburb of Aylesbury in the UK.
      Your blog highlights a time in the history of the church which seems to be so far from today. I myself am a Roman Catholic and was received into the church just four years ago. I was surprised at the very centrality of Christ, and the beauty of the liturgy.

  • Gary Bebop says:

    The drumming for “local option” on moral matters has already begun on the West Coast. The progressive “choir” is chanting this message in virtually every piece of communications. The campaign is sure to reach crescendo right before delegates step off the plane in Portland.

  • Amen and amen. I became a Methodist rather later in life, drawn first by my local church’s faithfulness to the gospel. My appreciation of Wesley’s model for the church has grown consistently since then. But my conference has voted to become a refuge for those who break the BOD covenant and I dread the next steps that may be taken at the upcoming Annual Conference.

  • Betsy says:

    While in Savannah last week, my husband and I discovered a green space called Reynold’s Square which is dedicated to John Wesley’s year in Georgia. It includes a statue of Wesley that was dedicated in 1969 and is described as follows:

    Wesley is depicted here at the period of his Georgia ministry, wearing his Church of England vestments. The sculptor, Marshall Daugherty, says of this rendering: “The moment is as he looks up from his Bible toward his congregation, about to speak and stretching out his right hand in love, invitation and exhortation. In contrast, the hand holding the Bible is intense and powerful—the point of contact with the Almighty…”

    Ironically, the plaques and the statue of Wesley were there as the result of the UMC. I couldn’t help but be sad at how far the church has drifted from what the Wesley brothers started and what their primary focus was: the rank and file person living a holy and transformed life centered in God 24/7 regardless of their circumstances. John and Charles did not transform the world; they connected individuals to the triune God of holy love who then transformed communities one person at a time.

  • Steve Guess says:

    Thank you Dr. Tennent. Many of us eagerly await the split (or whatever it is called) as a time to join the group that will refocus on the Bible and uphold its teaching. The title/branding of that denomination/church doesn’t really matter if we are true to His word.