Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 17th, 2016 by Joel Watts

The Wesleyan Magisterium

I’ve have my head buried in books — theology of all sorts, doctrinal, historical, and of course, systematic theologies of the various Reformed Traditions (include Wesleyan-Arminianism) — for the past few weeks attempting to complete a special project (I hope to announce on Monday). I found this quote in a breathtakingly deep (Wesleyan-Arminian) systematic theology:

efficacy of doctrine

Then, in one of the great Wesleyan theologians, I found this long quote:

Revelation, in the stricter, deeper, and fuller sense, is the unfolding of the eternal counsel of God in Christ, for the restoration of man to fellowship with Himself. This is the sum and substance of truth as truth is in Jesus; it is the conclusion of the whole matter of Divine manifestation to man; and, as such, it is perfected in the Christian Scriptures, that is, in the final testimony of Jesus. His testimony is the last word of all objective revelation. In this definition there are three salient points; the one Eternal Purpose in Christ the Revealer, the perfect Scripture, and the identity, or rather coincidence, of the Christian oracles with the Christian Faith.

1. Revelation proper is consecrated to the mystery hid with Christ in God, the one Secret which it unfolds. This is the common burden of the prophets and of the apostles and of Christ Himself. It is the one truth of the whole Word of God. The entire range of its disclosures, in all their many forms, is governed by this supreme purpose, and all pay their tribute to this one subject. Christ, Himself the Sum of all revelation, is Himself also the one Revealer or Apocalyptist. He is the Revealer in act and in word. First, and above all, in act. He is Himself the personal revelation of God and His whole eternal purpose towards the human race. This profound truth of Christianity is presupposed throughout the New Testament. It may be studied in the combination of several Pauline passages. In the first the great Mystery of Godliness. (1 Tim. 3:16) is spoken of as God manifest in the flesh: this refers to the Person of Christ Incarnate, who elsewhere is termed the Mystery of God, which is Christ, (Col. 2:2) the one Secret to be revealed in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) Again, this manifestation is said to be reflected from the mirror of the Gospel, which consummates all Divine disclosures: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18) Finally, all is still more clearly explained in a passage which combines the others, as the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, (2 Cor. 4:6) the Countenance of the personal God in His incarnate Son looking upon man and giving him, in the light of that countenance, all that he needs to know for time and eternity. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Himself the substance of all revelation of God, according to His own testimony: He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. (John 14:9) Secondly, therefore, He is the Revealer in word. No one knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him: (Matt. 11:27) ὁ υἱὸς ἀποκαλύψει. Christ is the Word (John 1:1) in His original and eternal estate, Who, however, became incarnate to be the Oracle of God in the temple of humanity. No man hath seen God at any time; the Only begotten God, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath made Him known. (John 1:18) In His incarnate estate He is also that Prophet, (John 1:21) Who should absorb into Himself all prophetic functions, whether of announcing or of foretelling the will of God. In virtue of that first name, He has been from the beginning the Revealer: it was His Voice that uttered the ancient oracles. In virtue of the latter name superadded to the former, He has summed up, satisfied, and consummated the revelation of all past ages in one perfect revelation for ages to come. He spake by the prophets; He spake upon earth; and, though gone from us, He yet speaketh. His word means all revelation, and all revelation means His word. The Oracle and the oracles are one.

2. The Scriptures contain and are this perfect disclosure and finished revelation. Of their Divine origin we need not think as yet; though it is anticipated in the fact that the Saviour has given His authenticating testimony to the whole body of them in their integrity. That sanction, first, makes the Old Testament the revelation of Christ. As it testified of Him so He testifies of it. He took it into His hands, and blessed it, and hallowed it for ever as His own. As revelation is Christ, and Christ is the Subject of the Old Testament, the Old Testament is of necessity the revelation of God. Knowing better than any human critic can know all its internal obscurities and difficulties, He sealed it nevertheless for the reverence of His people. The canon of the ancient oracles, precisely as we hold them now, no more no less, He sanctified and gave to His Church as the early preparatory records of His own Gospel and kingdom. That sanction, secondly, assures us that the New Testament is His own authoritative completion of the Scriptures of revelation. Leaving the fuller study of this proposition for a further stage, we need only note the general fact that our Lord declared His own purpose to complete an unfinished revelation. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil, (Matt. 5:17) ἀλλὰ πληρῶσαι: not only to fulfil the predictions both of law and prophecy, but to fill out their meaning; to set on them the seal of perfection by revealing fully what they revealed only in part. All the lines of Old-Testament revelation were broken off and incomplete: He gathered them up into Himself and His word, so that in Him they might have their vanishing point and yet not vanish. In regard to the Old Testament oracles the word of St. Paul does not hold good: When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part will come to an end. (1 Cor. 13:10) And He made full provision for the preservation of His perfected doctrine. All that we need to assure our hearts of this was given in one large promise, which declared that His sayings should be revived in their unbroken unity in His disciples’ memory, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you; (John 14:26) that what He could not yet speak concerning His Person, His Spirit should reveal, He will guide you into all truth; and that the same Spirit should show them the things to come. (John 16:13) The Spirit was no other than Himself by His Agent re-uttering His own words, revealing His own Person and work, and filling up His prophecy of the future. Hence, lastly, our Lord’s sanction makes the complete Scriptures the finished revelation, never to be superseded. Nothing can be more plain than that the entire fulness of what the Revealer had to say to the world was to be communicated to the Apostles by the Holy Ghost; and that, not as a further disclosure on the part of the Spirit, but as the consolidation of the Saviour’s teaching into its perfect unity, and its expansion into its perfect meaning. No future streams of revelation were to rise higher than the fountain-head of truth opened in Himself. Hence we may repeat concerning the Bible what has been said concerning the Lord’s teaching: the Bible means all revelation and all revelation means the Bible.

3. We are justified, therefore, in holding that the Scriptures of revelation and Christianity, as the Christian Faith, cover the same ground and strictly coincide. As yet, we have nothing to do with the question of inspiration, nor with inquiries into the genuineness and integrity of individual books and individual passages; but only with the general fact that in all sound theology the Bible and Christ are inseparably connected. Not that they are in the nature of things identical: we can suppose the possibility of an Incarnate Revealer present in the world without the mediation of the written Word. Indeed we are bound to assume, as has been already seen, that there is a wider revelation of the Word in the world than the Scriptures cover. Moreover we may assert that His revelation of Himself is still, and even in connection with the Scriptures, more or less independent of the Word. But, as the basis of the science of theology, the Bible is Christianity. It has pleased God from the beginning to conduct the development of the great mystery by documents containing the attested facts, the authenticated doctrines, and the sealed predictions of revelation. The process of the Divine Counsel has been bound up with the enlargement of the Volume of the Book. That Book is the foundation of Christianity: the Lord of the Bible and the Bible are indissolubly the Rock on which it is based. We have no other Christian Religion than that which is one with its documents and records; we have no documents and records which do not directly or indirectly pay their tribute to the Christian Religion; and there is no revelation in any department of truth of which the same may not be said. All revelation is identical with Christianity and summed up in it. Hence, generally speaking, and as yet regarding the Scriptures only as a whole, we may say that the character of Christianity is the character of the Bible; the claims and credentials of the one are the claims and credentials of the other. This observation will lead us by an easy transition to the counterpart of Revelation: the Christian Faith.1

Imagine suggesting that Methodism, United or otherwise, would have no teaching authority… Indeed, as Wesley would suggest, Scripture is our Teaching Authority (or as the Latins phrase it, the Magisterium). Of course, this doesn’t take away from the use of Tradition in holding us accountable in our reading of Scripture.

  1.  Pope, W. B. (1879). A Compendium of Christian Theology: being analytical outlines of a course of theological study, biblical, dogmatic, historical, volumes 1-3 (Vol. 1, pp. 38–41). London: Beveridge and Co.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

6 Responses to “The Wesleyan Magisterium”
  1. Jon Altman says

    But how is Scripture to be interpreted?

  2. I have nothing to say, except

    “Pope, W. B. (1879). A Compendium of Christian Theology:”

    Is this irony or what? Pope, that is!

    🙂

  3. Joe Tognetti says

    Great quotes. Methodism, unlike several forms of fundamentalism, intentionally acknowledges a distinction between God and the Bible as the written word of God. I think the progressive-orthodox debate within the UMC, and American Christianity in general, is the degree to which we as the church can discern and disconnect between God and the Bible, or even if such a disconnect is possible despite the obvious distinction between the two.

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