Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 9th, 2017 by Joel Watts

Why Wesley Removed the 26th article

The orthodox element of the United Methodist Church is often chided about the desire to have the return of the Nicene Creed. Our adversaries regularly use the argument from silence, that Wesley removed Article 8 when he gave the American Methodists their set of principles.

Perhaps, but given his adherence to the Creed and his sermons and statements on them, I’m not sure that is the case. However, it got me to looking at the other removed articles, such as Article 26.

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the Word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority; we may use their ministry both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinances taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences, and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

Those with something of Church History behind them can pick up the shadows of the first paragraph. The Donatists insisted on a rather pure priest to administer the sacrament. The reason Wesley felt he had to appoint Coke and Asbury is because no bishop was serving the American Methodists and Wesley believed that only the clergy could issue the sacrament.

And Wesley loved the Donatists.

I think that all this time you are directly pleading for looseness of manners, and that everything you advance naturally tends thereto. This is my grand objection to that doctrine of the necessity of sinning: Not only that it is false, but that it is directly subversive of all holiness. The doctrine of the Gnostics was, not that a child of God does not commit sin, that is, act the things which are forbidden in Scripture, but that they are not sin in him, that he is a child of God still; so they contend, not for sinless, but sinful, perfection; just as different from what I contend for, as heaven is from hell. What the Donatists were, I do not know; but I suspect they were the real Christians of that age; and were therefore served by St. Augustine and his warm adherents, as the Methodists are now by their zealous adversaries. It is extremely easy to blacken; and could I give myself leave, I could paint the consequences of your doctrine, in at least as dark and odious colours as you could paint mine. – Letter to Mr. Dodd, John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (vol. 11, Third Edition.; London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872), 453.

How odd then, that the man who believed in spiritual perfection of the saints as one full of grace would remove this article?

Odd or completely in line with Wesley’s thinking? I think Wesley got tired of the elevation of bishops clearly undeserving of blessing the sacrament. It was a new world, with no episcopal jurisdictions, yet, Wesley was laying the ground for a kingdom of priests, without sin.

Without it, are the People called Methodists meant to refrain from taking sacrament from unholy officiants?

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

3 Responses to “Why Wesley Removed the 26th article”
  1. I comment on this not for any particular reason, other than to initiate a discussion.
    “The doctrine of the Gnostics was…”
    “What the Donatists were, I do not know; but I suspect they were the real Christians…”

    It seems there is a lot to be said for, “this earth is pretty sucky, and it is good to at least try to not be sucky.” Check the world news lately? Maybe, attempting to be ascetic might not be a bad goal.

    • And, maybe admit, that the physical world is the cause of suckiness? Reflects the basic premise of Gnostics.

    • I don’t know the history behind Wesley’s sayings – or maybe I only know enough to get me in trouble. But if he made these sayings when he left the colonies, maybe he had a generally “sucky” view of the world. At the time.

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