Recently, I posted something on John Wesley’s views of the Creeds (Dr. Watson has since posted something as well). A commentator there (go there) asked a question as to why Wesley gave us (the original Methodists, rather) a shortened version of the Articles of Faith. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see a recent conversation there as well.
I have some speculations I’ll share after this, however. In digging through Wesley’s works (via Logos), I came across a few statements on us Americans I thought I’d share.
– 1738, 6th Savannah Journal
Now there is no possible way to put out this flame, or hinder its rising higher and higher, but to show that the Americans are not used either cruelly or unjustly; that they are not injured at all, seeing they are not contending for liberty (this they had, even in its full extent both civil and religious); neither for any legal privileges, for they enjoy all that their charters grant. But what they contend for is the illegal privilege of being exempt from parliamentary taxation—a privilege this, which no charter ever gave to any American colony yet; which no charter can give, unless it be confirmed both by King, Lords, and Commons; which, in fact, our colonies never had, which they never claimed till the present reign; and probably they would not have claimed it now, had they not been incited thereto by letters from England. One of these was read, according to the desire of the writer, not only at the Continental Congress, but likewise in many congregations throughout the Combined Provinces. It advised them to seize upon all the King’s officers; and exhorted them, ‘Stand valiantly, only for six months, and in that time there will be such commotions in England that you may have your own terms.’ — Letter written to a local paper before the War.
I think he thinks the Founding Fathers illegal in their actions, traitors, and easily led into revolution. Perhaps he has a grudge here. In his Calm Address to the American Colonies, he calls us “dupes,” lead about by “designing men!” It is entirely arguable Wesley viewed “American liberty” as dangerous to the world, if not specifically the Church. He writes in 1776,
I began an answer to that dangerous tract. Dr. Price’s Observations upon Liberty, which, if practised, would overturn all government and bring in universal anarchy.
During the midst of the war (journals 1776–79), Wesley calls the Revolution an “evil fire” and Americans murderers.
In several of the letters mentioned above, he calls attention to the utter hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers claiming enslavement when the “Negro” (his word) “faints under the load.” He lays it out and I’ll paraphrase: “You have all the liberty you want, and claim slavery; the Negro (his word) is enslaved and you say he is free.”
Shortly before the war (1775), Wesley was to write to an Irish nobleman,
all my prejudices are against the Americans. For I am a High Churchman, the son of a High Churchman, bred up from my childhood in the highest notions of passive obedience and non-resistance. And yet in spite of all my rooted prejudice, I cannot avoid thinking (if I think at all) that an oppressed people asked for nothing more than their legal rights; and that in the most modest and inoffensive manner which the nature of the thing would allow.
In the letter giving joint-superintendency to Dr. Coke and Mr. Asbury, Wesley writes,
…The English Government has no authority over them, either civil or ecclesiastical, any more than over the States of Holland…But no one either exercises or claims any ecclesiastical authority at all. In this peculiar situation some thousands of the inhabitants of these States desire my advice; and in compliance with their desire, I have drawn up a little sketch…but because I was determined as little as possible to violate the established order of the national Church to which I belonged.
But the case is widely different between England and North America. Here there are Bishops who have a legal jurisdiction: In America there are none, neither any parish Ministers. So that for some hundred miles together, there is none, either to baptize, or to administer the Lord’s supper. Here, therefore, my scruples are at an end; and I conceive myself at full liberty, as I violate no order, and invade no man’s right, by appointing and sending labourers into the harvest.
Even after the war, he does not think highly of Americans, as he says in Sermon 131,
Thus have we observed each of these wheels apart;—on the one hand, trade, wealth, pride, luxury, sloth, and wantonness spreading far and wide, through the American provinces; on the other, the spirit of independency diffusing itself from north to south.
Here are my speculations, drawn from above.
John Wesley was, at his heart, an Englishman — that being, a devout Christian who believed the Anglican Church as the “best national church” so instituted by God among humans along side the monarchy. He was, admittedly, prejudiced against the Americans — for their sins, their wealth, but most of all, their treason. I think this speaks well to his view of schism, my friends — if you can hear what I am saying. However, Wesley was at times a pragmatist. He knew that the national church was only a national church (something Welby and others should note) and thus could not be said to exist in the United States. He did not begin a church, nor in appointing Coke and Asbury see it as such. Rather, he appointed those would could carry the Gospel outside the national church and the rightful episcopal jurisdictions — the same jurisdictions properly propping up proper doctrine.
Was his 25 Articles, Sunday Service, and Minutes all quickly done? No. Between 1770 and 1775, a plan was being developed for an interdependent Methodist Church.
I would submit that the shrinking of the Articles of Religion and certain other things Wesley did was for one purpose, to send
Methodist preachers… to preach the doctrine of grace against the Socinians—the doctrine of justice against the Calvinists—and the doctrine of holiness against all the world.
He would never leave the Church of England, and I highly suspect his compromise in allowing Americans to have a superintendency was more out of sacramental charity — however, he and some of his contemporaries (disciples, really) were already working on a plan to submit to the Archbishop of Canterbury to allow the Methodist societies some official recognition. This is found in the letters between J. Fletcher and Benson. If you look at the plan you will some, I believe, similarities between the Benson-Fletcher plan and that of early Methodism. I am not the first to see it.
Thus, now we know why Wesley “reformed” the 39 Articles of Religion, because he sought to remove the “specks of Pelagian, Calvinian, and Popish dirt” that had seeped into the English Church. Does this mean those he deleted certain things because they were of “specks of Pelagian, Calvinian, and Popish dirt?” Hardly. I would say some of this is because of “unevangelical” rubrics.
I maintain his reformation of the Articles was meant to guide the (would-be) Methodist Church of England (MCE; a daughter Church, existing within and under the ultimate authority of the Archbishop) as an evangelical and non-Calvinist reforming influence. He would have the MCE doctrinally in line with Christian Tradition, saying the Creeds, working towards that end by without the intervening centuries of bureaucracy.
Admittedly, this does nothing for creeds as doctrinal standards — even though the Sermons (UMC doctrinal standards) are Nicene in theology as are Wesley’s notes on the Bible. Further, the Articles presuppose a Chalcedonian creed. Further, if we are to be guided by Tradition (as is the supposed case of our Theological Task) then we can find the Creeds there.
- John Wesley could not see Methodism existing outside the Church of England
- He was already working on a plan (As early as 1775) to create a church within the Church of England to allow for some flexibility in reaching beyond English shores, unencumbered with patina he considered unAnglican, if not unChristian.
- He did not see the American Revolution’s result as anything but an evil fire having finished the house, so now a new house had to be built. He simply moved the plan he was working on into the American hands. I suspect he may have done this, washing his hands of it, as a way to move his English plan along. I think our father cared very little for us and just used us as an experiment.
- The reformed Articles was his ultimate goal for his MCE, but one has to note that the reformed Articles would continue to exist under the 39 Articles, with the reformed articles existing as a focusing agent and to be used to sure up alliances as well as a way to preach against the above mentioned heresies.
Finally, let me better summarize. Wesley cared little for Americans and less so because of treason (his view). He loved the Church of England could not imagine a world without it. He knew something had to be done for his children in the United States, so he gave them the bare minimum that would further the Gospel but keep them from becoming a separate Church.
PS, really means nothing for us today except to explain why the people called Methodists in the United States exist as a fatherless ship. We were orphaned.
Andrew Thompson has a few suggestions on deletion of the Creeds from the Articles.