a Wesleyan approach to the Church

There is, as always, some discussion about Wesley and orthodoxy. Of course, many are misinformed with no intent to rid themselves of this plague of stupidity. Wesley was orthodox and considered that only the orthodox are Christian — but that those who were only orthodox were not to be styled as such.

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Wesley, “right opinions” and assurance (Re: Exeter)

John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism liked "right opinions"
“Exeter can go jump off a cliff”

I was reading some of Wesley’s works the other day, finding in them a complete and easy rebuttal to the latest diatribe that Methodists are somehow opposed by nature of the community to orthodoxy. How ironic, these statements, given that by their insistence, they are forming a set of “right opinions.”

By chance (and a purposed searching for “orthodox” among Wesley’s works) I found a letter written by Fr. John to the Lord Bishop of Exeter, George Lavington. I may post other excerpts as I find them highly pointed in how to deal with errant bishops. Wesley held little regard for those holders of episcopal titles who misused the office.

In one part of the letter, Wesley provides us to an outstanding method in dealing with the charge that the Methodists held little regard for orthodoxy (or, “right opinions” as he sometimes called it.(1. There may be something to the use of “orthodoxy” vs. “right opinions” as in, one is used when Wesley is railing against the supposition that orthodoxy is all that is required, but when discussing the necessity of orthodoxy, he switches to “right opinions.”]) as well as this notion created by ignorant readings of Albert Outler regarding “experience.”

A Seventh argument you ground on those words in the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists:” “It is a point we chiefly insist upon, that orthodoxy or right opinions is a very slender part of religion, if any part of it at all.” “The plain consequence whereof is,” (so you affirm,) “that teaching and believing the fundamental errors of Popery, with the whole train of their abominations and idolatries, are of very little moment, if any.” Strain again, Sir; pull hard, or you will never be able to drag this conclusion out of these premises.

I assert, “(1.) That in a truly righteous man, right opinions are a very slender part of religion. (2.) That in an irreligious, a profane man, they are not any part of religion at all; such a man not being one jot more religions because he is orthodox.” Sir, it does not follow from either of these propositions, that wrong opinions are not an hinderance to religion; and much less, that “teaching and believing the fundamental errors of Popery, with the whole train of their abominations and idolatries.” (practised, I presume you mean, as well as taught and believed,) “are of very little moment, if any.”

I am so far from saying or thinking this, that, in my printed letter to a Priest of that communion, (did you never read it, or hear of it before?) are these express words: “I pity you much, having the same assurance, that Jesus is the Christ, and that no Romanist can expect to be saved, according to the terms of his covenant.” (Vol. I. p. 220.) Do you term this “an extenuation of their abominations; a reducing them to almost a mere nothing?”

Note that Wesley affirms two things in his negative assertions:

  1. That to be of the Christian religion one must lead a certain life.
  2. That wrong opinions do hinder the life required of the Christian.

In essence, if you were to imagine Wesley doing a powerpoint, he would have a flow chart. In this, he would a small box on the left labeled “right opinions.”  On the right, he’d have a small box labeled “justifying grace.” Perhaps this box sits a little higher, so that we know Wesley does not intend to conflate salvation with “right opinions,” although they are necessary. From here, like an organizational structure, Wesley would have flowing from that the necessities of the sacraments, prayer, social holiness, and more aspects of the Christian life. However, because Wesley knew that -praxy/pathy informs/corrects us, everything would lead to a box labeled “true religion”  perhaps with a larger arrow (and this would be animated via powerpoint) labeled “sanctifying grace.” In this box, there is a fraction, like a pie chart. About 25% is given to “right opinions” with 75% going to “righteousness.”

I image the powerpoint would be finely detailed and very long.

In regards to “experience” as something subjective, Wesley writes,

You argue, Eighthly, thus: “The Methodist doctrine of impressions and assurances holds equally for Popish enthusiasts.” This needs no answer; I have already shown that the Methodist doctrine in these respects is both scriptural and rational.

Say what… I generally refuse to use the word “experience” and I openly detest the Quad. Rather, I would use the word “assurance” and suggest Wesley followed Hooker’s three-legged stool. Assurance is grounded not in the individual’s experiences, but in Reason — the rational (God-inspired) part of us that allows us to hear God’s call (i.e., prevenient grace).

I would almost wager to say that Wesley’s greatest theological treatises comes not from a positive presentation, but from his defense.

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Wesley, Scripture, Inerrancy, and the Shorter Catechism

I’m going to have to disagree with some who insist Wesley was an inerrantist. He wasn’t. I do think he was an infallibilist, however, as one would have to be to honestly hold to the Articles of Religion. I could argue this point, but I’m not. Rather, I wanted to follow up yesterday’s post with something from Wesley’s Shorter Catechism.

Q. 2. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God, and enjoy him.

2 Tim. iii. 16. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach

A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Q. 82. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer.

Q. 83. How is the word made effectual to salvation

A. The Spirit of God makes the reading,” but especially the preaching, of the word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners,0 and of building them up in holiness and comfort/ through faith, unto salvation.i

Neli. viii. 8. So they read in the Book, in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

Acts xxvi. 18. To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Acts xx. 32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

Rom. xv. 4. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

2 Tim. iii. 15. And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. See verses 16, 17.

Psal. xix. 7. The law of the Loud is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. See ver. 8.

1 Thes. i. 6. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holt Ghost.

Rom. i. 6. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.

Q. 84. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation

A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereto with diligence/ preparation/ and prayer,’ receive it with faith,” and love, lay it up in our hearts/ and practise it in our lives.

Prov. viii. 34. Blessed is the man that heareth. me, watching daily at my gates, wailing daily at the posts of my doors.

1 Pet. ii. 1. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and evil speakings. See ver. 2.

Psal. cxix. 18. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wonderful things out of thy law.

Heb. iv. 2. The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

2 Thes. ii. 10. They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

Psal. cxix. 11. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Luke viii.’ 15. But that on the good ground, are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

James i. 25. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the word, this man shall he blessed in his deed.

If “inerrancy” is limited to what Scripture says about God and “what duty God requires of man” then it is good word, but it is often now. The word has a lot of connotations to it, many negative.

Anyway, consider this a post about moving us to a better — uh, Wesleyan — understanding of Scripture.

(See two things here and here)

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Dear UMC: Please No New Denominations


Personal Note

This is the first time I’m writing a blog post for Unsettled Christianity—or any blog post, for that matter. I want to thank Joel Watts for the opportunity to share these thoughts on Unsettled Christianity.

Schism—a sad possibility

If for some reason you are not familiar with the current state of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, here are some helpful perspectives:

I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the uncertain future of the United Methodist Church because I love the UMC, and even now, am hopeful for its future. I want to make one thing clear: I am absolutely committed to serving the UMC. As a recently ordained elder in full connection with the Rio Texas Conference, I intend to serve Christ’s church through this denomination for as long as it exists, or until, God willing, I retire many decades from now, whichever comes first.

But at this point, to deny the possibility of schism in the UMC is to deny reality. Given that sad reality, I want to share some perspectives about the UMC’s future, especially with respect to the possibility of a schism. If the UMC ceases to exist as one body, I believe our congregations should join existing Christian denominations. I believe that new denominations would only serve to further divide the body of Christ.

Unity in the Body of Christ—a biblical mandate

I have strongly opposed the dissolution of the United Methodist Church for one simple reason: God wants the church to stay united. The psalms tell us “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father for unity amongst Christ followers (John 17:20-23). The Apostle Paul reminds us that all believers are part of one body, for we’re all baptized by the same Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We believe in one God, one faith in Jesus Christ, and one Spirit who gives us the ability to live in peace and unity (Ephesians 4:3-6). That’s why John Wesley preached against the possibility of schism from his own Church of England five years before his death. It’s why Karl Barth referred to the division of the global church as a “scandal” (Church Dogmatics, Volume IV.1, New York: T&T Clark Intl., 1956, pg. 677).

Pursuing Unity—even when a church body splits

Of course, if unity were the only biblical value, no church body would ever split. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches would never have split. Luther never would have left the Catholic Church. The global church would not consist of something like seven major ecclesial global blocs. In the previously cited sermon, John Wesley says that,

Suppose you could not remain in the Church of England without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands; if this were the case, (but blessed be God it is not) you ought to separate from the Church of England.

Nonetheless, the occasional necessity of institutional separation does not negate Scripture’s command for the church to seek unity. A divided church offers a confused and divided witness to the world about the power and love of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, even when one must separate from a church body, one must seek as much unity as possible within the global church.

A Modest Proposal—No New Denominations. Period.

Regardless of the future of the UMC, we’re called as Christ followers to seek, as much as possible and with the Spirit’s help, unity with the global church. Many within the UMC seek such unity, and I applaud them for their efforts. In the seven months I’ve served in my current appointment, I’ve connected with many local pastors from other denominations, and I treasure those connections. Especially with the sad possibility of schism arising over the next few years, I believe we should all take a step back and assess our role within the global church.

Given these reflections, I believe one thing for sure: the world does not need any more Christian denominations. We have already split in so many ways that the global church must seek greater connection, for such connection leads to a stronger witness of the power and love of Jesus Christ. Such unity, of course, does not require uniformity. Different ministries and cultural contexts require different evangelistic and missional strategies, and in many cases different worship styles. Nonetheless, splitting a denomination and forming new denominations, in my opinion, ignores our Christian mandate to exist as a united body of Christ.

It is my hope and prayer that as the various factions within the UMC engage in difficult conversations over the future of our denomination, we form no new denominations. A plethora of denominations already exist that could fill the void should the UMC no longer exist. Conservative/evangelical Methodists (I find myself in this “camp” most often) have much in common with the Wesleyan Church and the Anglican Church in Northern America, for example. Those on the progressive side have a lot in common with plenty of existing mainline denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, ELCA, UCC, and PCUSA.

I would also hope that non-Caucasian and multi-ethnic congregations could join such church bodies. However, if that didn’t work out, there are existing options for those congregations. For example, AME & AME-Zion could offer a home for African American congregations. I’ve also heard colleagues mention the possibility of Spanish-speaking churches linking up with the Mexican Methodist Church. Regardless of how such a scenario would specifically shake out, seeking connections with existing denominations would provide a powerful witness to the Spirit’s ability to draw us together as Christians. Such unity would at least partially mitigate against the inevitable damage that a dissolution of the UMC would create.

I hope none of these contingencies are necessary. It is my hope and prayer that the United Methodist Church stays whole. I hope Methodists can find a way to evangelize and minister to the world for the cause of Jesus Christ as one body. However, regardless of what the future holds for United Methodists, Christ calls us to seek unity with the entire church. The formation of any new denominations, in my humble opinion, would not serve that end.

ADDENDUM: I appreciate the feedback that a reader offered on social media that I did not address the reality of the UMC’s global nature in this post. This is absolutely true, and I’m grateful for that feedback. It should be noted that both the Wesleyan Church and the ACNA are global, or at least closely connected to a global church body. But in discussing the possibility of schism, we should ponder the response of the non-American church to this possibility.

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(when) is Unity threatened?

My fellow West Virginian United Methodist, Rev. Scott Sears, has a post in response to some of my ongoing discussions. This is a friendly discussion, and one we have both agreed to exactly because we both love our Church. I have written on unity before, but I wanted to speak to some of the issues Rev. Sears has raised.

ephesians 4.14First, in Wesley’s sermon, “On the Catholic Spirit,” We must go further into the full sermon to understand what Fr. John meant about thinking and loving. Our father in the faith was not, and stood firmly against, speculative latitudinarianism:

For, from hence we may learn, first, that a catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing, an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine. It is true, he is always ready to hear and weigh whatsoever can be offered against his principles; but as this does not show any wavering in his own mind, so neither does it occasion any. He does not halt between two opinions, nor vainly endeavour to blend them into one. Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are. You think you are got into the very spirit of Christ; when, in truth, you are nearer the spirit of Antichrist. Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.

To this end, we must be united where it matters — the core Christian doctrines with Wesleyan distinctives, i.e., the Trinity and blood atonement + free grace and holiness. When you look around, do you find a great unity present in The United Methodist Church?

Do most of us use the same language? Righteousness or justice? Sin or injustice? Holiness. Jesus. God. Trinity? Do we have the same mission of transformation of the world? Yes, on paper, but our visions are at times radically different. The difference begins not with practice, but in the vision.

Unlike those in the free church tradition, Wesleyans have a connexionalism doctrine practically employed. We are not merely a group of individuals, or congregations, that have “liberty of conscience” (i.e., Baptists). Rather, we are a connexion that is a collective society. We are responsible one to another with our prayers, presence, service and witness:

Connectionalism means that we do not see ourselves operating as independent congregations (or pastors). We are engaged in common work. The local church is the most significant arena for making disciples (cf. Book of Discipline, Par. 120), but the local church is fundamentally connected to the whole Church’s mission and ministry. Common cause is essential– in doctrine, discipline and spirit.

Connectionalism is therefore the foundation of the entire Methodist conception of the Church. Our Book of Discipline refers to the connection as a “vital web of interactive relationships” (Par. 132) and describes each local congregation as “a connectional society of persons who have been baptized, have professed their faith in Christ, and have assumed the vows of membership in the United Methodist Church” (Par. 203). It is only because each of those congregations exists as part of a broader connection that the entire United Methodist Church can make a common witness to the world. (Andrew Thompson)

This connexionalism is why I, as a United Methodist, can be connected to Scott, or Bishop Lowry, or others — not because I am a member of a congregation that has joined an association, but because I am a member of The United Methodist Church. My vows were not to my local congregation, but to Christ through The United Methodist Church. The vows of the clergy are not to the congregation, but to be pastors the world over. And Bishops? Not to one group of people, but as a Bishop of the whole Church.

Methodists employ the idea of covenant when they speak of their connection. We are called into the covenant relationship of the connection. That’s the case for all members of the United Methodist Church– both laity and clergy. Our Discipline explains this feature of the Church: “United Methodists throughout the world are bound together in a connectional covenant in which we support and hold each other accountable for faithful discipleship and mission” (CF., Par. 125 – AT, above).

Let me add that the connexion is clearly envisioned in our Book of Discipline, even more in our vows.

219 – Faithful discipleship includes the obligation to participate in the corporate life of the congregation with fellow members of the body of Christ. A member is bound in sacred covenant to shoulder the burdens, share the risks, and celebrate the joys of fellow members. A Christian is called to speak the truth in love, always ready to confront conflict in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.

So, when you have entire boards of ordained ministry intentionally breaking the Book of Discipline, when you have a retired bishop and a host of (American) clergy intentionally breaking the Book of Discipline, it strains and pushes a dissolution of unity. This is not a mere disagreement, or various groups working for change, but about violating our connexion because the covenant is intentionally violated. Rev. Sears is correct, Christians do fail to live up to their membership vows, if not Christian duty — however, there is a vast chasm between failing to live up and intentionally disobeying. In this intent, we find the seeds of discord. I note that in the Book of Discipline, there is a requirement for United Methodists to help those who are failing to live up to their baptismal covenant.

Let me further add, especially in light of a continued reflection, something on unity with Christ. In Revelation, as I had mentioned, Jesus had threatened to remove the lampstand (make them no longer an independent part of the Church Universal) from a city-church. This doesn’t mean that they would no longer be Christian, but that God would send something different because they had failed to maintain their love of Jesus. What was this first love?

It was their earlier works.

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors.

Love of Jesus means to test those who call themselves our leaders, and finding that they are not, remove them. Because this promotes unity. Love is to witness about the same Jesus as preached via apostolic teaching. This promotes unity, when we are preaching and teaching the same thing. It is not that those Christians would be separated one from another, or from the Church Universal, but that their particular church would cease to exist. There is never disunity with Jesus cause by another, yet only by our actions.

But, as shown above, our connexionalism can be rent asunder by the actions of others within the connexion and yet we still have Jesus. As Rev. Sears noted, Fr. John believed in this principle, when he suggested his Methodists should avoid corrupt priests, except to receive the sacrament. In the end, this was this corruption that directly led to the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church — when bishops and priests refused to live up to their vows and God did something quantifiably new — us.

In the end, I am united with Bishop Talbert because of Jesus, but I do not think we have a connexion.Let me affirm once more, my version of unity is based on the Wesleyan understanding of connexionalism. We are not a free church denomination, but historically rooted via Wesley to the larger understanding of what it means to be a Church. I am not a free churcher exactly because I believe the connexional system is biblically warranted, required by Tradition (which is a form of connexionalism) and is a gift of God preventing abuse. At General Conference, the delegates will need to decide if the connexion, and thus unity, still exists for us in The United Methodist Church — or how to maintain what we have and recover our first works. Only then can we proceed to have a real conversation about those things truly causing us problems.

Let me close by pointing to Bishop Mike Lowry, who writes on unity:

We must cherish, work towards and pray for unity b unity is not (and cannot be) our highest value.  Please allow me to stress this last.  We should pray for and work towards unity.  Even with deep differences unity is to be treasured, but it cannot be our highest value!  No one should be deluded into think that any kind of splintering will be easy or painless.  It will not.  It will be wrenching and painful for all concerned but faithfulness is the higher biblical virtue!

Yes, unity is threatened right now; however, I long for the day where we can threaten unity against the world.

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how close does Wesley come to Calvinism? (Free Will)

Stripped image of John Wesley
Joel… you chose to fulfill your determined posting of this… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although these minutes are not part of the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, reading them can be helpful in understanding Wesley better.

The following persons being met together at the New-Room, in Bristol; John Wesley, Charles Wesley, John Hodges, Thomas Richards, Samuel Larwood, Thomas Meyrick, Richard Moss, John Slocombe, Herbert Jenkins, and Marmaduke Gwynne; it was proposed to review the Minutes of the last Conference with regard to justification. And it was asked…

Q. 23. Wherein may we come to the very edge of Calvinism?

A. (1.) In ascribing all good to the free grace of God. (2.) In denying all natural free-will, and all power antecedent to grace. And, (3.) In excluding all merit from man; even for what he has or does by the grace of God.

Q. 24. Wherein may we come to the edge of Antinomianism?

A. (1.) In exalting the merits and love of Christ. (2.) In rejoicing evermore.

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The doctrine of Jesus

who-is-jesus-christ-truth-or-tradition-720x340This is a continuation of sorts of what I started here, in so far as it is an attempt to address some popular parts of scripture that we either have drastically misinterpreted or have glossed over not giving enough thought to their meaning.

Today we are going to look at a key, but often overlooked part of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:17 we find a verse that we often like to read over without thinking about. I am going to start by isolating the verse and then make attempts to put it in proper context with what comes before and after. Here we have Christ explaining that he has not come to destroy the law of Moses. We should understand that ‘destroy’ here includes breaking the law and watering down the law. We should also understand that Christ, when referring to the law, is always referring to it as God intended, not as man had interpreted. Christ goes on to say that He has indeed come to fulfill the law. For a better explanation than I could give, let’s look at what John Wesley had to say in his Explanatory Notes:

Think not – Do not imagine, fear, hope, that I am come – Like your teachers, to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy – The moral law, but to fulfill – To establish, illustrate, and explain its highest meaning, both by my life and doctrine.

Now that we have indeed set the stage, let us examine the ways in which we are missing the point here.

For many, the entirety of the message of Jesus is contained in the Sermon on the Mount and/or the two Great commands of Jesus. Interestingly enough, the point that ends up missed is the same in both. As we examined in the first and greatest commandment, we are not in any way released from the moral teachings of the law or leading a holy life, we see here, before Christ even issues the two great commandments, that the same message is being given. It is interesting that it is delivered the first time near the beginning of His Earthly ministry and the next time as some of the final teachings to His disciples before the crucifixion. Almost as if it were an important concept for us to grasp. There is a popular idea that all we need do is emulate Jesus and we will be pleasing to God, but take note of what Wesley said above. Jesus’ goal was to illustrate by life AND doctrine. Not one or the other, but both. We can see from the frequency that Jesus quotes the OT and also from how He refers to it (The word of God, the wisdom of God,etc) that His doctrine was firmly rooted there.  While many of us try to dismiss the OT, Jesus, yet again, points us back to it as the foundation to understand His teachings.

Let us briefly look at what comes immediately before this verse for just a moment though. We see that the popular salt and light passages are found here. We are given our first glimpses of the identity that we will be given through Christ in these passages and also instructed in important lessons on how to present ourselves and how to live. I do not find it coincidence that right after those instructions, specifically after being instructed to let our light shine before men so that we can glorify God, Jesus immediately goes to pointing us back to the OT and all of the ways it has given us to glorify God. It is almost as if Jesus is telling us remember, don’t hide and glorify your God, and by the way, here is how.

After this verse we have the assurance that the law will not disappear and also instructions on what should be taught. Let us look specifically at 5:19 for a brief moment. A casual reading would seem to not be a big deal really. OK if we are teaching wrong about this, we are the least in the kingdom of heaven, no big deal. The least in paradise is surely better than what we have here so we can live and let live without worry. Let us again look toward Wesley and what he had to say on the matter:
“One of the least – So accounted by men; and shall teach – Either by word or example; shall be the least – That is, shall have no part therein.”
Let that sink in. Wesley, the man we look to for grace and mercy said what? No part in the kingdom? Why that is mean, and harsh, and unforgiving, and unloving, and….Wesleyan. There are those who continually question why it is that some of us continually harp on right belief and teaching. Well, it is a part of the doctrine of Jesus, and also very much a part of the Wesleyan tradition that we claim to follow.

Jesus will go on in the next verse speaking of the righteousness expected from us. The scribes and pharisees were known to follow all of the outward rules, but not have an inward directed faith. We tend to think of the scribes and pharisees in terms of rules and they had to do this or that and that is correct. From that we tend to see anyone who is concerned with proper doctrine or proper expression as a pharisee and that is, again, where we have missed the point. The problem with the pharisees was not that they had the wrong rules so to speak, but they had the wrong inward spirit. They had a righteousness that showed on the outside, but was not reflected in their inward being. Surely there were pharisees and scribes who followed the law not because they had to, but because they loved God and wanted to please Him. We find the same instruction here from Jesus in regards to the moral law. We are in no way released from it, but follow it because we love and wish to please God. (If you think love is affection, please see the link earlier for proper understanding of how love is used here.) The result of the righteousness of the pharisees is being denied entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Yes, that seems harsh and contrary to how we often think of Jesus, but that is a part of the doctrine he came to teach us. It was part of what He taught so it should be a part of what we teach. There is a continual quest to reduce the bible to a pamphlet full of red letters as those are all that matter, but if we understand properly, we soon realize that all we need to do is look as those same red letters to realize not only the richness but the necessity of all the ones in black.


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can United Methodists believe in purgatory?

This actually comes from a conversation this morning via wherein I “jokingly” suggested it would be easier for Osteen and Marcion to get out of the netherworld than it would be for Calvin, et al. But, it started a good conversation.

Article XIV reads,

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

That is pretty cut and dry, I guess, except it is not that cut and dry. Indeed, this “Romish” adjective is both a descriptor of the doctrine and an insult, held over by Wesley from the Anglican Church. I believe a clear reading of the Reformers will show that when “Romish” was used, more often than not the writer meant to set aside the corrupted doctrine and instead attempt to see the pure doctrine behind it. In other words, using “Romish” would not automatically disqualify purgatory as a doctrine worthy to be explored, only the Romish version.

Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Pur...
Early Christian Fresco depicting Christ in Purgatory, Lower Basilica, San Clemente, Rome, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And yes, there are other doctrines of the intermediate state available to us. The East, while not calling it purgatory and in many ways differing from Rome in some regards, has a hope for a final liberation.

Thus the Latins receive both the temporal and the eternal fire, and call the first the purgatorial fire. On the other hand, the Greeks teach of one eternal fire alone, understanding that the temporal punishment of sinful souls consists in that they for a time depart into a place of darkness and sorrow, are punished by being deprived of the Divine light, and are purified—that is, liberated from this place of darkness and woe—by means of prayers, the Holy Eucharist, and deeds of charity, and not by fire. The Greeks also believe, that until the union of the souls to the bodies, as the souls of sinners do not suffer full punishment, so also those of the saints do not enjoy entire bliss. But the Latins, agreeing with the Greeks in the first point, do not allow the last one, affirming that the souls of saints have already received their full heavenly reward.

John Wesley, ever reaching to a more sound theology, was looking to this intermediate state even in his own growth.

John Wesley believed in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment “where believers would share in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ or ‘paradise,’ even continuing to grow in holiness there,” writes Ted Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, in his 1999 book Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials(Abingdon).

Yes, Wesley did not seem to believe sanctification was finished in this life.

]], a current Wesleyan theologian (yes, we have a few in existence today), writes,

Indeed, I am convinced that when Christians take sanctification seriously, they will find the doctrine of purgatory to be a very reasonable implication. The doctrine of purgatory rightly understood underscores the point that sanctification is essential, not merely an optional matter for the super spiritual, and that we must cooperate in our sanctification. We cannot ignore the call to holiness our whole life and expect that God will zap us and perfect us the instant we die. But again, the demand for holiness is the demand of a loving God who wills our true happiness and flourishing, and he insists on cleaning us up not as act of punishment, but as an act of gracious love.

The question, then, is not “if” or “should” but “can” a United Methodist believe in an intermediate state where, as one FB commentator said, the dross is melted away from all?

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