In 1751, John Wesley received letter from one who was concerned about the plague of antinomianism among the Methodists. It included these words:
All our preaching at first was pointed at the heart, and almost all our conversation. ‘Do you feel the love of God in your heart? Do you walk in the Spirit? Is that mind in you which was in Christ?’ were frequent questions among us. But while these Preachers to the heart were going on gloriously in the work of Christ, the false Apostles stepped in, laughed at all the heart-work, and laughed many of us out of our spiritual senses: For, according to them, we were neither to see, hear, feel, nor taste the powers of the world to come; but to rest contented with what was done for us seventeen hundred years ago. ‘The dear Lamb,’ said they, ‘has done all for us: We have nothing to do but believe.’ Here was a stroke at the whole work of God in the heart! And ever since this German spirit hath wrought among us, and caused many to rest in a barren, notional faith, void of that inward power of God unto salvation.”
A recent mass e-mail from the Confessing Movement recounted the way evangelical members of the United Methodist Church often get criticized by other evangelicals for hanging out with our liberal and compromised denomination. I think the e-mail misses an important point, though. If we were true to our traditions, most of the evangelicals out there would probably be giving us grief for entirely different reasons. Methodist heart religion has always stirred up trouble.
We confuse ourselves for generic American evangelicals because we use much of the same language. But the Methodist accent often falls on different notes than the Baptist or Calvinist or non-denominational versions of the faith. Justification or “being saved” or “born again” is but the first dawning of Christianity in the soul of a person. It is important, but only as a starting point. If it is not the beginning of a new life and growing holiness of heart and life, then it loses its value. We can unmake ourselves and be unborn. The old self that dies in Christ is a vampire. It will rise again if we allow it.
For many Christians, the key question is something like “When were you saved?” For the Methodist, the key question is always “How is it with your heart?” Our “once saved, always saved” brothers and sisters often speak as if the most important thing in our faith is something that happened in the past. Methodists believe the most important thing in our faith is what we are doing today, right now.
So, I ask myself and ask you: “Do you feel the love of God in your heart?”