Principles of a Methodist

What are the principles that make Methodism go? (Or made Methodism go?)

Dan Dick pushes some buttons on the way to helping us think more clearly about the difference between models and principles.

Models are static and they are second generation copies of something developed in a unique context.  Principles are the underlying rules, guidelines, concepts, and disciplines that allow models to be developed.  For example, a sculptor employs a variety of principles to create a statue.  Understanding the tools, the medium, forms, amount of pressure to employ, etc., allows the person to create something.  From that creation, a mold might be cast to create a model that anyone can put together.  However, no one would call the model art, but merely a representation of art.  There is a difference between painting and paint-by number, baking a cake from scratch and using a mix, carpentering a bookshelf and slapping together a kit.  The same holds true in the church.

I could certainly be accused of treating John Wesley as a model at times. I’ve been told I treat him like a pope. I’m sure I too often start thinking about a problem by wondering what John Wesley wrote or thought about a topic. I may be guilty of looking for the John Wesley paint-by-numbers set.

So, if I’m going to break free of the Wesley model, what then are the Wesley principles? I do not have it worked out, but let me propose a couple preliminary thoughts.

Sanctification is a process. For Wesley – although he is not unique by any means – we move from spiritually asleep, not even capable of sensing God, to conscious of sin and wrath to justified and born anew to slowly and by degrees sanctified. This is a long process – perhaps with some dramatic high points along the way – that requires the support and presence of others.

The heart is the crucial battleground of faith. Doctrine, practice, and every other aspect of religion is just window dressing if our hearts are not changed. A corollary to this is that our life reflects our heart.

We need to go where the lost are – because they will not come to us – is another Wesleyan principle that arises in part from the conviction that all can be saved.

Don’t get bogged down in non-essentials. Wesley was an iron task master and disciplinarian about the things he viewed as essential to the mission, but he was ready to break rules and ignore differences when the essentials were not at stake.

Do these sounds like they are on they belong in a set of Wesleyan principles? What others do we need?

One thought on “Principles of a Methodist

  1. I’d add one more: no person’s journey is exactly alike.

    This is not to say that Wesley was a pluralist, of course. Far from it. It’s even quite a stretch to call him an inclusivist. But Wesley did recognize that God works in many ways that are beyond our understanding and our ability to categorize. Witness how highly he spoke of “the heathen” (native tribes in the American colonies) who possessed great virtue while being “ignorant” of essential Christian doctrine.

    While Wesley was not a pluralist, the fact that he recognized the variety of ways in which God moves is a crucial Wesleyan principle in a highly pluralistic age.

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