United Methodist doctrine and beliefs are means of holy living, not guidelines for identifying heretics. The primary purpose of beliefs is evangelization and the formation of Christian disciples, not determining who is inside the acceptable parameters of orthodoxy. The authenticity of beliefs lies in their ability to shape persons and communities into the image of Christ and promote holiness and happiness. Do they promote love for God and neighbor? This is an important Wesleyan test for doctrines and beliefs.
Dr. Carder reflects my understanding of John Wesley’s view on doctrine. His practical divinity tested doctrine and practice by their effects on the holiness of Christians.
Which makes me wonder what it would mean to actually follow this rule.
Do we judge our doctrine by the effect of preaching it and teaching it on the holiness of those who hear it? Do we judge our practices and programs on the same basis? Would we even know how to do so?
My embrace of John Wesley’s attitude toward doctrine should not be half-hearted. If I cheer when he writes that doctrine is not measure of true religion, I should probably listen up when he – like Carder – says we need to judge our doctrine by its effects on the holiness of Christians.
It was this effect that caused him to preach the classic evangelical message of sin, repentance, blood atonement, grace, faith, and holiness. He saw this message being used by the Holy Spirit to convict, convert, and sanctify people.
It is often argued – on theological, philosophical, and socio-cultural grounds – that Wesley’s views of sin and salvation do not work or are not relevant today.
How can we test that claim with this Wesleyan way of testing?
How do we know that a certain doctrine does or does not lead to an increase of holiness?