Our peculiar doctrine

From John Wesley’s journal of February 1789:

Friday, 6, being the Quarterly Day for meeting the Local Preachers, between twenty and thirty of them met at West-Street, and opened their hearts to each other. Taking the opportunity of having them all together, at the watch-night, I strongly insisted on St. Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Keep that which is committed to thy trust;” particularly the doctrine of Christian Perfection, which God has peculiarly entrusted to the Methodists.

That doctrine, expounded upon in detail in Wesley’s great sermon “Christian Perfection,” teaches that while humans prior to the Second Coming will never be free from ignorance, mistakes, weakness of the flesh, or temptation, the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts does give Christians power to resist all sin — in thought and deed. By an act of grace God will sanctify in this life those whom he has justified.

Wesley preached this for nearly his entire post-Aldersgate ministry. And he was resisted all along the way by those within and outside Methodism who objected on scriptural or experiential grounds. After his death, this doctrine would give rise to splits as groups that held firm to Christian Perfection — or as Wesley also called it in his sermon, holiness — broke off from the moderating masses of Methodists.

We United Methodists still hold to this doctrine formally. It is still committed to our trust. But it is a relic that we keep in the attic.

I wonder what it would be like if in the upcoming Annual Conference season every bishop in United Methodism followed Wesley’s example in 1789 and pressed on the gathered preachers to affirm, embrace, and proclaim again this peculiar doctrine and all it entails.


3 thoughts on “Our peculiar doctrine

  1. John, thank you just for bringing this up; or should I say, out of the attic. We don’t talk enough about this unique and vital doctrine of Methodism enough.

    It would be great to see our bishops follow Wesley’s example in not only the upcoming Annual Conferences, but in General Conference 2016 as well. This would do a lot to foster unity and focus us on what is really important as we gather for our conferences.

    Also, I would rejoice to see our bishops set an example by being involved in Wesleyan small groups like class meeting, in which they are truly accountable to one another for growth in perfect love. Meeting with other clergy besides bishops, maybe even laypersons, would I think be most helpful. The bishops could then promote and encourage small groups at our general, conference, district levels and in the local churches.

    I believe preaching and teaching perfect love is vital. I believe accountability to one another in love, in small groups, is vital. These are the kinds of things that can transform lives, churches and denominations.

  2. This is one of those “in your dreams” proposals. Yes, it would be “wonderful, marvelous” if Methodism would experience a holy revival of this doctrine in our midst, an unexpected encounter with God, a renunciation of sin and a surrender to the work of the Spirit. But we are playing with sin now as a denomination. Bold concupiscence dominates our politics.

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