Finish, then, thy new creation

A question for my brothers and sisters who claim an ongoing connection with Wesleyan theology: Do you affirm the doctrine of Christian Perfection?

Huge numbers of Christians do not. As I understand Lutheran and Calvinism, they reject the doctrine. Everyday non-reflective American Christianity does as well. Even the early Methodist movement in John Wesley’s day resisted the doctrine.

Do we who sing the final verse of Charles’ hymn that provides the title of this post, join the critics or the hopeful teachers of this doctrine?

Do we believe that men and women can be made perfect in love?

Of course, to answer that we need to be clear about what we mean. Christian perfection does not mean we are free of ignorance or weakness, so we still might harm others or fail in our duty as a result. Neither does being perfect in love mean we feel no impulse or temptation to sin. That we will not be free of while dwelling in this house of clay, but Christ has broken the power of sin. We can overcome sin if we rely on Christ’s strength and not our own. We can love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We can have the same love that Christ poured out for us pour out for others. Love can be the center of all we do and say.

At least, that is what Christian Perfection claims. And it does not claim these things merely as some higher or better way of being a Christian. It believes that we can be made perfect in love because it believes that without holiness no one will see the Lord. It answers the question “How do sinful humans become holy enough to live with God for eternity?” By the grace of God, we are made holy in heart and life.

Here has been my experience. It is easier to sin and ask for forgiveness than to grow in holiness. It is easier to say “I cannot change” than it is to put to death the things of the flesh.

So those strains of Christianity that deny Christian Perfection come up with doctrines explaining how unholy people arrive in heaven.

Are we among them?

Or do we sing our own hymns with integrity?

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2 thoughts on “Finish, then, thy new creation

  1. Hi John! I can’t answer for Wesleyans, but those of us who do not believe in Christian perfection reject the formal doctrine, even as we do not reject the end result. For example, most Lutherans continue to insist that we should “strive for perfection,” as our confessions state, even as we do not expect to achieve a true perfection. We don’t expect perfection because we’re defining sin differently than Wesleyans. For a Lutheran, all the inclinations, dispositions, and sins of ignorance are true sin. They are indication of our fallen condition, even as we are given the Spirit-centered ability to not act on our imperfections. That does not mean, however, that we do not expect the inclinations to experience drastic changes in holy living. This issue, I think, is actually where Wesleyans and Lutherans could do the greatest amount of ecumenical work together. Most Lutherans don’t understand what Wesleyans mean by Christian perfection, and most Wesleyans don’t understand how far Luther, in particular, was willing to go in his recognition that the life of faith is a restoration of the Imago Dei.

    1. Hi, Adam! Do you find that many Lutherans give in to antinomianism? Much of my thought about perfection is stimulated by the widespread antinomianism I see in Methodism.

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