Friday, December 17, 2010

God's Breathings 1

The Wesleyan tradition was not encased in stone with Wesley.  Wesley's heirs are a diverse collection of churches with more and less direct connections to him historically.  In the United States, Wesley's most direct heir is the United Methodist Church, which retains Wesley's sense of openness to those of a kindred spirit and perhaps a hint of his "methodical" personality.  However, the 1800s saw a host of Wesleyan denominations come into existence both because of various quarrels with the Methodist church and then in the late 1800s/early 1900s with a wave of revivalism that swept America.

These smaller Wesleyan denominations, such as my own, often were at one or two removes from many aspects of Wesley's own thought and practice.  For example, Wesley remained an Anglican his entire life.  He believed that infant baptism was important to wash away the original sin of Adam.  But if you look at the various Wesleyan denominations who reflect his influence, you will find some that have been more influenced by Anabaptist streams of American Christianity on such issues.  Indeed, the Salvation Army tends not to baptize at all, showing an affinity some Wesleyan denominations formed with Quaker streams.  And the smaller the Wesleyan denomination, the more likely it is to look more Baptist in its worship style than the high church Wesley.

Similarly, "Christian perfection" for Wesley was something that came on God's time schedule.  In his more pessimistic moments, Wesley saw it as something few would experience and, even then, most likely near the end of their lives.  By contrast, the "holiness revivals" of the late 1800s saw "entire sanctification" as something God wanted to give you as soon as possible, and a culture of spiritual experience resulted that would eventually lead to the Pentecostal revivals of the early twentieth century.  Both the holiness movement and the Pentecostal movement flowed from the same revivalist waters of the late 1800s.

The long and short of it is that John Wesley is more the grandfather of the Wesleyan tradition than its father.  Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition today face both the necessity and the opportunity to determine what elements of Wesleyan tradition we believe should come forward.  We have taken this perspective throughout these pages, trying to preserve the genius of Wesley without being a slave to his thinking or practice.  He was, after all, a child of his age as we are of ours...

7 comments:

John Mark said...

Ken, how, in your view does this happen? Even some who may not agree with P Palmers 'altar theology' will say she helped many people to find the 'entirely sanctified' experience. But who decides how to formulate or transfer Wesley's (and the AHM's) understanding of holiness to the next generation? After all, Palmer was no seminarian, and as far as I know had no clout. Do you believe that the theologians will have the final say, or will God do something among lay people, or both? It seems to me that whole business can be a bit messy, and as you know, my generation-Boomers-pretty much rejected Palmer and may have not known anything much about Wesley to begin with.

John Mark said...

To correct myself; obviously Palmer had a lot of influence; I simply meant she didn't have the kind that a prominent theologian might have today, such as Witherington. And the fact that the AHM is made up of a number of denominations means, I presume, there is not a whole lot of interdenominational dialogue. My own denomination is very divided-primarily along generataional lines, and I suspect that young people don't even give this kind of thing much thought.
My two cents: again, I wonder how we will 'sell' or interpret Wesley for the upcoming generations.

Ken Schenck said...

It is messy, in my opinion, but necessarily so given our fallen minds. I am trying to speak prophetically, as I'm sure Witherington does. Will anyone listen? Will those who are of kindred spirit with the Wesleyan tradition be moved by these intuitions? Will some be moved at some later time? If the corporate body are not moved in thought, feeling, and action, at least eventually, then it seems unclear that those prophetic notions have validity, at least at this time.

But as I said back in the first section, God seems less interested in setting our ideas straight than in getting our hearts...

Good thoughts...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I really can't understand how one can have 'your heart" without understanding what you are committing to...That would be like saying you can love someone without knowing them. People "of principle" might think they are acting in love when they demand another act, choose, or behave in a certain way. But, in reality, humans are different as to what they deem worthy of the time and effort. And loving another that might have differences means that you allow them that liberty. You do not impose your understanding of "love", "being a Christian", "being a disciple", "faith", on another. One can think they love humanity, but they really don't. That is only a romanticizing of love. Agape, is really a person's need to be significant, a leader, or a hero to another.

Feeling is not love, is it? Love is commitment. And love is a rational choice about what is important in life, in regards to values. And values might change over the course of a life and in certain periods of life.

Emotions are responsive/reactive feelings, that are gauges to our inner moniter of heart about different circumstances/situations and sometimes, even biology. These emotions do help us to know when we might draw a boundary, or open more to further investigation into ourselves or the situations/people that produce such responses or reactions.

Ben Jones said...

Ken, In your blog you said "Christian perfection" for Wesley was something that came on God's time schedule. In his more pessimistic moments, Wesley saw it as something few would experience and, even then, most likely near the end of their lives. By contrast, the "holiness revivals" of the late 1800s saw "entire sanctification" as something God wanted to give you as soon as possible..."

Well I recieved Christ in 1975, but it was not until 2008 that I received entire sanctification and when I did it was not something that I was actually seeking at the time. It was in God's timing that He decided to bless me, and not in mine.

Ben Jones

Ken Schenck said...

The distinction Ben is that Phoebe Palmer almost had a "name it claim it" approach to entire sanctification. I remember almost feeling growing up that there was something wrong with you if you weren't entirely sanctified the week after you were saved. It was the model of Jacob wrestling with the angel. If you were insistent enough, God would bless you NOW.

johnmeunier said...

Interesting thoughts and post. I'm not sure the size=more baptist is just denominational. I pastored a 30-member UMC church in Southern Indiana for nearly three years. It was liturgically and sacramentally baptist when I got there. Still pretty much the same when I left.