Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wesleyan Version of the Reformation

Happy Reformation Day!  496 years ago today, Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Today I'd like to give a Wesleyan version of the Reformation.

1. When Martin Luther was over there in Germany, stirring up trouble, we were just a twinkle in Henry VIII's eye. The notorious loser king himself wrote a treatise against Luther called The Defense of the Seven Sacraments (no doubt with some help from someone he later beheaded). Henry opposed the Reformation, was made "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope, and was quite Roman Catholic...

... until the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1527. Over the course of the next 10 years Henry VIII in stages would extract England from the authority of Rome and take over the new Church of England. Religious anarchy began to knock at the door. By 1539 Henry had reaffirmed transubstantiation, celibacy of priests, confession, etc and was trying to get control of English translations of the Bible.

2. The English Reformation didn't really begin taking on a more positive direction, in my opinion, until Thomas Cranmer put together the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.  As this book of Anglican faith and practice developed, it would come to include the Thirty-Nine Articles, the grandpappy of Methodist and Wesleyan statements (although not without alteration). These articles were not a complete statement of faith, but located the Anglican church in relation to the rest of Christendom at the time.

a. For example, they placed the locus of authority for the church in Scripture. You can't require believers to believe or do anything that can't be demonstrated through Scripture. The locus here has to do with salvation, however, not belief about any topic whatsoever. The Apocrypha were included for instruction, but not for doctrine (deuterocanonical, as for Jerome).

b. In general, the Thirty-Nine Articles bear the strong influence of the High Reformation.  There is justification by faith here.  There is Calvin's predestination and the continuance of a sin nature after faith. There is the rejection of transubstantiation but continuation of infant baptism. Priests can marry. Only two sacraments. It opposes those Anabaptists who shared their possessions in common, as well as speaking in other tongues. It was possible to commit the unpardonable sin.

3. Much of Anglicanism would follow a Calvinist route, and Wesley himself said he was a "hair's breadth" from Calvin. However, England in the 1700s was impacted fairly strongly by the thinking of another individual who came out of Calvinism, Jacobus Arminius (d. 1609).

Some of the most important distinctions included that God's election was conditional on our choice, that God desired everyone to be saved, and that the atonement was thus in theory for everyone. Wesley would follow this line of thought rather than that of Calvinist Anglicanism.

4. Wesley represents a true amalgam of influences.  At Oxford he drank deeply from Roman Catholic writers on the goal of holiness.  He took justification by faith from Luther and extended Calvin's more pessimistic version of sanctification to stretch toward Catholic holiness.  He took prevenient grace from Arminius.

But the real missing piece of the equation was the Pietism of the Moravians.  Very unusual for the day, they believed they knew they were saved. Wesley's thinking took on an experiential dimension. In 1738 he felt his heart strangely warmed. He would understand holiness as another experience to be pursued in the life of a believer, "Christian perfection."

5. The Wesleyan tradition is not part of the high Reformation. Justification by faith, yes. But not Luther's "at the same time sinner and saint." Depraved and elected, yes, but not determined and requiring faithfulness to be maintained. The Bible sufficient for salvation, yes? But much to learn from tradition as well.

Happy Reformation Day!


Rick said...

"was impacted fairly strongly by the thinking of another individual who came out of Calvinism, Jacobus Arminius"

It may just be me, but although you say that, it seems you see Arminius (and Arminianism) as just one influence, as opposed to Wesleyan thought being an offshoot of Arminianism.

Am I reading you wrong, or do you not see Wesleyan thought as a strand of Arminianism?

Ken Schenck said...

You're pushing beyond what I was thinking, I think. :-) I think I would consider Wesleyan thought a strand of Arminianism, but Wesley himself was an Anglican, so it seemed more appropriate to see Arminius' influence as an influence from the outside, first on the Anglicanism of the 1700s and thereby on Wesley as an Anglican.

Susan Moore said...

Happy Reformation Day!
I’ve been waiting for you to blog about that!
So far I’m not hearing anything persuasive one way or the other.
My class in Catholicism ends 4/20/14.
Although it would delay my graduation date, I’m wondering if it would be wise to add two courses while a student at IWU; Christian Theo. II Salvation/Holiness 2/18-3/31, and Wesleyan Church History/Polity 5/29-7/2. Open to suggestions.

Susan Moore said...

I found out they wouldn't delay my grad. date, they would be taken outside of my degree. Financial aid wouldn't cover them, but I'll be working as a nurse again so it doesn't matter. Funny how God works these things out!
Anyway, just a thought.

Keith Drury said...