1. Experiences and Externals
I'm not sure how much of the Wesleyan movement pays much attention to the idea of entire sanctification these days. But even those who do often think of "holiness" a little differently than Wesley did. For example:
- John Fletcher helped facilitate a change in focus from "perfect love" to the experience of Pentecost. American Christianity arguably came to focus more on holiness as an experience than holiness as love.
- Phoebe Palmer accentuated this shift in the mid-1800s when she pushed a "shorter way" to sanctification. Wesley didn't really focus on a timing for perfection in love. At times he even talked about it possibly happening close to death. Palmer facilitated an almost immediate expectation that one might have an experience very quickly after conversion.
- Many holiness people in the twentieth century came to have an exaggerated sense of holiness that was not only about a dramatic experience soon after conversion but whose key characteristic was not love but relatively shallow externals like not wearing jewelry and not going to movies.
- A lot of Boomers then effectively abandoned the doctrine.
In 1983, Martin Marty wrote an article in Christianity Today about how the Baptist tradition has impacted the flavor of so much American Christianity. We can see this in the Wesleyan tradition in several ways. For example:
- Believer's baptism so dominates the Wesleyan Church that most Wesleyans are surprised that infant baptism is even an option. But Wesley and Methodism has always assumed infant baptism as the norm.
- In keeping with the shift away from Wesley's Anglican roots, Wesleyans don't generally practice communion as often as he recommended (as often as possible). We lean away from an emphasis on the sacraments altogether and the Wesleyan on the street tends more toward a memorial view, like Baptists tend to have.
- We tend to be low church altogether. Some Wesleyans, especially those who came from another denomination, may have questions about larger church hierarchy and often lean toward a more congregational view where the local church runs the show, like in Baptist churches.
- The Pilgrim Holiness Church went dispensational along with many Baptists around the turn of the century. So they would believe in a seven year Tribulation, a pre-trib rapture, etc, just like many Baptists. Wesley himself was post-millennial and wouldn't have a clue what you were talking about.
- A good deal of the Wesleyan movement went fundamentalist in the mid-twentieth century. Stephen Paine convinced the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the 50s to add the word inerrancy to its Discipline, and some in the Wesleyan Church continue have a relatively Baptistic understanding of the word. Wesley and the nineteenth century holiness took a more "whole Bible" and "principled" approach.
- The politics of many Wesleyans is indifferentiable from the typical Baptist. By contrast, it's hard to see Wesley being in favor of arming the populace or being against universal health care. Wesley would probably be thought a liberal today in terms of his politics.
- Some grass roots Wesleyans question women in ministry and are none too keen on anything resembling the civil rights movement. While these issues were somewhat before Wesley's time, Baptistic influence on the Wesleyan Church can be seen in pockets of resistance to this part of our heritage.
- What shall we say? Are we not more Pelagian than Wesley? Have not a lot of us absorbed the idea that we cannot help but sin?