Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Brief Commentary on The Wesleyan Church's Articles of Religion: Part I

A BRIEF COMMENTARYON THE ARTICLES OF RELIGION OF THE WESLEYAN CHURCH: PART I

I have been working on “A Brief Commentary of The Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion.” It has been quickly written and is in rough form. I have tried to write it with the purpose of introducing the Wesleyan Church’s doctrinal statements to anybody interested in the official doctrinal teaching of The Wesleyan Church. As such, this is not a critique of the Articles, but is meant to be a sympathetic reading and explanation of them (which is my natural disposition toward them:>). In a future post, I will address a list of inconsistencies, problems, and needs for clarification in the Articles, which is natural to a body of doctrinal statements, edited and amended over a long period of time, and is the reason why denominations need to revisit all of their doctrinal statements, not just individual statements, from time to time.

INTRODUCTION

The Articles of Religion of The Wesleyan Church are rooted in the consensually orthodox tradition of historic Christianity, the fundamental emphases of evangelical Protestantism, and the doctrinal distinctives of Wesleyan-Arminian theology. With historic Christianity, our Articles are informed by the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the classical statements of the Christian faith. Therefore, we affirm such doctrines as the Trinity, the two natures of Jesus Christ, and the bodily resurrection of the dead. With evangelical Protestantism, our Articles are shaped by certain priorities. Among them are the primacy of Holy Scriptures in all matters of faith and practice, salvation by grace through faith, and the necessity of new birth or personal conversion. With Wesleyan-Arminianism, our Articles reflect a particular bias in doctrinal differences among Christian denominations and traditions. For example, we believe that every human being potentially can be saved; Christians can fall from grace; and people can be freed in the present life from the power of sin.

The purpose of our commentary is to introduce you to the Wesleyan Church’s twenty-one Articles of Religion, the official beliefs of our denomination, and assist you in understanding their ecumenical nature, their evangelical focus and their doctrinal distinctives. Therefore, our commentary will not be exhaustive of all Wesleyan teaching; it will not cover every theological topic, but will be limited to what the Articles actually state. Specifically, we will cite each Article of Religion, offer a cursory explanation of its primary ideas, and highlight the Wesleyan doctrinal distinctives when they are addressed.

THE ARTICLES OF RELIGION OF THE WESLEYAN CHURCH

The twenty-one Articles of Religion in the Wesleyan Church are placed into six discernable doctrinal groups: (A) Articles 1-4 address the doctrine of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (B) Article 5 sets forth an understanding of Holy Scriptures and identifies the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, (C) Articles 6-8 summarize the doctrine of humanity, (D) Articles 9-14 contain statements on salvation, (E) Articles 15-17 address issues related to the Church, and (F) Articles 18-21 conclude with eschatological concerns.

(A) THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY: ARTICLES 1-4

Article 1: Faith in the Holy Trinity

We believe in the one living and true God, both holy and loving, eternal, unlimited in power, wisdom and goodness, the Creator and Preserver of all things. Within this unity there are three persons of one essential nature, power and eternity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

With consensual orthodox Christianity, Wesleyans teach that there is one God in three co-equal persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. However, the Father is distinguishable from the Son, and the Son is distinguishable from the Spirit. Each divine person has all that properly belongs to the divine nature: eternality, omnipotence, wisdom, goodness, holiness, love, as well as other attributes not listed in this article. The persons of the Trinity can be distinguished, but not separated. Their distinction is not in nature, for they share one divine nature without separation into parts; rather, their distinction is in relationship with one another: the Father begets the Son and the Father with the Son breathes the Holy Spirit.

Article 2: The Father

We believe the Father is the Source of all that exists, whether of matter or spirit. With the Son and the Holy Spirit, He made man, male and female, in His image. By intention He relates to people as Father, thereby forever declaring His goodwill toward them. In love, He both seeks and receives penitent sinners.

Three ideas about God the Father are either explicitly stated or implied here, when read in light of the other Wesleyan Articles on the Trinity. First, while the Wesleyan Church recognizes that each divine person is eternal, without beginning or end, and equal with one another, Wesleyans teach that the Son is begotten of the Father (Article 3), and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Article 4). As such, the Father is the source of the Son’s eternal generation and the Father with the Son is the source of the Spirit’s eternal procession.

Second, this article corresponds with the first statement of the Apostle’s Creed that recognizes the Father as “creator of heaven and earth.” With the universal Church, Wesleyans believe that God the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit created all things, bringing them into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo). God is the uncreated, original cause of creation and the “preserver of all things” (Article 1). The created order would not exist or continue in existence without God.

Finally, this article addresses the creation of humanity in the image of God and that the “Source of all that exists” relates to humanity as a loving Father. While there is no elaboration on what is meant for humanity to be made in “His image,” Articles 6-8 will address this more explicitly.

Article 3: The Son of God

We believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, truly God and truly man. He died on the cross and was buried, to be a sacrifice both for original sin and for all human transgressions, and to reconcile us to God. Christ rose bodily from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and there intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand until He returns to judge all humanity at the last day.

In agreement with classical Christian creeds, the Wesleyan Church confesses that in the incarnation the eternal Son of God, who in nature is one with the Father and the Spirit, equal to them in dignity, glory and power, became fully human to redeem fallen humanity. As such, Jesus Christ is “truly” divine and “truly” human. His divine nature and person is eternal, without beginning. All that constitutes the divine nature belongs to Jesus Christ. However, his human nature is begotten in time, having its origin with the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in the Virgin Mary. By “truly” human Wesleyans mean that Jesus assumed a body and soul. The eternal Son of God took unto himself the whole of human nature and everything attendant to it.

The rehearsal of the ministry of Jesus Christ on behalf of humanity is outlined in this article, reminiscent of the Apostles’ Creed: incarnation, death, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, on-going intercession on behalf of humanity, second coming, and final judgment. The atoning work of Christ is brought to the fore in this Article for special emphasis, highlighting the particular importance of this doctrine, and is developed in greater detail in Article 8.

Article 4: The Holy Spirit

We believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and is of the same essential nature, majesty, and glory, as the Father and the Son, truly and eternally God. He is the Administrator of grace to all, and is particularly the effective Agent in conviction for sin, in regeneration, in sanctification, and in glorification. He is ever present, assuring, preserving, guiding, and enabling the believer.

In agreement with the Athanasian Creed, the Wesleyan Article on the Holy Spirit makes clear that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, not an impersonal force in the created order or merely an attribute of God. He has the same nature as the Father and the Son and is equal to them in dignity, glory and power. While the Father is distinguished in the Godhead by being unbegotten, the Son in being begotten by the Father, following the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, in distinction from Eastern Orthodoxy, the Wesleyans teach that the Spirit is distinguished by his eternal procession from the Father and the Son.

The Wesleyan Church further teaches that the Holy Spirit is the personal agent through whom God the Father and God the Son operate in the created order and in the lives of people. All of the benefits of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and intersession for humanity are applied to individuals and communities through the Holy Spirit: conviction of sin, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.

2 Comments:

At 5:38 PM, Blogger coach d said...

“A Brief Commentary"???? Whew, I read every word of it, brief it is not. Good it is!

 
At 5:24 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...

Of course "brief" is a relative term:>)

 

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