Tuesday, September 05, 2006

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


Article 5: The Sufficiency and Full Authority of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation

We believe that the books of the Old and New Testaments constitute the Holy Scriptures. They are the inspired and infallibly written Word of God, fully inerrant in their original manuscripts and superior to all human authority, and have been transmitted to the present without corruption of any essential doctrine. We believe that they contain all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man or woman that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. Both in the Old and New Testaments life is offered ultimately through Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and humanity. The New Testament teaches Christians how to fulfill the moral principles of the Old Testament, calling for loving obedience to God made possible by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.

The canonical books of the Old Testament are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.

The canonical books of the New Testament are: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude and Revelation.

In agreement with historic Protestant Confessions and Articles on the Bible, the Wesleyan Church believes the Old and New Testaments are the divinely inspired, written Word of God and recognizes them as the final source of authority in all matters of Christian faith and practice.

More specifically, this Article contains four ideas crucial to the Wesleyan Church’s teaching on the Bible. First, Wesleyans affirm the “inerrancy” of Scriptures, but the meaning of the term is never given. Historically, the Wesleyan Church has never defined inerrancy with the type of specificity found in documents like the “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.” Therefore, within the Wesleyan Church there is greater allowance for what this might mean. For example, Asbury Theological Seminary, currently the primary seminary of the Wesleyan Church, states that the Bible is “inerrant in all it affirms.”

Second, the phrase “in the original manuscripts” has its origins in the days when Christians questioned the appropriateness of new translations like the New International Version and the Revised Standard Version. With this statement the Wesleyan Church implicitly acknowledges the validity of the science of textual criticism and thus does not take a “King James Version only” approach to Scripture. The Article goes on to affirm what is the conclusion of textual scholars, namely, that the Scriptures have been transmitted without corruption of any essential doctrine.

Third, the phrase “all things necessary to salvation” is intended to protect the church from the bondage of extraneous belief and practice. Wesleyans maintain that no doctrinal belief or specific practice should be required of Christians if not grounded in a common Christian understanding of Scripture.

Finally, the Article’s list of canonical books identifies the Wesleyan Church with other Protestant denominations. Wesleyans do not believe that the Apocrypha are inerrant, uniquely inspired, authoritative, or the written Word of God, although nothing in this Article denies that they may be edifying for reading.


Article 6: God’s Purpose for Humanity

We believe that the two great commandments which require us to love the Lord our God with all the heart, and our neighbors as ourselves, summarize the divine law as it is revealed in the Scriptures. They are the perfect measure and norm of human duty, both for the ordering and directing of families and nations, and all other social bodies, and for individual acts, by which we are required to acknowledge God as our only Supreme Ruler, and all persons as created by Him, equal in all natural rights. Therefore all persons should so order all their individual, social and political acts as to give to God entire and absolute obedience, and to assure to all the enjoyment of every natural right, as well as to promote the fulfillment of each in the possession and exercise of such rights.

The Westminster’s Catechism’s first question is “What is the chief end of humanity?” The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” While not disagreeing with this venerable Reformed statement, the Wesleyan Church’s response to the question is nuanced differently. According to this Article, the chief end of humanity is summarized in the two greatest commandments given by Jesus: love God “with all heart” and love neighbor as self.

Therefore, for Wesleyans the supreme love of God and the love of other human beings are the guiding principles for all human actions and relationships among individuals, families, communities, and nations. As such, first and foremost is submission and obedience to God in all human affairs and second, the promotion of all “natural rights” for humanity.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#1: The Chief End of Humanity Is Love
The Wesleyan Church believes the “perfect” love of God and neighbor is the chief end of humanity. Humanity was created primarily for relationships with God and other human beings. While this teaching does not directly oppose the dominant Protestant understanding, stated in the Westminster Catechism, the difference in Wesleyan teaching is worthy of notice and has implications for the Wesleyan understanding of salvation and sanctification.

Article 7: Marriage and the Family

We believe that every person is created in the image of God, that human sexuality reflects that image in terms of intimate love, communication, fellowship, subordination of the self to the larger whole, and fulfillment. God’s Word makes use of the marriage relationship as the supreme metaphor for His relationship with His covenant people and for revealing the truth that that relationship is of one God with one people. Therefore God’s plan for human sexuality is that it is to be expressed only in a monogamous lifelong relationship between one man and one woman within the framework of marriage. This is the only relationship which is divinely designed for the birth and rearing of children and is a covenant union made in the sight of God, taking priority over every other human relationship.

While Article 2 states that human beings are created in the image of God, this Article is the first statement to begin to explore the Wesleyan Church’s understanding of the divine image. To be made in God’s image means human beings are created for and find fulfillment in self-giving relationships with other human beings, an idea firmly rooted in the previous Article (Article 6), “God’s Purpose for Humanity.”

Nowhere is this aspect of the image of God made manifest more than in the divinely appointed institutions of marriage and family. In marriage and family Wesleyans believe “intimate love, communication, fellowship, subordination of the self to the larger whole, and fulfillment” find their fullest expression.

Specifically, Wesleyans believe marriage is a lifelong covenant union between one man and one woman; it is the only appropriate context for sexual relationships; and it is the appropriate framework for the procreation and development of children.

Article 8: Personal Choice

We believe that humanity’s creation in the image of God included ability to choose between right and wrong. Thus individuals were made morally responsible for their choices. But since the fall of Adam, people are unable in their own strength to do the right. This is due to original sin, which is not simply the following of Adam’s example, but rather the corruption of the nature of each mortal, and is reproduced naturally in Adam’s descendants. Because of it, humans are very far gone from original righteousness, and by nature are continually inclined to evil. They cannot of themselves even call upon God or exercise faith for salvation. But through Jesus Christ the prevenient grace of God makes possible what humans in self effort cannot do. It is bestowed freely upon all, enabling all who will to turn and be saved.

The Article on “Personal Choice” clarifies further the Wesleyan understanding of the divine image in humanity. With consensual orthodox Christianity, the Wesleyan Church believes that, as created in the Garden of Eden, humanity was given a moral nature with the freedom to choose between right and wrong. This moral image enabled humanity to enjoy true righteousness, holiness, love, and a personal relationship with God. The moral image formed the guiding principle of humanity’s disposition, thoughts, words and deeds, making possible the rightful exercise of dominion in the created order, rightly ordered relationships with fellow humanity, and perfect love and obedience to God.

Although created holy and wise, humanity in the Garden sought their own will instead of God’s, seeking happiness in the world and in the work of their own hands instead of God. In agreement with the classical Confessions and Articles in the Protestant tradition, the Wesleyan Church, believes in “total depravity.” The moral nature in humanity was destroyed by humanity’s Fall in the Garden. As a result, humanity, unaided by grace, is dead to God, self-focused, helpless to change, and “by nature … continually inclined to evil.” As such human beings have no personal or internal resources to contribute in the work of salvation. They have no innate power to call upon God or exercise faith for salvation. In this state humanity stands under the condemnation of God and is deserving of God’s wrath and judgment.

In agreement with Augustinian teaching found in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, the Wesleyan Church believes that if human beings are going to be saved, then God must take the initiative. However, in contrast with the Calvinist and Reformed traditions, the Wesleyan Church teaches that God takes this initiative to all humanity through prevenient grace. Prevenient grace, which is given to every human being, modifies the effects of total depravity and makes possible the potential for any person “to turn,” and “exercise faith for salvation.”

A Wesleyan Distinctive #2: Prevenient Grace
In contrast to the Calvinist and Lutheran traditions, which teach that God takes the initiative to redeem fallen humanity by electing certain people to salvation and electing the rest to damnation, thereby removing any human cooperation in the work of salvation and removing any chance of salvation for some, the Wesleyan Church teaches that God takes the initiative to redeem humanity by restoring the ability of humanity to cooperate in the work of salvation. Wesleyans call this divine initiative - prevenient grace, which makes possible the ability to positively respond to the Gospel and is given to all humanity. Therefore, while the Calvinist and Lutheran traditions believe that only those specifically selected by God can be saved, Wesleyans believe any person can be saved.


At 7:06 PM, Blogger Nathan Crawford said...

Dr. Bounds,

I like what you are doing here. This is good stuff and needed to be done. I'm glad you took up the challenge.

On a side note, I'm doing a class right now in Rahner and Lonergan. I am going to do my paper on Rahner on his theological anthropology, specifically as it opens up dialogue with the (pan)Wesleyan tradition. Wesley's corpus is so large, I was wondering if you had any good starting places.

I really find that, in studying at a Roman Catholic school, there is much similarity and convergence between the Wesleyan and Catholic traditions.

At 3:43 AM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


I agree. There is great convergence between Roman Catholic teaching and Wesley. I believe it is because both "drink deeply" from the great "Tradition" of the Church. (On a side note, I am teaching a class on ecclesiology and students are reading the Roman Catholic Catechism statement (60 pages on the Church). Many are amazied at how they resonate with most of the statement)

In regard to Wesley's anthropology, the best guide and access to Wesley's primary materials, as well as secondary literature, is Thomas Oden's John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity, which is a sytematic arrangement of Wesley's writings on different Christian doctrines. The 4th chapter is on Humanity. In this chapter he takes the reader to Wesley's major works on anthropology and then gives an excellent bibliography on the secondary literature.

I would enjoy reading your work when you are done.

Chris Bounds
Chris Bounds

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Nathan Crawford said...

I have the Oden book. I should've figured you'd point me there :)

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Chris Bounds said...


I am glad you still have the book:>)

Pax Christi!

At 9:31 AM, Blogger tse horng said...

Dr Bounds,
Thanks for sharing.
I am and was not a seminary student.
I am just curious how did Wesleyan arrive to the distinctive #4, absolution of oringinal sin?
Tse Horng (Singapore)


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