Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Four Major Views of Christian Salvation: Part One



In Christianity, there are few doctrines more important than personal salvation, particularly in the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley’s oft repeated statement, “I only want to know one thing…the way to heaven” still reverberates among many Christians and seekers of God. Of course the idea of personal salvation raises two intimately related questions: (1) what is personal salvation and (2) how is a person saved?

The content of personal salvation entails a number of ideas: forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and humanity, deliverance from the power of sin, freedom to be fully human, bodily resurrection from the dead, and a ticket to heaven, to name a view. These are the fundamental ideas behind Wesley’s theology of what salvation entails. However, Wesley’s statement fundamentally addresses the second question – the means or way to salvation. Early in his ministry, more than a decade before his Aldersgate experience, Wesley recognized the end of Christianity, but it would take him years before he recognized the means to that end.

Like Wesley, many people recognize the end of salvation, if only vaguely. With the Early Wesley, they struggle in apprehending and appropriating the means to that end. They wrestle with the question, “How is a person saved?” In the history of Christianity, there have been four primary ways in which the achievement of salvation has been articulated. The purpose of this article is to explore the Pelagian, Semi-Pelagian, Semi-Augustinian, and Augustinian views of achieving Christian salvation. In this post, I will explore the Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian views. In next week’s post I will develop the Semi-Augustinian and Augustinian views.


To begin, while there are four major views on the means of achieving salvation, these views are not monolithic. Each perspective can be nuanced and taught in slightly different ways. For example, while there are certain defining characteristics of the Semi-Pelegian doctrine, there can be many different ways in which this view can be nuanced and taught; there can be disagreements among Semi-Pelegians about specific aspects of their teaching, while still remaining solidly Semi-Pelegian.

Perhaps, the best way to look at the different teachings on salvation is to see them as a spectrum of thought, placed on that spectrum based on how they handle two fundamental and intimately related Christian doctrines: (1) human depravity or original sin and (2) the work of salvation. The first doctrine addresses the degree to which humanity has been affected by original sin. To what extent has humanity been impaired by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? The second doctrine addresses the relationship of human effort to the work of salvation. Is salvation the work of God, the work of humanity, or some divine-human synergism?

On one end of the spectrum is the view that sees salvation as a human monergism; there is no original sin and salvation is entirely the work of humanity. On the other end of the spectrum is a divine monergism; humanity is completely dead spiritually, possessing no internal resources to contribute to personal salvation. Therefore if humanity is to be saved, God must do all of the work. In the middle are different synergisms; humanity and God working in cooperation with one another. Those synergisms closer to the human monergism side of spectrum will place greater emphasis on what human beings contribute to salvation, while those closer to the divine monergism side will place their focus on divine action.

A. Pelagianism

Pelagianism, which is to be distinguished from the actual teachings of Pelagius, expresses the strongest form of human monergism. As such, it exists at one end of the salvation spectrum. Pelagianism is a view of salvation that rejects the idea of original sin. Each person brought into life exists in the same state that Adam and Eve existed before their sin. Human beings have the same freedom that humanity enjoyed in the Garden. There is no inherited tendency, bent, proclivity or enslavement to sin. The human will is completely free to choose to follow God’s law or not. There is no temptation that can not be overcome through human will power; all divine commands can be fulfilled by a human being. Every human being possesses the necessary internal resource to be an obedient follower of Jesus Christ.

From this perspective, salvation is brought about by following the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect model of how a person should live and his moral teachings provide humanity with the necessary instructions to live as His followers. As such, individuals earn or merit their salvation through their discipleship – imitating the life of Jesus and following his moral commands. Ultimately, a person will stand before God in final judgment and God will decide whether or not that individual’s discipleship merits the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell. Human action is the means by which salvation is achieved.

Pelagianism can take a variety of forms in Christianity. For example, there are many church members, people who attend worship services, and self-described Christians who believe that their good works (their church attendance, church membership, financial contributions to the church, their charitable giving, their acts of obedience in doing good, etc.) will earn them a place in heaven. Similarly, there are people who believe that their good deeds and their bad deeds will be evaluated in final judgment and if their good works outweigh their bad, then, they will earn a place in heaven.

While Pelagianism has been thoroughly rejected and is heresy and while no legitimate denomination or Christian body officially holds to this view, nevertheless it still finds expression in Christianity. Pelagianism can found in many “rank and file” members of liberal mainline denominations, peripheral religious groups like the Unitarian-Universalist Churches, pseudo-religious organizations like Freemasonry, and popular thought in American life.

B. Semi-Pelagianism

Semi-Pelagianism is a synergistic understanding of salvation, with priority given to human effort. As such, this perspective is placed on the spectrum closer to the Pelagian end. Semi-Pelagianism recognizes original sin. All of humanity has been affected by the sin of Adam and Eve. Every human being is born with a propensity or proclivity to rebellion and disobedience to God. Every human being has sinned, because by Adamic nature they are sinners. Obedience to God and holy love do not come easily to humanity. However, the moral image of God, the ability to choose the good, to do the right, has not been completely extinguished in humanity. Humanity still has some internal resources to offer in the work of salvation.

Because of personal sin, human beings stand in need of divine forgiveness and redemption. Human beings can not save themselves. They can not do enough good works and deeds to atone for their sins. If they are going to find redemption, then they must find it in the saving work of Christ in his life, death and resurrection. To appropriate this work, a person must repent of sin, exercise faith in Jesus Christ. The ability to repent and exercise faith is something a person can do. People have the power within themselves to repent and believe any time they choose. When they do this, God responds by forgiving and redeeming people through Jesus Christ.

This is a human-divine synergism. The work of humanity is to repent and believe. The work of God is to forgive and redeem. Priority is given to human beings, not because they do the most important work in salvation, but because salvation begins with the human initiative. God responds when human beings take this initiative. Perhaps the defining mark of the semi-Pelagian perspective is the belief that every human being, though impaired by original sin, has the power to move toward God, to repent and believe the Gospel, at any moment they decide.

Semi-Pelagianism can take a variety of forms in Christianity. For example, is some expressions of Christianity, salvation is achieved through belief in Christ and good works. Good works alone can not save a person, but they do contribute to earning the justifying work of God in Christ. The merits of godly actions by humans, is supplemented by faith in the merits of Christ. As such, both good works and divine work bring about the work of salvation.

While Pelagianism has been rejected by Christianity, Semi-Pelagianism has had a favorable reception in many Christian circles. Historically, the two most dominant expressions of this perspective are found in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. However, this is the view of most generic evangelicals or this is how most evangelicals function pragmatically.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

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


In conclusion, two points need to be made. First, the Wesleyan Church’s twenty-one Articles of Religion are broadly ecumenical in nature. While Wesleyans have distinctive beliefs, most of our Articles of Religion are shared with historic Christianity as a whole and Evangelical Protestantism in particular.

Specifically, the bulk of the Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion is grounded in the consensually orthodox tradition of Christianity. Most of the Articles of Religion express basic Christian beliefs shared in common with Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and all major Protestant traditions. With them we believe in the Trinity, in creation ex nihilo, in original sin, in the life, death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the full divine nature and the full human nature of Jesus Christ, in the full deity of the Holy Spirit, in the agency of the Holy Spirit in creation and salvation, in the atoning work of Christ, in the universal and local Church, in the second coming of Jesus Christ, in the bodily resurrection from the dead of the just and unjust, in final judgment, and in heaven and hell. Furthermore, with them, we believe that humanity was created in the image of God, that humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, and that there is no redemption for humanity apart from Jesus Christ.

While the Articles are primarily shaped by the classical exegesis of Scripture in historic Christianity, becoming the foundation of basic beliefs, they also are shaped by the doctrinal emphases found among Protestant Evangelicals. With them, we believe in the total depravity of humanity apart from grace, in the necessity of the divine initiative in salvation, in the necessity of the experience of personal conversion/new birth, in salvation by grace through faith, in good works as a fruit of regeneration, in the Protestant marks of the Church, in the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and in the primacy and authority of the Old and New Testaments in all matters of faith and practice.

Second, the Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion do reflect a distinctive viewpoint within Christianity, highlighting truths of the Gospel often neglected in contemporary Evangelicalism. They give voice to an irrepressible optimism in the power of divine grace in the present life, while also emphasizing appropriate human cooperation with grace. These can be seen in the distinctive Wesleyan doctrines of the chief end of humanity, prevenient grace, absolution of original sin, high view of regeneration/new birth, assurance of salvation, the possibility of the forfeiture of grace, and entire sanctification. While the Wesleyan Church gladly embraces its theological identity rooted in historic Christian belief and the doctrinal emphases of Evangelical Protestantism, Wesleyans believe their particular doctrinal distinctive provides a needed message in the Church and in the world. As such, we do not shrink from embracing them, but believe they are a vital part of the message God has given to Wesleyans to proclaim in the world.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

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


Article 15: The Gifts of the Spirit

We believe that the Gift of the Spirit is the Holy Spirit himself, and He is to be desired more than the gifts of the Spirit which He in His wise counsel bestows upon individual members of the Church to enable them properly to fulfill their function as members of the body of Christ. The gifts of the Spirit, although not always identifiable with natural abilities, function through them for the edification of the whole Church. These gifts are to be exercised in love under the administration of the Lord of the Church, not through human volition. The relative value of the gifts of the Spirit is to be tested by their usefulness in the Church and not by the ecstasy produced in the ones receiving them.

Article 15 highlights three crucial points for the Wesleyan understanding of the gifts of the Spirit. First, the Wesleyan Church believes in the gifts of the Spirit, although they are not specifically listed in this Article. However, in response to extremes in some Pentecostal and charismatic movements, Wesleyans clarify that the “gift” of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit Himself and that He is to be sought more than any particular spiritual gift.

Second, Wesleyans believe that the purpose of spiritual gifts to individual Christians is for the edification and strengthening of the Church. The degree to which the gifts do this determines their level of importance and significance in the life of the Church.

Finally, Wesleyans see spiritual gifts as a combination of (A) natural human abilities that are anointed by the Spirit for His use in the Church and (B) supernatural abilities beyond the natural talents of human beings. Again, although not accordingly listed and categorized, the Wesleyan Church believes that some spiritual gifts are natural human abilities, consecrated and used by the Spirit, while others are genuinely supernatural in nature, transcending human abilities.

Article 16: The Church

We believe that the Christian Church is the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ, who is the founder and only Head of the Church. The Church includes both those believers who have gone to be with the Lord and those who remain on the earth, having renounced the world, the flesh and the devil, and having dedicated themselves to the work which Christ committed unto His church until He comes. The Church on earth is to preach the pure Word of God, properly administer the sacraments according to Christ’s instructions, and live in obedience to all that Christ commands. A local church is a body of believers formally organized on gospel principles, meeting regularly for the purposes of evangelism, nurture, fellowship and worship. The Wesleyan Church is a denomination consisting of those members within district conferences and local churches who, as members of the body of Christ, hold the faith set forth in these Articles of Religion and acknowledge the ecclesiastical authority of its governing bodies.

With most Articles and Confessions in the consensual orthodox tradition, Wesleyans in this Article address the Church on the universal and local level, moving from the general to the particular. First, in regard to the universal or “catholic” Church, Wesleyans believe the Church is comprised of all true believers – those who are presently alive and those who have died and are presently with the Lord. In agreement with the Protestant tradition, Wesleyans believe the universal Church as manifested on earth is identified by (A) the preaching of the “pure Word of God,” (B) the due administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s supper (Article 17), and (C) a community rightly ordered according to the commands of Christ.

Second, the Wesleyan Church believes the universal Church is made manifest concretely in local churches. Local churches are congregations, a gathered community of believers, who meet together and organize to (A) evangelize unbelievers, (B) establish people in the Christian faith, (C) provide a context for mutual care and edification, and (D) worship the Triune God. While not stated here, Article 10, “Repentance and Faith,” makes clear that Wesleyans believe that involvement in a local church is necessary for continuance in the Christian faith.

Finally, this Article addresses specifically the Wesleyan Church. The Wesleyan denomination is comprised of local Wesleyan churches, made up of individual members, which are organized into districts. These local churches are united through their mutual belief in the Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion and submission to the polity of the Wesleyan denomination.

Article 17: The Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

We believe that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ and ordained as a means of grace when received through faith. They are tokens of our profession of Christian faith and signs of God’s gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.
We believe that water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord and administered to believers. It is a symbol of the new covenant of grace and signifies acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. By means of this sacrament, believers declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

We believe that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death and of our hope in His victorious return, as well as a sign of the love that Christians have for each other. To such as receive it humbly, with a proper spirit and by faith, the Lord’s Supper is made a means through which God communicates grace to the heart.

From these doctrinal statements, three important points may be gleaned about The Wesleyan Church’s general understanding of the sacraments. First, Wesleyans believe they are permanent visible signs. Through simple earthly elements - bread, grape juice, and water – the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion convey in tangible form God’s mercy, covenant faithfulness, suffering love, and atonement. They are visible re-enactments of God’s greatest acts in history on humanity’s behalf. In Scripture there are many visible signs of God’s grace and mercy - the rainbow, the pillar of fire, Gideon’s fleece, the sun standing still, etc. All might be cited as visible signs of God’s grace. However, they are not sacraments because they were temporary signs circumstantially given. Baptism and Holy Communion are permanent, recurrent celebrations. In any place or time of the Church there are Christians breaking bread and performing baptisms as outward signs of God’s grace.

Second, Wesleyans teach that the sacraments point the worshipping community to God’s real presence and His grace made available through them. Through these visible re-enactments, God’s grace awakens and empowers individuals in the life of Christ. The grace of God is offered to the Church in and through these sacraments in a way that cannot be grasped by the human mind. In the Reformation Protestants revolted against what they perceived to be the superstitions of medieval sacramentalism. However, they never lost sight in their confessions of the basic idea that grace is being offered and, by faith, communicated to the believer in baptism and Holy Communion. They are means of grace. This Wesleyan teaching on the sacraments is rooted in this Protestant tradition.

Finally, Wesleyans teach that Christ initiated the sacraments. They are not human inventions, but are appointed by Christ. Minimally, these acts are not to be viewed as commandments of other human beings or socially determined conventions or psychologically derived routines, but as God’s own invention through Christ’s direct institution. The Gospel accounts make clear that baptism and Holy Communion are offered as a result of God’s initiative.


Article 18: The Second Coming of Christ

We believe that the certainty of the personal and imminent return of Christ inspires holy living and zeal for the evangelization of the world. At His return He will fulfill all prophecies made concerning His final and complete triumph over evil.

With consensually orthodox Christianity, the Wesleyan Church believes in the physical return of Jesus Christ. By “imminent return,” Wesleyans believe Christ’s second coming could happen at any moment. This understanding means that Christ could return right now or at any point in the future. Christ’s coming could be very soon or much later in time. Because Christians do not know the exact time in which Christ will return and that Christ’s return could happen at any moment, Christians should live holy lives, ready to meet the Lord and should be inspired even more to do the work of evangelism

Again, with consensually orthodox Christianity, the Wesleyan Church believes that with Christ’s second coming all evil, injustice, suffering, sickness and sin will be brought to an end.

Article 19: The Resurrection of the Dead

We believe in the bodily resurrection from the dead of all people— of the just unto the resurrection of life, and of the unjust unto the resurrection of damnation. The resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of the resurrection which will occur at Christ’s Second Coming. The raised body will be a spiritual body, but the person will be whole and identifiable.

This statement on the bodily resurrection from the dead of all humanity is reminiscent of the Apostles’ Creeds’ declaration, “of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” The Wesleyan Church believes in the bodily resurrection of the dead of both the “just” and the “unjust” at Christ’s second coming. The just will experience a bodily existence of life everlasting with God and the “unjust” will experience a bodily existence of life everlasting in damnation.

While not exactly clear about what this bodily existence will be like, the Wesleyan Church points to the bodily resurrection of Christ for clues. Christ’s resurrected body, a body that was physical, yet not bound by the physical laws of the universe, is the model of humanity’s future resurrected state. Hence, the Wesleyans describe this as a “spiritual body.”

Article 20: The Judgment of All Persons

We believe that the Scriptures reveal God as the Judge of all and the acts of His judgment are based on His omniscience and eternal justice. His administration of judgment will culminate in the final meeting of all persons before His throne of great majesty and power, where records will be examined and final rewards and punishments will be administered.

With consensually orthodox Christianity, the Wesleyan Church believes in final judgment. At the end of human history people will stand before God to give an account of their lives. As an omniscient and fair Judge, God will evaluate each person and distribute “rewards and punishments” accordingly. Although not stated in this Article, but made clear in the next (Article 21), the final judgment is unchangeable, with no appeal. There will be two classes of judgments: heaven and hell.

Article 21: Destiny

We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that there is a conscious personal existence after death. The final destiny of each person is determined by God’s grace and that person’s response, evidenced inevitably by a moral character which results from that individual’s personal and volitional choices and not from any arbitrary decree of God. Heaven with its eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ’s presence is the final abode of those who choose the salvation which God provides through Jesus Christ, but hell with its everlasting misery and separation from God is the final abode of those who neglect this great salvation.

While Article 19 teaches that final human destiny is a bodily existence, this final article also clarifies that it is rational and conscious, maintaining the essence of what it is to be constituted a human person. While not specific, this Article primarily describes heaven as a place defined by the “blessedness” of Christ’s presence” and describes hell as a place characterized by “misery” and “separation from God.”

The Wesleyan Church concludes her Articles of Religion by emphasizing the distinction between the Wesleyan understanding of salvation and the Reformed/Calvinist perspective. Wesleyans maintain any person can be saved by cooperating with God’s gracious initiative through Jesus Christ by repenting and believing in Christ. The ability to choose to cooperate or not is made possible through prevenient grace (Article 8). Therefore, a person’s “final destiny” in heaven or hell is determined by the individual person. In contrast, the Reformed/Calvinist tradition teaches that a person’s “final destiny” is determined by an “arbitrary decree of God.” A person has no choice, contributes nothing, in the work of salvation. A person’s destiny in heaven or hell is determined by God alone.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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


Article 9: The Atonement

We believe that Christ’s offering of himself, once and for all, through His sufferings and meritorious death on the cross, provides the perfect redemption and atonement for the sins of the whole world, both original and actual. There is no other ground of salvation from sin but that alone. This atonement is sufficient for every individual of Adam’s race. It is unconditionally effective in the salvation of those mentally incompetent from birth, of those converted persons who have become mentally incompetent, and of children under the age of accountability. But it is effective for the salvation of those who reach the age of accountability only when they repent and exercise faith in Christ.

The Wesleyan Church’s Article on the atonement has three decisive points. With consensual orthodox Christianity, Wesleyans believe in the necessity of the atonement. There is no redemption of human beings from their sinful condition and their acts of sin apart from the work of Christ in “his sufferings and meritorious death on the cross.” In distinction from the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, Wesleyans also believe the atonement is unlimited in extent. The atoning work of Christ avails for all sinners and for all sin; it is “sufficient for every individual of Adam’s race.” Finally, this Article alludes to what the next Article (Article 10) makes explicit; the atonement of Christ is conditional in application. Wesleyans believe that the benefits of the atonement are appropriated through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ. The atonement is only efficacious for the penitent and believing sinner.

Two other points are worthy of notice in this Article. First is the mention of two types of sin – “original and actual,” both of which will be addressed in greater detail in Articles 11, 13, and 14. By “original sin,” Wesleyans mean the corruption of the moral nature or moral image of God in humanity, the state of spiritual death into which human beings are brought into existence, resulting in humanity’s continual inclination toward evil, although modified by prevenient grace (Article 8). By “actual sin,” Wesleyans mean the concrete acts of sin, arising from the sin nature.

Second, the Wesleyan Church believes in an age of accountability and mental competency. With many Evangelicals, Wesleyans believe the benefits of Christ’s atonement are applied automatically to children until the age of accountability, to those mentally incompetent from birth, and to Christians who have become mentally incompetent. Wesleyan believe these people are given the grace of justification or saving forgiveness.

Although not explicitly stated, underlying the Wesleyan Church’s teaching here is the belief that Christ’s death on the cross removes all guilt attached to original sin for everyone. As a result of Christ’s death, God does not hold humanity responsible for being born with the sin nature. Original sin, in and of itself, will not condemn a person to hell. This divine gift is bestowed upon all through prevenient grace. Therefore, the guilt and penalty for sin arises only when a person willfully and knowingly commits acts of sin. Since children and those “mentally incompetent from birth” are not fully aware of their choices, the grace provided by the atonement is “effective” for them.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#3: Unlimited Atonement
In contrast to the Calvinist tradition, which teaches that Christ died only for those who were chosen by God for salvation, thereby holding to a limited view of the atonement, the Wesleyan Church believes in an unlimited atonement. Christ atoned for all sin and for all sinners. The atoning work of Christ can be appropriated by any human being through repentance and faith, both of which are possible through God’s prevenient grace.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#4: The Absolution of Original Sin
In contrast to the Calvinist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic traditions, the Wesleyan Church believes that one of the universal effects of Christ’s atonement given to every person is absolution of the guilt of original sin, regardless if an individual is a Christian or not. As a result of Christ’s death, God does not hold humanity responsible for being born with the sin nature. Original sin, in and of itself, will not condemn a person to Hell. Only when a person reaches an age or state of responsibility and willfully cooperates with the sin nature is a person held liable and subject to divine judgment. Wesleyans believe this is a part of God’s prevenient grace given to all because of the atonement.

Article 10: Repentance and Faith

We believe that for men and women to appropriate what God’s prevenient grace has made possible, they must voluntarily respond in repentance and faith. The ability comes from God, but the act is the individual’s.

Repentance is prompted by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. It involves a willful change of mind that renounces sin and longs for righteousness, a godly sorrow for and a confession of past sins, proper restitution for wrongdoings, and a resolution to reform the life. Repentance is the precondition for saving faith, and without it saving faith is impossible. Faith, in turn, is the only condition of salvation. It begins in the agreement of the mind and the consent of the will to the truth of the gospel, but issues in a complete reliance by the whole person in the saving ability of Jesus Christ and a complete trusting of oneself to Him as Savior and Lord. Saving faith is expressed in a public acknowledgment of His Lordship and an identification with His Church.

The Wesleyan Church believes that repentance and faith are the two requirements for appropriating the benefits of Christ’s atonement. With repentance the Wesleyan Church’s focus on God’s initiative in the work of salvation is brought to the fore again. Previously, in Article 8, God’s work in bringing people to Christ was seen in the doctrine of prevenient grace. Now, God’s initiative is seen again in the gift of repenting grace. Wesleyans believe that repentance can only come about in unbelievers through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, Wesleyans believe repentance involves (A) a willful change of mind that renounces sin and longs for righteousness, (B) a godly sorrow for and a confession of past sins, (C) proper restitution for wrong doings, and (D) a resolution to reform personal life. Wesleyans further believe that repentance is the precondition for saving faith, without which saving faith is impossible.

With this understanding of repentance, the Wesleyan Church believes that saving faith is the only immediate condition of salvation. Wesleyans believe that the ability to exercise saving faith is not a natural inherent power in humanity as a result of original sin, but is a gift of grace. Specifically, Wesleyans have a threefold understanding of saving faith; it is (A) an assent of the will to the truth of the Gospel; it is (B) a wholehearted trust in the “saving ability of Jesus Christ” and it is (C) a personal surrender of life to Christ. The Wesleyan Church believes that saving faith is expressed in a public acknowledgment of Christ and active participation in a local church.

Article 11: Justification, Regeneration and Adoption

We believe that when one repents of personal sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, that at the same moment that person is justified, regenerated, adopted into the family of God, and assured of personal salvation through the witness of the Holy Spirit.

We believe that justification is the judicial act of God whereby a person is accounted righteous, granted full pardon of all sin, delivered from guilt, completely released from the penalty of sins committed, by the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by faith alone, not on the basis of works.

We believe that regeneration, or the new birth, is that work of the Holy Spirit whereby, when one truly repents and believes, one’s moral nature is given a distinctively spiritual life with the capacity for love and obedience. This new life is received by faith in Jesus Christ, it enables the pardoned sinner to serve God with the will and affections of the heart, and by it the regenerate are delivered from the power of sin which reigns over all the unregenerate.

We believe that adoption is the act of God by which the justified and regenerated believer becomes a partaker of all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of a child of God.

In the tradition of Evangelical Protestantism, the Wesleyan Church believes in the necessity of personal conversion. Specifically, Article 11 identifies four concomitants of conversion, although the fourth, assurance of salvation is not addressed in this Article or in any other Wesleyan Article of Religion. The four concomitants are (A) justification, (B) adoption, (C) regeneration, and (D) assurance of salvation. Because the doctrine of Christian assurance is not developed, focus is placed on the first three components of conversion.

In the moment when people exercise saving faith, the Wesleyan Church teaches that God justifies, regenerates and adopts a person. Specifically, in justification, Wesleyans believe God pardons people of sin and receives them into His favor. Their sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed (reckoned) to them. They have a new standing before God. The barrier of sin has been removed. Justification is mentioned first because it is the gateway to the other concomitants, making possible the rest of the work of salvation.

In regeneration, God begins to restore the moral image of God, bringing about a change in heart, mind, will and action. This is what God does in believers, imparting to them righteousness, raising them from death in sin to life in Christ. So powerful an event is this, Wesleyans teach that Christians are set free from willful sin; the power of sin is broken. This is a strong understanding of regeneration, much stronger than normally portrayed in other Christian theological traditions. The Wesleyan Church understands regeneration as initial sanctification, which will be addressed in greater detail in Article 14.

In adoption, Wesleyans believe that human beings are brought into the family of God as daughters and sons, becoming heirs with Christ Jesus to the Kingdom of God, and have confident access to the throne of God. In adoption, believers become partakers in all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a child of God.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#5: A High View of Regeneration (New Birth)
Among the major Protestant denominations, The Wesleyan Church has the highest view of conversion. Wesleyans expect that as a result of the new birth a person is liberated from willful sin and is enabled to live a life of obedience to Jesus Christ. The power of outward sin is broken. While the nature of sin, original sin, still remains, manifesting itself in an internal orientation to sin, people who have experienced the new birth are able to “live above” their sinful internal desires and be victorious over them.

A Short Historical Explanation of the Doctrine of Christian Assurance

In regard to the Wesleyan teaching on Christian assurance, because the Articles of Religion mention the doctrine, but do not develop it, a short historical explanation may be helpful. John Wesley believed that those who had been pardoned and accepted by God through faith would not be left without an assurance of their right standing before God. Assurance is a witness to the Christian’s relationship with God as Father.

Specifically, Wesley’s doctrine of the assurance of salvation is grounded in his understanding of Romans 8:16, “For the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” As such he taught that there are two participants: God’s Spirit and the human spirit. God’s Spirit is the subjective witness, the “inward impression upon the soul” testifying to the human heart that a person is a child of God, that a person has been brought into a right relationship with God and is in a right relationship with God. This inward impression may bring feelings or joy or a sense of forgiveness and confidence in relationship with God or it may not. It is a gift of God that God gives.

The human “spirit” is the objective witness. In the examination of inward attitudes and outward action under the direction of the teaching of Holy Scriptures, people can see if there is evidence of the new birth in their lives. For example, is there freedom from willful sin? Has the power of sin been broken? Is the fruit of the Spirit being made manifest? In this way people can begin to objectively discern whether regeneration has occurred or not. For Wesley, Christian assurance is ultimately an inner experience with objective quality.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#6: Assurance of Present Salvation, not Future
In contrast to common evangelical teaching on assurance of salvation, often associated with teachings on “eternal security,” Wesleyans believe that assurance of salvation is an assurance of present salvation and not final salvation. Christians can know they are presently saved, but because final salvation is contingent upon continued faith and cooperation with divine grace, there can not be any confidence about final salvation. Wesleyans believe that people can experience progress in the way of salvation by cooperating with divine grace; likewise, people can regress in the way of salvation through refusing to cooperate with divine grace. Therefore, while people can know that they are presently Christians, if they do not continue to cooperate with divine grace, they may find themselves in a place where they no longer have faith and are no longer Christians.

Article 12: Good Works

We believe that although good works cannot save us from our sins or from God’s judgment, they are the fruit of faith and follow after regeneration. Therefore they are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and by them a living faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.

With the Protestant tradition, the Wesleyan Church teaches that people can not be saved through good works. Good works contribute nothing to obtaining God’s pardon and redemption from sin. People can only be saved by divine grace through faith. However, Wesleyans believe that good works are a sign of personal conversion, the “fruit” of new birth, and are pleasing to God. If good works are not occurring in Christian’s life, then a person’s conversion is suspect.

Article 13: Sin after Regeneration

We believe that after we have experienced regeneration, it is possible to fall into sin, for in this life there is no such height or strength of holiness from which it is impossible to fall. But by the grace of God one who has fallen into sin may by true repentance and faith find forgiveness and restoration.

Three key ideas, distinctive in the Wesleyan Church’s doctrinal teaching, are found in this Article. First, the Article points back to Article 11, underscoring a high view of conversion: The Wesleyan Church believes regeneration sets a person free from willful sin. Willful sin is “possible,” but is not the norm of Christian life. If willful sin occurs, then forgiveness and restoration occur through repentance and faith.

Second, the Article demonstrates how seriously the Wesleyan Church takes deliberate sin. Wesleyans do not treat willful sin lightly. A volitional “transgression of a known law of God” brings about a dangerous breach in a Christian’s relationship with God, which left unchecked by true repentance can result in alienation from God once again.

Finally, as has been intimated already, the Article points to the Wesleyan idea that personal salvation can be lost through lack of true repentance over sin. Justification, regeneration, and adoption are contingent upon continued faith and cooperation with divine grace. Wesleyans believe that people can experience progress in the way of salvation by cooperating with divine grace; likewise, people can regress in the way of salvation through refusing to cooperate with divine grace. Therefore, if they do not continue to cooperate with divine grace, they may find themselves in a place where they no longer have faith and are no longer Christians.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#7: The Loss of Salvation (A Rejection of Eternal Security)
In contrast to the Reformed and Lutheran understanding of “perseverance of the saints” and the Baptist teaching on the “eternal security” of believers, The Wesleyan Church teaches that Christians can “fall from grace.” Because the work of salvation involves human cooperation, a cooperation made possible through prevenient grace, a Christian can decide to no longer cooperate with God’s grace and turn away from God. Wesleyans believe people can be genuinely converted and then turn away from God and forfeit the salvation He offers.

Article 14: Sanctification: Initial, Progressive, Entire

We believe that sanctification is that work of the Holy Spirit by which the child of God is separated from sin unto God and is enabled to love God with all the heart and to walk in all His holy commandments blameless. Sanctification is initiated at the moment of justification and regeneration. From that moment there is a gradual or progressive sanctification as the believer walks with God and daily grows in grace and in a more perfect obedience to God. This prepares for the crisis of entire sanctification which is wrought instantaneously when believers present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, being effected by the baptism with the Holy Spirit who cleanses the heart from all inbred sin. The crisis of entire sanctification perfects the believer in love and empowers that person for effective service. It is followed by lifelong growth in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The life of holiness continues through faith in the sanctifying blood of Christ and evidences itself by loving obedience to God’s revealed will.

Expressed in the most general terms, the Wesleyan Church teaches that sanctification entails the entire work of transformation in human lives by the Holy Spirit from the moment individuals are born again until they are given glorification in death. The Wesleyan Church believes the ultimate end of the Spirit's work is to bring about holiness, making humanity like God, and enabling humanity to perfectly love God and neighbor. When the Spirit takes residence in human lives in regeneration, what Wesleyans call initial sanctification, He begins the process of transforming their attitudes, interests, and actions. This process of inward transformation and outward conformity to Christ is progressive sanctification.

Wesleyans believe this eventually leads Christians to a crisis experience. As the Spirit transforms Christians in their attitudes, interests, and actions, He begins confronting them with an internal principle of selfishness and sin, persisting stubbornly in them. With their high view of conversion, Wesleyans believe new Christians may not be able to initially detect the inward sin that remains in them. The momentum of their conversions may make them feel that they have been completely set free from both outward sin, deliberate willful sin, and inward sin, a heart prone to selfishness, pride, and rebellion against God. They may initially feel that they love God with all of their “heart, soul, mind and strength” and their neighbor as themselves.

However, as times passes, they grow to realize there is sin that remains in them. While they live in obedience to Christ, their heart is divided and there is a natural pull toward selfishness and pride. There is an internal principle persisting stubbornly in them. Wesleyans believe that as Christians begin to struggle against their internal sin, they come to realize there is little they can do about it. They recognize their state of sin, repent of it, and are frustrated by it. They are brought finally to the realization that if they are going to be delivered from this “nature” of sin in the present life, then God will have to do it. In this crisis moment, Wesleyans teach that Christians can throw themselves on the mercy of Christ by (A) consecrating themselves entirely to God and (B) exercising faith in Christ to deliver them.

At this point, in a second work of grace, called in this Article “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit (A) cleanses believers from the internal nature of sin or original sin, setting them free from a divided heart, (B) enabling them free to love God with all their “heart, soul, mind, and strength” and to love others as themselves, and (C) empowering them for faithful service. They are delivered from the internal principle of selfishness and sin, persisting stubbornly in them. In the new birth believers are set free from outward sin, but in entire sanctification they are set free from inward sin, releasing them to serve God and others with their whole heart without reserve, fulfilling the two great commandments.

This Wesleyan Article makes clear that entire sanctification is not a static state in Christians. As a Christian grows in knowledge of God, knowledge of self and wisdom, the person is better enabled to fulfill the perfect will of God. As such, this teaching makes a distinction between entire sanctification and Christian maturity. It is possible for a person to be set free from inward and outward sin, perfected in love, and empowered for ministry to others, but not have the wisdom, experience and knowledge necessary for Christian maturity. Yet, a Christian cannot become fully mature without the experience of entire sanctification. A believer can know what to do in a given situation, but not have the power or proper motivation to execute it in a way fitting for spiritual maturity. Holiness is ultimately a dynamic experience intensifying and growing throughout the life of a Christian, continuing beyond entire sanctification. Furthermore, there is an increasing intensification or a deepening of love and holiness in a person who has been entirely sanctified.

A Wesleyan Distinctive#8: Entire Sanctification in the Present Life
In comparison with all other major Christian traditions, The Wesleyan Church has the most optimistic view on sanctification. Wesleyans teach that Christians can experience entire sanctification now, in the present moment, through an act of entire consecration and faith, whereby believers surrender their lives to the lordship of Christ and trust God to purify and empower them. Entire sanctification is a synergism in which the work of consecration and faith by a Christian is met immediately by the Holy Spirit’s deliverance from the inner propensity to sin (the sin nature), enabling the believer to “love God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength” and love neighbor as self, and making possible obedience to Christ with an undivided heart. However, entire sanctification does not free Christians from mistakes in understanding and judgment or what are commonly called “sins of infirmity.”

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.