Wesleyans, Sin, and Holiness

September 23rd, 2013

I've always been somewhat of a theology geek, but as I've matured (both in age and spiritually) I've increasingly lost patience with theological discussions that go nowhere and bear no substantial fruit in the real world. Back in the mid 2000s (sounds strange to speak of that time period as so far in the past) when I was blogging under the Wesley Blog banner, I made a statement along these lines: Theology that doesn't work out on the streets is useless.

I believe that even more now than I did then.

I'm an evangelical, charismatic United Methodist. I don't usually like claiming any labels other than Christian for myself, because too many people seem to be looking for any excuse they can find to tune someone out. Sadly, many of us only seem to want to hear from people who reinforce what we already believe about God and the Bible. 

Part of the reason I consider myself charismatic is that I believe in modern supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit, especially the nine spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12The charismatic movement, as well as the Third Wave movement and various and sundry neo-Pentecostals and neo-charismatics can all be traced to the 19th century Holiness movement, which itself emerged from Methodism and the teachings of John Wesley. Especially his teachings on Christian perfection (aka entire sanctification.) I'll examine this doctrine more thoroughly in future posts, but for now, just understand that Wesley grabbed hold of an awesome truth— that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be delivered from sin now—in this life.

In Wesley's Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament , the note for Hebrews 7:25 says, "Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost - From all the guilt, power, root, and consequence of sin." (For United Methodists, Wesley's Notes are part of our doctrinal standards.) I've not met many preachers who'll go near this doctrine without trying to domesticate it or water it down. Even Wesley caught hell for preaching it back in the day. (If you've never read it, be sure to grab a copy of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.)  

I bring up this subject because I've concluded that The United Methodist Church is largely dysfunctional when it comes to dealing with the problem of sin. Some of us want to believe that sin and evil aren't real issues. Others of us believe that sin is real, however, we never really seem to make much progress overcoming it because we've perpetuated a culture of low expectations and brokenness in our churches. Then there are those of us who fixate on sin, yet when it comes to helping people find real freedom from it, we're more about talk than we are action. So we comfort ourselves with thoughts of God's grace and how much better things will be when we get to heaven.

But Jesus didn't intend for us to wait for heaven. He came to put away sin now.   

Remember what I said earlier about theology and the streets? Maybe we need to dust off some of these old doctrines and see if they really work. 

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and editor of the Converge Bible Studies series from Abingdon Press. 

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