John Wesley and Entire Sanctification
Wesley believed that entire sanctification was a gift to Christianity by Methodism and defined the concept as Christian perfection. Discipleship starts at initial sanctification, a past event; continues at progressive sanctification, a present experience and assumes a crucial point in entire sanctification, a future expectation.Why did Wesley forbid his preachers from conducting open-air meetings to win souls in areas where there was no opportunity to get the converts into an accountability discipleship group? Why don''t some members of the body of Christ grow? Many are not growing in grace because they are not depending on other members of Christ''s body to help them. It is not possible to be a healthy person if part of our body is not functioning in its'' God-given capacity. Cancer is an abnormality in which some of the body''s cells stop contributing to the body and simply begins displacing functioning cells. We cannot be an entirely sanctified or perfect people (loving god with all our heart...) unless we are involved in helping each other "come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:14). Wesley''s legacy was "built on the strength of a mix of ''societies'' (larger groups), ''classes'' (10-20 people) and ''bands'' (small groups of 4-6 people with intense accountability" (Friedman 2003, 4). Societies were the first step into a deeper community commitment. To attend a society, members received a ticket for entrance, which had to be renewed every quarter. Society members gathered weekly in classes of ten to twenty persons under a lay leader for mutual fellowship, guidance and Bible study.
Given that Wesley had such an absolute sense of calling to help people grow in their sanctification, it is truly a marvel that he could also be so resolute about constant growth in evangelism and in conversion. He was so committed to seeing his people grow in their holiness and obedience that the doctrine of entire sanctification was regarded as "the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appears to have raised us up" (Schaupp 2002, 8). Paradoxically, "John Wesley never achieved the entire sanctification he preached to others. He wrote: ''I have told all the world I am not perfect... I have not attained the character I draw''" (Tuttle 1978, 353).
Discipleship finds its significance in sanctification, "frequently referred to by Wesley as ''entire sanctification'' or ''Christian perfection''" (Tuttle 1992, 170), in that it is what makes it possible to maintain an experience of entire sanctification, and at the same time work out its full implications in the attitudes, behavior and interpersonal relationships of the individual. It is truly speculated that "failure to give proper attention to making disciples as a complement to preaching sanctification is the reason that "so many do not retain their experience of sanctifying grace, while others never seem to be able to make real spiritual progress after consecrating their lives to God''s sanctifying spirit" (Taylor 1962, 15).
Wesley defined entire sanctification or Christian perfection in terms of love. According to him, perfection is "the humble, gentle, patient love for God, and our neighbor, ruling our tempers, words and actions" (Wesley 1978, 11:446). Tuttle (1992) brilliantly summarized the doctrine when he observed thus:
Furthermore, to renew the entire doctrine briefly, Wesley believed that one can fall from perfection. As to the manner, he believed that it was wrought in the soul instantaneously by faith, but that a gradual work both preceded and followed the experience. Although he did not contend for the term ''sinless'' (a phrase he never used), he did not object to it. Finally, he believed that the experience usually occurred at the time of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body, but that it could (or perhaps should) occur much earlier (171)
Torrents of ink will continue to flow on the concept of entire sanctification. Drury (2003), a supporter of Wesley''s view on entire sanctification answers antagonists by observing that "if you focus on making a holy people ? if that is truly your passion ? sooner or later I believe that you''ll probably come to a doctrine not far from Wesley''s approach ? even if you call it something else" (3). The concept of Christian perfection or entire sanctification is based upon the desire to overcome the corruption of this present world as it relates to the soul and spirit. Even though one may be able to overcome the imperfection remaining in the physical body, perfect love prevents one from acting upon these lusts. It is important that "we truly seek being conformed back into the perfect and sinless image of God, to seek Christian perfection and our own entire sanctification" (Hoffman 2003, 3). Indeed the prophet Isaiah reached out in the Spirit of God and saw perfection of God re-established in the peaceful kingdom and he wrote Isaiah 11:6-9.
In the early part of Wesley''s ministry, he believed that entire sanctification was almost a gradual work to be achieved at or near death, and that the newly converted child of God could not be fully saved, except in rare cases, until some time had elapsed. But as numerous examples rapidly multiplied around him, the genuineness of whom experience he saw no reason to doubt, he soon came to fully accept the doctrine of instantaneous sanctification by faith, at any time after conversion.
Wesley believed that the doctrine of entire sanctification was "Methodism''s distinctive gift to Christianity" (Gibson 2003, 5). It describes the entrance into such an experience as fullness of grace. As sanctification, even in the new convert, is a separation from sin and a dedication to God, so entire sanctification is defined as a complete freedom from sin, and a correspondingly complete dedication to God. A careful study reveals that the term is used to denote a crisis in the believer''s life in which "the remains of ''inner sin'' or inherited depravity are dealt with in a manner which makes possible the scriptural experience of a full righteousness, purity, spiritual mindedness, life in the Spirit or holiness" (Dayton 1966, 3).
Perhaps five essential elements in the doctrine of entire sanctification may be stated thus: it is subsequent to regeneration, instantaneous, frees from sin, is attainable in this life, and is simultaneous with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. White (1954) forcefully argues that "to deny any one of these five claims is to depart definitely from the teachings of John Wesley as to entire sanctification" (15). One proof that John Wesley gave for the fact that entire sanctification is received instantaneously was that there is a movement of completion even in the process. He used the fact of death as an illustration of what he meant. He said that a man might be some time dying and yet there would be an instant when the dissolution would be consummated and the individual pronounced dead.
Support from Scripture
It is relatively difficult to list all the texts that appealed to Wesley''s view because he "had little or no systematic work of literature on entire sanctification" (Odita 1999, 47). A close study of Wesley however reveals several texts which must have appealed to his preaching and writing on Christian perfection. These include 1 Thes. 5:23; 1 Thes. 4:1, 9-10; Ezek. 36:25-26,29; Matt. 5:8, 48; Matt. 6:10; John 8:34; John 17:20-25; Rom. 12:1; II Cor. 3:17ff; II Cor. 7:1; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:14-19; Eph. 5:27; Phil. 3:15; Tit. 2:11-14; Heb. 7:25; Heb. 10:14; Heb. 6:1; Jam. 1:4; I John 1:5; I John 1:7; I John 3:6; I John 3:3; I John 3:8-10 and I John 5:13. The first however appears to be very popular as an entire sanctification text.
Paul refers to election as a reminder that conversion and entire sanctification ? infact, all that God does in our lives ? are not destinations, but vocations or callings. The Christian life is a pilgrimage. Paul made a special point of encouraging Christians to continue in the way of life they were already pursuing (I Thes. 4:1, 9-10). Salvation is not only a past event and a present experience but also a future expectation (I Thes. 1:9-10; 5:5, 8-10). The doctrine of sanctification, as I Thessalonians presents it, is intimately related to the doctrines of election and eschatology. A holy God calls believers to lives of holiness as the essential preparation for life in eternity with him. this is clear from Paul''s two prayers for the sanctification of the Thessalonians in his first letter. Between these two prayers, Paul appeals to them to allow God to sanctify them (3:12-4:12; 5:23-24). Generally, Paul has described sanctification as experiential, ethical and entire. Furthermore, "he characterized the life of holiness as pleasing, practical and progressive" (McCown 1977, 30).
It is impossible to demonstrate all that holiness churches have said about entire sanctification on the basis of I Thessalonians alone. It is asserted that "neither Wesley nor Wesleyans have ever claimed their theology was based exclusively on this or any other Scripture; and the Bible has much to say about holiness that what we find in I Thessalonians" (Lyons 2003, 4).
The secondness of entire sanctification
Wesley''s way of giving attention to Scripture may guide us in a second way, "a way that is related directly to the issue of ''secondness'' of entire sanctification" (Cauthron 2003, 6). In his Plain account of Christian perfection, Wesley (1952) asked whether there was any Scriptural basis for believers to expect to be delivered from all sin prior to death. On the basis of Scripture, Wesley was profoundly optimistic concerning the possibilities of God''s grace in human lives.
The work of the Holy Spirit is central in Wesley''s theology. Prior to the actual experience of entire sanctification, "there is an important ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer to indicate clearly and forcefully the need of sanctifying grace as a second crisis experience following the new birth" (Arnett 1979, 17). Since entire sanctification is entire holiness of heart and life, the Holy Spirit is given to convince the followers of Christ of this truth and to enable them to be holy.
Bond (2003) endorsed Wesley when he observed that the reason why the work of God did not gain ground in the circuit at Launceston was because the preachers either did not speak of perfection or they spoke of it only in general terms without urging the believers to go unto perfection and to expect it every moment. Wesley, of course, viewed Christian perfection as both instantaneous and gradual, and he intentionally sought to maintain a proper, healthy balanced between the two. Balance must also always be our pursuit. Inspite of Wesley''s desire for balance, his followers have tended to operate at either of the two extremes: instantaneous or process. Over the years, the pendulum has winged from pole to pole ? it continues to do so today. Carver (1987) views the moment of repentance, acceptance, commitment, surrender, consecration (or whatever term one might use) as "the faith-crises of entire sanctification" (19). The full quote from Wesley''s sermon on ''The Scripture Way of Salvation'' reads as follows:
It is thus that we wait for entire sanctification, for a full salvation from all our sins, from pride, self-will, anger, unbelief, or as the apostle expresses it, ''Go on to perfection''. But what is perfection? The word has various senses; here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, take up the whole capacity of the soul. For as long as love takes up the whole heart, what room is there for sin therein (Outler 1964, 29).
Analysis of entire sanctification
Following the model of Philippians 3:14-15 in which Paul paradoxically speaks of himself as not yet being perfect yet being included among those who are perfect, John Wesley, in his sermon, ''Christian perfection'', which was first published in 1741 seeks to show how this Pauline emphasis is not contradictory. Since holiness consists of a moral perfection that is neither absolute nor exclusive of non-moral elements of imperfection, Wesley conceives of Christian perfection in dynamic rather than static terms. It is a perfection that is susceptible to and not incompatible with spiritual development.
There is minimal level of moral perfection which Wesley ascribes to all believers. A Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin at any stage of the Christian pilgrimage. Second, there is the full sense in which Christians can be perfect in this life, although as the tenor of the second division of the sermons reveals perfection in these terms is not the universal experience of all believers (Outler 1985). Wesley''s focus on this aspect of perfection is from a Christological perspective. Christ is the pattern for the perfection which involves freedom from the sinful nature and the source of the virtuous expressions of that life. Although there are sharp diversities on several points, it is believed that "Barth''s understanding of the meaning and extent of sanctification, and the ethical implications he draws out from it are all quite acceptable to Wesley" (Spross 1985, 71). Wesley thus stated his theological position by stating that "it remains then, that Christians are saved in this world from all sin, from all unrighteousness; that they are not in such a sense perfect, as not to commit sin, and to be freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers" (Outer 1985, 120).
In making this summary, the possible future tense frame of reference, in which he places freedom from the sinful nature, introduces an ambiguous quality to the rest of the sermon in terms of the attainability of such liberation. Though he explicitly and Christologically defines the content of Christian perfection, implies by various images that it contributes the goal of the Christian life, suggests that it is subsequent to justification, and (in the latter part of the sermon) exhorts believers to pursue perfection;
Wesley is rather vague as to when the aspirant for holiness may expect perfection to transpire in this life. Such ambiguity ? at least in this sermon ? may suggest that for Wesley, as for Gregory, Christian perfection is both goal and way, which together carry moral implications and obligations for this life (Merrit 1987, 106).
In the New Testament the people of God are described in terms of those who are disciples of Jesus, and the process of making them into God''s own possession is what we are not calling discipleship. This life of discipleship begins, in parallel to its Old Testament counterpart, with redemption, when men are called to repent of their sins and believe on the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:14-15). Here is where men begin to follow Jesus: when they turn away from disobedience or ungodliness and put their faith in Him. It is observed that "this is the experience sometimes described as initial sanctification, because it begins the process of making men holy like the character of the Lord" (Haitian 1979, 29). Discipling others is the process by which a Christian with a life worth emulating commits himself for an extended period of time to a few individuals who have been won to Christ, the purpose being to aid and guide their growth in godliness/holy living and equip them to reproduce themselves and to use their spiritual gift(s) in the work of the ministry.
Wesley had the ability to give minute supervision to a vast army of growing Christians. As the architect of a very dynamic and well-disciplined movement, "he was able to assimilate large population blocs into his organization in a short time, train them effectively in the rudiments of Christian discipleship, and mobilize them into an ardent corps of social change agents" (Henderson 1997, 15). A close look at the questions that the members of John Wesley''s Holy Club reportedly asked themselves in their daily devotions reflect a commitment to build one another in the faith. From its inception in the eighteenth century, the Wesleyan quest for Christian perfection was both individual and corporate. These questions included the following:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am
better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in
3. Can I be trusted?
4. Am I a salve to dress, friends, work or habits?
5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
6. Did the Bible live in me today?
7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
8. Am I enjoying prayer?
9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
12. Do I obey God in everything?
13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
16. How do I spend my spare time?
17. Am I proud?
18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the
Pharisees who despised the publican?
19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a
resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
21. Is Christ real to me? (Culbertson 2001, 2-3).
Although John Wesley described perfect love as victory over inward sins such as pride, envy, greed and jealousy, "Methodist doctrinal and behavourial standards were recorded in a published ''Discipline'', and Wesleyan societal norms were enforced by official class leaders in obligatory class meetings" (John 1987, 117).
The relationship between entire sanctification and discipleship
Discipleship therefore begins with initial sanctification when one first establishes a relationship with Jesus by repentance and faith. It continues in progressive sanctification as one follows, learning from the model of his character and building disciplines into one''s life. It comes to another crucial point in entire sanctification when the Holy Spirit assumes a more absolute control of the life of the disciple.
The role of entire sanctification or the baptism of the Holy Spirit for discipleship seems to be significant in several areas. One of these refers to what the disciples were and relates to the question of being or character. Another relates to the work that Jesus had called them to do. This is the matter of ministry/service. A third area is connectional area between what they were to be and what they were to do.
An area in which entire sanctification is significant for the concept of discipleship relates to the fact that after Pentecost, God is still looking for holy people. This brings us once again to the matter of character. Believers cannot be a holy people without being like the Father or like the Son, and the experience of entire sanctification is a part of that process. Coppedge (2003) generally identified four ways in which it seems to make its impact felt.
Firstly, entire sanctification places our will under the control of the Holy Spirit, with the result that God can work out His perfectly holy character in our lives. God''s character is communication through His will and from His will to our character. If our will is submitted to the will of God, then His holy character can be translated into our character.
Secondly, entire sanctification also affects the character of a disciple relative to his willingness to grow. A disciple who has had his self-will/sinful nature purged in entire sanctification should be more teachable. The Holy Spirit now in fuller control of his life should be able to work out the holy character of God in his character particularly in the areas of attitudes and conduct, for now the implications of godliness do not threaten the self orientation of a disciple.
Thirdly, with entire sanctification a power from the Holy Spirit is available for a more disciplined life. One who has been cleansed from self-will now has dealt with the more significant problem of discipline that is the denial of self. Discipline in all areas means denying self some things in order to accomplish more significant goals. Thus, "one who has seen the need for dealing with his independent self-will is now in a position to receive help from the Holy Spirit to make spiritual disciplines more effective in his life" (Adams 1978, 7).
Fourthly, entire sanctification has a significant impact on the life of a disciple in that with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, there comes a power for victorious Christian living. Because the self-will has been dealt with, the ability to resist temptation, which appeals chiefly to the self, is much greater and consistent victory over sin becomes possible.
The centrality of love for God is John Wesley''s doctrine of entire sanctification or Christian perfection. It is best defined according to his grounding concept of love for God that results in "love for others and cleansing of heart from the old inadequate dreams of an evil imagination which found roots in a fundamentally idolatrous attitude toward some thing, or person, or center of value other than God" (Johnson 1983, 57). Wesley fervently believes that many do not even want to hear the word ''perfect''. Indeed, "the very sound of it is an abomination to them; and whosoever preaches perfection...runs great hazard of being accounted by them worse than a heathen man or a publican" (Wesley 1978, 1). It seems reasonable to observe that the term entire sanctification is a crucial interpretive concept in Wesley''s soteriological schema and defines the nature of the chronological, theological and experiential comprehensiveness of salvation.
Wesley''s theological on entire sanctification should not be discussed without commenting on its relationship with discipleship. Wesley was determined not to strike one stroke in any area where he knew that he couldn''t follow the blow. He believes that discipleship helps the entirely sanctified to experience sanctifying grace. There is no unconditional security for the entirely sanctified any more than the justified. Wesleyans are quite agreed on the latter but sometimes have not been as vocal as the former. Discipleship is what makes possible the working out of the implications of a will fully surrendered to God''s will and a life completely under His control.
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