Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last night, I had a pleasant conversation with a Wesleyan pastor in my employer's parking lot. I hadn't seen her in a long time, and eventually we started talking about my theological preferences. Apparently she's heard of my serious questioning of the Wesleyan Church all the way up there - which is interesting, because she "heard it through the grapevine" and I've always been quite vocal about my preference that all questions, comments, and concerns about my theology to kindly be directed to my face instead of whispers in the pews behind my back. I guess that's my hometown for you.

We started talking, and I'm not sure that I articulated my disagreements with Wesleyan theology all that well - I mostly used the argument that the Wesleyan Church has strayed too far from John Wesley for my liking. So I have decided that it would be best for my spiritual health (and for future discussion with the curious) to put my mind at ease here and describe every single question that I have directed at Wesleyan theologians that has been unsatisfactorily answered or has gone completely unanswered. I'll even put them in a John Wesley thesis style of writing so the logical flow of my conversation is easy to follow.

Let me first start out by saying that I have studied a fair amount of theology from John Wesley as well as his background and ministry. I have every bit of respect for the tradition (Methodism) that he created. As you read this, keep in mind that these are issues that I am in disagreement with the Wesleyan Church over, and in full agreement with John Wesley in. Furthermore, some of the material here may have you demanding a source - feel free to do so, as I have found sources on the Internet for all statements and questions.

This is not intended to be an essay of contention or heated debate. I will simply state the points and record them for posterity and something for me to refer back to when I want to reflect on where I've been and where I am headed theologically. I fully acknowledge: that I am not perfect; I am not entirely sanctified; what I write here might hurt some feelings. I sincerely hope as well that I do not give anyone any doubts about their faith in the Holiness Tradition; however, if any of my comments give you questions about the solidity of the Wesleyan doctrine, I would strongly encourage you to explore those in greater depth: Believe me when I say that I most certainly have.

I write this in completely good faith with the hope that I will always strive to, and continue to, learn more about theology and where it is best for me to stand when it comes to various theological issues.

For the curious, I will say that I am theologically very close to John Wesley but I am also sympathetic to some of Martin Luther's ideas regarding grace and salvation. I am also very Armenian in my viewpoint regarding predestination, to the point where I believe that there is a select group of people destined for salvation (the Church universal) and there is another group that is not (the "goats," if you will) but God does not select any particular individual to be a part of either group.


After several years of reflection, I am certain that I hold the strongly held belief that the theological doctrines and practice of John Wesley are no longer really followed by the Wesleyan Church as a denomination. While some outlier churches might still strictly follow the path of the founder, this is not true of the culture as a whole. Because I believe that this is ultimately detrimental to the Wesleyan church, this is why I have been reluctant to participate in the denomination for the past 3 years. To support this statement, I make the following questions, comments, and suggestions:

1). If the doctrine of Christian perfection (Entire Sanctification) was so central to the teachings of John Wesley and one of the major reasons why Methodism became its own denomination, then why isn't this doctrine taught powerfully or even at all in Wesleyan churches and meetings, to the point where many Wesleyan pastors do not really believe in it and members of its congregation have not heard of it?

2). Since John Wesley held that Communion should be performed as often as possible and held it as a sacrament that brings people closer to Jesus Christ, then why is it only required once every 3 months in the Wesleyan Church and is rarely performed more than that in practice? Furthermore, if it is a sacrament that is special and the grace of Christ is delivered to people through it, and Wesley held it as an absolute and indubitable responsibility that the pastor must offer sacraments, then why is it no longer sacred enough to the Wesleyan church that it must be presided over by a pastor?

3). If, indeed, Communion was a great sacrament to John Wesley, and Wesley himself did not prohibit nor discourage the responsible consumption of beer and wine to the laity, then why is it that common grape juice is used as a representation of Christ's blood during a Wesleyan communion service, and why is it that the "use, sale, and consumption of" alcohol is strictly prohibited to the members of the Wesleyan church, to the point where board members feel the need to sneak 12 packs out of gas stations?

4). If Wesley himself wrote that the Anglican church was "nearer to the Scriptures" than any other church, then why is the Wesleyan denomination, which is so different from Wesley, named after him?

5). If Wesley held Church Tradition to be a significant part of where Church doctrine comes from (second only to the Bible), then why has the Wesleyan church largely abandoned the writings of the Church Fathers and prominent theologians throughout antiquity for the sake of more modern writers?

6). Why is the doctrine of prevenient grace never taught nor mentioned in the Wesleyan church, and instead congregations are often taught that all people are spiritually dead until they are Christians?

7). Why are the acts of mercy and acts of piety strongly encouraged to the laity; furthermore, why are their benefits and rewards not mentioned in classes considering that these ideas were central to the ministry of John Wesley?

8). Since Wesley required public confession of faults in small community groups, why doesn't the Wesleyan church ever encourage or advertise some form of confession, either

9). Keeping in mind that a sacrament is defined as an external act that brings forward a grace that Christ imposes upon us via the sacrament, why is it that ordination and confession are not considered sacraments as they undeniably bring the people closer to Jesus Christ? Ordination absolutely brings the person receiving it closer to Christ, as it is Christ that brings forward the grace necessary for that person to serve as a minister and the Church merely confirms this call. Confession brings us closer to Christ, as it is in confessing our faults and errors that we grow in humility and Christian responsibility, and we receive Christ's grace in the destruction of the sin that we acknowledge and truly repent from.

10). As John Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary as well has her central role in the origin of Christianity, why has this person been almost entirely forgotten by the Wesleyan church except for a fleeting moment or two once per year?

11). Since Wesley believed that our focus should not be on "is a certain action sin," but instead it should be on "does this action bring me closer to God," then why has the Wesleyan church focused more on the former question than the latter question? Wesley fought against the secularization of the Church; unfortunately, it is questions that ask whether or not a certain action is sin that leads to thinking as "the world" does.

12). Since Wesley believed that there was only one class of people, that is, that we are all sinners seeking peace in our lives, then why has the Wesleyan church chosen to separate "covenant members" from "community members" in a tiered organization with differences in importance?

13). Since Wesley strongly advocated infant baptism as “the initiatory sacrament which enters us into covenant with God," then why aren't infants regularly baptized in the Wesleyan church and why has baptism sometimes been denied with the consent of pastors even to infants close to death?

14). Since you had to be a member to take part in the sacraments of the church, why is it that a common response to any of these objections is that if you disagree with any part of the commitments in the Wesleyan church, then simply don't be a member?

Basically, is it important to be a member of the Wesleyan church or not? Unless you were a member in Wesley's church, you couldn't really be a functioning member of the church society. What happened since then, that being a member of the Wesleyan church is reduced to a label rather than something beyond intrinsic value?

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