John Wesley -- heretic or hero?

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Paul J. Scharf's picture

"Before making Wesley into a hero of the faith, historic Baptists and fundamentalists should make sure that their churches know that Wesley believed in Arminianism, in the continuation of the sign gifts (helping to prepare the way for Pentecostalism), in Catholic mysticism, in perfectionism, in a false view of the assurance of salvation, in a false doctrine of justification by becoming inwardly holy, and in baptismal regeneration."

Or, to use a different approach, we could have the goal of developing believers according to Heb. 5:14. They could actually become sophisticated enough to know not only what Wesley believed, but what they believe, why they believe it, where Wesley was wrong—and why they can still enjoy the hymns of unmatched quality written by he and his brothers as well as other aspects of his life and testimony.

I really cringe at the spirit evidenced in this blog... It comes across as provincial and condescending. By God's grace that is less common among fundamentalists than it used to be.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Not sure when it started, but there's definitely been a tradition among Christians of using hymns from far more theologically diverse sources than the churches using the hymns. Or to put it another way, churches have a habit of including and using hymns that outside their own tradition. Personally, I think this is mostly a good thing. We're only too prone to view ourselves (as local churches) as little islands that have nothing to do with believers of other places and times--especially places and times long past.

So I love that at Christmas, Baptists sing O Come O Come Emmanuel even though it derives from Roman Catholic evensong (or was it Lutheran... yes, the difference matters, but I'll have to look it up again.) And we routinely sing hymns by Bernard of Clairvoux, though he was a monk, a mystic (of sorts) and at the time, very much a part of the Roman church.

So I'm with the spirit of Paul's post on this. There aren't any perfect Christians and aren't any perfect hymn writers. Use what's good; teach believers to discern the errors in writers' theology; also teach them the humility of being thankful for how God has used and continues to use flawed servants.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

I will go you one farther...

I find that the average "person in the pew" has a really hard time facing the reality that so much of Christian theology was developed under the auspices of the Roman Catholic system (or its precursors). Talk about sanitizing history! As someone said, we act as if church history went from Paul, to Luther, to D.L. Moody... I'm afraid it's much messier than that.

The Reformers, while making radical change, had the common sense to realize that they did not have to throw out all the knowledge and every conclusion gained under their former Roman Catholic upbringings.

Perhaps it is that very lack of common sense that actually contributes to the theological vulnerability of some sectors of fundamentalism... Seeking absolute purity, they cut themselves off from the larger conversation and end up developing new heresies all on their own.

The title of the article referenced offers a false choice. It would more accurately be, "John Wesley - Heretic and Hero."

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

MShep2's picture

C'mon guys - we all know that Baptist succession is proven by the book Trail of Blood (now also a Kindle book!). We who are the "true" independent baptists do not have any heretics or Roman Catholics in our heritage. </humor> </sarcasm.>

MS
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Luke 17:10

KLengel's picture

Let's see here... where's a moderator when you need one...

"They could actually become sophisticated enough" - How do you know they are not? 

"I really cringe at the spirit evidenced in this blog... It comes across as provincial and condescending. By God's grace that is less common among fundamentalists than it used to be." - Aren't your comments just as "provincial and condescending" as those you have reported?  How do you know his spirit? Are you God?

"The Reformers, while making radical change, had the common sense to realize that they did not have to throw out all the knowledge and every conclusion gained under their former Roman Catholic upbringings." - I agree, you mean like baptismal regeneration, universal church, allegorical interpretation.. I could go on, but to what avail.

"Perhaps it is that very lack of common sense that actually contributes to the theological vulnerability of some sectors of fundamentalism... Seeking absolute purity, they cut themselves off from the larger conversation and end up developing new heresies all on their own." - So, contending for the faith means allowing others to keep their own heresies, and we can't create any new ones? Just curious on the logic.  Talk about condescending - "lack of common sense." If only more common sense was used to interpret the Scriptures, we wouldn't be having these debates. 

A word of advice...if you are going to post an article from someone's blog, please show respect to whom you differ. I think it is quite ironic that your posts suggest the blogger to do something, that is quite evident from the posts so far, you are not willing to practice yourself.  We wonder why we can't come together as believers. Perhaps it's because so often the kettle is calling the pot black.

KML  

 

 

 

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

The latest trend in Independent Baptist circles is to let the public know that men like Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, and others were not right but the current Independent Baptist critics are.

 

I personally believe that men like Dr. Edward Panosian and Iain Murray provided more sound insight about these imperfect men who were greatly used of God.

 

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

MShep2 wrote:

C'mon guys - we all know that Baptist succession is proven by the book Trail of Blood (now also a Kindle book!). We who are the "true" independent baptists do not have any heretics or Roman Catholics in our heritage. </humor> </sarcasm.>

If you read the source blog at all regularly, you will see that the men there disclaim the Trail of Blood, and also claim to not be Landmark in any way.  However, in spite of those disclaimers, they still do believe that there were always "pure" Baptist (or at least, proto-Baptist) churches that have existed outside (and apparently uninfluenced by) any of either the Catholic church or state churches or any of the reformers, etc.  So this post is no surprise.  I have read other things from men in this group that have said that pretty much anything that was actually part of the reformation or anything that came out from it is either heretical, completely unredeemable, or clearly not Christian.  This post about Wesley is only the latest, as they have already made similar claims about Luther and Calvin (and probably others I'm not remembering).

What's interesting to me however, is that in spite of these beliefs about men who had anything to do with the apostate churches, they still believe the KJV translators' work to be reliable (though that of Wescott and Hort clearly isn't trustworthy because of their other beliefs!), and they list some groups as part of these proto-baptists whose beliefs were also heretical in some places.

Oddly, one of the men that they seem to respect is Spurgeon, though they usually strongly disclaim his Calvinism.  Not sure why that wouldn't also make him a heretic, rather than a flawed Christian with a wrong belief, but he seems to get a charitable interpretation that others don't.

In one sense, I'm sure we do have to be extremely careful of following *any* man, whether it be Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or Spurgeon, since none of them were perfect.  However, like Joe, I tend to look on these past men as those who *were* greatly flawed, but were also used of God.  Like the heroes of the faith talked about in the Bible (even Samson, of all people!), we should seek to emulate them where they followed God, and learn what NOT to do where they didn't.  I'm sure we could also give a blanket condemnation of Lot or Samson, but the Bible didn't treat them that way, and I don't believe we should either.

Dave Barnhart

Paul J. Scharf's picture

A few answers:

"They could actually become sophisticated enough" - How do you know they are not?

- Because the blog is advocating a different strategy. "Let's sing this John Wesley hymn, but before we do, let me tell you what a heretic he was..." Is that not what is being advocated here?

"The Reformers, while making radical change, had the common sense to realize that they did not have to throw out all the knowledge and every conclusion gained under their former Roman Catholic upbringings." - I agree, you mean like baptismal regeneration, universal church, allegorical interpretation.. I could go on, but to what avail.

- First of all, I was using common sense with somewhat of a double meaning that I did not explain. You remember the saying, When the common sense makes good sense, seek no other sense. Common sense in this context refers to that which is common as we understand the context of Scripture. In other words, the plain meaning of Scripture. As far as the doctrines I was referring to: universal church is fine, of course, but I meant things like the Trinity, the doctrine of Christ, the history of the Bible and hundreds of other things such as that. Allegorical interpretation is what the Reformers began to change immediately... Without them, from a historical perspective, you and I would not be having this discussion.

So, contending for the faith means allowing others to keep their own heresies, and we can't create any new ones? Just curious on the logic.

- No. But what I have seen too often in fundamentalism is that we take separation to an extreme, cutting ourselves off from even historically orthodox, fundamental Bible teaching. Then we allow an "evangelist" to come on our platform and teach absolute heresy, but he is acceptable because he is a separatist like us. I thought the point of separation was to maintain pure teaching?! If it is not, we are just a denomination or a political party, not Biblical fundamentalists.

A word of advice...if you are going to post an article from someone's blog, please show respect to whom you differ.

- Could the same be required of the original blog post and the way it treats John Wesley?

I apologize if I offended you personally. I am willing to come together with any like-minded believer. In that same spirit, I do not find it particularly helpful to call someone like John Wesley a "heretic." I believe that the Bible teaches levels of fellowship and levels of separation, and that all of us to one degree or another embrace heresy at times and need growth and correction. In polite company or academic discussion, however, it is not really helpful to throw the word "heretic" out and let it go off like a firecracker.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

G. N. Barkman's picture

When Charles Spurgeon was once asked about Wesley, he said something similar to the following:  (similar rather than exactly because I am quoting from memory something I read years ago)   "If I were asked to nominate two men to expand the number of Apostles to fourteen, I can think of no better choices than George Whitefield and John Wesley."

Evidently, Spurgeon had a much different opinion of Wesley than the author of the above cited blog.

G. N. Barkman

dmyers's picture

John Wesley was Arminian, continuationist, and taught/believed perfectionism?  Gasp!  Horrors!  How could we not have known?

Except . . . wait -- doesn't everyone in the Wesleyan denominations (Methodist, Nazarene, etc.) know these things about Wesley (if for no other reason than because that's their doctrine too)?  Doesn't everyone in the traditions that differ with the Wesleyan denominations (Baptist, Presbyterian, etc.) also know these things about Wesley (and debate them with the Wesleyan/Arminians)?

Apart from the tone or purpose of the article, I have to take issue with the premise that Wesley's "real" theology is somehow a well-kept secret that the author is revealing.  Almost all of this is foundational stuff that anyone who is paying any attention already knows.  It is certainly not information that is "left out" of historical or theological accounts of Wesley.

I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene without any special training and I knew all of this about Wesley.  I attended an IFB Christian school and all my Baptist friends who debated eternal security with me were well aware of Wesley's teachings.  So where's the news here?

(I didn't know Wesley believed in baptismal regeneration, and I'm skeptical that he did.  That is certainly not a tenet of Methodist or Nazarene doctrine.)

Ron Bean's picture

"Beware of those who, in their desire to appear tall, must continually chop off the legs of others."

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

KLengel's picture

Paul, 

I am not offended.  One of the things that concerns me, is that pastors and theologians today are so quick to dismiss the possibility of doctrinal purity.  While I know many do not desire to hear this truth, both people on different sides of a matter cannot be right.  Both can be wrong, of course, but not both correct.  It is only the influence of modernism, relativism, and culture that has dulled our senses to the existence of dogmatic, pure truth.  Purity that is not absolute is not purity; it is contamination.

First, what is orthodoxy? Can orthodoxy include both Arminians and Calvinists? For example, at the Synod of Dort, Arminianism was designated a heresy. So, if John Wesley was an Arminian, is he not a heretic?    

Secondly, we live in a culture and times that is more receptive of various believers holding differing, even opposing views, yet both being orthodox.  This allowance of soul liberty does not make both of them orthodox.  Orthodox, by its very nature, must be true beliefs.  Since both cannot be true, you can state one of the following: The first is orthodox and the other not; The second one is orthodox and the other is not; or both are not orthodox, and another view must be orthodox.  In addition, in any of these three examples, those that are not orthodox, must be by definition, heresy.  (because of man's finiteness, many want to tread carefully and I understand that, but the truth of my statement still remains.)  

Many argue over the overemphasis or extremeness of biblical separation, but orthodoxy does just that.  It divides truth from error.  If you state both viewpoints can be possible, I would tell you that it would be impossible for both to be true, but both could be wrong.

Thanks for your clarifications Paul!

KML

   

  

 

 

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

For the past several hundred years, orthodox men of doctrinal purity have acknowledged the godliness of imperfect men like Wesley and noted the mighty ways that God chose to use them.

 

 

 

Dave Gilbert's picture

KLengel wrote:

Paul, 

I am not offended.  One of the things that concerns me, is that pastors and theologians today are so quick to dismiss the possibility of doctrinal purity.  While I know many do not desire to hear this truth, both people on different sides of a matter cannot be right.  Both can be wrong, of course, but not both correct.  It is only the influence of modernism, relativism, and culture that has dulled our senses to the existence of dogmatic, pure truth.  Purity that is not absolute is not purity; it is contamination.

First, what is orthodoxy? Can orthodoxy include both Arminians and Calvinists? For example, at the Synod of Dort, Arminianism was designated a heresy. So, if John Wesley was an Arminian, is he not a heretic?    

Secondly, we live in a culture and times that is more receptive of various believers holding differing, even opposing views, yet both being orthodox.  This allowance of soul liberty does not make both of them orthodox.  Orthodox, by its very nature, must be true beliefs.  Since both cannot be true, you can state one of the following: The first is orthodox and the other not; The second one is orthodox and the other is not; or both are not orthodox, and another view must be orthodox.  In addition, in any of these three examples, those that are not orthodox, must be by definition, heresy.  (because of man's finiteness, many want to tread carefully and I understand that, but the truth of my statement still remains.)  

Many argue over the overemphasis or extremeness of biblical separation, but orthodoxy does just that.  It divides truth from error.  If you state both viewpoints can be possible, I would tell you that it would be impossible for both to be true, but both could be wrong.

Thanks for your clarifications Paul!

KML

   

  

 

 

 

..And one I found refreshing given the late hour we are living in. I also put in bold something I have held for a long time: There is truth, and there is error. To me, God's truth is like a bucket of pure water...introduce one drop of gasoline into it, and it is no longer pure. I remember the first time I realized this concept, and I was stopped in my tracks, mentally.

 

For the believer, the transforming of the mind is a very long process and involves what I know to be a constant study of Scripture via the Holy Spirit.

 

Finally, what some call "orthodoxy" I call "not close enough", from what God has shown me...I could write more about this, but it could get lengthy. I'm also reminded of this verse: Hebrews 4:12, as well as this one: John 16:13 ( which is focused on the 11 Disciples, but I believe applies to us as well )