Aller au contenu principal

Wesleyan theology

Wesleyan theology

Wesleyan theology, otherwise known as Wesleyan–Arminian theology, or Methodist theology, is a theological tradition in Protestant Christianity based upon the ministry of the 18th-century evangelical reformer brothers John Wesley and Charles Wesley. More broadly it refers to the theological system inferred from the various sermons (e.g. the Forty-four Sermons), theological treatises, letters, journals, diaries, hymns, and other spiritual writings of the Wesleys and their contemporary coadjutors such as John William Fletcher.

In 1736, the Wesley brothers travelled to the Georgia colony in America as Christian missionaries; they left rather disheartened at what they saw. Both of them subsequently had "religious experiences", especially John in 1738, being greatly influenced by the Moravian Christians. They began to organize a renewal movement within the Church of England to focus on personal faith and holiness. John Wesley took Protestant churches to task over the nature of sanctification, the process by which a believer is conformed to the image of Christ, emphasizing New Testament teachings regarding the work of God and the believer in sanctification.

Wesleyan–Arminian theology, manifest today in Methodism (inclusive of the Holiness movement), is named after its founders, John Wesley in particular, as well as for Jacobus Arminius, since it is a subset of Arminian theology. The Wesleys were clergymen in the Church of England, though the Wesleyan tradition places stronger emphasis on extemporaneous preaching, evangelism, as well as personal faith and personal experience, especially on the new birth, assurance, growth in grace, entire sanctification and outward holiness. In his Sunday Service John Wesley included the Articles of Religion, which were based on the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, though stripped of their more peculiarly Calvinistic theological leanings. Wesleyan theology asserts the primary authority of Scripture and affirms the Christological orthodoxy of the first five centuries of church history.


Wesleyan–Arminianism developed as an attempt to explain Christianity in a manner unlike the teachings of Calvinism. Arminianism is a theological study conducted by Jacobus Arminius, from the Netherlands, in opposition to Calvinist orthodoxy on the basis of free will. In 1610, after the death of Arminius his followers, the Remonstrants led by Simon Episcopius, presented a document to the Netherlands. This document is known today as the Five Articles of Remonstrance. Wesleyan theology, on the other hand, was founded upon the teachings of John Wesley, an English evangelist, and the beliefs of this dogma are derived from his many publications, including his collected sermons, journal, abridgements of theological, devotional, and historical Christian works, and a variety of tracts and treatises on theological subjects. Subsequently, the two theories have joined into one set of values for the contemporary church; yet, when examined separately, their unique details can be discovered, as well as their similarities in ideals.

In the early 1770s, John Wesley, aided by the theological writings of John William Fletcher, emphasized Arminian doctrines in his controversy with the Calvinistic wing of the evangelicals in England. Then, in 1778, he founded a theological journal which he titled the Arminian Magazine. This period, during the Calvinist–Arminian debate, was influential in forming a lasting link between Arminian and Wesleyan theology.

Wesley's opposition to Calvinism was more successful than Arminius's, especially in the United States where Arminianism would become the dominant school of soteriology of Evangelical Protestantism, largely because it was spread through popular preaching in a series of Great Awakenings. Arminius's work was not a direct influence on Wesley. Yet, he chose the term "Arminianism" to distinguish the kind of Evangelicalism his followers were to espouse from that of their Calvinist theological opponents. Many have considered the most accurate term for Wesleyan theology to be "Evangelical Arminianism."

Wesley is remembered for visiting the Moravians of both Georgia and Germany and examining their beliefs, then founding the Methodist movement, the precursor to the later variety of Methodist denominations. Wesley's desire was not to form a new sect, but rather to reform the nation and "spread scriptural holiness" as truth. However, the creation of Wesleyan–Arminianism has today developed into a popular standard for many contemporary churches.

Although its primary legacy remains within the various Methodist denominations (see § Churches upholding Wesleyan theology), the Wesleyan tradition has been refined and reinterpreted as catalyst for other distinct denominations as well, e.g., Phoebe Palmer and the Holiness movement (which includes Methodism, but spread to other traditions too); Phineas F. Bresee and the Church of the Nazarene; and William J. Seymour and the Wesleyan holiness wing of the Pentecostal movement represented by denominations such as the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.


Wesleyan distinctives

Definition of sin

Methodist theology teaches:

We believe that sin is the willful transgression of the known law of God, and that such sin condemns a soul to eternal punishment unless pardoned by God through repentance, confession, restitution, and believing in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. This includes all men "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Rom. 3:23. (Prov. 28:13, John 6:47; Acts 16:31; Rom. 6:23, I John 1:9; I John 3:4). —Manual of the Wesleyan Holiness Association of Churches

Firstly, it categorizes sin as being original sin and actual sin:

Original sin is the sin which corrupts our nature and gives us the tendency to sin. Actual sins are the sins we commit every day before we are saved, such as lying, swearing, stealing.

Wesleyans have a distinct understanding of the nature of actual sin, which is divided into the categories of "sin proper" and "sin improper". As explained by John Wesley, "Nothing is sin, strictly speaking, but a voluntary transgression of a known law of God. Therefore, every voluntary breach of the law of love is sin; and nothing else, if we speak properly. To strain the matter farther is only to make way for Calvinism." With this narrower understanding of sin, John Wesley believed that it was not only possible but necessary to live without committing sin. Wesley explains this in his comments on 1 John 3:8 "Whosoever abideth in communion with him—By loving faith, sinneth not—While he so abideth. Whosoever sinneth certainly seeth him not—The loving eye of his soul is not then fixed upon God; neither doth he then experimentally know him—Whatever he did in time past."



Wesleyan–Arminian theology falls squarely in the tradition of substitutionary atonement, though it is linked with Christus Victor and moral influence theories. John Wesley, reflecting on Colossians 1:14, connects penal substitution with victory over Satan in his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament: "the voluntary passion of our Lord appeased the Father's wrath, obtained pardon and acceptance for us, and consequently, dissolved the dominion and power which Satan had over us through our sins." In elucidating 1 John 3:8, John Wesley says that Christ manifesting himself in the hearts of humans destroys the work of Satan, thus making Christus Victor imagery "one part of the framework of substitutionary atonement." The Methodist divine Charles Wesley's hymns "Sinners, Turn, Why Will You Die" and "And Can It be That I Should Gain" concurrently demonstrate that Christ's sacrifice is the example of supreme love, while also convicting the Christian believer of his/her sins, thus using the moral influence theory within the structure of penal substitution in accordance with the Augustinian theology of illumination. Wesleyan theology also emphasizes a participatory nature in atonement, in which the Methodist believer spiritually dies with Christ and Christ dies for humanity; this is reflected in the words of the following Methodist hymn (122):

"Vouchsafe us eyes of faith to see
The Man transfixed on Calvary,
To know thee, who thou art—
The one eternal God and true;
And let the sight affect, subdue,
And break my stubborn heart...
The unbelieving veil remove,
And by thy manifested love,
And by thy sprinkled blood,
Destroy the love of sin in me,
And get thyself the victory,
And bring me back to God...
Now let thy dying love constrain
My soul to love its God again,
Its God to glorify;
And lo! I come thy cross to share,
Echo thy sacrificial prayer,

And with my Saviour die."

The Christian believer mystically draws themselves into the scene of the crucifixion in order to experience the power of salvation that it possesses. In the Lord's Supper, the Methodist especially experiences the participatory nature of substitutionary atonement as "the sacrament sets before our eyes Christ's death and suffering whereby we are transported into an experience of the crucifixion."

With regard to the fate of the unlearned, Willard Francis Mallalieu, a Methodist bishop, wrote in Some Things That Methodism Stands For:

Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

Justification and sanctification

In Methodism, the way of salvation includes conviction, repentance, restitution, faith, justification, regeneration and adoption, which is followed by sanctification and witness of the Spirit. Being convicted of sin and the need for a saviour, as well as repenting of sin and making restitution, is "essential preparation for saving faith". Wesleyan theology teaches that the new birth contains two phases that occur together, justification and regeneration:

Though these two phases of the new birth occur simultaneously, they are, in fact, two separate and distinct acts. Justification is that gracious and judicial act of God whereby a soul is granted complete absolution from all guilt and a full release from the penalty of sin (Romans 3:23-25). This act of divine grace is wrought by faith in the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Regeneration is the impartation of divine life which is manifested in that radical change in the moral character of man, from the love and life of sin to the love of God and the life of righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:23). ―Principles of Faith, Emmanuel Association of Churches

At the moment a person experiences the New Birth, he/she is "adopted into the family of God". The Wesleyan tradition seeks to establish justification by faith as the gateway to sanctification or "scriptural holiness." Wesleyans teach that God provides grace that enables any person to freely choose to place faith in Christ or reject his salvation (see synergism). If the person accepts it, then God justifies them and continues to give further grace to spiritually heal and sanctify them. In Wesleyan theology, justification specifically refers to "pardon, the forgiveness of sins", rather than "being made actually just and righteous", which Wesleyans believe is accomplished through sanctification, that is, the pursuit of holiness in salvation. John Wesley taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensable for our sanctification".

Wesley insisted that imputed righteousness must become imparted righteousness. He taught that a believer could progress in love until love became devoid of self-interest at the moment of entire sanctification. Wesleyan theology teaches that there are two distinct phases in the Christian experience. In the first work of grace (the new birth) a person repents of his/her sin that he/she confesses to God, places his/her faith in Jesus, receives forgiveness and becomes a Christian; during the second work of grace, entire sanctification, the believer is purified and made holy.

Wesley understood faith as a necessity for salvation, even calling it "the sole condition" of salvation, in the sense that it led to justification, the beginning point of salvation. At the same time, "as glorious and honorable as [faith] is, it is not the end of the commandment. God hath given this honor to love alone" ("The Law Established through Faith II," §II.1). Faith is "an unspeakable blessing" because "it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law of love in our hearts" ("The Law Established through Faith II," §II.6) This end, the law of love ruling in our hearts, is the fullest expression of salvation; it is Christian perfection. —Amy Wagner

Wesleyan Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that restitution occurs subsequent to repentance. Additionally, "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification" emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith." Bishop Scott J. Jones states that "United Methodist doctrine thus understands true, saving faith to be the kind that, give time and opportunity, will result in good works. Any supposed faith that does not in fact lead to such behaviors is not genuine, saving faith." For Methodists, "true faith...cannot subsist without works". (See James 2:14–26.) Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy." While "faith is essential for a meaningful relationship with God, our relationship with God also takes shape through our care for people, the community, and creation itself."

First work of grace: new birth

John Wesley held that the new birth "is that great change which God works in the soul when he brings it into life, when he raises it from the death of sin to the life of righteousness" (Works, vol. 2, pp. 193–194). In the life of a Christian, the new birth is considered the first work of grace. The Articles of Religion, in Article XVII—Of Baptism, state that baptism is a "sign of regeneration or the new birth." (See § Baptism.) The Methodist Visitor in describing this doctrine, admonishes individuals: "'Ye must be born again.' Yield to God that He may perform this work in and for you. Admit Him to your heart. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'"

After the New Birth, if a person commits sin, he/she may be restored to fellowship with God through sincere repentance and then "by the grace of God, rise[s] again and amend[s]" his/her life.

Second work of grace: Christian perfection

Methodists, following in John Wesley's footsteps, believe in the second work of grace— enabling entire sanctification, also called Christian perfection—which removes original sin and makes the believer holy (cf. baptism with the Holy Spirit); Wesley explained: "Entire sanctification, or Christian perfection, is neither more nor less than pure love; love expelling sin, and governing both the heart and life of a child of God. The Refiner's fire purges out all that is contrary to love." Wesley taught both that sanctification could be an instantaneous experience, and that it could be a gradual process. Before a believer is entirely sanctified, he/she consecrates himself/herself to God; the theology behind consecration is summarized with the maxim "Give yourself to God in all things, if you would have God give Himself to you."

The Methodist Churches teach that apostasy can occur through a loss of faith or through sinning (refusing to be holy). If a person backslides but later decides to return to God, he or she must confess his or her sins and be entirely sanctified again (see conditional security).

Richard P. Bucher, contrasts this position with the Lutheran one, discussing an analogy put forth by Wesley:

Whereas in Lutheran theology the central doctrine and focus of all our worship and life is justification by grace through faith, for Methodists the central focus has always been holy living and the striving for perfection. Wesley gave the analogy of a house. He said repentance is the porch. Faith is the door. But holy living is the house itself. Holy living is true religion. "Salvation is like a house. To get into the house you first have to get on the porch (repentance) and then you have to go through the door (faith). But the house itself—one's relationship with God—is holiness, holy living" (Joyner, paraphrasing Wesley, 3).

Assurance of faith

John Wesley believed that all Christians have a faith which implies an "assurance" of God's forgiving love, and that one would feel that assurance, or the "witness of the Spirit". This understanding is grounded in Paul's affirmation, " have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The same Spirit beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God..." (Romans 8:15–16, Wesley's translation). This experience was mirrored for Wesley in his Aldersgate experience wherein he "knew" he was loved by God and that his sins were forgiven.

"I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that He had taken my sin, even mine." — from Wesley's Journal

Conditional security

John Wesley was an outspoken defender of the doctrine of conditional preservation of the saints, or commonly "conditional security". In 1751, Wesley defended his position in a work titled, "Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints." In it he argued that a believer remains in a saving relationship with God if he "continue in faith" or "endureth in faith unto the end." Wesley affirmed that a child of God, "while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell." However, if he makes a "shipwreck of the faith, then a man that believes now may be an unbeliever some time hence" and become "a child of the devil." He then adds, "God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe. But the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no."

Like his Arminian predecessors, Wesley was convinced from the testimony of the Scriptures that a true believer may abandon faith and the way of righteousness and "fall from God as to perish everlastingly."

Covenant theology

Methodism maintains the superstructure of classical covenant theology, but being Arminian in soteriology, it discards the "predestinarian template of Reformed theology that was part and parcel of its historical development." The main difference between Wesleyan covenant theology and classical covenant theology is as follows:

The point of divergence is Wesley's conviction that not only is the inauguration of the covenant of grace coincidental with the fall, but so is the termination of the covenant of works. This conviction is of supreme importance for Wesley in facilitating an Arminian adaptation of covenant theology—first, by reconfiguring the reach of the covenant of grace; and second, by disallowing any notion that there is a reinvigoration of the covenant of works beyond the fall.

As such, in the traditional Wesleyan view, only Adam and Eve were under the covenant of works, while on the other hand, all of their progeny are under the covenant of grace. With Mosaic Law belonging to the covenant of grace, all of humanity is brought "within the reach of the provisions of that covenant." This belief is reflected in John Wesley's sermon Righteousness of Faith: "The Apostle does not here oppose the covenant given by Moses, to the covenant given by Christ. ... But it is the covenant of grace, which God, through Christ, hath established with men in all ages". The covenant of grace was therefore administered through "promises, prophecies, sacrifices, and at last by circumcision" during the patriarchal ages and through "the paschal lamb, the scape goat, [and] the priesthood of Aaron" under Mosaic Law. Under the Gospel, the covenant of grace is mediated through the greater sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper.


Methodists affirm belief in "the one true Church, Apostolic and Universal", viewing their Churches as constituting a "privileged branch of this true church". With regard to the position of Methodism within Christendom, the founder of the movement "John Wesley once noted that what God had achieved in the development of Methodism was no mere human endeavor but the work of God. As such it would be preserved by God so long as history remained." Calling it "the grand depositum" of the Methodist faith, Wesley specifically taught that the propagation of the doctrine of entire sanctification was the reason that God raised up the Methodists in the world.

Free will

Methodist theology teaches the doctrine of free will:

Our Lord Jesus Christ did so die for all men as to make salvation attainable by every man that cometh into the world. If men are not saved that fault is entirely their own, lying solely in their own unwillingness to obtain the salvation offered to them. (John 1:9; I Thess. 5:9; Titus 2:11-12).

Four sources of theological authority

The 20th-century Wesley scholar Albert Outler argued in his introduction to the 1964 collection John Wesley that Wesley developed his theology by using a method that Outler termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Free Methodist Church teaches:

In the Free Methodist church, we believe all truth is God's truth. If something is true, we embrace it as from the Lord. First and foremost, we hold scripture up to be the primary source of God's inspired revealed truth to us. And, we also embrace truth that is found in three other places: reason, tradition, and experience. Along with scripture, this has come to be called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and we believe it informs our theology.

Likewise, the Methodist Church of Great Britain refers to the quadrilateral as "a fourfold approach" to learning and applying the Christian faith, and the United Methodist Church asserts that:

Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God 'so far as it is necessary for our salvation'.

Four Last Things

With respect to the four last things, Wesleyan theology affirms the belief in Hades, "the intermediate state of souls between death and the general resurrection," which is divided into Paradise (for the righteous) and Gehenna (for the wicked). After the general judgment, Hades will be abolished. John Wesley "made a distinction between hell (the receptacle of the damned) and Hades (the receptacle of all separate spirits), and also between paradise (the antechamber of heaven) and heaven itself." The dead will remain in Hades "until the Day of Judgment when we will all be bodily resurrected and stand before Christ as our judge. After the Judgment, the Righteous will go to their eternal reward in Heaven and the Accursed will depart to Hell (see Matthew 25)."

Everyone that has a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord on departing from this life, goes to be in felicity with Him, and will share the eternal glories of His everlasting Kingdom; the fuller rewards and the greater glories, being reserved until the final Judgment. Matt. 25:34, 46; John 14:2, 3; II Cor. 5:6, 8, 19; Phil. 1:23, 24 —Evangelical Methodist Church Discipline (¶24)

While the saint goes from the judgment to enjoy eternal bliss, the impenitent sinner is turned away into everlasting condemnation, punishment and misery. As heaven is described in the Bible as a place of everlasting happiness, so hell is described as a place of endless torment, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Matt. 25:41, 46; Mark 9:44-48; Luke 13:3; John 8:21, 23 —Evangelical Methodist Church Discipline (¶25)

Wesley stated that: "I believe it to be a duty to observe, to pray for the Faithful Departed". He "taught the propriety of Praying for the Dead, practised it himself, provided Forms that others might." In a joint statement with the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Methodist Church of Great Britain affirmed that "Methodists who pray for the dead thereby commend them to the continuing mercy of God."

Sacraments and rites


The Methodist Articles of Religion, with regard to baptism, teach:

Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The Baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church.

While baptism imparts regenerating grace, its permanence is contingent upon repentance and a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Wesleyan theology holds that baptism is a sacrament of initiation into the visible Church. Wesleyan covenant theology further teaches that baptism is a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace:

Of this great new-covenant blessing, baptism was therefore eminently the sign; and it represented "the pouring out" of the Spirit, "the descending" of the Spirit, the "falling" of the Spirit "upon men," by the mode in which it was administered, the pouring of water from above upon the subjects baptized. As a seal, also, or confirming sign, baptism answers to circumcision.

Methodists recognize three modes of baptism as being valid—immersion, aspersion or affusion—in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper

The followers of John Wesley have typically affirmed that the sacrament of Holy Communion (the Lord's Supper) is an instrumental Means of Grace through which the real presence of Christ is communicated to the believer, but have otherwise allowed the details to remain a mystery. In particular, Methodists reject the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (see "Article XVIII" of the Articles of Religion); the Primitive Methodist Church, in its Discipline also rejects the Lollardist doctrine of consubstantiation. In 2004, the United Methodist Church affirmed its view of the sacrament and its belief in the real presence in an official document entitled This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. Of particular note here is the church's unequivocal recognition of the anamnesis as more than just a memorial but, rather, a re-presentation of Christ Jesus and his love.

Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25) is anamnesis (the biblical Greek word). This dynamic action becomes re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present, so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past.

This affirmation of real presence can be seen clearly illustrated in the language of the United Methodist Communion Liturgy where, in the epiclesis of the Great Thanksgiving, the celebrating minister prays over the elements:

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.

Methodists assert that Jesus is truly present, and that the means of his presence is a "Holy Mystery". A celebrating minister will pray for the Holy Spirit to make the elements "be for us the body and blood of Christ", and the congregation can even sing, as in the third stanza of Charles Wesley's hymn Come Sinners to the Gospel Feast:

Come and partake the gospel feast,
be saved from sin, in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of our God,
and eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The distinctive feature of the Methodist doctrine of the real presence is that the way Christ manifests his presence in the sacrament is a sacred mystery—the focus is that Christ is truly present in the sacrament. The Discipline of the Free Methodist Church thus teaches:

The Lord's Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death. To those who rightly, worthily, and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves. Christ, according to his promise, is really present in the sacrament. –Discipline, Free Methodist Church


Penance, including the practice of confessing sins, is defined by the Articles of Religion as one those "Commonly called Sacraments but not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel", also known as the "five lesser sacraments". John Wesley held "the validity of Anglican practice in his day as reflected in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer", stating that "We grant confession to men to be in many cases of use: public, in case of public scandal; private, to a spiritual guide for disburdening of the conscience, and as a help to repentance." Additionally, per the recommendation of Wesley, Methodist class meetings, as well as penitent bands, traditionally met weekly in order to confess sins to one another.


Lovefeasts (in which bread and the loving-cup is shared between members of the congregation) are a means of grace, a "converting ordinance" that John Wesley believed to be an apostolic institution. One account from July 1776 expounded on the fact that people experienced entire sanctification at a Lovefeast:

We held our general love-feast. It began between eight and nine on Wednesday morning, and continued till noon. Many testified that they had 'redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins.' And many were enabled to declare that it had 'cleansed them from all sin.' So clear, so full, so strong was their testimony that while some were speaking their experience hundreds were in tears, and others vehemently crying to God for pardon or holiness. About eight our watch-night began. Mr. J. preached an excellent sermon: the rest of the preachers exhorted and prayed with divine energy. Surely, for the work wrought on these two days, many will praise God to all eternity (ibid.: pp. 93–4)


In certain Methodist connexions, such as the Missionary Methodist Church and the New Congregational Methodist Church, footwashing is practiced at the time that the Lord's Supper is celebrated. The Missionary Methodist Church states in its Book of Discipline:

Feet Washing: We would sanction and encourage the rite of feet washing as a religious act. It is provided that each church be required to partake of the Supper of the Lord as often as is convenient; it is provided that each church observe the rite of feet washing.

John 13:1-17; 1 Timothy 5:10
Four reasons why Jesus washed His disciples' feet:
1. "That He might testify His love to His disciplines."
2. "That He might give an instance of His own voluntary humility and condescension."
3. "That He might signify to them spiritual washing, which is referred to in His discourse with Peter."

4. "That He might set them an example."

In other connexions such as the United Methodist Church, footwashing is practiced especially on Maundy Thursday.

Validity of Holy Orders

John Wesley held that the offices of bishop and presbyter constituted one order, citing an ancient opinion from the Church of Alexandria; Jerome, a Church Father, wrote: "For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter?" (Letter CXLVI). John Wesley thus argued that for two centuries the succession of bishops in the Church of Alexandria, which was founded by Mark the Evangelist, was preserved through ordination by presbyters alone and was considered valid by that ancient Church.

Since the Bishop of London refused to ordain ministers in the British American colonies, this constituted an emergency and as a result, on 2 September 1784, Wesley, along with a priest from the Anglican Church and two other elders, operating under the ancient Alexandrian habitude, ordained Thomas Coke a superintendent, although Coke embraced the title bishop.

Today, the United Methodist Church follows this ancient Alexandrian practice as bishops are elected from the presbyterate: the Discipline of the Methodist Church, in ¶303, affirms that "ordination to this ministry is a gift from God to the Church. In ordination, the Church affirms and continues the apostolic ministry through persons empowered by the Holy Spirit." It also cites Scripture in support of this practice, namely, 1 Timothy 4:14, which states:

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.

The Methodist Church also buttresses this argument with the leg of sacred tradition of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by citing the Church Fathers, many of whom concur with this view.

In addition to the aforementioned arguments, in 1937 the annual Conference of the British Methodist Church located the "true continuity" with the Church of past ages in "the continuity of Christian experience, the fellowship in the gift of the one Spirit; in the continuity in the allegiance to one Lord, the continued proclamation of the message; the continued acceptance of the mission;..." [through a long chain which goes back to] "the first disciples in the company of the Lord Himself ... This is our doctrine of apostolic succession" [which neither depends on, nor is secured by,] "an official succession of ministers, whether bishops or presbyters, from apostolic times, but rather by fidelity to apostolic truth".

Canonical hours

Early Methodism was known for its "almost monastic rigors, its living by rule, [and] its canonical hours of prayer". It inherited from its Anglican patrimony the rubrics of reciting the Daily Office, which Methodist Christians were expected to pray. The first prayer book of Methodism, The Sunday Service of the Methodists with other occasional Services thus included the canonical hours of both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer; these two fixed prayer times were observed everyday in early Christianity, individually on weekdays and corporately on the Lord's Day. Later Methodist liturgical books, such as The Methodist Worship Book (1999) provide for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer to be prayed daily; the United Methodist Church encourages its communicants to pray the canonical hours as "one of the essential practices" of being a disciple of Jesus. Some Methodist religious orders publish the Daily Office to be used for that community, for example, The Book of Offices and Services of The Order of Saint Luke contains the canonical hours to be prayed traditionally at seven fixed prayer times: Lauds (6 am), Terce (9 am), Sext (12 pm), None (3 pm), Vespers (6 pm), Compline (9 pm) and Vigil (12 am).

Outward holiness

Early Methodists wore plain dress, with Methodist clergy condemning "high headdresses, ruffles, laces, gold, and 'costly apparel' in general". John Wesley recommended that Methodists annually read his thoughts On Dress; in that sermon, John Wesley expressed his desire for Methodists: "Let me see, before I die, a Methodist congregation, full as plain dressed as a Quaker congregation". The 1858 Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection thus stated that "we would ... enjoin on all who fear God plain dress". Peter Cartwright, a Methodist revivalist, stated that in addition to wearing plain dress, the early Methodists distinguished themselves from other members of society by fasting on Fridays, abstaining from alcohol, and devoutly observing the Sabbath. Methodist circuit riders were known for practicing the spiritual discipline of mortifying the flesh as they "arose well before dawn for solitary prayer; they remained on their knees without food or drink or physical comforts sometimes for hours on end". The early Methodists did not participate in, and condemned, "worldly habits" including "playing cards, racing horses, gambling, attending the theater, dancing (both in frolics and balls), and cockfighting".

Over time, many of these practices were gradually relaxed in mainline Methodism, although practices such as teetotalism and fasting are still very much encouraged, in addition to the current prohibition of gambling; denominations of the conservative holiness movement, such as the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection and Evangelical Wesleyan Church, continue to reflect the spirit of the historic Methodist practice of wearing plain dress, encouraging members in "abstaining from the wearing of extravagant hairstyles, jewelry—to include rings, and expensive clothing for any reason". The Fellowship of Independent Methodist Churches, which continues to observe the ordinance of women's headcovering, stipulates "renouncing all vain pomp and glory" and "adorning oneself with modest attire." The General Rules of the Methodist Church in America, which are among the doctrinal standards of many Methodist Churches, promote first-day Sabbatarianism as they require "attending upon all the ordinances of God" including "the public worship of God" and prohibit "profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling".


John Wesley "laid foundations for Methodism's traditional call to abstain from beverage alcohol and its warnings about the use of drugs." Wesley referred to liquors as "certain, though slow, poison" and condemned those who sold it of leading people to hell. Methodist Churches are traditionally aligned with the temperance movement and its call for teetotalism. In Great Britain, both Wesleyan Methodists and Primitive Methodists championed the cause of temperance; the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals was later established in the United States to further the movement. ¶91 of the 2014 Discipline of the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection summarizes the traditional practice of Methodists regarding their requirement of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs:

We believe total abstinence from all intoxicating liquors as a beverage to be the duty of all Christians. We heartily favor moral suasion and the gospel remedy to save men from the drink habit. We believe that law must be an adjunct of moral means in order to suppress the traffic side of this evil. We believe that the State and the citizen each has solemn responsibilities and duties to perform in regard to this evil. We believe that for the State to enact any law to license or tax the traffic, or derive revenues therefrom, is contrary to the policy of good government, and brings the State into guilty complicity with the traffic and all the evils growing out of it, and is also unscriptural and sinful in principle and ought to be opposed by every Christian and patriot. We therefore believe that the only true and proper remedy for the gigantic evil of the liquor traffic is its entire suppression; and that all our people and true Christians everywhere should pray and vote against this evil, and not suffer themselves to be controlled by or support political parties which are managed in the interest of the drink traffic.


Fasting is considered one of the works of piety. Methodism's principal liturgical book The Sunday Service of the Methodists (put together by John Wesley), as well as The Directions Given to Band Societies (25 December 1744) by John Wesley, mandate fasting and abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year (in remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus). Wesley himself also kept the Eucharistic Fast, thus fasting before receiving Holy Communion "for the purpose of focusing his attention on God," and asked other Methodist Christians to do the same.

Law and Gospel

John Wesley admonished Methodist preachers to emphasize both the Law and the Gospel:

Undoubtedly both should be preached in their turn; yea, both at once, or both in one. All the conditional promises are instances of this. They are law and gospel mixed together. According to this model, I should advise every preacher continually to preach the law — the law grafted upon, tempered by, and animated with the spirit of the gospel. I advise him to declare explain, and enforce every command of God. But meantime to declare in every sermon (and the more explicitly the better) that the flint and great command to a Christian is, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ': that Christ is all in all, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; that all life, love, strength are from Him alone, and all freely given to us through faith. And it will ever be found that the law thus preached both enlightens and strengthens the soul; that it both nourishes and teaches; that it is the guide, 'food, medicine, and stay' of the believing soul.

Methodism makes a distinction between the ceremonial law and the moral law that is the Ten Commandments given to Moses. In Methodist Christianity, the moral law is the "fundamental ontological principle of the universe" and "is grounded in eternity", being "engraved on human hearts by the finger of God." In contradistinction to the teaching of the Lutheran Churches, the Methodist Churches bring the Law and the Gospel together in a profound sense: "the law is grace and through it we discover the good news of the way life is intended to be lived." John Wesley, the father of the Methodist tradition taught:

... there is no contrariety at all between the law and the gospel; ... there is no need for the law to pass away in order to the establishing of the gospel. Indeed neither of them supersedes the other, but they agree perfectly well together. Yea, the very same words, considered in different respects, are parts both of the law and the gospel. If they are considered as commandments, they are parts of the law: if as promises, of the gospel. Thus, 'Thou shalt love the Lord the God with all thy heart,' when considered as a commandment, is a branch of the law; when regarded as a promise, is an essential part of the gospel-the gospel being no other than the commands of the law proposed by way of promises. Accordingly poverty of spirit, purity of heart, and whatever else is enjoined in the holy law of God, are no other, when viewed in a gospel light, than so many great and precious promises. There is therefore the closest connection that can be conceived between the law and the gospel. On the one hand the law continually makes way for and points us to the gospel; on the other the gospel continually leads us to a more exact fulfilling of the law .... We may yet further observe that every command in Holy Writ is only a covered promise. (Sermon 25, "Sermon on the Mount, V," II, 2, 3)

Sunday Sabbatarianism

The early Methodists were known for "religiously keeping the Sabbath day". They regarded "keeping the Lord's Day as a duty, a delight, and a means of grace". The General Rules of the Methodist Church require "attending upon all the ordinances of God" including "the public worship of God" and prohibit "profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling". The Sunday Sabbatarian practices of the earlier Wesleyan Methodist Church in Great Britain are described by Jonathan Crowther in A Portraiture of Methodism:

They believe it to be their duty to keep the first day of the week as a sabbath. This, before Christ, was on the last day of the week; but from the time of his resurrection, was changed into the first day of the week, and is in scripture called, The Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian sabbath. This they believe to be set apart by God, and for his worship by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment. And they think it to be agreeable to the law of nature, as well as divine institution, that a due proportion of time should be set apart for the worship of God. ... This day ought to be kept holy unto the Lord, and men and women ought so to order their affairs, and prepare their hearts, that they may not only have a holy rest on that day, from worldly employments, words, and thoughts, but spend the day in the public and private duties of piety. No part of the day should be employed in any other way, except in works of mercy and necessity. On this day, they believe it to be their duty to worship God, and that not only in form, but at the same time in spirit and in truth. Therefore, they employ themselves in prayer and thanksgiving, in reading and meditating on the scriptures, in hearing the public preaching of God's word, in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, in Christian conversation, and in commemorating the dying love of the Lord Jesus Christ. ... And with them it is a prevailing idea, that God must be worshipped in spirit, daily, in private families, in the closet, and in the public assemblies.

Churches upholding Wesleyan theology

Methodism began as a reform movement within the Church of England, and, for a while, it remained as such. The movement separated itself from its "mother church" and became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church in America and the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Britain (as distinguished from Calvinistic Methodism). Many divisions occurred within the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 19th century, mostly over attitudes towards slavery (though doctrinally, opposition to slavery is one of the works of mercy). Some of these schisms healed in the early 20th century, and many of the splinter Methodist groups came together by 1939 to form the Methodist Church. In 1968, the Methodist Church joined with the Radical Pietist Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church, the largest Methodist church in America. Other groups include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Congregational Methodist Church, the Evangelical Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Independent Methodist Churches, the Primitive Methodist Church, and the Southern Methodist Church.

In 19th-century America, a dissension arose over the nature of entire sanctification. Those who believed that entire sanctification could occur both instantaneously or could result from progressive sanctification culminating in Christian perfection, remained within the mainline Methodist Churches; others, however, heavily emphasized the instantaneous nature of entire sanctification. The latter line of thought came to be known as the holiness movement and while many of those who supported it remained in mainline Methodism (e.g. Asbury Theological Seminary), others began the various holiness churches, including the Free Methodist Church, Church of God (Holiness), the Church of God (Anderson), the Churches of Christ in Christian Union, and the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which later merged with the Pilgrim Holiness Church to form the Wesleyan Church, which is present today. Other holiness groups, which also rejected the competing Pentecostal movement, merged to form the Church of the Nazarene. The Salvation Army is another Wesleyan-Holiness group which traces its roots to early Methodism. The Salvation Army's founders Catherine and William Booth founded the organization to stress evangelism and social action when William was a minister in the Methodist Reform Church.

The conservative holiness movement, including denominations such as the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, Bible Methodist Connection of Churches, Evangelical Wesleyan Church and Primitive Methodist Church, emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries to herald many of the strict standards of primitive Methodism, including outward holiness, plain dress, and temperance.

See also

  • Saints in Methodism
  • Eucharist § Methodist

Notes and references




Further reading

  • Rothwell, Mel-Thomas; Rothwell, Helen (1998). A Catechism on the Christian Religion: The Doctrines of Christianity with Special Emphasis on Wesleyan Concepts. Nicholasville: Schmul Publishing Co. ISBN 0880193867.
  • A Catechism Prepared Especially for the Members of the Evangelical Wesleyan Church. Cooperstown: LWD Publishing. 2014.
  • Wallace Thornton, Jr., Radical Righteousness
  • Wallace Thornton, Jr., The Conservative Holiness Movement: A Historical Appraisal
  • Steve Harper, The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley
  • Kenneth J. Collins, Wesley on Salvation
  • Kenneth J. Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation
  • Harald Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification
  • Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity
  • Adam Clarke, Clarke's Christian Theology
  • John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Baker Books, 2002)
  • Huzar, Eleanor, "Arminianism" in the Encyclopedia Americana (Danbury, 1994).
  • Outler, Albert C., "John Wesley" in the Encyclopedia Americana (Danbury, 1994).

Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Wesleyan theology by Wikipedia (Historical)