How Are You a Methodist?!

Jason Micheli —  November 13, 2018 — 1 Comment

Funny thing— a couple of years ago I was part of a long sermon series slog through Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and last fall I taught a class on the Solas for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Taken together those two experiences made me realize respectively that the traditional Protestant reading of Paul is correct and very few Protestants (in the mainline church) can articulate the fundamentals of Protestant belief, leaving prejudice or habit as the only real reasons we’re not Roman Catholic.

Since then I’ve made a commitment to myself to stick the basics, keep the main thing (justification by grace through faith) the main thing, and preach essentially the same sermon Sunday after Sunday. As a consequence, I get a lot of evil eyes and quizzical looks from people, clergy and lay, who wonder “how are you a Methodist?”

It’s revealing, I think, that we base our working definitions Methodism based upon a caricatured view of John Wesley that centers primarily around his works of mercy ministry that proved deadly to Wesley apart from his Aldersgate conversion. We all forget that the spark that set fire to the Methodist movement was Wesley’s response to Martin Luther’s proclamation of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Where we preach about justification hardly at all as Methodists, Wesley did so all the time.

Such that, to our ears— steeped as they are in civil religion that’s couched in terms of “sanctification”— Wesley sounds more like a Calvinist or a Lutheran to us.

As Will Willimon jokes, without a robust doctrine of justification in Christ by grace through faith— all of it, sola— and without a sense of God’s active agency in the world, Methodism is ripe for moralism.

I mean, even John Wesley echoes the reformers in insisting that any “good” works done before or apart from justification are not good. By way of example, here’s an exchange between Charles Simeon and John Wesley:

CS:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

JW:

Yes, I do indeed.

CS:

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

JW:

Yes, solely through Christ.

CS:

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

JW:

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

CS:

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

JW:

No.

CS:

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

JW:

Yes, altogether.

CS:

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

JW:

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

CS:

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

Jason Micheli

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One response to How Are You a Methodist?!

  1. Well said, I’ve had that question myself reading this blog. I think we could all do with a Reformation refresher.

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