Devout and Holy Life


Rev John Hill and John Wesley at St. Pauls in London


The following is an article written by and used with permission from Ted Leach.  Enjoy, I did.

Somewhere along the way a simple idea became a doctrinal bone of contention.  There was a man named William Law (1686-1761) who wrote a book entitled A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  That book was formative for a slightly younger British cleric named John Wesley (1703-1791).  These two men were part of a movement that changed Great Britain for the better.  Their focus was simple:  as followers of Jesus Christ, seek to live a holy life.

John Wesley preached a fairly simple message, but it was a deep message that impacted the whole range of human existence.  Wesley believed every aspect of life was subject to the powerful scrutiny and the transforming grace of the Gospel.   His primary interest was in developing a sense of unity around the essence of Christianity and the core values of the church:  “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.”   Wesley was thoroughly Protestant but he appreciated the faith of devout Roman Catholics.   He respected those who differed with him theologically, such as George Whitefield.  His deep commitment to the basics of Christianity and a strong (post-Aldersgate) sense of assurance gave him a self-confidence that enabled him to embrace people across a wide range of Christian experience and expression.   The Methodist movement became a rather large, inclusive tent.  Wesley encouraged people to “think and let think” regarding non-essential applications of the faith.

After John Wesley’s death, his spiritual descendants echoed his message while adding their own flavor.  Different and sometimes conflicting themes emerged in the Wesleyan community in the century after Wesley.  Doctrinal differences emerged around the definition of a holy life.  Some held to strict “dos” and “don’ts,” seeing outward behavior as the true measure of a holy life, while others were more accommodating to the changing values of the broader culture.   Some were more literal in their interpretation of scripture while others interpreted scripture in light of an emerging “historical criticism.”  Some preached a definitive “second work of grace,” a transformative event of the Holy Spirit that brings entire sanctification, while others focused on the gradual work of the Holy Spirit over one’s lifetime.  Wesley’s spiritual descendants began to populate various denominations in the holiness tradition such as the Church of the Nazarene and the Wesleyan Church.  Some joined the ranks of Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God and the Assemblies of God.

These denominations, along with those that continued to use some form of the name “Methodist,” all share a common heritage:  to strive for holiness of heart and life.  Wesleyan people are future-focused and goal-oriented.   We believe God isn’t through with us yet.  Wesleyan people are “going on to perfection.”  We expect to “be made perfect in love in this life.”  United Methodists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics may express holiness of heart and life in different ways.  In the late 19th century and the 20th century, these groups often defined themselves apart from, or in contrast to, one another.   Perhaps in the 21st century, we will have more dialogue about the faith roots we share.

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Categories: Church, Church At Chelsea Park, Faith Journey, John Wesley | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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