The series on Recovering Doctrinal Integrity was interrupted by pressing work in my home Annual Conference of my former denomination. Because time has passed since the last article, it may be helpful to summarize some key points from the earlier articles. Feel free to jump to the first major heading at any time.
The Global Methodist Church (GMC) is doing excellent work at recovering doctrinal integrity. The efforts of the authors of the Transitional Book of Doctrine and Discipline (D&D) are commendable. They direct us onto the path of that primitive religion which we are taught through Holy Scripture, was guarded by the early church, and is restored in the Methodist movement.
Every pastor and lay member should read and study the basic doctrinal paragraphs in the D&D. They are fifteen pages written in plain speech (par. 101-109). The GMC finds its unity in doctrinal integrity more than polity, structure, or institutions. You will be asked to amend and ratify the core doctrines of our unity at the convening General Conference. This will likely take place in mid to late 2024.
It should be expected that the GMC will lose some constituent churches following the convening conference. That is the experience of the ACNA and AMiA churches formed out of the Episcopal Church. Most of the U.S. churches entering the GMC are coming from a denomination that considered itself non-creedal and non-doctrinal—where the leadership did not care what anyone taught about Christ, salvation, or the authority of Scripture. This created a problem with progressive or syncretic elements working into the church, but it also created a problem among self-identified traditionalist/conservative elements. While we share many things in common, when we begin to clearly identify our doctrines we will discover that we include Wesleyan, Reformed, Arminian, Anglican, and Anabaptists among others. Doctrinal integrity cannot make that much accommodation. Some of us will discover we need a different home. It is not a matter of infighting. It is natural. It is to be expected.
If the Way of Salvation is a local option matter to be determined by each congregation, then we have jumped out of one fire and into another. Therefore, our churches should consider carefully the teaching of Holy Scripture as to the foundational and irrevocable word of God in five areas:
- The Nature of the Triune God
- The Rule of Faith (Biblical authority)
- The Way of Salvation
- The Mission of the Church
- The Relationship of the Church with the World.
This essay in the series is concerned with The Way of Salvation. Almost anything to do with personal salvation was marginalized or even ridiculed by leadership in my previous denomination. Things like the Roman Road to Salvation, the Sinner’s Prayer, of even talk of being born again were good for a laugh at clergy gatherings. (For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.) The Global Methodist Church has a dedication “…to introduce all people, without exception, to Jesus Christ, recognizing that the mission in which we are engaged has eternal consequences.” (par. 103)
We do not need to consider these questions as though no Christian has ever asked them before. We can avail ourselves of the wise counsel of those who came before us, who through their example of holy living and devotion to the work of God even to the point of martyrdom have laid a foundation on which we can build.
As a reference point for this series, I use the original Thirty-Nine Articles from which Methodism was born—not the twenty-five that came into use in 1784. Earlier essays in this series made the argument that Wesley’s Sunday Service was not meant to be a doctrinal revision of the Book of Common Prayer or the Thirty-Nine Articles but only an abridgement—a pocket guide version for a frontier church in an historically unprecedented situation. An abridgement is different from a revision. I find no evidence that Wesley considered the Sunday Service for Methodists a doctrinal revision.
The Way of Salvation
For those who recoil from the use of the terms doctrine and theology and ask, “Why can’t we just use the Bible,” I think you will like the first paragraphs of the D&D. After an introduction to the formation of the Global Methodist Church showing where it fits among the Christian churches, the first item addressed by our Doctrine and Discipline is, The Way of Salvation (par. 102). It comes straight from Scripture: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
However, we must also address what Scripture says about how God accomplishes this work and about what the Scriptures say about. Repentance, faith, justification, sanctification, and the Witness of the Spirit. We do that by allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. When we let Scripture interpret Scripture to definitively answer a question—we make a doctrinal statement. Every Biblical principle is a doctrinal statement. When we use Biblical principles to speak of how God relates with his creation and works in the lives of people, we make theological statements. Every sermon or devotional writing==every personal testimony–is an exercise in theology. The terms may have been perverted by your previous denomination, but this is a fair synopsis of the terms, doctrine and theology.
The D&D has seven articles in the section of the Articles of Religion that address the Way of Salvation. They are accessible from a variety of sources, but I will attach them to the end of this document for reference. They are taken directly from the 1784 text which is still used by the United Methodist Church. However, the premise of this series is that we could benefit by a return in some form of the four articles concerning salvation that were omitted in the 1784 abridgement. We will look at them in this order:
- XV. Of Christ alone without Sin
- XVIII Of obtaining eternal Salvation only in the Name of Christ
- XIII Of Works before Justification
- XVII Of Predestination and Election
*Numbering is from their place in the Thirty-Nine Articles
Of Christ alone without Sin
Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world; and sin (as Saint John saith) was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
This truth protects against the popular sermons and articles asserting that Jesus was bigoted and prejudiced. His repentance of these sins was brought about through his contact with marginalized persons. This resulted in a conversion experience that brought him closer to God.
Christ, being truly human and truly Divine, is unique. He is conceived without sin and he remains without sin, he is the perfect Lamb of God. No other person could perform the reconciling work of the cross.
The last line of the Article ought to be humbling for believers. From John Wesley’s Sermon XIV, Repentance of Believers:
“…there is also a repentance and a faith (taking the words in another sense, a sense not quite the same, nor yet entirely different) which are requisite after we have “believed the gospel;” yea, and in every subsequent stage of our Christian course, or we cannot “run the race which is set before us.” And this repentance and faith are full as necessary, in order to our continuance and growth in grace, as the former faith and repentance were, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God.”
The truth in this Article, which is firmly established by the plain sense of Scripture, has been lacking in popular preaching and writings. It needs to be restored everywhere it has been neglected—including the Articles of Religion.
XVIII. Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ.
They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.
Even atheists who seek justice, who are good stewards of the environment, and are generous with the things God placed in their hands, are reconciled to God through their actions. Even pagans, who rejects the cross of Christ but hold faithfully to the moral tenets of their religion, are reconciled to God. Such teachings are as wrong as they are popular.
Whatever mercy God may show to those who choose to roll the dice and take their chances with their soul, God has revealed only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved. Those who presume to say otherwise, make people comfortable on the road to hell. This Article is foundational to what the Doctrine and Discipline declares in paragraph 102, “The gift of grace is available to all persons. Our Father in Heaven is not willing that any should be lost (Matthew 18:14), but that all may come to “the knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). With St. Paul, we affirm the proclamation found in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The Article was firmly held and consistently taught by Wesley and the early Methodists. The Article should be restored.
Of Works before Justification
(This Article may benefit from some rewording to better represent some Wesleyan nuances, but it is true and adequate as it stands.)
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.
This is another in the series of doctrines on the Way of Salvation that protect against the false belief that God works on some kind of point system separate from Salvation by Faith. God may work through an unbeliever to accomplish his good work, and through the performance of works of mercy a non-believer may be drawn to the cross of Christ, yet the works themselves are of no benefit to the soul of the non-believer and have the nature of sin.
The three articles just discussed were omitted from the 1784 Sunday Service and from succeeding incarnations of American Methodism. This has led many to assume that since they were omitted, they were rejected. Since they were rejected, they were denied. Since they were denied, we are free to preach contrary to them. Yet Wesley and his contemporaries defended these doctrines. They are essential premises in their sermons and writings.
Wesley scholars have made many informed guesses as to why certain articles were omitted from the abridged Book of Common Prayer known as the Sunday Service. However, the most likely answer is the simplest one: An abridged work means relevant information has been left out to conserve space. The Articles ought to be restored.
There is still one more article in this section to consider. Potentially, the most explosive one.
XVII. Of Predestination and Election
(The church needs to restore an article on predestination and election, but this one needs to be seriously reworked or replaced. The article is confusing. It appears to imply things it does not say and it allows for contrary readings. This is no way to write an article of faith.)
XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
Wesley had to argue against misrepresentations of the article on numerous occasions. He did well—most notably in a long work titled Predestination Calmly Considered and again in one of his shortest sermons, #58 On Predestination.
The Global Methodist ought to decide if it can make any allowance for a Reformed teaching on predestination, or if it will hold to Wesley’s exposition of Scripture regarding the matter.
From Wesley’s sermon: What is it, then, that we learn from this whole account? It is this, and no more: — (1.) God knows all believers; (2) wills that they should be saved from sin; (3) to that end, justifies them, (4) sanctifies and (5) takes them to glory. O that men would praise the Lord for this his goodness; and that they would be content with this plain account of it, and not endeavour to wade into those mysteries which are too deep for angels to fathom!
This one article may have been intentionally omitted by Wesley. He certainly endured a lot of annoyance and frustration having to explain it repeatedly. That is the best informed guess of the scholars, but it is only a guess. We cannot pretend that the Scripture is silent on the matter nor ignore the impact of discussions in popular theology. The church must say something. That is a discussion that our bishops and academics should lead us in prior to the convening conference. It is a discussion we can engage in the comments in this post or on the social media page where you found this article. I contend the Article needs to be rewritten and restored.
The Thirty-Nine Articles constitute the home in which Methodism was birthed. As we are building a new home, it is worthwhile to revisit the old one and see what treasures we may have left behind. It is true that doctrinal arguments can complicate religion beyond all usefulness, but our experience has proved that an abridged religion will not serve us well.
Previous articles in this series:
Our existing seven Articles concerning the way of Salvation (plus one late addition) are appended below for reference. We should expect no controversy from them.
Numbering is from their place in the twenty-five articles.
Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.
Article VIII — Of Free Will
The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and works, to faith, and calling upon God; wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
Article IX — Of the Justification of Man
We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.
Article X — Of Good Works
Although good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and spring out of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree is discerned by its fruit.
Article XI — Of Works of Supererogation
Voluntary works—besides, over and above God’s commandments—which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required; whereas Christ saith plainly: When you have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.
Article XII — Of Sin After Justification
Not every sin willingly committed after justification is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore, the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and, by the grace of God, rise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned who say they can no more sin as long as they live here; or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.
Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.