How Are Wesleyans Different?
Most of you know that I’m a pastor. Some of you know that I’m a Wesleyan pastor. A few of you might know what that means. I know that I had to take some time and study to sort it out. We don’t like to talk about our differences. Sure, most Christians are willing to stand up and say what makes Christianity different from other world religions. Often the big branches of Christianity (Roman Catholic/ Orthodox/Evangelical/Mainline) have some big ticket theological items that stand out as essential. Highlighting those usually seems uncouth. Counter-productive. Divisive. We worry that it makes us look like a bunch of bickering kids. In a way, it’s true. The things that unite us are far bigger than the things that divide us. Even within those big branches, though, there’s a myriad of denominational divisions. Why? Isn’t it more important to be “ecumenical”? Shouldn’t we be bigger people and just focus on the elements we have in common? Wouldn’t that be a better “witness”?
I don’t know. I do know that we actually do believe some things that, while seemingly minor, are important. There is a depth to Christian theology that you don’t need to plumb to be saved, but for those who desire to grow closer to God, offers a wealth of questions that need to be addressed (if not answered). Sure, we might be wrong. We might all be wrong, but we have reasons to believe what we believe.
Rev. Kerry Kind recently posted a short list of eight things that differentiated Wesleyans from “generic” Evangelical Christians. While we also believe in the primacy of scripture, the ancient creeds, personal salvation through faith in Christ, the priesthood of all believers, and morality grounded in Christian teaching, the following represent some of the most important things that clarify our “DNA” as being distinctly “Wesleyan”:
- Salvation is available to all. Wesleyans believe that anyone can be saved (“whosoever believeth in Him”). Christ died for all. And God’s grace requires a response on our part, a choice about whose will is going to be supreme. C.S. Lewis said, “In the end, either we must say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ or He will say to us, sadly—‘Thy will be done.’” Not all will be saved. But no one was created and predestined for hell.
- Optimism about grace that brings purity of heart. The grace of God is not only “pardoning,” it is “transforming.” Scripture is overflowing, dripping with this teaching: that God not only counts us as righteous because of the cross, but He actually renews our hearts. The Wesleyan view is the optimistic view of God’s grace. It is possible for us to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (especially love of God and others) and not willfully rebel against God. Let no one say that we must sin every day; having a renewed heart creates the possibility that we will not. For those who wonder if they are “filled with the Spirit,” I will ask whether they are constantly in rebellion against God’s will? Romans 7 describes the carnal Christian. We have plenty of them in the church, but we also have many who, by the Spirit, are living their lives today in ways that are pleasing to the Lord and glorifying Christ. Being filled with the Spirit is the “normal” Christian life!
- God’s people must be missional. It is not only biblical, but it is also in our Wesleyan DNA to leave the walls of the church and go out with love and truth to a lost and fallen world. Although we have sometimes been guilty of “skipping Samaria” to reach the uttermost parts of the earth, it is in our DNA to seek out those who need to know Christ, locally and globally. For many evangelicals, the Great Commission has become the great omission. Wesleyans must rediscover this part of our DNA in every generation, and we are doing so.
- Care for the poor and helpless. We seek to reflect Christ not only by words, but by deeds. We embody Christ by obedience, by love for God and others, and especially by compassionate ministry, caring for the helpless. Matthew 25:40 is not optional: “Whatsoever you did for the least of these . . . you did it unto me.” We may not always fully live up to Christ’s example, or Wesley’s example, or the example of our church’s founders who rose up against slavery, but this is a high value for us and it is part of who we are. The pendulum is swinging in this generation to a stronger expression of this.
- The necessity of the church. The only biblical expression of the faith is found in community. We worship together, we edify one another, and together we join in Great Commission ministries and compassion to a fallen world. “Solo” Christianity is unbiblical. For a discussion on this, note Dr. Keith Drury’s, There Is No i in Church. For heresy on this, see George Barna’s Revolution.
- Acceptance of other Christians. We are Kingdom-minded first, not separatist, and don’t de-Christianize other traditions. The body of Christ is much bigger than any group and we extend the right hand of fellowship to other believers. Some denominations and independent churches are “non-conciliar.” They don’t participate in church councils, joint endeavors, or even official fellowship beyond their own group. Wesleyans are uniters and often are the “middle ground” between Pentecostals and fundamentalists and main liners. Wesleyans are orthodox and biblically-based, but Kingdom-minded and with open hands to other believers who may not be exactly like us.
- Women in ministry. Women are more than just a complement to men’s leadership in Christian ministry. A woman’s divine call to ministry can be equivalent to any, including ordained roles of teacher, pastor, and church leader. Although cultures continue to foster barriers to equality in ministry, biblical principles do not justify them. For a discussion on this, see Dr. Ken Schenck’s, Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry.
- Supernatural Miracles still happen. Wesleyans believe in miraculous answers to prayer, occasional miraculous healing (according to God’s plan, not our design), divine “coincidences” and activity of angels. There is nothing in scripture that suggests that these miracles were confined to the Apostolic Age. On the contrary, biblical prophecy suggests that God continues to be intensely involved in human history and does and will continue to supernaturally influence the natural order that he has created.
We’re not always perfect at following through on these beliefs, and like most churches, many of the people in our congregations feel comfortable in the “generic Evangelical” position and may not even know what makes us different from other Evangelical denominations, but we are, and we should be. I have trouble reading this list and not being excited. Sometimes it’s okay to embrace our differences. Sometimes it’s okay to be better. Sometimes it’s okay to say “what we believe is better,” if it leads us away from mediocrity in the pursuit of God.