John Wesley: Pietist Theologian

John Wesley has been quoted as saying that doctrine is but a “slender part” of true religion. judging by this statement, especially in isolation, one might assume that Wesley was a doctrinal indifferentist. However, upon further investigation we find that this could not be further from the truth. Wesley was not indifferent when it came to the task of articulating Christian doctrine.  We see this in his numerous tracts and sermons that deal with lofty concepts of Christian theology such as the Trinity, the person of Christ, the means of grace, original sin, prevenient grace and so forth.

To understand this statement of Wesley’s, we must understand him as fundamentally a pietist theologian. John Wesley was strongly influenced by pietist thought through the writings of Johan Arndt as well as by the Moravians whom he met on his voyage to Savannah, and with whom he spent much time with in England and Germany. The pietists communicated to Wesley, through both personal correspondence and their writings, that the Christian life did not consist solely of affirming certain theological propositions, heartfelt relationship with Jesus of Nazareth was necessary for a robust Christian life as well. Christianity consisted of both illumination and transformation. That is, transformation of the individual who though once isolated and alienated from God could now enjoy deep fellowship with God, who could grow into real, scriptural holiness and truly be more like Jesus!

Wesley understood this reality all too well. Prior to his “Aldersgate” experience, Wesley was more than ready to affirm the doctrines affirmed in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Wesley had plenty of good theology and yet his spiritual life was empty, he had no real relationship with Jesus, he had not yet come to recognize Christ as his “personal” Savior. Wesley could affirm many truths about Christ but only when he had a real relationship with Christ did he finally experience spiritual peace.

I think the experience of Wesley, and the other pietists, provide us with valuable lessons for today. Good theology is important no doubt, and without good theology we will not have good spirituality. However, rational assent to scriptural truths (though extremely important) is not the whole of the Christian life, it is but a part. Our task as Christians today is to balance the rational and relational aspects of the Christian life. If we drop but one we will have a truncated and perhaps even counterfeit Christianity. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the scriptures I am convinced that we can balance these two aspects of the Christian faith quite well and present a robust version of the Christian faith that speaks well to both the head, and the heart, of the people we have the opportunity to minister to.

 

 

 

How Should Christians face discouragement?

 

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Discouragement is a universal human phenomenon. Christians are not excepted from this unhappy aspect of human experience. Discouragement is a very real and present danger in the life of the believer. Many different events in our life can lead us to despair- Death of a close friend or relative, prolonged sickness, multiple failed endeavors, or not being able to find stable employment. Sometimes just being a faithful witness for Christ in this sin sick world can lead us to depression. Any number of things that life throws at us can lead us to despair and allow us to slip into a lifestyle plagued by discouragement. When we get discouraged, and it is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, how should we deal with it? How should we face this age old problem in a fashion that honors Jesus Christ and is becoming of our Christian proclamation. In the following paragraphs I have listed a few things to remember if you are facing discouragement.

1st Kings 19 tells us that right after Elijah witnessed God’s power and glory on Mount Carmel (no not Mt. Caramel) that he fled to the wilderness due to the persecution wrought by the wicked Queen of Israel named Jezebel. Rather than being energized by the incredible victory, Elijah ran to the desert and fell into a deep depression. In fact, 1st Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah begged God for death. If you are discouraged remember that you are in good company. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and even he succumbed to discouragement. The fact is, sometimes doing the right thing for God will make some people very unhappy and we will face persecution for our efforts. It is difficult to remain unaffected by such harsh rejection. Now, I am not saying that we should see our plight of discouragement as a badge of honor or develop a martyr complex but nor should you go to the opposite extreme and think that you are less of a Christian for sometimes getting discouraged.

I also find it interesting that Elijah found himself discouraged immediately after he witnessed God sending down a pillar of fire in an incredible show of his might. For Elijah, this must have been and unforgettable and emotion filled experience. It is a simple fact of human psychology that after extremely joy filled moments in our life we can often experience a letdown. So when this does happen remember that this is normal. When you feel discouraged after a great spiritual victory I would recommend that you take the time to remember what God just did for you in this very special time. Do not be like the fickle children of Israel who often rejected God right after he did something kind for them. Sometimes you will have to make a conscious effort to remember God’s goodness but it will be well worth it! It is also helpful to remember that God is going to continue to do great things with you. Philippians 1:6 says this “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV). If you have been gloriously saved by Jesus Christ (And I hope that you have) and Jesus has not returned yet (Which he hasn’t) then you can be confident that God will continue to give you spiritual victories.

In 1st Kings 19:5-8 we are shown, albeit indirectly, another beautiful truth about God. While in the wilderness and still in the throes of depression God does not forsake Elijah. Rather, he feeds and cares for him by way of Angels. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that God does not care for us only when we are faithful and bold, but even when we are broken. God’s love toward us is not conditioned upon our performance. Roman 5:8 echoes this thought in perfect harmony when it says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV). If you are discouraged, reflect on this truth and be encouraged by the goodness and faithfulness of God.

 

In 1st Kings 19:14 Elijah is quoted as saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Pretty much everything Elijah says in this statement was indeed true at the time with the exception of one phrase “I alone am left”. Sometimes when we are discouraged we blow things way out of proportion. Things were certainly bad in Israel in Elijah’s day but he had clearly lost perspective. For one, he was not alone because God the Father is still on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit is still at work. God has indeed promised us that he will “never leave us, nor forsake us.” For these reasons we should never fear being truly alone. We should also rejoice in the fact that God will always have a remnant of people on earth who will follow him. Consider the words of 1st Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God gently reminds Elijah that he is not the only person standing up for what is right and, by the way, modern Christian, neither are you. God in his grace has given us the Church-Not the building we worship in or hear the word of God preached but the people who make up the community of the redeemed. Dear Christian, when you are discouraged this is the time when you should lean on your fellow believers all the more. You should look to them for guidance, comfort, and care. All too many people when faced with struggles exit the church. This is the last thing you should do when you are discouraged. If you think that by leaving the church your problems will fade, then you are deceived. Cling to your fellow believers all the more. That is what God would have you do.

As you can see, the word of God has not left us without an answer as to what we should do when we are discouraged. In the previous paragraphs we have only considered one chapter of the Bible and It speaks directly to our present struggles. If I could leave you with one final encouragement I would simply say that if you are discouraged you should take even more time out of your day to search the scriptures for wisdom and encouragement. God has given us the Bible so that we might be taught, encouraged, and reproved. Sometimes the words of the scriptures challenge and sting but they are always instructive-And they will always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has promised us that all who follow him will indeed find rest.

 

 

 

John Wycliffe and the Beginning of a New Era.

John Wycliffe has often been called the “Morning Star of the Reformation” by historians and for very good reason. Wycliffe was born sometime around 1331 and died in 1384. Wycliffe lived his life for Christ and completed his work a century before Luther would write his Ninety Five Theses and nail it to the churches’ door. In the following paragraphs it is my desire to give a brief summary of Wycliffe’s life and work. Every English speaking Christian ought to know something about this great man of God who began many important reforms which would resonate in the church all over the world.

John Wycliffe was an ordained Roman Catholic priest and preacher but he was first and foremost an Academic. From his position at Oxford University, which was already one of the world’s finest colleges, he had a pulpit from which to preach his views. Although Wycliffe was a part of the Roman Catholic communion he quickly gained a reputation as something of a radical within the English church. He made not a few enemies including the Bishop of London, and later the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Courtenay. However, he also had some powerful friends as well. Perhaps his best known supporter was John of Gaunt who was the son of Edward the Black Prince. John would do his best to protect Wycliffe throughout the years though eventually Wycliffe grew a little too radical for even John of Gaunt. Wycliffe was primarily controversial because of his ideas about theology that were in direct contrast to some of the teachings of the larger church. Let us discuss them now.

Most Roman Catholic theologians of the time thought that the final authority and arbiter of doctrine should be the Papacy and the leadership of the church. Wycliffe thought very differently and suggested that the foundation should be Christ and the Holy Scriptures. He also argued that secular government and the church were far too intertwined. Perhaps what angered the Bishops and Priests the most was when Wycliffe began to criticize their opulent lifestyle. He argued that the church had lost its’ love and compassion for the poor and hurting common people. Wycliffe also began to send out other men into the countryside to spread these ideas. These poor preachers were often called Lollards and they did much to spread the Gospel around the whole of England.

While the Lollards continued to spread the truth all over Britain, Wycliffe continued to study at his home in Oxford. However, in 1381 Wycliffe was about to proclaim a doctrine that would shake the very foundation of the English church. Wycliffe proclaimed that the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation had absolutely no scriptural support. This made many in the church livid with Wycliffe and by now many were starting to turn against him and his ideas. John of Gaunt would desert Wycliffe and William Courtenay who was now the Archbishop of Canterbury was ready to mount a synod against him. The synod was successful and condemned much of what Wycliffe taught. Because of this Wycliffe lost his position at Oxford and was officially censored by the Roman Catholic Church. However, Wycliffe’s work was not yet completed and when he returned to the village of Lutterworth God was calling him to the work that was perhaps his very greatest contribution to the cause of Christ.

By the time he had returned to the little village of Lutterworth in 1382 Wycliffe was gathering his followers to begin a translation of the Holy Bible. Wycliffe would use as his text the Latin Vulgate which had earlier been translated from the Koine Greek one thousand years prior. This project would consume the rest of Wycliffe’s life. It is very probable that Wycliffe translated the Gospels himself and was actively involved in the rest of translation of the New Testament. The significance of this work cannot be understated as it was the very first translation of the Bible into the English language. However this work would not make him popular in Roman Catholic circles. In fact after Wycliffe’s death in 1384 the church would condemn his teachings, exhume his body, burn the remains, and persecute his followers. However, Wycliffe’s work for the Kingdom of Christ could not be undone.

In retrospect, it is easy to see the great effect of John Wycliffe’s work. Because of him and his followers more and more people were willing to speak out against the more egregious doctrines of the church and Wycliffe through his example inspired other reformers such as John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Even today, Wycliffe’s influence can be felt every time someone reads a translation of the Bible in the English language. Also many people read Bibles in foreign languages translated by Wycliffe translators who have used his namesake and continued to spread the Gospel around the world. For every one who seeks to live a life for Christ John Wycliffe stands out as a bold inspiration. We can always look to his life as an example of what one person can do when they follow Jesus with reckless abandon.