Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thoughts for my new book

I am busy writing the next installment of the '28 days' series entitled "28 days of prayer for disillusioned believers" and came across the following thoughts from John Wesley in his book 'A plain account of Christian perfection'. (These are excerpts from this book). I thought of using this as a basis for reflection. What do you think?

Hereby many are hindered from seeking faith and holiness by the false zeal of others; and some who at first began to run well are turned out of the way.
Q32. What advice would you give them?

• Watch and pray continuously against pride. If God has cast it out, see that it enter no more: it is full as dangerous as desire, and you may slide back into it unawares; especially if you think there is no danger of it.
• Be aware of the daughter of pride, enthusiasm. Oh, keep at the utmost distance from it? Give no place to a heated imagination. Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, revelations to b from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore ‘believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God’.
• Beware of Antinomianism; ‘making void the law’ or any part of it, ‘through faith’. Enthusiasm naturally leads to this; indeed they can scarce be separated.
• Beware of sins of omission; lose no opportunity of doing good in any kind. Be zealous of good works; willingly to omit no work, either of piety or mercy.
• Beware of desiring anything but God. Now you desire nothing else; every other desire is driven out; see that none enter again.
• Beware of schism, of making a rent in the church of Christ. That inward disunion, the members ceasing to have a reciprocal love ‘one for another’ (1 Cor. 12:25), is the very root of all contention, and every outward separation.
• Be exemplary in all things; particularly in outward things (as in dress), in little things, in the laying out of your money (avoiding every needless expense), in deep, steady seriousness, and in the solidity and usefulness of all your conversation. So shall you be ‘a light, shining in a dark place.’. So shall you daily ‘’grow in grace’, till ‘an entrance be ministered unto you abundantly unto the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.’


markpenrith said...

Hi Wessel,

Is Christian perfection a Biblical concept?

Wessel Bentley said...

Hi Mark

Thanks for the question. It is indeed a term which needs to be understood in the context of Wesley's time and theology, but I think is a concept which is present in most, if not all Christian traditions in the notion of sanctification. Different traditions understand it differently and understand it to be attainable at different points in one's journey. For instance, orthodox Calvinism sees it as being completed in the person once we have abandoned this world and find ourselves fully in God's presence. Catholics believe that justification and sanctification happen at the same time, therefore the importance placed on confession and salvation being brought through the instrument of the church. In his book "A plain account of Christian perfection", Wesley makes two points. First, we are not perfect as we all sin and fall from time to time. Secondly, we have the potential for Christian perfection and is something that every person should strive towards. We should therefore not be complacent in our sinfulness, but grow in God's grace to become more and more like Christ in our contexts. He bases this teaching on several texts, the main text being Phil 3:12. One finds for instance in the preaching of John the Baptist a proclamation of justification and not necessarily sanctification. In the Pauline texts (and other Epistles) the focus on sanctification is much more evident (Fruit of the Spirit - Gal 5, Gifts of the Spirit - 1 Cor 12,13, Spiritual maturity in Phil, Eph. 3, Growth in Spiritual allegiance - Rom. 6, 1 Jn 3:9).

These are just some thoughts. What do you think? If you can get a copy of Wesley's book, I'll appreciate your comments on this issue.



digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Hi Mark and Wes,

Thanks for the thought provoking post (and comments!)

Mark, Christian perfection, as Wes points out, does need to be understood within the context of Wesley's use of the term.

I wrote about it in my little book 'Wesleyan Spirituality - An introduction'(see 2001:4-6). He has 3 uses for the term, Biblical perfection speaks of the 'template' according to which we are to order our lives and decisions so that we may strive for what Jesus commands in Matthew 5:48 "Be perfect then as your Father is perfect". Perfect love is the second term that he uses to describe the attitude and intention that should be the source and characteristic of the Christian who strives for perfection. The final (and best known) term is Christian Perfection, which is the eschatological goal towards which our lives as Christians are directed. This is best expressed in the notion of 'the greatest commandment' (the Shema of the Old Testamnet - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul [mind] and strength", and "love your neighbour as yourself").

This is to be fully realised in the Kingdom of God.

Of course Wesley coined another term in the 'order of salvation' - prevenient (or preventing) grace.

You can read a rather lengthy post on my blog about this doctrinal concept (see the comments here)