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Christian Perfection – Not So Plain to Me!

One of my early experiences teaching in a United Methodist Church involved giving a series on the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection. That may seem surprising for a new member of a United Methodist congregation, but my background in the Seventh-day Adventist Church involved a good deal of Wesleyan talk (though not the doctrine of Christian perfection), and the pastor was also well aware that I had borrowed the United Methodist Discipline before joining his church, and had read all the doctrinal sections. Further, I’d read Wesley’s compilation, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

To make a long story short–and I intend this to be short!–I discovered that of the group of 30 or so people who arrived for the first class, only the pastor and I were aware that there actually was any such doctrine.

To be honest, I still wasn’t the best one to teach such a doctrine. I suspect that if I were trying to be a United Methodist pastor, rather than a theologically educated layman, I would choke on the “going on toward perfection” question. And yes, I know that the words come from the book of Hebrews, one of my favorites. (I’ve even written a study guide!) Nonetheless, I think I’d want to nuance my answer, perhaps to such an extent that it wouldn’t be an answer at all.

In any case, I like short descriptions of this doctrine so that United Methodists, and others who are curious about it, can get a good idea of what John Wesley was teaching. (Hint–he wasn’t teaching what most people think when they first here the phrase “Christian perfection.”)

So all this verbiage (never use one word where 1,000 will do!) is to introduce a good link on the subject, from Craig Adams’ web site Commonplace Holiness. He is presenting a public domain book, and the whole thing is there, but section 2 provides a good definition. If you are interested, you can follow this further by going to the table of contents and finding more.

In any discussion of a controversial topic, it’s a good idea to get the definitions straight, and this topic certainly qualifies.

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  1. Hey, thanks for the mention!

  2. Mt personal favorite is the “give me thy heart” quote – the third one down.

  3. I had to read “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” as assigned reading once. The professor was very fond of it. I thought it was wrong-headed, misguided, and did more harm than good … kind of like Calvin’s Institutes or something.

    Argh. I’ve probably offended everybody by now.

    My point is this: even those reckoned as theological giants often do more harm than good.

    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

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