Although it might seem quite surprising to mention Methodism in a discussion about Pentecostal Foundations, we must indeed turn our eyes to another formative theological error that has shaped Pentecostalism over the years and continues to do so today.
The error is called “Christian perfectionism” or “Second Work of Grace” and its primary purveyor is none other than the Arminian Anglo-Pietist founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
John Wesley, an Anglican preacher to the day he died, came to conversion aboard a ship from America heading back to his home to England whereby he witnessed the “calm and peace” of a group of believers who were Moravian Pietists. Their methodology coupled with his Grandmother’s “methods” of daily devotion witnessed in his youth, would bring Wesley to what he believed was a true conversion to Christ.
Piety Leading to Unscriptural Experiences:
Wesley would fast and pray for long periods in keeping with the Pietist tradition that held that a person could somehow move God to action by way of strenuous self-denial and/or quantity of time in prayer. In similar fashion to the Quakers before him and the Holiness and Pentecostals after him, his long hours of prayer would, as with Quakers and Shakers before him, result in an “experience” which he deemed to be from the Holy Spirit. Nehemiah Curnley, editor of “The Journal of John Wesley” quotes Wesley on this experience:
“At about three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer , the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground”
and in another place at a different meeting,
“Immediately one then another, and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as if thunderstruck.”
These sorts of “experiences” would continue on in Wesley’s life such as the time when he was walking with his brother Charles singing hymns the two of them burst into extended and uncontrollable laughter – ending their session of singing due to the incessant laughter attack. All of these events were automatically deemed to be of the Holy Spirit, why? Because they were “praying” and “fasting” which were “holy” things to do and in their minds, as many before them, and many Pentecostals after them, nothing ungodly could or would ever take place in the mind or outside the mind of a Christian engaged in such rigorous “pious” activity. They believed that all of their zeal of piety would not yield deception no matter how contrary to Scripture the experience was!
Embracing Montanist Heresy, Legitimizing Pentecostal Lunacy:
Here is a quote directly from the Letters of John Wesley himself regarding cessationism as ungodly. He, like Augustine nearly 1300 years earlier, believes that the spiritual gifts of the church dissipated and disappeared due to the poor behavior of the church. Augustine felt that holiness was lost and therefore the gifts with it…wrong…here Wesley thinks it was “dry, formal, orthodox men who ridiculed whatever gifts they had not”…again, wrong! Both miss the clear indication of Scripture which declares that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts as HE wills not as man behaves properly – no one would ever have received a gift except Jesus Himself if this was the case. This is clearly spelled out in
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Wesley was not silent regarding the idea of anti-cessationism as he experienced himself or saw others experience divine healing. Compare the underlined Scripture verse above with the underlined erroneous statement of John Wesley below:
“Wed., Aug. 15, 1750 – By reflecting on an odd book which I had read in this journey, The General Delusion of Christians with Regard to Prophecy, I was fully convinced of what I had long suspected: (1) That the Montanists, in the second and third centuries, were real, scriptural Christians; and (2) That the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so soon withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost, but that dry, formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.” and again he writes at a later time: I do not recollect any scripture wherein we are taught that miracles were to be confined within the limits either of the apostolic or the Cyprianic age, or of any period of time, longer or shorter, even till the restitution of all things. I have not observed, either in the Old Testament, or the New, any intimation at all of this kind. St. Paul says, indeed, once, concerning two of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (so, I think, that test is usually understood), “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” But he does not say, either that these or any other miracles shall cease till faith and hope shall cease also, till they all be swallowed up in the vision of God, and love be all in all. (Telford, The Letters of John Wesley, nd. 2:261).
These statements and experiences are all recorded nearly 160 years before Azusa which should tell us all that Pentecostalism did not begin at Azusa in 1906 or even Topeka in 1901 with Charles Parham. This system of theological beliefs and practices had long been percolating in the centuries leading up to Azusa.
Grandpa was an Arminianist:
Wesley rejected the Calvinism of his friend and co-minister Anglican pal George Whitfield in England and Wesley began to embrace instead, the doctrines of Jacobus Arminius who would teach that man was to “cooperate” with God and play a part in his own salvation in both justification and sanctification, in other words, a rejection of the absolute sovereignty of God. Arminius believed in the free will of man who must by an act of his own volition “repent – turn away from sin” and “turn to God of his own independent choice”. This doctrine perfectly lined up with the model of the Pietists Wesley witnessed on the boat from America along with the “methods” observed in his own grandmother. Arminianism was thereafter embraced by Wesley and would become a bedrock doctrine for all holiness, Pentecostal, and charismatic movements to follow.
Because all holiness preachers would fully embrace Wesleyan theology, they also embraced his Arminianist disposition. And because Pentecostal preachers would fully embrace holiness theology, they would also embrace Arminianism. Here is yet another contribution to the bedrock of Pentecostal formation by John Wesley.
Arminianism is an unscriptural error based on the belief that mankind “partners” with God for his salvation and is fully responsible for his own “salvific maintenance” after the point of salvation. Arminianists believe that if mankind fails in his maintenance to perform a specific way with an adequate amount of prayer, bible reading, witnessing, etc. he will eventually backslide back into the world from when he came and be lost. He must then get “born again” again and get a new regenerated spirit as his prior regenerated spirit was lost and died again somehow. This is similar to the Judaizer error found in Galatians whereby the Apostle Paul rebukes the Galatians by stating,
“Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was for freedom that Christ set us free!”
Although my description of Arminianism sounds like it might be coming from a Calvinist point of view, I assure you that I am neither an Arminian nor a Calvinist but believe both theological frameworks to be extremes and extremely unbiblical.
Founder of a Denomination and an Horrific Doctrine:
Further contributions Wesley made toward the very early theology of Holiness and Pentecostal Movements would follow after his death. In life, Wesley began to teach of “Entire Sanctification” or “Christian Perfectionism”. Declared in his “Scripture Way of Salvation” that sanctification was every bit a work of grace through faith as much as justification and that God gives sanctification gradually for some and instantaneously for others. That we can seek for this “perfection” as a “second gift” of grace and should earnestly desire it.
Although Wesley referred to this as a “Second Blessing” while his associate John Fletcher went a step further in referring to it as a “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”. This bizarre doctrine, defined in Wesley’s own words on page 12 of his writing “A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism”, he writes
“…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’.
And a few pages further into this work he continues,
“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end” (Ibid.). Lastly, perfection is “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin” (ibid., p. 26) and “a Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin” (ibid., p. 25).
This doctrine was fully and completely embraced by Holiness founders Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer and was elevated to a near-essential doctrine of their holiness (pietist re-invented) variety of the Christian faith. It would eventually meld into the event of the “baptism of the holy spirit” whereby Pentecostals of the late 19th century down to today believe themselves to be “fully sanctified” even referring to themselves in such terms.
When a charismatic Pentecostal is confronted with the idea that he/she is a sinner, saved by grace, but still a sinner. They will recoil in utter horror at such an inference, believing that such a belief is “of the devil” when in reality, it is in Scripture, which modern day Charismatics utterly reject in favor of “Holy Ghost revelation”. Meanwhile, the moral failures of these “fully sanctified” Pentecostal leaders is splashed across every newspaper website and news station.
They are clearly fallen and are broken just as the rest of mankind, however, because they don’t see any need of putting to death the deeds of the flesh and walking in the Spirit so as to grow in maturity in the Lord, they really never do experience sanctification or maturing in the Lord of any kind, being just as worldly twenty years on as they were when they supposedly were saved. This staple doctrine of Pentecostalism can find its direct root in the teachings of John Wesley.
Because Wesley’s emulated “methods” of Christian life and behavior, which he picked up from the Pietist, caught on wildly among Church of England adherents, his following grew exponentially and would eventually coalesce into a movement known as “Methodism” in 1744. Near the point of his death, Wesley then passed the reigns of this “movement” on to his second in command, Thomas Coke in 1784. Coke would form what would officially be called the “Methodist” denomination all from Wesley’s neo-Pietist movement and the official separation from the Anglican Church would be complete.
In our next article we enter the 19th century with a “bang” as we explore the Cane-Ridge “Revival” and Stone-Campbell movement. Another big step toward the formation of the Pentecostal cry of “revival!”.