Sunday, June 24, 2012

Equating saving faith with initial sanctification

In recent years, I have learned that it is a mistake to equate "saving faith" with "initial sanctification" as they are not necessarily experienced simultaneously. In fact, I believe that this is more often the case than not. In my lifetime, I have experienced two different church cultures where this mistake was paramount. In my experience, the teaching that "saving faith" cannot exist without "initial sanctification" inevitably leads to either despair or presumption depending on the particular emphasis of the church culture. In church cultures that emphasize the power of initial sanctification, seekers fight the demon of despair and have difficulty moving forward in faith. In church cultures that emphasize the power of saving faith, seekers think they are candidates for entire sanctification when it is initial sanctification that they actually need. Below is an example of early Methodist theology that explores the ramifications of equating "saving faith" with "initial sanctification":

“Are there not many pious and judicious ministers in the Churches of England and Scotland, as well as among the dissenters, who dare not countenance the present revival of the power of godliness, chiefly because they hear us sometimes unguardedly assert that none have any faith but such as have the faith of assurance; and that the wrath of God actually abides on all those who have not that faith? If we warily allowed the faith of the inferior dispensations, which such divines clearly see in the Scriptures, and feel in themselves; would not their prejudices be softened, and their minds prepared to receive what we advance in defence of the faith of assurance?”

 “. . . You are afraid that the doctrine of this Essay will make 'seekers rest in Laodicean lukewarmness;' but permit me to observe that the seekers you speak of are either forward hypocrites, or sincere penitents. If they are forward hypocrites, preaching to them the faith of assurance will never make them either humble or sincere. On the contrary, they will probably catch . . . at an assurance of their own making; and so they will profess to have the faith for which you contend, when in fact they have only the name and notion of it. The religious world swarms with instances of this kind."

“If, on the other hand, the seekers for whom you seem concerned are sincere penitents; far from being hurt, they will be greatly benefited by our doctrine: for it will at once keep them from chilling, despairing fears, and from false, Crispian [Antinomian] comforts; the two opposite extremes into which upright, unwary mourners are most apt to run. Thus our doctrine, instead of being dangerous to sincere seekers, will prove a Scriptural clue, in following which they will happily avoid the gloomy haunts of Pharisaic despair, and the enchanted ground of Antinomian presumption." ~ John Fletcher of Madeley

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Intellectual honesty and spiritual reality

~ In 1985 Thomas R. Albin first published his research at Cambridge University. Albin did a study of the Wesleyan Revival and put together an amazing array of statistics on the way God worked in the lives of those touched by the Wesleys' ministry. More recently Albin was interviewed in the August 2003 issue of Christianity Today. Using mostly autobiographical accounts from the Arminian Magazine and other early sources, Albin's study used the testimony of 555 Methodist converts from the years 1725‑1790.

His information follows the early Methodist tendency to interpret their spiritual journey around three definite stages: work of prevenient grace leading to awakening and conviction for sin, the experience of justification and the new birth and the experience of entire sanctification. Most of the converts came from some type of church background with few being saved out "of the rough." Of those who included information on their childhood home, 6.2% came from "active irreligious" or "unconcerned or inactive homes." This seems to indicate that the Wesleyan revival was exactly that - a reviving of spiritual life and fervor among those who had some degree of religious training.

The average age of one's awakening was 21 years of age with a time lapse of more than two years between their awakening and new birth experience. "This fact suggests that the evangelical conversion for early Methodism was a slow process involving significant thought and reflection." One has to wonder if our American drive to push people on to an experience has not come back to haunt us . . . Most of the converts were alone when they experienced the new birth. When those who were in a small group are added more than two‑thirds are accounted for. Most of those who were alone were in their own room or home when the blessing came.

The time lapse between the experience of the new birth and entire sanctification was nearly six years on average. Of the 131 cases that experienced this, one‑half were alone. The "single most frequent event," for this blessing was: the deathbed (22.1%), while different types of prayer make up the largest general category (33.2%). Sixteen persons received it during preaching, thirteen in spiritual conversation and eight while going about the routines of life. Perhaps it was Wesley's emphasis to, "expect it every moment," that contributed to such diverse settings of the experience. ~ Mark Horton