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

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