In the terms of those who have invested thousands of hours and decades of their lives in Christian Theological studies – I am but a layperson. I sometimes enjoy reading and considering for myself some of the things that these intensely learn’d people have offered over the centuries, but I would never consider myself one among them. So when I call something “Heresy” with a question mark, I mean the question mark as much or more than I mean the accusation. It’s more a reflection of what I’ve read and considered than a statement. Please follow what I’m about to write only as such and feel free to offer your own conclusions or ideas about how wrong I am. I never object to changing my mind for a good argument!
Have you ever been plagued by or known and loved someone desperately afflicted with an unknown disease?
Have you ever experienced the moment when a name that fits is finally given to that condition? Even if there is no cure, there is so much hope and even some peace laden in that finding – just that it has a name… and the feeling that I’m not alone anymore… and this is real because it has a name.
I’m not a big fan of Sproul and I don’t consider myself a Calvinist. I didn’t go looking for his writing, but this particular piece rang a loud bell in my mind and set in motion a time of study and reflection that hasn’t left me yet. The article is not-at-all-subtly about the doctrine of Wesleyan Perfectionism – also known by many other names including the Nazarene Doctrine of Entire Sanctification. The reason why it struck me so significantly is twofold:
1.) I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in a Nazarene church. The idea of the foundation of my early belief and which blocks of said foundation I should replace with better ones and which I should not as I mature in my faith and knowledge of Christ is extremely important to me – particularly as I endeavor to lead others to Christ!
2.) I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.
Here’s the point where I interject again and ask you yet again to pause your judgment of me. I’m not and will not side with Sproul on calling formal Wesleyan Perfection or Nazarene Entire Sanctification Heresy because I am not qualified to judge it as such and simply reading a few articles about it does not make me qualified to judge it. In fact, after heavily researching the topic I came up with a slightly different conclusion.
My opinion on the matter is that I think Wesley was probably a pretty cool dude. When I read what he wrote directly, and what the Nazarene denomination took from it in their articles of faith (see section X, “Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification”). When I read and try to understand a chapter in a book like this written by Everett Leadingham (a prominent Nazarene theologian and author) or brief and to-the-point articles like this from sources such as the Nazarene News Network. When I consider these things, I think that Wesley, The Methodists, and the Nazarenes probably aren’t too far off the mark. For the record, I don’t find a single human Christian theology to be completely correct about the state of salvation, the workings of the holy spirit (it’s called a mystery for a reason people!), or any of the other hundreds of things that these people argue so adamantly about. I do think that many are very close and that pursuing such truths is essential.
In fact, I can even ALMOST buy into this idea:
Question: Does that mean sanctified people cannot sin?
Answer: Sanctified people can sin, just like Adam and Eve could sin — and did. However, believers who have moved to this level of Christian life and experience are more likely not to sin than believers who haven’t. Before experiencing entire sanctification, believers often lose struggles against inborn tendencies toward sinning and selfishness. After the experience, they find themselves most often feeling a tendency toward righteousness.
– From “How entire is Entire Sanctification” – linked above
Leadingham (and Wesley, it would seem) stop just a hair short of saying that a Christian who has experienced “Entire Sanctification” is free from sinning or will not make poor choices, poor judgments, or fail at discerning God’s will at times. My personal theology at this present moment in time would take that notion and spread it maybe a 2×4 of thickness more comfortably toward a statement like this:
It is impossible for any human being in flesh to be sinless or perfect in heart, thought or action, even for a moment. The process of sanctification is life-long and never complete until the actual point of literal salvation fulfilled (death and personal ascension).
There is room to move between these two states and I find comfort in that. There is also room to move between my conclusion and ideas like this:
To believe that we are sinless we must annul the standards of God’s Law. We must reduce the level of divine righteousness to the level of our own performance. We must lie to ourselves both about the Law of God and about our own obedience. To do that requires that we quench the Spirit when He seeks to convict us of sin. Persons who do that are not so much Spirit-filled as they are Spirit-quenchers.
One of the true marks of our ongoing sanctification is the growing awareness of how far short we fall of reaching perfection. Perfectionism is really antiperfectionism in disguise. If we think we are becoming perfect, then we are far from becoming perfect.
Incidentally – remember that last line from another more famous Calvinist? Hmmm…
So where is the truth? Is this Heresy or Humility?
You’ve come to this point in this blog thinking… ok… so what on earth was he talking about up above when he said “I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.” Right?
If you know, are, or love any kind of Christian or Christian leader who abuses Wesley’s doctrine or the Nazarene version of it in order to say to those who would question their judgment in the slightest to have a sentiment in response similar to, “I know I’m right because I am entirely sanctified, so what you’re saying is wrong.” Or anything to that effect, or sentiment – whether it is subtly remarked over time through multiple situations or directly in a single conversation. THAT is the Heresy against which I warn today.
Even at the greatest extreme that I can find in biblically-founded Christian doctrine about personal human holy spirit given “perfection” – even if you disagree with my ideas about what Sanctification does or doesn’t mean – if someone were to say something like THAT to you, surely we must think it pure Heresy. Do you agree?
This is where I find some freedom, comfort and hope – albeit a little strangely. If my friend to whom I referred is truly living in this state of Heresy then surely God in all his Mercy and Grace will work relentlessly to offer freedom from it? I hope and pray!