Wesleyanism or Wesleyan Theology is the system of Christian theology of Methodism taught by John Wesley. At its heart, the theology of John Wesley stressed the life of Christian holiness: to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Wesley’s teaching also stressed experienced religion and moral responsibility. [ [http://web.mac.com/craigadams1/Commonplace_Holiness/Wesleyanism.html Commonplace Holiness: Wesley & Methodism] ]

Wesleyanism, manifest today in Methodist and Holiness churches, is named for its founders, John Wesley and, his brother, Charles Wesley. In 1736, these men traveled to the Georgia colony in America as missionaries for the Church of England; they left rather disheartened at what they saw. Both men then had "religious experiences", especially John in 1738, being greatly influenced by the Pietist movement. They began to organize a movement within the Church of England to focus on personal faith and holiness, and they succeeded. John Wesley took the Reformation churches to task over the nature of sanctification, the process by which a believer is made to conform to the image of Christ, and in many ways restored the New Testament teachings regarding the work of God and the believer in sanctification. The movement did well within the Church of England in Britain, but when the movement crossed the ocean into America, it took on a form of its own, finally being established as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. The Wesleyan churches are very similar to Anglicanism, yet have added a strong emphasis on personal faith and personal experience.

Wesleyan and Arminianism

The doctrine of Wesleyan-Arminianism was founded as an attempt to explain Christianity in a manner unlike the teachings of Calvinism; actually, the two parts of this set of beliefs were once two separate followings. Arminianism is a theological study conducted by Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch, in opposition to Calvinist orthodoxy on the basis of free will. After the death of Arminius the followers, led by Episcopius, presented a document concerning the Arminian beliefs to the Netherlands. This document is known today as the Remonstrances. Wesleyanism, on the other hand, was founded upon the theological teachings of John Wesley, an English evangelist, and the beliefs of this dogma are derived from his many profound sermons. Consequently, the two theories have joined into one set of values for the contemporary church; yet, when examined separately, their unique details can be discovered, as well as their similarities in ideals.

Arminianism was officially recorded and presented to Dutch leaders in 1610 A.D., about one hundred and fifty years before the development of Wesleyanism. The doctrine is based upon five essential beliefs that are purposely biblical in nature. The first of these five points is the reason for the conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism in its basic foundation; it is the concept of Free Will. Arminius believed that the fall of man was not total, maintaining that there was enough good left in man for him to will to accept Jesus Christ and thus be saved. This teaches that the transformation of the perfect creation into a sinful one at the time of the Fall was not an absolute depravity; rather part of the good that was a trait of man in the beginning was left to man so that although he was punished to be imperfect, he was not made completely evil. And thus, it is this good characteristic of man that allows for his salvation, for through this, he makes the decision to come to the Father. The second point of Arminianism declares Conditional Election. Arminius states that the choosing of the elect is based upon the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe; man's "act of faith" was seen as the condition for salvation. It is this choosing by man to accept Jesus Christ that elects him to inherit salvation. Thus, salvation is made to occur by man's free will, and only then is man chosen to be saved. Third, Arminianism explains that Redemption is based on the fact that God loves everybody, that Christ was sacrificed for all, and that the Father's will is that no one perish. The crucifixion of Christ provided the means by which forgiveness can occur, and His resurrection enables the forgiven to inherit life. However, once again, one must exercise his free will in choosing Christ in order to be saved. Hence Christ died for every person who has lived and will ever live, but only those that freely choose to follow Him are elected unto salvation. Fourth, the idea of Obstructable Grace states that since God does desire all men to be saved, He sent His Holy Spirit to encourage and persuade all men to Christ. Yet, again because of free will, man may choose to reject salvation and thus resist God's will. God's will to save all men, though infinite, can be thwarted by the finite will of man, for man's will may only be free by being without interference by God. But by using his will to choose God's will, man may be totally born again. And finally, the practical idea that follows is that man may Fall From Grace; since it is man's will to be saved, it must be man's will to continue in salvation for man to persevere in the faith. Man must not cease to will to be saved, or else his salvation is lost. [Huzar, 330]

In 1778, after John Wesley had accepted Arminianism in his controversy with the Calvinistic wing of the Evangelicals in England, he founded a theological journal which he titled the Arminian Magazine. These facts demonstrate the direct link between Arminianism and Wesleyanism; and it is here that the two doctrines merged and, as a result, are known today in many situations as one set of beliefs. Wesley is remembered for visiting the Moravians of both Georgia and Germany and examining their beliefs, then founding the Methodist church and the denomination of true Methodism. Wesley's desire was not to form a new sect, but rather to reform the nation and spread scriptural holiness as truth. However, the creation of Wesleyan-Arminianism has today developed into a popular standard for many contemporary churches. Wesleyanism well explains the two main events in the life of the believer; "saving faith," or justification, the threshold of the Christian life; and "the fullness of faith," or sanctification, as its goal. Wesleyanism also stresses good works through faith that acts by love, and the primacy of revelation in the Scriptures. The foundations of Wesley's particular beliefs are amazingly accurate in addition to being practical; in every instance, his avowed stance is biblical. [Outler, 631] .

The beliefs of Arminianism have carried a lot of strength through the generations until Wesley picked up the theories and expounded them further. Today, they have become a fused set of Christian ideals, deep rooted basics for the life of the believer. The fact that these fundamentals are biblically based has added to their strength and ability to endure. Together, they have become a powerful set of beliefs, even for the modern Christian.

Wesleyan Tradition

In the broad sense of the term, the Wesleyan tradition identifies the theological impetus for those movements and denominations (and their name is Legion) who trace their roots to a theological tradition finding its initial focus in John Wesley. Although its primary legacy remains within the various Methodist denominations (the Wesleyan Methodist, the Free Methodist, the African Methodist Episcopal, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, the Christian Methodist Episcopal, and the United Methodist), the Wesleyan tradition has been refined and reinterpreted as catalyst for other movements and denominations as well, e.g., Charles Finney and the Holiness movement; Charles Parham and the Pentecostal movement; Phineas Bresee and the Church of the Nazarene.

In the more narrow sense of the term, the Wesleyan tradition has been associated with Arminianism, usually in contrast to Reformed Calvinism. This could be misleading. Historically, Calvinists have feared that Wesleyans have strayed too close to Pelagianism. On the other hand, Wesleyans have feared that Calvinists have strayed too close to antinomianism. In fact, neither is necessarily true. Calvin was no antinomian and neither Arminius nor Wesley a Pelagian. Justification by faith is pivotal for both traditions. Although free will is an issue, in many respects the two traditions are not that far apart. For example, Wesley stated that he and Calvin were but a hair's breadth apart on justification.Sanctification, not free will, draws the clearest line of distinction. Good theology, for Wesley, was balance without compromise. This balance is most evident in Wesley's understanding of faith and works, justification and sanctification. Those who espouse such a tradition like to think of this as their peculiar genius.

Wesleyan Distinctives

In a phrase, the Wesleyan tradition seeks to establish justification by faith as the gateway to sanctification or "scriptural holiness." Taken separately, justification by faith builds the foundation. Wesley himself in a sermon entitled "Justification by Faith" makes an attempt to define the term accurately. First, he states what justification is not. It is not being made actually just and righteous (that is sanctification). It is not being cleared of the accusations of Satan, nor of the law, nor even of God. We have sinned, so the accusation stands. Justification implies pardon, the forgiveness of sins. God justifies not the godly but the ungodly. They that are righteous need no repentance so they need no forgiveness. This pardon or forgiveness comes by faith. Then Wesley states what faith is and what it is not.

It is not that faith of a heathen, nor of a devil, nor even that of the apostle while Christ remained in the flesh. It is "a divine supernatural, evidence or conviction, 'of things not seen,' not discoverable by our bodily senses." Furthermore, "justifying faith implies a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that He loved me and gave Himself for me" [Works, V, 60 - 61] . This faith is received by repentance and our willingness to trust Christ as the one able to deliver us from all our sins.

With justification by faith as the foundation the Wesleyan tradition then builds a doctrine of sanctification upon it. The doctrine develops like this. Man and woman were created in the image of God's own eternity. They were upright and perfect. They dwelt in God and God dwelt in them. God required full and perfect obedience, and they were (in their unfallen state) equal to the task. They then disobeyed God. Their righteousness was lost. They were separated from God. We, as their seed, inherited a corruptible and mortal nature. We became dead, dead in spirit, dead in sin, dead to God, so that in our natural state we hastened on to death everlasting. God, however, was not to be undone. While we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. He bore our sins that by his stripes we might be healed. The ungodly, therefore, are justified by faith in the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice. This is not the end, however. This is only the beginning. Ultimately for the true Wesleyan salvation is completed by our return to original righteousness. This is done by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Although we are justified by faith alone, we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that makes us holy.

The Wesleyan tradition insists that grace is not contrasted with law but with the works of the law. Wesleyans remind us that Jesus came to fulfill, not destroy, the law. God made us in his perfect image, and he wants that image restored. He wants to return us to a full and perfect obedience through the process of sanctification. As we continually yield to the Spirit's impulse, he roots out those things that would separate us from God, from ourselves, and from those around us. Although we are not justified by good works, we are justified for good works. To be sure, no good works precede justification, as they do not spring from faith in Christ. Good works follow after justification as its inevitable fruit. Wesley insisted that Methodists who did not fulfill all righteousness deserved the hottest place in the lake of fire. Fulfilling "all righteousness" or being restored to our original righteousness became the hallmark of the Wesleyan tradition.

To fulfill all righteousness describes the process of sanctification. Wesley insisted that imputed righteousness must become imparted righteousness. God grants his Spirit to those who repent and believe that through faith they might overcome sin. Wesleyans want deliverance from sin, not just from hell. Wesley speaks clearly of a process that culminates in a second definite work of grace identified as entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one process that culminates in a second definite work of grace identified as entire sanctification.

Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one could progress in love until love became devoid of self - interest at the moment of entire sanctification. Thus, the principles of scriptural holiness or sanctification are as follows: sanctification is received by faith as a work of the Holy Spirit. It begins at the moment of new birth. It progresses gradually until the instant of entire sanctification. Its characteristics are to love God and one's neighbor as oneself; to be meek and lowly in heart, having the mind which was in Christ Jesus; to abstain from all appearance of evil, walking in all the commandments of God; to be content in every state, doing all to the glory of God.

Wesleyan Four Basic Proofs

The Wesleyan tradition's defense has normally exercised four basic proofs: Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. Although these "proofs" represent only a construct of Wesley's theology, the principles can be clearly identified.

Wesley insisted that Scripture is the first authority and contains the only measure whereby all other truth is tested. It was delivered by men divinely inspired. It is a rule sufficient of itself. It neither needs, nor is capable of, any further addition. The Scripture references to justification by faith as the gateway to scriptural holiness are well known to true Wesleyans: Deut. 30:6; Ps. 130:8; Ezek. 36:25, 29; Matt. 5:48; 22:37; Luke 1:69; John 17:20-23; Rom. 8:3-4; II Cor. 7:1; Eph. 3:14; 5:25-27; I Thess. 5:23; Titus 2:11-14; I John 3:8; 4:17.

Although Scripture is sufficient unto itself and is the foundation of true religion, Wesley writes: "Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles" [Works, VI, 354] . He states quite clearly that without reason we cannot understand the essential truths of Scripture. Reason, however, is not a mere human invention. It must be assisted by the Holy Spirit if we are to understand the mysteries of God. With regard to justification by faith and sanctification Wesley said that although reason cannot produce faith, when impartial reason speaks we can understand the new birth, inward holiness, and outward holiness. Although reason cannot produce faith, it shortens the leap.

Wesley writes that it is generally supposed that traditional evidence is weakened by length of time, as it must necessarily pass through so many hands in a continued succession of ages. Although other evidence is perhaps stronger, he insists: "Do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour. It is highly serviceable in its kind, and in its degree" [Works, X, 75] . Wesley states that men of strong and clear understanding should be aware of its full force. For him it supplies a link through 1,700 years of history with Jesus and the apostles. The witness to justification and sanctification is an unbroken chain drawing us into fellowship with those who have finished the race, fought the fight, and who now reign with God in his glory and might.

Apart from Scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity. "What the Scriptures promise, I enjoy" [Works, X, 79] . Again, Wesley insists that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally. John Wesley was assured of both justification and sanctification because he had experienced them in his own life. What Christianity promised (considered as a doctrine) was accomplished in his soul. Furthermore, Christianity (considered as an inward principle) is the completion of all those promises. Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple: "One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see." Although tradition establishes the evidence a long way off, experience makes it present to all persons. As for the proof of justification and sanctification Wesley states that Christianity is an experience of holiness and happiness, the image of God impressed on a created spirit, a fountain of peace and love springing up into everlasting life.

Development of Wesleyan Thought

The emphasis on justification by faith as the foundation and sanctification as the building upon it kept the people called Methodist moving perpetually toward God. Even entire sanctification as an instantaneous experience was never cause to sleep. Not to improve it was to lose it. One was to grow in love. Perfect love continually plumbed some new depth of the human experience. These distinctives of the Wesleyan tradition were powerful tools for the perpetuation of the Evangelical Revival. Unfortunately, many of these doctrines have been either lost or misdirected. Many with in the Wesleyan tradition have slipped into legalism, for example. Their understanding of sanctification has become too closely identified only with the form of godliness. Wesley intended that sanctification should be a disposition of the mind or a condition of the heart from which spring all good works. Wesley would be grieved to see good works become an end in themselves.

Ironically, in spite of an emphasis on "doing," many within the Wesleyan tradition have lost their social vision as well. Originally Wesley championed the fight against injustices like slavery and the lack of prison reform. Many followed in his footsteps. The cry of the early Holiness movement (which carried the banner of the Wesleyan tradition throughout the nineteenth century) was "Repent, believe, and become an abolitionist." Unfortunately, many Methodists lost their social consciences and became defensive and ingrown during the late 1800s (Finney died in 1875). The social gospel became associated with liberalism, and many of the Methodist groups overreacted. There was also a period of infighting. At the turn of the century the Wesleyan tradition, then deeply embedded within the Holiness movement, splintered. Now the Wesleyan tradition can be traced through many different movements and denominations which still hold, in one form or another, a view to justification by faith as the gateway to sanctification. Admittedly, there might have been some improvements on Wesley's legacy, but much has been lost as well. Wesley's own question, "How to reunite the two so long divided, knowledge and vital piety?", strikes a relevant chord. The principles of scriptural holiness still have meaning and contain much that is yet precious and important for our contemporary world. [ [http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/wesleyan.htm The Wesleyan Tradition] ]

Variants: Methodist and Holiness Movements

The Wesleyan movement began as a reform within the Church of England, and in many places, it remains as such. In some places, especially in America, the movement separated itself from its "mother church" and became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church. Many divisions occurred within the Methodist Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century, mostly over first the slavery question and later the inclusion of African-Americans. Some of these schisms healed in the early twentieth century, and many of the splinter Methodist groups came together to form The Methodist Church by 1939. In 1968, the Methodist Church joined with the Pietist Evangelical United Brethren Church to form The United Methodist Church, the largest Methodist church in America. Other groups include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Congregational Methodist Church, the Evangelical Church of North America, the Evangelical Congregational Church, the Evangelical Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church of North America, and the Southern Methodist Church.

In the nineteenth century a dissension arose over the nature of sanctification. Those who saw sanctification as a never completed progressive task, remained within the Methodist churches; others, however, believed in instantaneous sanctification that could be perfected. Those who followed this line of thought began the various Holiness churches, including the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA, Church of God (Holiness), the Churches of Christ in Christian Union, and the Wesleyan Church, which are present today. In the nineteenth century, there were many other Holiness groups; many of these groups became the foundation for the Pentecostal movement. Other Holiness groups that rejected the Pentecostal movement merged to form the Church of the Nazarene, perhaps the most prevalent Holiness denomination.The Salvation Army is another group originating from Wesleyanism, The Salvation Army's founder William Booth left after having tried to reform the Methodist church especially in the areas of evangelism and social action.

ee also

* Methodism
* Holiness movement
* Arminian
* Pentecostal
* Salvation Army


Huzar, Eleanor. Encyclopedia Americana. "Arminianism", Danbury: Encyclopedia Americana, 1994.

Outler, Albert C. Encyclopedia Americana. "John Wesley", Danbury: Encyclopedia Americana, 1994.

J. Wesley, Works, ed. T. Jackson, 14 vols.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


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  • Wesleyanism — Wes ley*an*ism, n. (Eccl.) The system of doctrines and church polity inculcated by John Wesley (b. 1703; d. 1791), the founder of the religious sect called Methodist; Methodism. See {Methodist}, n., 2. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Wesleyanism — Wesleyan ► ADJECTIVE ▪ relating to or denoting the teachings of the English preacher John Wesley (1703 91) or the main branch of the Methodist Church which he founded. ► NOUN ▪ a follower of Wesley or adherent of the main Methodist tradition.… …   English terms dictionary

  • Wesleyanism — noun Date: 1774 methodism 1; specifically the system of Arminian Methodism taught by John Wesley • Wesleyan adjective or noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Wesleyanism — /wes lee euh niz euhm, wez /, n. the evangelical principles taught by John Wesley; Methodism. Also, Wesleyism. [1765 75; WESLEYAN + ISM] * * * …   Universalium

  • Wesleyanism — noun The theological system propounded by John Wesley; commonly called Methodism. See Also: Wesleyan …   Wiktionary

  • wesleyanism — n. Methodism …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • wesleyanism — wes·ley·an·ism …   English syllables

  • Wesleyanism —  Уэслианство …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • Wesleyanism — noun evangelical principles taught by John Wesley • Syn: ↑Wesleyism • Hypernyms: ↑Protestantism …   Useful english dictionary

  • Church of the Nazarene — Not to be confused with Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarene). Church of the Nazarene Seal of the Church of the Nazarene Classification Protestant Orientation Evangel …   Wikipedia