The doctrine of Christian perfection: A comparative study of John Wesley and the modern American Holiness Movement


John Wesley is best remembered for his contributions to the Christian understanding of the Biblical ideal, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48, NIV). In this study the essence of Wesley\u27s teaching on Christian perfection is restated in terms of four crucial issues: (1) the balance with respect to the question of time--Christian perfection as both a distinct work of God\u27s grace as well as a part of the whole plan of salvation; (2) the synthesis with regard to the question of manner--Christian perfection as both an instantaneous as well as a gradual work of grace; (3) the tension with respect to the results of Christian perfection--that is, Christian perfection as a relative perfection; and (4) the balance regarding the nature of Christian perfection--the negative (cleansing) and positive (filling) aspects of Christian perfection. Within a century of Wesley\u27s death, Methodism failed to maintain the Wesleyan distinctives on one or more of these issues, resulting in the formation of the Holiness Movement. The Deeper Life Movement was also a response to Wesley\u27s balance with respect to the nature of Christian perfection. In this study these four crucial issues are used to analyze the contemporary American holiness movement with the purpose of answering the question, Is the understanding of Christian perfection, as taught by John Wesley, retained in the contemporary American holiness movement? The current understanding of Christian perfection is represented by selected statements of faith as found in the Articles of Faith and membership training manuals of the largest American holiness denominations, and in the scholarly writings of various contemporary holiness theologians. The study reveals that, though certain statements of faith and writings of selected contemporary Wesleyan scholars may represent an alteration or moving away from Wesley\u27s teaching on specific points, when viewed corporately the contemporary holiness movement in America has retained the essence of Wesley\u27s understanding of Christian perfection

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This paper was published in epublications@Marquette.

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