In chapter 2, Dr. Scott Kisker describes the vision to which John Wesley and early Methodists committed their lives. He suggests that Wesley and Methodism’s theology and methodology only make sense in light of this larger vision. Kisker describes that vision as follows,
This vision is the possibility of present salvation from the tyranny of sin – from the dominion of the devil. It is a vision of life lived under the authority of God, who brings “liberty to the captives” (Is 61:1). It is St. Peter’s vision of a “royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:9), living in accord with God’s will, as a visible testimony to resurrection power. The “beauty of holiness” (1 Chr 16:29) had seduced Wesley long before his Aldersgate experience. That pursuit became his calling.
In spite of his own efforts, Wesley could never attain the salvation or holiness he so desired. It wasn’t until his encounter with God at Aldersgate that he recognized, “holiness, saintliness, victory over sin, resurrection, the kingdom of God is a gift. We can do nothing to deserve it. We cannot achieve it…[but] we can and must receive it by faith.” Wesley experienced the “new birth,” or being “born again,” at Aldersgate and yet he knew that birth was just the beginning. Kisker writes, “The new birth was not the fullest possible expression of holiness in this life. It was a birth. It was not the goal of Christianity, it was the doorway to it, and there was a lot of house left to explore.”
The often neglected Methodist doctrine of perfection is the goal of the Christian life. Again, Kisker helpfully and briefly explains this, “Perfection, completeness, is the greatest manifestation of the love of God filling us that is possible in this life.” Overall, Kisker explains, t was Wesley’s vision of holiness that stood behind the mission of Methodism. In fact, the very reason given for raising up Methodist preachers in the first place as, “to reform the nation, particularly the Church; and to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”
How long has it been since you’ve heard this vision within United Methodism? When was the last time you taught about the “new birth” in plain language? How are we called to pick us this original vision in our churches today?
Kisker suggests that Methodists in America lost sight of this vision and the structures (small groups, band and class meetings) that sought to allow men and women to experience the “new birth” and scriptural holiness. In fact, he goes on to describe the general lack of expectation he sees in UM congregations around the nation,
As I go around and attend United Methodist churches, what strikes me is the way in which most of them (not all) are limited by what passes for possible in this world. United Methodists do not expect God’s Spirit to intervene in powerful ways – to win the battle for us. As a result, we are resigned to the way things are. The logic of limited possibilities has seduced us. Perhaps this is because we are so comfortable with the way things are.”
However, Kisker suggests that if we catch John Wesley’s vision, the language of salvation and the practices of Methodism will once again make sense and lead us to radically embracing God’s vision for salvation and holiness in our world today.