The “4 All’s” of Methodism

by Richard on October 20, 2007

This is a more-or-less complete service I wrote for our Circuit, for use when no preacher was available. It is based around the “4 all’s”, the slogans which have been used to summarise the distinctive emphases of Methodist theology. I’m sharing it here for the same purpose, and of course if anyone wants to use it they would be more than welcome. Do feel free to modify or add to it as you wish.


Introduction

In this service, through Bible readings, hymns and short comments, we shall explore the Christian teachings to which the Methodist Church has given special emphasis throughout its history. These have often been summed up in 4 short slogans
- all need to be saved
- all can be saved
- all may know themselves to be saved
- all may be completely saved

We treasure the heritage we have received in order to be able to offer this gift to the whole Church of God, just as we look to receive from our brothers and sisters whose understanding of the gospel may not always be the same as our own.

So let us worship God together…

Hymn: “All people that on earth do dwell”

Opening Prayers:

Loving God - we thank you. We thank you for how you hold us by our hand as
we learn to walk in your ways - for how you seek us out when we wander from
your path - for how you watch over us in times of peril and times of ease.
We praise you, O God, for your love and we thank you for your mercy and
your grace. We thank you for not only accepting us - but for encouraging
us - supporting us - giving us life. As we meet before you now - guide and
lead us by the power of your living word. May our song, our prayer, our
speaking and our listening, our thinking and our doing give you glory, both
now and forevermore.

O, God, our God, we confess we have not always lived for you. At times we are lukewarm in our love, devotion and commitment to you. Help us to seek you with all our heart, to give thanks for all of the blessings you offer to us and to be faithful in our decision to follow your ways. May we be strong in our convictions and passionate in our service to your people. Grant us courage to follow the truth you reveal to us. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn: “Give me joy in my heart keep me praising”

Reading: Gen 3: 1-19

Comment-1
“All need to be saved”

“Original sin” does not mean sin that nobody has thought of before. There aren’t any! This doctrine is an attempt to explain what we see all around us in the world and in our own lives: somehow, we can’t help being sinners. Everyone knows that things are not what they could be. The Christian word for the fault-line that we see running through human life is sin, the determination shared by all people everywhere to pursue our own interests and to take God’s place as the centre of our universe. Sin is “I” against God. “Original Sin” is a way of saying that sin is something that all people are born into; in every age and place men and women have found it easier to do wrong than to do right. St Paul expressed it this way:

“I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”(Letter to the Romans, chapter 7 vss 18,19)

Sin may not be a popular word, but most people will recognise the experience that Paul describes. If you doubt it, check out the number of “self-help” guides available in every book shop. We know we can be better than we are. For Christians, the solutions to this problem do not lie within us, but in the love and mercy of the God who made and sustains us.

Hymn: I will sing the wondrous story

Reading: Romans 5: 18-19

Comment-2
“All can be saved”

Is salvation for all people, or are some people excluded from God’s promises? After all, the Bible speaks often of God’s people being chosen. As anyone who has ever played football in a school yard knows, every time one person is chosen another is left behind. Is that how the salvation of God works? The Methodist Church, following Wesley, has always asserted that salvation was on offer for all and not simply to the few for whom it was predestined. It is this belief that has given, and still gives, the Church its missionary purpose.

Hymn: Blessed assurance

Reading: Romans 8:12-17

Comment-3
“All may know themselves saved”

The first two Methodist emphases point to objective realities - human seperation from God and God’s action in Jesus to restore us to a relationship with him. This third emphasis is more subjective; not ‘are you saved?’ but ‘do you feel saved?’ Wesley first taught that this feeling of salvation came automatically to all believers, but he later came to realise his mistake. Assurance — that sense of the certainty of salvation — is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is shared with the people of God, but which is not experienced by everyone all of the time. Even the most faithful Christians know ‘the dark night of the soul’ at some time in their lives. Certainty of salvation and the joy that comes with it is a privilege for which we should be grateful.

Hymn: God of all power and truth and grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Comment-4
“All may be completely saved”

Of all of Methodist teaching, this is probably the most controversial. Wesley taught that the Christian life was a process of growth in holiness and that this process could be completed in perfection during a believer’s lifetime. He did not claim this perfection for himself. Though at first sight it may seem ridiculous, it is important not to jump to conclusions about what is meant by Christian Perfection. I’ll write a bit more about this in the next day or two. Here there is only the space to say that by Christian Perfection we mean perfection of attitude towards God and neighbour, a perfection of the will directed in love.This means that this is not a matter of self-fulfillment or individualism. Since love is all about relationships, Christian Perfection is essentially a social matter. As Wesley himself put it, the gospel has “no holiness but social holiness”.

To understand “Christian Perfection” we must first understand what Wesley was trying to achieve. Wesley believed that there could be no limits on the grace of God and that all were called to the very highest standard of life. This is essentially what Wesley meant by ’scriptural holiness’. There is no one beyond the reach of God’s grace, and therefore none who could excuse herself from the obligation to seek for the perfection that God offers as a free gift of his grace. With forgiveness (or justification) comes the progressive change in character which is the result of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Wesley taught that all Christians should expect to see this change and growth, and should seek the end of this process which is the perfection of God. This perfection he called “Entire Sanctification”. The target of Wesley’s teaching on perfection was the ‘elitism’ of much of the Christian teaching of his day, which held that only a select few could hope to achieve holiness, and the best that could be expected of most was occasional church attendance and a degree of respectability. For Wesley this would not do. Just as all are included in the offer of salvation by the grace of God, so Wesley insisted that all could ‘press on toward perfection’. There can be no limits on what God can do in our lives.

Prayers of intercession

Hymn: Let him to whom we now belong

The grace…

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1

John Meunier 10.21.07 at 1:51 am

This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

There is a real craft in constructing such a service.

2

PamBG 10.21.07 at 1:46 pm

Yes, thank you for sharing this!

3

Kim 10.21.07 at 4:27 pm

Two points, Richard.

First, why the transposition of “All may know themselves saved” into a question of feeling? Even when I don’t feel that I am saved I know that I am saved, though of course it is the knowledge of faith, though not necessarily, or even fundamentally, my faith but the faith of the church, which itself is entirely dependent on the faith of Jesus Christ, which New Perspective on Paul theologians tell us should be taken as a subjective rather than an objective genitive. Bonhoeffer: “God is not a God of the feelings but a God of the truth.”

Second, I totally agree that Wesley’s doctrine of perfection need not be problematical (though “All may be completely saved” is a curious way of putting it - as if one might be partially saved, which is rather like being partially pregnant!). There is, of course, the paradox that, as the saints exemplify, growth in holiness goes hand-in-hand with the intensification of the awareness that one is a sinner. But that said, there are two helpful ways of understanding perfection that make the doctrine sound.

The first is biblical: it is to understand the teleioestin = “perfect” of Matthew 5:47 in terms of the Luke 6:36 take on this Q saying, where instead of teleioestin there is oiktirmon = “merciful”. Indeed where is there a better demonstration of Christian perfection than in the love of our enemies?

The second is patristic: it is Gregory of Nyssa’s understanding of perfection as epiktasis, the endless progression towards the perpetually receding goal of our infinite God (and, interestingly, Gregory prefers “darkness” imagery to “light” imagery when speaking of God). I know at least one prominent Methodist scholar ( and so do you!) who sees Gregory’s ascetical theology as “the model for the spiritual life” (as she puts it): I refer to Frances Young who, in her recent gem Brokenness and Blessing: Towards a Biblical Spirituality (2007), writes: “Human perfection is always a growth in goodness.”

Anyway, just the tuppence of a Reformed Christian crashing a Methodist conversation. But then I presume that a good Methodist, like a good Calvinist, would not think of taking the teachings of their esteemed founders as the final word on Christian doctrine - not least because neither would the founders themselves!

4

Richard 10.22.07 at 2:13 pm

Thanks for the helpful comments, Kim. This is something I wrote a while ago - about 2 years, I think - and maybe some redrafting would have been worthwhile.

On knowing/feeling, I understand what you mean, but ‘assurance’ remains an important Methodist emphasis that I would hate to lose. I’d argue that the sense of assurance grows as a believer learns to trust the promises of scripture. I agree that knowing we are saved is more important than ‘feeling’ saved, but feelings are an important part of being human and are not irrelevant to our Christian experience.

I’m obliged to agree without reservation about the phrase “All can be completely saved” - it is very clumsy, and I would change this in any future version. The more traditional way to render this would be “All can be saved to the uttermost”, but that is scarcely intelligible.

5

PamBG 10.22.07 at 2:33 pm

I’ve found the whole ‘assurance’ thing quite tricky with someone who is clinically depressed and convinced that God leaves them during their depression. I’ve really had to emphasise the ‘promises’ and also point out that the person would not be worried about God having left if they were damned (which is what the worry is).

I’d not want to get rid of the doctrine of ‘assurance’ either, but it’s a bit of a balancing act. Like the whole grace-faith-works issue, assurance can’t be neatly pinned down.

6

dh 10.22.07 at 3:12 pm

One must define “all”. Many are “called” few are “chosen” is what Scripture says. Also, not everyone is a believer and thus not all are saved. All have the opportunity to be saved but not all will be saved. Why else does Scripture say what happens to those whose names are not written in the “Lambs Book of Life” when Scripture explains how one has their name in the “Lambs Book of Life”? Also, the concept of “completely saved”. We are completely saved when we accept Christ as our Savior. We are Sanctified daily thereafter not that we reach perfection on earth but that with Christ we are able to “be all that we can be for God” and become closer and closer to God in relationship with Him.

Well after closer examination maybe it is the symantics of the terms but those terms “begged the questions” that I answered in the previous paragraph.

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