Monday, January 22, 2007

Are Wesleyans Modern-Day Judaizers?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2.8-9 ESV)
The Judaizers of Paul's day gave him fits. They were a group of people who embraced Christianity--with a catch. To them, everyone had to be a Jew and still obey Torah. If someone were a Gentile then to become a Christian he had to convert to Judaism first, then to Christ.

We see a problem at a Jerusalem counsel:
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." (Act 15.5 ESV)
Paul didn't think much of their theology:
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in--who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery-- to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2.4-5 ESV)
Today we begin our blog with a provocative question: are Wesleyans modern-day Judaizers? Not of Torah today, at least, in its entirety: I've never met a Christian who insisted we follow all of the ceremonial and ritual aspects of the Law of Moses to find salvation. No, this would be a modern spin: do Wesleyan Christian believers think they are saved by God's umerited favor (grace) or, in the end, do they believe that they are saved by their good works (i.e. the "Moral Law" of the Torah and the commandments of the New Testament)?

Well, first we must remove the all-or-nothing category; Wesleyans don't think as a block 100% of the time, anyway. However, do some Wesleyans believe they are saved by faith in Christ and their obedience to what is right?

This can be tricky to nuance because Wesley, himself, believed (as do grounded Calvinists) that true faith inevitably has good works that accompany it as an effect.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2.10 ESV)
Really, I'm asking, "Do Wesleyans believe that after they are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone their good works help them keep salvation with God?"

John Wesley would strongly disagree with that theological position. He preaches:
But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this: all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them. I say again, not for the sake of anything in them, or done by them, of their own righteousness or works: 'Not for works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy he saved us.' 'By grace ye are saved through faith, — not of works, lest any man should boast;' but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for us. We are 'justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.' And this is not only the means of our obtaining the favour of God, but of our continuing therein. It is thus we come to God at first; it is by the same we come unto him ever after. We walk in one and the same new and living way, till our spirit returns to God. (Sermons, # 20, "The Lord Our Righteousness")
Wesley held that a Christian becomes a Christian and remains a Christian only because he is imputed with the perfect active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ while the Son of God lived on this earth. In other words, a believer is a believer not because of his good works but because he trusts in Christ's righteousness alone. (For a fuller treatment, see my post, "Righteousness in Christ".)

So, Wesley was no Judaizer but are some Wesleyans today? Undoubtably many are; however, many Christians, not just Wesleyans, are probably shaky in this area. Due to imprecise pastors and teachers (and a human tendancy to be lazy with theology) many Christians probably don't understand how they become and remain saved.

It's how sinners think. Sinners [those outside Christianity] believe their good works will earn them a spot in heaven. If we're not careful, new Christians can get (or keep) that impression, too.

Wesleyans may be called many things, but let's work to avoid being called "Judaizers" as much as possible!