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A Pentecostal Appropriation of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Wesley explicitly states that the Holy Spirit must assist our reasoning if we are to understand the things of God. Elsewhere, Wesley declared, “you cannot reason concerning spiritual things, if you have no spiritual sight; because all your ideas received by your outward senses are of a different kind;”45  Wesley continues, “This cannot be till the Almighty come into your succour, and give you that faith you have hitherto despised. Then upborne, as it were, on eagles’ wings, you shall soar away into the regions of eternity; and your enlightened reason shall explore even “the deep things of God;” God himself  “revealing them to you by his Spirit.”46  For Wesley, spiritual sight is only possible when the Holy Spirit opens and enlightens our “spiritual sensorium.”

The restoration of religious experience to the Christian faith is perhaps John Wesley’s most significant theological contribution. Scripture, reason, and tradition were common theological methods that were used by Roman Catholics and Anglicans in Wesley’s day. What this trilateral method lacked was a spiritual confirmation, or an assurance of salvation within the heart, mind, and soul of the believer. John Wesley saw the need for a re-appropriation of Christian experience; once it was recovered it soon became one of the distinctive marks of Methodism. He said of experience that, “a great evangelical truth has been recovered, which had been for many years well- nigh lost and forgotten.”47  Experience was a jewel that Wesley placed back into the crown of Christianity.

Christian experience is a personal, first hand encounter with the living God who gives us the “witness of the Spirit.” John Wesley described this in the following way: “The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression of the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God.”48  The inward “impression” on the soul does not refer to feelings per se, but a complex synergism, which involves both feelings and intuition. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop said that experience means that the whole man/woman is caught up in the involvement of saving faith.49  Experience first involves God through His saving acts and then the person who receives and perceives the reality of this action through all of the human faculties.50

John Wesley believed that the Holy Spirit was the primary agent involved in Christian experience. The Spirit is the Divine initiative who awakens, assures, purifies, and guides the believer in the ordo salutis. In “A Letter to a Roman Catholic,” He writes:

I believe the infinite and eternal Spirit of God, equal with the Father and the Son, to be not only perfectly holy in himself but the immediate cause of all holiness in us; enlightening our understandings, rectifying our wills and affections, renewing our natures, uniting our persons to Christ, assuring us of the adoption of sons, leading us in our actions; purifying and sanctifying our souls and bodies, to a full and eternal enjoyment of God.51

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God. (Romans 8:16) Wesley used this Scripture to give an explication of the work that the Spirit does in his children. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures continuously works to confirm the experiential truths found within its texts. In fact, Wesley believed that the witness of the Spirit confirmed what the Scriptures taught concerning experience. He said, “What the Scripture promises, I enjoy. Come and see what Christianity has done here; and acknowledge it is of God.”52

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About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Winfield H. Bevins serves as the Director of Asbury Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative. He is also the Canon for Church Planting for the Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas and an adjunct professor at Trinity School for Ministry. He is the author of Plant: A Sower’s Guide to Church Planting (Seedbed, 2016), Rediscovering John Wesley (Pathway Press, 2005), Our Common Prayer: A Field Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Simeon Press, 2013), Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith (NavPress, 2011), and Grow at Home: A Beginner’s Guide to Family Discipleship (Seedbed, 2016). Amazon Author Page Facebook Twitter: @winfieldbevins

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