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Wesley and the Pentecostals

John Fletcher

As a result of Fletcher’s influence, Wesley’s latter sermons “highlighted the Methodist phenomenon as inaugurating a “Pentecostal Church’ in the world.”5 The distinct contribution that Fletcher made upon Wesley’s theology was the concept of a “Pentecostal Church,” which helped Wesley articulate and defend the extraordinary work of God that was happening through the Methodist movement. Wood notes that Wesley’s latter sermons focused on a Pentecostal theme because he believed that the Methodist revival in his day was the first sign of a new Pentecost. He believed that a new Pentecostal Church was being re-established on the earth that would be the fulfillment of the first Pentecost.6 The external evidence of the outward work of the Spirit resembled the first Pentecost and demonstrated that God was indeed with the Methodists as they spread universally throughout the world. Wesley’s concept of a “Pentecostal Church” demonstrates a growing interest in the universal work of the Spirit and marks a further shift in Wesley’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Fletcher helped Wesley articulate and defend the extraordinary work of God that was happening through the Methodist movement.

 

Holiness Movement

Both Wesley and Fletcher’s writings were widely spread among early Methodists and became distributed widely in the later Holiness movement. The Holiness Movement of the 1800’s served as the major catalyst for the spread of the doctrine of entire sanctification. The Movement emphasized sanctification as a second definite work of grace, which is distinct from salvation. Various terms were used to describe this experience beyond conversion including, “Christian perfection,” “entire sanctification,” “second blessing,” and “higher Christian life.”

Wesley believed that a new Pentecostal Church was being re-established on the earth that would be the fulfillment of the first Pentecost.

The Holiness Movement helped spread the message of the “second blessing” throughout North America and Europe through camp meetings and conventions like the National Holiness Association. These camp meetings were literally held in many of the major cities and states across the United States. Many of the holiness people were prolific writers and theologians who promoted the spread of the doctrine of entire sanctification in their writings and teachings. Although the Holiness Movement was made up of various denominations, Methodism played an important role in the beginning of the Movement. In the late 1800’s the Movement began to split into various independent Holiness churches. Despite divisions, all of them agreed on the prominent role of the Holy Spirit in entire sanctification.

Fletcher used Pentecostal language to describe the Spirit’s work with phrases such as ‘baptized with the Spirit’ and ‘filled with the Spirit.’

The Holiness Movement helped contribute to the shift from an emphasis on entire sanctification to a growing emphasis on Spirit Baptism. The change did not take place overnight, but was the result of various Christian groups who sought to find new ways of appropriating and articulating the role of the Holy Spirit in Christian experience. There are several key leaders that contributed to the emphasis on Spirit baptism and sanctification.

Revivalist Charles Finney was a powerful preacher and teacher in the mid 1800’s. He was practicing law when he experienced a dramatic conversion, after which he gave up everything to pursue the call to preach. Finney soon emerged as the new leader of evangelical revivalism. His revivals burned through major urban areas like Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Rochester. His fame brought him international attention, which eventually took him to England.

Wesley believed that the Methodist revival in his day was the first sign of a new Pentecost.

He was influenced by the Wesleyan theology of Christian perfectionism, which developed from the teaching of John Wesley. “One of Finney’s theological innovations was his increasing tendency to identify the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” as a means of entering into entire sanctification.”7 He identified entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which connects him to both Wesleyan-holiness and later, Pentecostal thought.8

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Category: Church History, Summer 2006

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). WinfieldBevins.com Amazon Author Page Facebook Twitter: @winfieldbevins

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