Wesley’s Heritage: Holiness

given on Sunday, May 22, 2011

            Have you ever heard of the “holiness movement?”  I had not, nor did I ever expect to be looking it up, especially in relation to John Wesley and Heritage Sunday.  Still, I started looking into the Crossroads Wesleyan Church of Imperial, Nebraska—Rev. Burpo’s pastorate—and discovered a major surprise–at least a surprise to me.

After hearing the story on the Today show several weeks ago, I was startled that Matt Lauer referred to Todd Burpo as a “man of the cloth.”  I thought that phrase would refer only to priests.  That sent me straight to the computer to check it out because surely he was not a priest as he had a wife and son.  My search placed him as a pastor in a small town at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church.

Whew!  This provided me a great deal of relief and gave me the confidence to look further into the book, Heaven is for RealMy thinking was that if Burpo was Methodist, then I could take some confidence in his training.  I could trust that he would not publish something without at least following a thorough analysis using the quadrilateral.  So, I bought the book.  I read the book.  And I used the quadrilateral double-checking the book.  I found no problems.

Curiosity set in, though, and I started thinking why not contact Todd Burpo.  Surely the Nebraska Conference website would make a connection with little trouble.  But trouble did develop—no Crossroads Wesleyan Church.  Then I started worrying:  Why?  Did I get something wrong?  Back to the book.  I was using the correct title, so I began a new search and I learned something I had no idea about in the Methodist story.

The United Methodist Church is not the only denomination that follows the teaching of John Wesley.  There are others.  The United Methodist Church is the result of the 1968 unification of the Evangelical United Brethren Church             and the Methodist Church.  I remember that event, but I did not completely grasp that this was the unification of just two denominations within the full spectrum of those who follow John Wesley or the “holiness movement.”

I have always thought that when United became part of the Methodist profile it meant that all churches under that title were the only churches that followed John Wesley.  This month I discovered a clarification that now makes bits and pieces of Methodist history fall into a much clearer perspective.

Website Patheos (http://www.patheos.com/Library/Methodist.html) provided a clear, concise summary of the Methodist story.  The information is a broader perspective than that on the United Methodist website (http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.1720691/k.B5CB/History_Our_Story.htm).

Remember that “United” was not added to the denomination’s name until 1968 when it merged with only one other denomination.  Therefore, when researching the history of Methodism, the term “United” is relatively new and can be eliminated in the search.  By doing that one learns that there is a much more complex history which includes changes in the denomination but not changes in the core beliefs.

First, Methodism began in England when John Wesley studied and blended elements of the Moravian movement from Germany.  He still considered the church to be part of the Church of England, but Moravian practices were adopted and adapted by Wesley’s followers.  The Methodist Church simply was like an active, socially focused Sunday school class.  Wesley used small groups meeting weekly outside of the traditional Sunday worship service.  The small groups developed an active, socially focused movement which ministered to all people—no exceptions.

The Methodists then split with the Church of England after it crossed the Atlantic and began work in the United States.   In the United States a split within the Methodist church occurred over one issue:  slavery.  The Methodist Episcopalians were anti-slavery, especially as a trade.  Methodists, simply, did not believe in slavery, but stopped short of actively trying to eradicate the slave industry.

Trying to summarize the 300-year timeline of the church is challenging, but it does not change the fact that the different sects are still tied together by the fundamental teachings of John Wesley.  The influences of the Moravian priests from Germany lead to the “holiness movement.”

The holiness movement is explained by several sources, but the simplest explanation appears to be from the Bible Facts website:

The holiness movement takes its roots from John Wesley, an Anglican priest ordained in 1728. After studying the writings of the early church father Clement of Alexandria (177AD), and the Moravians. Wesley was convinced the true holiness is an attitude, a love for God, not how much sin you do or righteousness you do. Clement called this a heart holiness.

To further clarify the holiness movement, the core beliefs are also outlined by the website:

All Holiness Churches are Trinitarian, Armenian (free will, not Calvinist), teach Entire Sanctification (you can be sinless in this life), sin is willful disobedience as opposed to just missing the mark. (they do not recognize the possibility of an unknown sin. Cmp. Leviticus 4:2)

Reviewing other websites, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, the definition of the holiness movement matches that of Bible Facts.

What is the significance of this clarification of the two churches?  For me, I see a much broader picture of John Wesley’s influence in Christianity.  I realize that we do not all have the answers, that serving God is a process, a life-long process.  I also know that Todd Burpo is a solid, faith-based Christian who sees our relationship with God in the same manner as I do.  We are loved by God, we believe in Jesus Christ, and operate with the help of the Holy Spirit to love one another.

And there was one more interesting discovery.  Under the Patheos summary of Methodism, a subtitle catches one’s attention:  “Methodist Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings”:

Methodists, like most Christians, believe in a triune God, in Jesus Christ, and in angels.  More recently, some Methodists have proposed less traditional models for understanding God and Jesus.  Some Methodists continue to believe in angels, while for others they seem implausible or simply irrelevant.

Our heritage as Methodists may seem to be extremely complex, but it is still connected to one core belief above all others:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”  (John 3:15, the NRSV)

Dear Heavenly Father,

Today we stop and remember.

You created the earth and all that lives on it.

You give us life and you give us choice.

As Your disciples began the Church,

Challenges arose, conflict occurred,

But Your Grace forever reigns.

As the Church grew,

The Great Commandment

Became the central purpose.


Today we stop and remember

All that we believe,

All that we have done,

And all that we do.


Today we stop and reflect. 

Are we following Your commandment?

Are we truly serving one another?

Are we loving one another?

Are we holy?


Be with us today

As you have been with us yesterday.

Be with us today

As we look toward tomorrow.

Be with us today and always.


(Note to follow up:  During the writing of the sermon, I learned of a loss in our church’s family.  The sermon was virtually complete, but this one life’s witness only magnifies Wesley’s definition of grace.  There is nothing more important than God’s grace—it is all we need.)

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