July 17, 2011
I. Epistemology – The Source of Truth
I will begin by examining Wesley’s ultimate authority, and source of truth. Was it Scripture alone? Or did Wesley proceed from his own preconceived notions about God, Jesus, and the Gospel?
Here is what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about the inspiration and authority of Scripture:
All of the Bible is given by inspiration of God and is thus without error. It is the very Word of God. It does not merely contain the Word of God, as if it contained the erroneous words of men mingled with the perfect words of God. The doctrine of inspiration is the first principle from which all biblical doctrines are derived. Its truth is revealed to man by God. [2Sa 7:28; 23:2; Psa 12:6; 25:5; 111:7-8; 119:43,89; 138:2; Dan 10:21; Joh 17:17; Act 3:18; 1Co 2:4,12-16; 2Ti 2:15; 3:15-17; Heb 1:1-2; 2Pe 1:20-21; 3:15]1
Only the Bible is to be received as authoritative, to the exclusion of all other writings, because it is the only inspired Word of God. In it God has given His church everything necessary for life and godliness. It is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God; the doctrine within it is most perfect and complete in all respects. God has not given any new revelations to His people since the close of Scripture, and there is no unwritten tradition equal or superior in authority to the Scriptures.[Deu 4:2; 11:18-21; 12:32; Jos 1:8; Psa 19:7-11; Pro 30:5-6; Isa 40:6-8; Mat 15:5-9; Luk 16:31; Gal 1:10-17; 2Ti 3:15-17; 2Pe 1:3-4; Rev 22:18-19]
Let all men and all doctrines, including this Confession, be judged by this standard alone. Whatever is taught in any book or by any man that is contrary to the Bible is to be rejected. [Deu 13:1-4; Isa 8:20; Joh 7:24; Act 17:11; Gal 1:8-9; 1Jo 4:1]2
The very first paragraph of the Confession teaches that the Scriptures are not only verbally inspired by God, but also that the Scriptures are sufficient for life and godliness in and of themselves (2Ti 3:16, 2Pe 1:20-21). There is no need to add to them, supplement them, or look for new revelations from God outside of them, because the doctrine that the Scriptures contain is “perfect and complete in all respects.”(Pro 30:5-6, Rev 22:18-19) These sections of the Confession set forth the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the teaching that the Bible alone is a sufficient standard for discerning true and false teachings, as well as true and false teachers (Isa 8:20, Act 17:11, Gal 1:8-9, 1Jo 4:1).
The doctrine opposite to this, that God continues to give direct revelation to his people through some medium other than the Bible, is called Enthusiasm. Among professing Christians, the most famous example of Enthusiasm is the “Magisterium” and “Oral Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church. What is not so widely recognized, however, is the fact that Protestants have their own counterparts to the “Oral Tradition” and “Magisterium”.
The form of Enthusiasm that John Wesley is best known for is the drawing of lots. I have already examined the story of how Wesley supposedly decided between Calvinism and Arminianism by flipping a coin. While Wesley denied having done this, he did admit to the use of lots. Usually he drew lots by writing the available options on several pieces of paper, and pulling one at random out of a hat. He acquired this practice from the Moravians he met on his missionary trip to Georgia. In his Journals for Aug. 10, 1738, he includes the following as part of his description of the Moravians:
They have a peculiar esteem for lots; and accordingly use them both in public and private, to decide points of importance, when the reasons brought on each side appear to be of equal weight. And they believe this to be then the only way of wholly setting aside their own will, of acquitting themselves of all blame, and clearly knowing what is the will of God. (1:146, Journals)
Many years later, in his Principles Of A Methodist Farther Explained (8:450), Wesley admitted that the Moravians had taught him to do this and stated “I therefore still subscribe to that declaration of the Moravian church….” quoted above.
Wesley’s Journals offer only one specific instance of drawing a lot (1:176), in which it was decided whether he should make a journey to Bristol. This instance will be discussed in more detail in a moment. For now, let us note that George Whitefield, in his famous response to Wesley’s sermon Free Grace (7:373), acquaints us with two more such instances:
The case (you know) stands thus: When you were at Bristol, I think you received a letter from a private hand, charging you with not preaching the gospel, because you did not preach up election. Upon this you drew a lot; the answer was “preach and print.” …. I never heard that you enquired of God, whether or not election was a gospel doctrine. …. However, if that sermon was printed in answer to a lot, I am apt to think, one reason why God should so suffer you to be deceived, was, that hereby a special obligation might be laid upon me, faithfully to declare the Scripture doctrine of election, that thus the Lord might give me a fresh opportunity of seeing what was in my heart, and whether I would be true to his cause or not; as you could not but grant he did once before, by giving you such another lot at Deal.
The morning I sailed from Deal to Gibraltar, you arrived from Georgia. Instead of giving me an opportunity to converse with you, though the ship was not far off the shore, you drew a lot, and immediately set forward to London. You left a letter behind you, in which were words to this effect: “When I saw [that] God, by the wind which was carrying you out, brought me, I asked counsel of God. His answer you have enclosed.” This was a piece of paper, in which were written these words, “Let him return to London.” …. That passage in 1 Kings 13 was powerfully impressed upon my soul, where we are told that the Prophet was slain by a lion when he was tempted to go back (contrary to God’s express order) upon another Prophet’s telling him God would have him so do. I wrote to you that I could not return to London. We sailed immediately.”3
Another form of enthusiasm which Wesley employed can only be described as Bibliomancy. This involved opening the Bible to a random page, and finding the answer to a question in the first passage he saw. The reader will note that while this practice seems to make use of Scripture, it refuses to take into account the whole counsel of God. Rather, it takes a single verse, and tries to make that one verse say whatever the enquirer thinks it should say. Therefore, it is really a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture, which requires us to compare Scripture with Scripture (Psa 36:9), living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Psa 119:160, Mat 4:4).
The most outrageous example of Bibliomancy in Wesley’s Journals is connected with the example of drawing a lot, mentioned above. The entry for March 15, 1739, reads:
During my stay here, I was fully employed; … so that I had no thought of leaving London, when I received, after several others, a letter from Mr. Whitefield, and another from Mr. Seward, intreating [sic] me, in the most pressing manner, to come to Bristol without delay. This I was not at all forward to do; and perhaps a little the less inclined to it (though I trust I do not count my life dear unto myself, so I may finish my course with joy) because of the remarkable scriptures which offered as often as we inquired, touching the consequence of this removal: Probably permitted for the trial of our faith. (!! – CA) “Get thee up into this mountain; — and die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people.” (Deut. xxxii. 49,50.) “And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” (Deut. xxxiv. 8.) “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts ix. 16.) “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.” (Acts vii. 2.) (1:176, Journals)
Rather than considering the possible consequences of the proposed journey, and whether these would be most to the glory of God, Wesley opened to a random passage of Scripture. Not finding what he had hoped for he tried again, and again, and yet again, but every verse turned up an ominous answer. One wonders what he would have done had he opened to Numbers 1:43, or even Deuteronomy 13:15! The Journal entry for March 28 tells us how the others associated with Wesley were divided as to what he should do.
Our other brethren, however, continuing the dispute, without any probability of their coming to one conclusion, we at length all agreed to decide it by lot. And by this it was determined I should go. Several afterwards desiring we might open the Bible, concerning the issue of this, we did do on the several portions of Scripture, which I shall set down without any reflection upon them:– “Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: But David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.” (2 Sam. iii. 1.) “When wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed: Shall I not now require his blood at your hands, and take you away from the earth?” (2 Sam. iv. 11.) “And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, even in Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. xxviii. 27.)
Upon this section, Henry Brown comments:
From this we learn, first, that although Mr. Wesley professed implicit confidence in the lot, yet, like Balaam, when he could not get what he desired by one experiment, he tried again. 2. That notwithstanding the lots were all one way, the result was exactly the contrary; for it does not appear that he received any molestation after he went to Bristol.4
Thus far, we have seen that, along with Roman Catholicism, Wesley inherently denied the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Let noone be surprised, therefore, that along with Roman Catholicism, Wesley endorsed the teaching function of images:
But when the gospel was spread, and had taken root through the world; when Kings and Princes became Christians, and when temples were built and magnificently adorned for Christian worship [sic] the zeal of some well-disposed Christians brought pictures into the churches, not only as ornaments, but as instructors of the ignorant; and from thence they were called libri laicorum,– “the books of the people.” Thus the walls of the churches were beset with pictures, representing all the particular transactions mentioned. And they who did not understand a letter of a book knew how to give a very good account of the gospel, being taught to understand the particular passages of it in the pictures of the church. … so the more ignorant people were taught compendiously by pictures, what, by the scarcity of teachers, they had not an opportunity of being otherwise fully instructed in.
But these things, which were at first intended for good, became, by the devil’s subtlety, a snare for the souls of Christians. … the pictures upon the walls were turned into gaudy images upon the altars; and the people being deceived by the outward appearance of the Priests’ bowing and kneeling, (before those images) as the different parts of their devotion led them, they imagined that those gestures were designed to do honour to the images, before which they were performed; (which they certainly were not;) and so from admiring them, the people came to adore them. Thus, what were at first designed as monuments of edification, became the instruments of superstition. (10:175-6, The Origin Of Image Worship Among Christians, ital. in orig.)
Notice two things about this quote. First, his unsupported assertion that “the Priest’s bowing and kneeling” “certainly were not” “designed to do honour to the images”. At all costs, he must avoid saying that these “well-meaning” priests were in idolatry! Second, and most importantly, notice that while he condemns the adoration of images, he defends the use of images for the purpose of teaching. Idolatry is attributing a characteristic to God that he doesn’t possess, or not attributing to him a characteristic that he does possess (Psa 50:21, Rom 1:23). If we are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Jehovah (Deut 8:3), then he alone is our teacher. We are to look to his Word alone for instruction in righteousness (Psa 119:160, 2 Tim 3:17). This is not to deny that God uses the teaching ministry as his appointed means of instructing his people (Rom 10:14); but those who teach in the Church are to be measured against his Word (Acts 17:11). Expecting anyone, or anything, else to instruct us in righteousness is idolatry. Illiteracy was common in New Testament times, but for the instruction of the illiterate, the Apostles never commanded their disciples to look to images. Rather, they encouraged the ministers to read and preach from the Scriptures (Eph 4:11-15, 1 Tim 4:13). Submitting to an image, picture, or statue, as a teacher is strongly condemned, especially in the Old Testament, as idolatry:
Habakkuk 2: (18) What does an image profit, for its maker has carved it; a molten image, and a teacher of falsehood? For does the maker trust in his work on it, to make mute idols? (19) Woe [to] him who says to the wood, Awake! To a mute stone, Rise up, it shall teach! Behold, it [is] overlaid [with] gold and silver, but no breath is in its midst.
Just as the “seed” of murder is the hateful thought (Mat 5:22), so the “seed” of idolatry is the use of images to teach (see also 1Ki 12:28, and Zec 10:2). Yet, see how closely Wesley’s idolatrous view matches that of modern “Protestants”. Everything and anything is used in these “churches” as a substitute for the teaching ministry of the pastor. Stained-glass windows, pictures of “Jesus”, crosses, plays, manger scenes, and even puppet shows, are all substituted for the reading and preaching of Scripture. All of these things are condemned by God through Habbakkuk as “teacher[s] of falsehood.” According to this verse, it is not even true that these items are harmless, or offensive only to weak consciences. These items teach us something; but whatever they teach us, it can only be falsehood! (Yes, even those “innocent” stained glass windows, that supposedly “remind” us of biblical stories.) Protestants need to wake up and throw these idols (along with the idol-makers) to the moles and the bats, and return to the pure simplicity of Bible reading and preaching. Protestants have no business complaining about Catholics until they get their own house in order.
Wesley, like most twenty-first century Protestants, wanted guidance from God apart from the Bible because he had, and they have, a theology that begins and ends with Man. Therefore, their source of ultimate truth must be just as subjective as Man is himself.
The Christian Confession of Faith sets itself against this idolatrous, Man-centered theology from the very first chapter. The Confession teaches that Scripture, and Scripture alone is the final authority in matters of life and godliness. It teaches that the Bible alone is the revealed will of God, and thus, the ultimate source of truth. God’s truth, about himself, his righteousness, his creation, his Son, and his Gospel, all come to us through a knowledge of Scripture alone. There is no need to supplement the teaching function of the Scriptures with the “teaching function” of images. But from the very outset, we can see that Wesley’s theology stands opposed to this truth:
|And they who did not understand a letter of a book knew how to give a very good account of the gospel, being taught to understand the particular passages of it in the pictures of the church. (10:175, The Origin Of Image Worship Among Christians)||Habakkuk 2: (18) What does an image profit, for its maker has carved it; a molten image, and a teacher of falsehood? For does the maker trust in his work on it, to make mute idols? (19) Woe [to] him who says to the wood, Awake! To a mute stone, Rise up, it shall teach! Behold, it [is] overlaid [with] gold and silver, but no breath is in its midst.|
|They have a peculiar esteem for lots; and accordingly use them both in public and private, to decide points of importance, when the reasons brought on each side appear to be of equal weight. And they believe this to be then the only way of wholly setting aside their own will, of acquitting themselves of all blame, and clearly knowing what is the will of God. (1:146, Journals)||Joshua 1: (8) This book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, and you shall meditate on it by day and by night, so that you shall be on guard to do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall prosper your way, and then you shall act wisely.Psalm 119: (160) The sum of Your Word [is] true;|
|… so the more ignorant people were taught compendiously by pictures, what, by the scarcity of teachers, they had not an opportunity of being otherwise fully instructed in. (10:175, The Origin Of Image Worship Among Christians)||Joh 16:(13) But when that One comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you into all truth…1 John 5: (20) And we know that the Son of God has come, and [He] has given to us an understanding that we may know the true [One], and we are in the true [One], in his Son Jesus Christ.|