As the president of one of the dozens of universities in the United States that carry the “Wesleyan” name I have often been asked: “What’s a Wesleyan?” Likewise, hardly a day goes by where I am not asked what seems to be one of the most seminal questions of our time: How should the church respond to our society’s tsunamic shift toward the celebration and acceptance of the broader LGBTQ agenda?
More directly, people want to know: Doesn’t John Wesley’s — and more importantly Christ’s — call for “love” require the Christian community to be more inclusive and conversational, rather than exclusive and confrontational as we engage our culture? As a long-standing and loyal member of John Wesley’s “Methodist” movement, I offer the following responses for consideration:
• Yes, Christians in the Wesleyan tradition elevate love as evidence of God’s grace in our lives. Loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves, however, demands we hate sin. Sin is anathema to love and love is anathema to sin. John Wesley taught over and over again that the walk of holiness: the obedient, “methodical” (thus, Methodist) path of sanctification, is one that condemns sin at every turn.
There is no place in Wesleyan and Methodist teaching — or Christian teaching at large — to have a “conversation” about sin. The message of holiness demands we confess it, not sit around and discuss it.
• John Wesley never watered down scriptural authority and certainly never questioned the Bible’s clear definition of right and wrong. “Oh, give me that book. At any price, give me the book of God. I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.”
• Wesley was very clear about what he called “singularity,” i.e. the exclusive and non-negotiable truths of the Gospel. In fact, he made it so clear that he said “singularity” was the difference between heaven and hell: “You must be singular or be damned. The way to hell has nothing singular in it. The way to heaven has singularity all over it. You must be singular or be damned.”
• Yes, Wesley did say, “In the essentials unity in all else charity ” and in doing so he clearly made the “essentials” the priority of the formula. In calling for “charity,” he never intended to diminish the First Thing: the mandate to be unified in love for the Word. In fact, Wesley repeatedly preached that anyone who denied “the essentials” was guilty of compromising the unity of the church and was, therefore, guilty of being “almost Christian.”
• The entire Wesleyan/Methodist movement was one where Wesley challenged the church’s acceptance of sin. Wesley was essentially saying, “You may have orthodoxy but you don’t have orthopraxy. You are not practicing what you preach.” Wesley was condemning the hypocrisy of separating belief from behavior. He was calling for obedience — methodical and disciplined holiness.
He confronted sin. He didn’t have a conversation about it and he certainly didn’t tolerate it. Wesley would be first to say that our sinful inclinations do not and should not define us. He would condemn the dumbing down of the human being to nothing but the sum total of what we are inclined to do; sexually or otherwise.
Wesley would shout from the pulpit: “Our identity is found in Christ, not in our proclivities and passions. Holiness, by definition, means that we rise above such inclinations in obedience to God rather than capitulating to one’s base appetites and instincts. You are the imago Dei, my land, not the imago dog! Now, by God’s grace, act like it!”
• The church only succeeds when we have courage. We must run into the storm and not away from it. We must wave the banner of the Truth of Christ and Truth of Scripture with the confidence that if we win — great, that’s God’s grace — but if we lose, it doesn’t matter because the battle is the Lord’s and we are willing to go down fighting.
How can we do anything less? Selling our soul for the sake of cultural approval dishonors our mission, our message, and our very reason to exist. If we become nothing but pale copies of the secular world, why in the world would anyone want to buy what we are selling?
Anything short of a unified stand for the essentials of our faith will doom any denomination or church or college to the ash heap of history. Compromise will be our demise and, consequently, we will be “thrown out and trampled underfoot” by a culture that laughs at our irrelevancy. We are supposed to preserve culture, not take part in its rot. We are supposed to shine a light on darkness, not have a conversation about it. We are supposed to confront sin, not capitulate to it.
May God help us if we have really come to the point where the church actually thinks our salvation comes from negotiating a compromise with a world that hates our Lord and His Gospel.
There is no “middle way” with Christ. He is the only way.
• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).