What are Weslyan Beliefs?
Nazarenes? John Wesley?

John Wesley's (1703-1791) system of belief (doctrine) was clearly built on the foundation of James Arminius' (1560-1609) earlier teachings. This is why the theological perspective is legitimately called "Arminian-Wesleyan." The best known denominational names are Wesleyan and Nazarene. In no particular order the following is a list of beliefs or teachings adhered to by churches faithful to the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition.

A full rebuttal of Arminian beliefs is here.

1. Free Will

"Wesley was thoroughly Arminian in his insistence upon unlimited atonement and free will. To him, the Calvinist doctrine that some people were predestined to damnation was unthinkable. Christ's death was for all who would choose to believe." (Article from The Wesley Bible, 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

The Scriptures are clear that Jesus specifically and effectually laid down His life for the elect.

John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (NIV) [Titus 2:14 also!]

Their gospel requires man's "free will" as an active part of the process of salvation, giving "man" the sovereign right to decide if he or she will be saved or not. While God initiates, it is not up to God in original choice or subsequent outcome. It is God's grace plus man's "freewill" choice (or decision) that saves.

2. Unlimited Atonement and Prevenient Grace

Wesley believed that the atonement of Christ was for everyone, that Jesus did not come to die only for his elect. In addition, he held that grace was given to all people enabling them to accept (or reject) salvation if they should so choose. While professing a belief in the "total depravity" of mankind, he claimed that it had been universally overcome through the gift of God's grace to all people. With this understanding he believed that people do seek after God, irrespective of Scriptures that state otherwise.

Romans 3:10-12 As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (NIV)

Wesley's view of mankind's current state would hold this passage in Romans irrelevant. In his view prevenient grace now enables all people to seek after God. With this viewpoint it makes one wonder why God would even have such a statement in His word (multiple times!).

But through Jesus Christ the prevenient grace of God makes possible what humans in self effort cannot do. It is bestowed freely upon all, enabling all who will to turn and be saved. (Articles of Religion, www.wesleyan.org)

3. Women in Leadership

The Wesleyan 1966 General Conference stated: "In spite of some forces which seek to undo our long-standing position on the ordination of women, we refuse to budge on this issue - we will not tolerate the blocking of a person's ordination due to their gender, for we believe that both men and women are called to the ministry and thus should be ordained. Furthermore, we condemn any practice of exclusive male-only leadership on boards and committees in the church, excluding women from these positions by either public policy or unofficial behind-the-scenes agreed-upon policy, for we believe that when it comes to God's gifts, graces and callings, there is neither male nor female."

This doctrine is in direct violation of the Scriptures. Note that the context of the following scripture passage is in regards to the church.

1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (NIV)

God clearly defined his leadership of the church to be qualified men. A pastor is an elder of the church.

Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Emphasis ours. NIV)

More on female pastors is here.

4. The second blessing, sinless perfection, entire sanctification and actual holiness.

Wesleyan churches believe in a doctrine of entire sanctification or sinless perfection coming from a secondary (to salvation) baptism of the Holy Spirit. Once a person has been saved, or born again, they are taught that they can achieve sinless perfection in this lifetime. This "second blessing" in one instantaneous act removes all inward sin enabling the believer to live a sinless life.

"This prepares for the crisis of entire sanctification which is wrought instantaneously when believers present themselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God, through faith in Jesus Christ, being effected by the baptism of the Holy Spirit who cleanses the heart from all inbred sin." (Articles of religion, www.wesleyan.org)

Nazarenes, with other Wesleyans, believe in entire sanctification, when God's transforming work is complete and God's divine love that inhabits the Christian cleanses all sin from the heart (Romans 6:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:23). After we are born anew, we need the fullness of God's Holy Spirit in our hearts (Romans 8:6-8). When we make a complete commitment to Him, He cleanses our spirit, fills us with His perfect love, and gives us the power to live a holy life in obedience to Him (Romans 8:5, 9-11). Sanctification is God's will for all believers (1 Peter 1:15-16). Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God enables believers to live a holy life and empowers them for life and service (Acts 1:8). Nazarenes distinguish between a pure heart that is obtained in an instant through the infilling of the Holy Spirit and a mature character that is the result of growth in grace. (Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, www.nazarene.org)

Even as they hold that God is obligated to forgive if a person can "freely" choose Christ, they hold that God is obligated to give "the gift" of this actual holiness to any believer who exercises sufficient faith.

Like forgiveness, this purity of heart is God's gift in response to faith. Just as forgiveness may be received in an instant, so may this purity. (Article from The Wesley Bible, 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Trying to live up to their newly professed sinless state is a constant struggle, one that assaults the conscience as they struggle to justify thoughts and actions which are Biblically known to be sin. Still we have met some who profess that they have been personally sinless for years.

1 John 1:8-10 If we claim to be without sin , we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (NIV)

To be fair, they redefine some sin and imperfection so that these are possible and not counted as true sins, though the line is certainly unclear. This is similar to the Roman Catholic's arbitrary distinction between mortal and venial sins.

We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. It is therefore not to be confused with involuntary and inescapable shortcomings, infirmities, faults, mistakes, failures, or other deviations from a standard of perfect conduct that are the residual effects of the Fall. However, such innocent effects do not include attitudes or responses contrary to the spirit of Christ, which may properly be called sins of the spirit. We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love; and that in relation to Christ sin may be defined as unbelief. (www.nazarene.org)

For more on sanctification and the Wesleyan view of Entire Sanctificsation, read this additional article (parts I & II).

5. No eternal security and limited assurance of salvation.

While the term "backsliding" is often used, they mean far more than a believer merely experiencing a time of weakness or falling into sin. Since Wesley believed that salvation is given in response to the decision to exercise faith (an act of the believer), he held that it was possible to reverse the decision, to fall from grace, and to "backslide" from God. Wesley's foundation for this belief was a mixture of logic and Scriptures. It must be clear that backslidden individuals are seen to have lost their salvation and apart from renewing their salvation decision would be lost for all eternity. Wesley saw two primary pathways that could result in a permanent fall from grace: unconfessed sin and the actual expression of apostasy. Where he disagrees with Arminius, however, is in maintaining that such apostasy was not final. Wesley maintained that multitudes have lost and regained their salvation.

This ability to be "saved again" runs counter to the declaration of Scriptures that if it was possible for a person to fall away, it would be impossible for them ever to come back to faith.

Hebrews 6:4-6 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (NIV) [Note verse 9 that follows, stating that falling away is not something that accompanies salvation. Scriptures is clear that all believers persevere, overcome, and endure to the end.]

Wesley claimed that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit enabled believers to know if they were "saved" or not. In fact he claimed this as a birthright of every believer. But due to the Wesleyan belief that it is possible to "backslide" through willful sin and fall from grace, severing his or her relationship with Christ, it functionally becomes impossible for any Wesleyan to tell you that they know for sure they are going to heaven. Why? Because the believer doesn't know if they might sin willfully at any time during the rest of their lifetime and thus sever their relationship with Christ and end up damned for eternity. In practice this makes their remaining "saved" depend upon themselves and not God. Saved by grace quickly falls into a works (or performance) based system of trying to stay saved. Sin and don't repent before dying and you are without hope for eternity. Scriptures, in complete contrast, makes clear who it is that keep believers from falling...

Jude 24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy- 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Emphasis ours. NIV)

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (Emphasis ours. NIV)

6. The authority of Scriptures.

Like most evangelicals, Wesley held to the authority of Scriptures - that it was to be understood as being God's word. In more recent years the Wesleyan church (or at least their educational institutions) have been more willing to modify absolute statements on the authority of Scriptures, more by what they don't say than what they do say.

For us, the authority of the Scriptures is soteriological (salvation). The realm in which the Scriptures are authoritative concerns our salvation. Salvation, of course, includes both Christian faith and practice. Hence, where the Scriptures speak on matters of ethics--how the life of Christ is manifest in the Church and His disciples-- they are authoritative. (The Christian Scriptures, Southern Nazarene University)

View an open letter to the Nazarenes regarding this.

If the authority of Scriptures is limited to only things regarding faith and practice, it diminishes (or removes) its' authority in regards to creation, history, science or anything else to which the Bible speaks. Wesley would have held to a more comprehensive view of the authority of Scriptures than this. One article on Wesley stated...

Authority of the Bible. With regard to the Bible, Wesley styled himself as "a man of one book." This did not mean that he read no other books. Far from it! He read voraciously. But there was only one book which judged all the others. The Bible was the standard and the rule. More than that, it formed the breath and fabric of all Wesley's thinking. Hardly a sentence of his sermons does not have some allusion, some turn of phrase, which is distinctly biblical. But Wesley was not naive. He understood that the Bible must be interpreted, and he looked to three resources to help him understand the Word: experience, reason, and tradition. It is impossible to improve upon these. If the truth cannot be lived, then it is not the truth; though the Word sometimes goes beyond reason, it is never irrational; when a teaching flies in the face of all that students of previous centuries have understood, it is not novel, but wrong. Beyond these is the witness of the Scripture itself. (Article from The Wesley Bible, 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers)

Scriptures are never to be judged by experience. Rather all experience must be judged by Scriptures. Anything other than the latter is a potentially dangerous and misleading exercise, one that has historically led to many aberrant practices. Wesley's application of "experience", "reason" and even his selective use of historical "tradition" functionally ended up modifying his claim of belief in the absolute authority of Scriptures. For example, Wesley acknowledged that Scriptures sometimes went beyond reason, yet appealed he appealed to reason whenever he felt it to be expedient. This leads to inconsistencies in Bible interpretation. In regards to his use of tradition, Wesley was quite willing to appeal to later Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions as well, especially in regards to his belief in Imparted Righteousness (or actual holiness). For him, the length of time the belief was held sometimes became more persuasive than what were the earliest beliefs held. Truly, the witness of history is important, but (again) Scriptures must be the first and final authority. The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone) mandates that the Bible is fully sufficient, apart from any other work, in teaching sound doctrine.

God is clear that the Bible is HIS word spoken with absolute and exclusive authority...

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV) [See also Romans 3:2, Romans 15:4, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21]

In summary; Wesleyans hold to orthodox views regarding God, the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the need of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ. The scope of this article is not to outline all the universally agreed upon things, but rather to highlight the areas wherein they would differ (perhaps substantially) with many other evangelical and/or reformed churches. As is true with many churches and denominations today, those in their pews do not necessarily agree with (or even know) all of the points we have examined. Yet, as a professed Nazarene or Wesleyan or follower of John Wesley, this is the doctrine that they have ascribed to at least in name.