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Rio, 10/5/2008

By the Spirit Through the water: John Wesley's "evangelical" theology of infant baptism (em inglês)

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by G. Stephen Blakemore

OBS: Extraído de http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/31-35/31-2-9.htm

Can one reconcile John Wesley's acknowledgment of infant baptism as a saving and renewing sacrament with his constant insistence that the new birth must be a conscious transformation of one's life? Scholars often have noted this so-called "tension" within his theology.[1] This paper offers an interpretation of Wesley's soteriology that can reconcile his paradoxical claims: (1) baptism is regenerative, therefore infants ought to be baptized; (2) yet baptism is not the new birth, thus no one who is wise places trust for salvation in this rite.

To provide such an integrative explication of Wesley's views, we have to consider three different yet related theological nuances in his doctrine of grace. First we must expound Wesley's particular ideas about the nature of the fallen human condition in order to show how his soteriology acknowledges a "sacramental" element in all human experience. Next we need to ponder his theological emphasis on the new birth and subsequent sanctification as therapeia psuches, so that when we turn our attention to infant baptism we can see how his sacramental theology is, itself, part of his "experimental" theology. Our final task is to explore his conviction that all grace is "ordinarily" mediated to us in order to demonstrate how baptism, new birth "experience," and sacramentality are related. What surfaces is a Trinitarian soteriology centered on God's sovereign grace which places us unavoidably in the midst of God's redeeming activity and draws us through various means into the "life of God."

The Human Condition

As an orthodox theologian John Wesley believed that our inheritance of Adamic guilt and infirmity is an anthropological maxim. Adherence to this tenet is what separates Christians from pagans.[2] Pelagianism is a denial of the Atonement.[3] However, Wesley's development of the doctrine of prevenient grace allows him to avoid the Augustinian/Reformation solution to the question of why some come to faith and others do not. Wesley rejects predestination, not because he holds a lower view of God's sovereignty than Calvin, Luther, or Augustine, but because he envisions the implications of God's sovereign operations differently. This difference provides the context for the rest of his soteriology. As Robert Cushman observes: "In the last resort Wesley is not a predestinarian because he rejects the practically absolute disjunction between nature and grace."[4]

Wesley's battle cry, "The grace or love of God whence cometh our salvation, is FREE IN ALL, and FREE FOR ALL,"[5] succinctly expresses his doctrine of prevenient grace. Yet, this declaration does not tell us what is the theological foundation of this construct. Unless one can show that the fundament of this doctrine is Christocentric, it is hard to defend Wesley against the charge, at least, of semi-Pelagianism. Reading him carefully, however, one can see clearly that Christology is the bedrock underlying this pillar of Wesleyan theology.

Prevenient grace is, in Wesley's account, God's gracious response in Christ to human sinfulness: "God did not despise the work of His own hands, but being reconciled to man through the Son of His love, he in some measure, reinscribed the law on the heart of His dark sinful creature."[6] Jesus serves as "the Second Adam" who mediates a partial restoration of the imago dei in humankind qua humankind prior to the new birth, thereby providing remedy for the infirmity of sin which came upon all by the offense of Adam.

The Christocentric and Trinitarian foundation of prevenient grace reveals itself even further in another passage. Wesley states: "The incarnation, preaching, and death of Jesus Christ were designed to represent, proclaim, and purchase for us this gift of the Spirit...."[7] The grammatical structure of the sentence indicates that by the incarnation the gift of the Spirit is represented to us, even as Christ's preaching proclaims this gratuity and his death purchases the same. This expression should be interpreted as Wesley's declaration that through the incarnation of God the Son the presence of the Holy Spirit is presented once again (re-presented) to humankind. This reading is supported by a later statement in the same sermon: "When he was incarnate and became man, he recapitulated in himself all generations of mankind, making himself the centre of our salvation, that what we lost in Adam, even the image and likeness of God, we might receive in Christ Jesus."[8]

In light of the above observations, it would appear that the foundation of prevenient grace in Wesley's theology is Christ's incarnation, itself an act of redemption. God the Father wills that God the Son assume our humanity and thus redeem it, that every individual might be granted the possibility of salvation through the prevenient presence of the Holy Spirit.[9]

There are at least three pivotal implications that this doctrine has for Wesley's perceptions of the divine/human relationship. The first of these is summed up in John Deschner's observation: "Wesley teaches that even this first re-inscription [of the moral law on the heart] belongs to the giving of the covenant of grace."[10] While following the Westminster Confession on this point, Wesley expands the Calvinist emphasis of the Confession. Rather than limiting this prevenient gift to the eternally elect, he contends that the incarnation draws every person "irresistibly" into the midst of God's redeeming activity. This has occurred objectively, i.e., quite apart from any particular person's consciousness of the fact.[11] God's sovereign redemption reaches into the very heart of our humanity to create the possibility of salvation for all.

Wesley's doctrine, with its dual insistence on universal natural depravity and universal supernatural grace, implies a very different ontology than that of Calvin, Luther, or the mainstream of eighteenth-century Anglicanism. Wesley believed that God has established a covenant with all humans, thereby creating a synergistic relation. This synergism is to be understood ontologically as that which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have instigated, enable, and continually nurture. Here is a doctrine of the universal possibility for salvation that is neither Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian regarding free will, nor a Thomistic perspective built on natural law. Standing solidly on the Reformation undergirding doctrine of sola gratia, Wesley describes even human "nature" itself as graciously participating in God's saving presence through the incarnation, preaching, and atonement of Jesus, our "Second Adam."[12] This is why even our pre-regenerate life is subsumed by Wesley under the ordo salutis.

This brings us to a second determinative nuance of Wesley's soteriology. Grace is not to be conceived as some "substance" or even a particular "status" (such as the unmerited favor of God or a second chance) into which God has placed human beings. Grace is to be understood as the personal presence of the Holy Spirit; and prevenient grace is a particular mode of the Spirit's presence, imparted to all by the will of the Father through the Son of His love. A "real" change has occurred in which we experience God's presence as actual influence in our lives.[13] This presence means that our free human response to God's initiative is imperative because God has made responsiveness possible. Through the "Son of God [who] enlighteneth every one that cometh into the world" and by "all the convictions which His Spirit, from time to time, works in every child of man,"[14] God's presence is anchored, one might say, in our "nature." Or perhaps it is better to say that we are moored to God's presence.

This radical view of grace means that the Triune God is the source of our desire to do good, as well as our power to act upon this desire. Our spiritual hungers do not arise from within us as something "natural," but they are the work of God to deliver us preveniently "from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God."[15] In Wesleyan terms, this reality is not a prelude to salvation in Christ, but is the salvific presence of the Holy Spirit operating in us and for us within the scope of "the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory."[16]

Having underscored the first two implications, we now can assert the implication of Wesley's doctrine of prevenient grace that is central to this paper: the human situation in the world is, at its heart, "sacramental."[17] Wesley conceives of the incarnate Son not only as the atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (his dominant emphasis), but also as the "means" through which God the Father grants us a partial re-establishment of the imago dei in the personal presence of the Holy Spirit. "Sacramental" is the best description of this perspective on the divine/human relationship because it most adequately accounts for Wesley's continual insistence that God is present in our human experience, and is so objectively and unsolicited, but not necessarily. Not a mystical "divine spark," the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit is granted only because Christ has assumed our human nature.

Wesley's soteriology ranges far beyond mysticism and reveals how Jesus Christ-as the sign of God's grace, the means of God's grace, and the very substance of God's grace-is at the center of God's creation providing a therapeia psuches for fallen humankind.[18] The term "sacramental" is preferable as a description of Wesley's doctrine, because mysticism can entail Pelagian, or even worse, pantheistic tendencies that are not present in Wesley's theology.[19]

The New Birth

Prevenient grace is not, however, adequate for salvation, in Wesley's thinking, but is only God's salvific, "sacramental" provision for the universal possibility of salvation. Something even more drastic is needed, something only God can provide, since the consequence of Original Sin is spiritual dysfunction, resulting from a broken relationship with our Creator. But our Creator is also our Redeemer, who desires to "fix" us by enabling a self-knowledge that is meant to lead to despair, and from despair to a posture of personal yieldedness to God's transforming power and presence.[20]

While such self-awareness is itself an act of salvific redemption by the Holy Spirit's prevenient presence, not all who are touched by the Spirit will open themselves to further salvation from God. Those who respond (by virtue of the grace-given freedom they have), however, to God's transforming power receive a second gift of grace that heals the broken imago dei: the new birth. This act of God brings a transformation of one's heart, mind, and will. God provides this change by an instantaneous event. By this gift, Wesley declares, God in Christ raises the soul that is yielded "from the death of sin to the life of righteousness."[21] Here we see the sophistication of Wesley's soteriology: our awareness of our condition and our openness to God are dependent on grace (the Holy Spirit's presence) that enables us to respond freely and accountably to grace and receive the gift of the new birth (a fuller experience of the Holy Spirit's presence). The new birth as a momentary, miraculous episode is not, however, an end in itself, but is understood as a decisive instance in the larger process of therapeia psuches-the totality of God's saving work.

Why does Wesley adopt this therapeia psuches soteriology? Albert Outler insists that he does so because he viewed the will rather than the passions as the root of sin.[22] Such an interpretation, although insightful in itself, does not tell the entire story, for it misses an important aspect of Wesley's anthropology as it relates to the infirmity of sin and the human need for new birth.

Wesley believed that sin has struck at the very root of the imago dei in humankind and, therefore, that human sinfulness is more than volitional. There also are affective and epistemological aspects to our malady.[23] So vast is the rupture in our human personhood that the power of sin can only be broken in one's life by a total "healing" of our souls, one that provides, first of all, the "knowledge of God" (supernaturally restored) and "love of God" (a gift of grace).[24] In other words, because of the pervasive nature of sin, the will cannot be turned unless the affections are also refocused on God, and the affections cannot be refocused on God apart from proper knowledge about God and personal knowledge of God.

No clear line of demarcation in Wesleyan anthropology divides the intellectual from the appetitive/affective and volitional aspects of human psychology. Recall the insistence that, although "right opinions are, in themselves, insufficient for true religion," "right tempers [proper Christian affections] cannot subsist without right opinion," even as love for God cannot "subsist without a right opinion of him."[25] In human experience, according to Wesley, understanding, desire, feeling, and will mutually interact to shape or misshape one another.[26] The result of the complex damage that sin causes is called "Atheism" by Wesley because we are "bent" (to use Charles Wesley's term) in a direction that causes us to live in daily practice as though God does not matter. The new birth-a decisive act in the redeeming, healing process of salvation-is one of the components in God's response to this damage. Through grace, God heals our "atheism by the knowledge of Himself, and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; by giving us faith, a divine evidence and conviction of God, and of the things of God-in particular, of this important truth, 'Christ loved me and gave himself for me," i.e., the new birth."[27] Given his views on our helplessness and his beliefs about God's desire to restore the divine image in us, it is clear why Wesley insists that a soteriology which emphasizes therapeia psuches is "the proper nature of religion, of the religion of Jesus Christ."[28]

Emphasizing as strongly as even St. Augustine the consequences of sin, Wesley sees that the human side of salvation is primarily passive. We receive from God, who is at work to restore holiness (and therefore wholeness) in our hearts and minds. We cannot heal ourselves, nor re-make ourselves. The metaphor of new birth, therefore, is perfect as a Wesleyan description of what happens to those who feel their need of God and surrender in despair to His grace. Birth implies utter dependence, followed by emergence into a new life that awaits. For complete transformation, which is our only hope in Wesley's view, we must depend on God and wait for the activity of the Spirit.

The Father of Methodism preaches that only a radical act by a power that transcends us can lift us from the soul-deadening, sin-enslaved self-satisfaction that keeps us from "seeing" or desiring, much less living the life that we are called to in Christ.[29] The saving, restoring, and transforming presence of God brings to us the much needed change in us when the new birth occurs. As Thomas Oden has noted, for Wesley God's life-giving act causes "a fundamental change of heart (not merely a conceptual shift of ideas)" in us, which awakens "the entire sensory apparatus to a new way of living and sensing the reality at hand."[30] God's saving activity provides the cure for our spiritual illness. This cure is given as one "moment" of a continuing process of salvation. We are to live in grace by faith and grow in this transformed existence "until [our] whole sickness be healed, and that 'mind be in [us] which was also in Christ Jesus'"[31]

Wesley's therapeia psuches soteriology entails three distinguishable but related movements: (1) the working of prevenient grace; (2) the transformation of the new birth; and (3) subsequent, necessary growth in imparted holiness. Wesley describes this tripartite movement of the Holy Spirit, when considered in relation to those who are born again, as "the life of God in the soul of a believer."[32] This vision of the Christian life implies that each and every moment of our existence finds its proper identity and place only in Christology, and thereby provides the same "sacramental" foundation for our living the new life of the new birth that we find for prevenient grace. Wesley reveals this way of thinking in his rejection and reworking of the Reformed position that makes Christ's righteousness (his active obedience) the formal cause of justification, and therefore, a substitute for human works of obedience and faith.

As close as Wesley's views of holiness and Calvin's "third use of the law" appear, ultimately they offer two very distinguishable portraits of Christian experience. Wesley makes holiness the essence of salvation in a way that surpasses Calvin's emphasis. He argues that Christ's righteousness is the formal cause of the new birth, making Christ's righteousness not a substitute for human obedience and holiness but the formal cause of our ability to obey God after the new birth. Wesley thus weaves Christ's obedience into the fabric of the therapeia that God is working in human lives. The grace of Christ's obedient life is imparted to the redeemed through faith, so that believers can "work out their salvation" in love. Our inclusion in Christ is "the life of God" in us that makes "the marks of the new birth" ours by impartation.

Given the strength of conviction in his claim that we are made whole existentially, and thereby enabled to "walk as Christ walked,"[33] we see why there cannot be, in a Wesleyan understanding, a relationship with Christ that transcends the arena where our moral choices and actions are lived.[34] For Wesley, the new birth is momentous as an experience of God's grace, but all the moments that follow are just as important as we live in God's presence, filled with His love.

When Wesley speaks of the new birth (all of Christian life for that matter), the language of receptivity, dependence, and passivity abound in his assessment of the human side of salvation. His emphasis clearly falls on the divine syllables. The new birth is "a vast inward change, a change wrought in the soul, by the operation of the Holy Ghost; a change in the whole manner of our existence."[35] Therefore, even though personal faith is a crucial element in Wesley's doctrine of salvation, it is a penultimate consideration. The cooperative (synergistic) contribution that the human agent makes in the process is acknowledgment of need and reception of the healing and forgiving grace of God. Increasing openness to God, this is what Wesley means, in the final analysis, when he speaks of "working out our salvation."[36] The new birth is, ultimately, just what the metaphor suggests, an event that carries us along and brings us into new life, which we do not make happen.

The question now to be addressed to Wesley is how he can accept any sacramental understanding of grace if the new birth is really such a profound change? What we shall see is that the tension between a so-called "sacramental" theology and a so-called "experimental" theology is not really a tension at all for Wesley.

The Means of the "Experience"

It is understandable that Wesley has bemused many of his interpreters by his acknowledgment of infant baptism as a regenerative sacrament, describing the experience and results of the new birth in such beautiful and existentially captivating language. The question these commentators ask-implicitly or explicitly-is how the transformation Wesley describes can occur in an infant who, so the argument goes, lacks the cognitive abilities that are seemingly necessary for this experience. Modern Wesleyan scholars are in good company. Even some of Wesley's contemporaries - allies and opponents-asked similar questions. His reply to them is both telling about Wesley and instructive to us: "neither can we comprehend how it is wrought in a person of riper years."[37]

Since the new birth is a miracle, the heart of the matter for Wesley is not our psychological or cognitive developmental state (except in his subsequent considerations about how we evidence the new birth). When discussing regeneration he focuses on the conviction that only God can save us from sin and raise us to a life of righteousness. Infant regeneration in baptism is, therefore, no more unimaginable than prevenient grace-the partial restoration of the imago dei that occurs through Christ's particular humanity. Once he accepted Christ's incarnation as a "sacramental" gift that brings with it a real change, it is not a difficult move to affirm that in Christ God has established other "means of grace." Baptism of infants is God's means to re-create us (save us) at the earliest possible moment in our lives.

The energy driving Wesley's theology of salvation (or holiness), is an energy which can affirm both sacramental regeneration and radical experiential transformation. It results from the dynamic fusion of mystical pietism and the firm belief that God's grace is "ordinarily" mediated to us through "instituted" means of grace. We see the product of this union expressed most arrestingly in Wesley's exhortation to those who were "seeking the Lord, and had not yet received the witness of the Spirit."[38] He instructs them to wait upon the grace of God by using the means God has ordained, which are "outward signs, words, or actions [appointed by God] to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to men, preventing, lefting, or sanctifying grace."[39]

When we remember that Wesley's concern in these passages is pastoral- that he is addressing a theological issue for the sake of people's souls-the crucial import that a theory of mediation has for his soteriology becomes utterly transparent. As a pastor he passionately declares: "The sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this, whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?[40] As a shepherd of souls, Wesley trusted these means, because the Holy Spirit is present in the practices to apply the merits of Christ.[41] Wesley wants his charges to experience God (mystical pietism), but he is convinced that God has certain ways that He will use for this end (mediation).

To understand better Wesley's soteriological emphasis here, we can compare Wesley's pastoral emphasis on "the means of grace" with much of our current literature on Christian discipleship. Doing this, we discover that Wesley had a different concept at work than that found in our contemporary talk about spiritual disciplines. In many of our current models the idea of "discipline" carries an anthropocentric focus-a perspective that Wesley strongly decries.[42] The label "spiritual disciplines" can too readily be envisioned as activities in which one engages to strengthen spiritual "muscles," or to get into shape as a disciple. While responsive "discipline" to use the means of grace is necessary, Wesley is thinking of the "means" as vessels chosen by God through which He grants us the divine presence, rather than as spiritual calisthenics.[43] These practices, and the potential involved in them, are where God locates His presence in relation to us.

Wesley told people to position themselves to receive God's blessing by observing the means God has ordained. God has "tied" us to certain practices, Wesley declared, as the avenues through which God wills to give himself to us (at least "ordinarily"). And yet, while Wesley contends that God has made himself present "objectively" in these practices, the mentor of the Methodists refuses to allow the means of grace to be turned into mechanistic operations to which God is somehow bound. When Wesley says that "we may affirm that, with regard to God, there is no such thing as means; seeing He is equally able to work whatsoever pleaseth Him, by any, or by none at all,"[44] he is not contradicting his other "sacramental" statements about the operations of grace. He is simply avoiding any opus operatum or sacerdotal concept of the means of grace.

Wesley's views on the mediation of grace can be summed up as follows: Although we cannot know God except on God's terms, God has granted us outward practices through which practices He is pleased to be present to us in order to produce in us a thorough experiential transformation of our lives.[45] Wesley's baptismal theology is part of this schema.

Although he never mentions infant baptism among the other means of grace, there can be no doubt that Wesley did believe in it as an efficacious sacrament through which God gives the new birth to the baptized child. None of his apologetic or polemical writing suggests otherwise, but affirms what he says in "The New Birth": "All who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again; and it is allowed that the whole Office of the Baptism of infants proceeds upon this supposition."[46] According to Wesley, infants receive six substantial benefits in baptism: (1) the guilt of Original Sin is washed away by the applications of the merits of Christ's death; (2) they gain entry into the "everlasting Covenant"; (3) they gain admission into the Church and consequent union with Christ who is its Head; (4) a change of status before God is granted, i.e., "The children of wrath are made the children of God"; and (6) "a principle of grace is infused which will not be wholly taken away unless we quench the Holy Spirit of God by long-continued wickedness."[47] Wesley's theology of sacramental grace and experienced transformation is a consistent, integrated, singular theology.

Some interpreters of Wesley have not seen it as such and have offered a "two-stage" interpretation of Wesley's sacramentalism and experientialist commitments.[48] In this dualistic interpretation, baptism is a preparatory work of the Spirit which is incomplete until the baptized individual undergoes a subsequent experience of conversion. But such a bifurcation is not necessary in order to make sense of Wesley. More than just unnecessary, such a reading of Wesley runs the danger of creating what Ole Borgen has called an "interpretive distortion of Wesley's views,"[49] since it is not altogether certain that our contemporary notion of conversion is synonymous with Wesley's usage.

Running the risk of generalization, we can legitimately observe that "conversion" in modern, evangelical parlance usually is thought of as a decisive and identifiable period in which one is consciously changed and becomes intentionally committed to Christ. The focus is on conversion as a momentary experience, usually emphasizing a decision for Christ. This same term as a theological category in Wesley's thought, however, is described as the totality of the work of God in a person's life, including both what God does and the human (grace-enabled) response to God's action.[50] To speak of conversion as a part of Wesley's soteriology without consciously holding on to Wesley's definition can redirect his emphasis. Wesley is made to sound like a decisionist, i.e., one who believes a human "decision" for Christ is what instantiates saving grace in our lives. However, as much as human response is valued by Wesley, his view is quite different that the decisionistic perspective.[51] The emphasis in Wesley's teaching is always on God's initiative, and human response as a soteriological category actually comprises a subset of God's grace.[52] Wesley would, no doubt, agree with Karl Barth's witticism that God is the only true existentialist. God's freedom, Wesley would add, enables our own.

The "two-stage" interpretation is not necessary for another reason. Because Wesley's doctrine of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives emphasizes the enabling of our personal response, his concern about the Christian life is always present tense. In his sermons he wants to know if the Holy Spirit is producing holiness in one's life at the present moment. Once the new birth has been granted by the Spirit through the water, human action becomes very important for Wesley.[53] In other words, the gift is given, but it can be forfeited. If the marks of the new birth are not seen to some developmentally appropriate degree, the amazing gift of God provided in infant baptism has been lost along the way. This loss occurs not because one commits a sin or a series of sins, but because one has ceased to participate in the divine life. To put it differently, in Wesley's view living in sin necessarily means that one has not and is not using "the grace that has been given." All grace can be either cooperated with or lost, whether granted sacramentally or otherwise, because grace is the personal presence of the Holy Spirit who comes to enable personal relationship with God.[54] Thus, Wesley does not posit as necessary a secondary experience of "conversion" and repentance, except for those who have lost the grace given in the new birth through their infant baptism.

Believing that the new birth-granted sacramentally in infant baptism- produces in us spiritual dunamis, Wesley cannot treat this sacramental gift as an immutable sacerdotal status or election on which one can presume. Therefore, he declares to those who do not reflect the new birth in their moral lives that the fact of their baptism merely "increases their damnation."[55] This same conviction prompts Wesley's impassioned exhortation in his sermon "The New Birth":

If you have been baptized, do not own it! For how highly does this aggravate your guilt! How will it increase your damnation! Were you devoted to God at eight days old, and have you been all these years devoting yourself to the devil? Were you, even before you had the use of reason, consecrated to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost? And have you, ever since you had the use of [reason], been flying in the face of God and consecrating yourself to Satan? ... Never boast more of what ought to fill you with confusion, to make you ashamed before God and man![56]

The Spirit, through the water of baptism, creates a responsibility upon the baptized because the radical gift of regeneration in the new birth has created real response-ability. Thus, to rely upon one's baptism as though the new birth is an outward thing, rather than an inward change worked through outward means, is to "lean upon a broken reed."[57]

The question is not, what you was made in baptism; (do not evade;) but, what are you now? Is the Spirit of adoption now in your heart? I ask not whether you were born of water and of the Spirit; but are you now the temple of the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in you? I allow you were "circumcised with the circumcision of Christ;" ...but does the Spirit of Christ and of glory now rest upon you?[58]

If the answer to these searching questions is negative, then the hearers "must be born again" (once again), because salvation is relational and, therefore, always necessarily present tense. The Holy Spirit's presence enables and nurtures relationship with God, but does not compel or insure salvation. One must "work," in other words, because God is at work in us. Wesley's pleas to those who, in the present moment, fail or refuse to orient their lives toward the love of God are not evidence that he doubts the former efficacy of their baptism as infants, nor that he holds a dual notion of the new birth. Rather, these exhortations are a call to return to saving relationship with God and run from the increased damnation being faced as a result of a near Adam-like rejection of covenant with God.

Although he never had to develop his position systematically, Wesley nonetheless has a vigorous theology of the function of infant baptism-just as vigorous as that of Luther, for instance, who certainly had a very high view of the sacramental promise of God.[59] The real distinction between these two is not about the objective certainty one can have about God's grace given in baptism, but disparate conceptions about the nature of salvation. Luther's central concern was justification by faith alone, thus he utilizes his famous phrase- simul just et pecattur-to describe the Christian experience. Wesley's burden was the promotion of holiness as the very essence of salvation, not as merely a part of the Christian's response of faith. His contention that baptismal grace can be lost is not a weaker position than Luther's (nor sacerdotal Catholicism). Wesley was an evangelist, calling both to those who have never been baptized and to those who had. The former he invited to new birth for the first time. The latter he asked to come home to God who once had adopted them.

Wesley has a unified theology, the integrity of which is found in a constant theme: Holy Spirit enabled relationship with a holy God. An infant, "before he has the use of reason," becomes the recipient of grace and is mystically united with Christ through the act of baptism. The child is "elected" in a very real sense and begins to share in a different world, i.e., the life of God and the life of the Church in Christ. The mind of Christ is granted to the infant, not as a fully realized actuality, but as a grace-enabled full potentiality. The saving presence of the Holy Spirit, which gives new birth to the infant, continues to be salvific (regenerating) if the baptized person lives a life that reflects the saving relationship as this becomes developmentally possible.

Salvation is inward and outward holiness that involves further growth toward a particular human telos-glorification in Christ in the life to come.[60] Achieving this telos depends not only on the initiatory grace of the new birth, but on subsequent gifts of grace, which complete the salvation that is granted and begun in the new birth. Just as we must depend on the Holy Spirit's presence prior to the new birth and must rely upon the Spirit's transforming presence for the new birth, after the new birth we must receive the sustaining and sanctifying presence of the Spirit which we do through the avenues God has ordained.

The Sacramental Community of Experience

"Participation in the divine life"-therapeia psuches-is, for Wesley, the very essence of salvation, as we have demonstrated. Participation in the transforming presence of God is not, however, an individualistic endeavor. As other's have shown, the Christian life, in Wesley's view, is a deeply socio-communal practice. In his opinion, not only can we not save ourselves, we can not on our own be saved (ordinarily) by God's grace through faith that works in love. For this reason he lists "Christian conference, which includes both the fellowship of believers and rightly ordered conversations which minister grace to hearers," as one of the "instituted" means of grace.[61]

This perspective on the functions of Christian relationships points us to the final element of Wesley's theology of Christian holiness, the necessity of the Church. Not only are Jesus and the practices that God has ordained "means of grace" in our lives, but other believers become, in Christ, avenues by which the Holy Spirit makes His way into our lives. As believers bring a child for baptism into "the life of God," the church is used by the Holy Spirit as a sacramental vehicle. The Holy Spirit, who is present in them, works through the parents, God-parents, friends, worshipers, and celebrants in their bringing the child to the altar of baptism, and thereby to the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit.[62]

The personal "experience" of this relation to God that is divinely instigated through the church is, therefore, a crucial moment in the saving process of God's grace. The principle of grace infused at baptism is realized, and conscious experience of God's holy love and mercy grows out of the new birth granted in baptism. Wesley's insistence that his preachers take seriously their ministry to children is, I think, evidence that he understood in this way the relationship between infant baptism and radical Christian experience. He demanded that his preachers take time to "teach the children" because he had seen so many people who had both personally neglected the gracious gift of the new birth in baptism and had been personally neglected by the church and other Christians.

Many and perhaps most of Wesley's first readers had baptized children in their households. Thus, when Wesley requires his preachers to take time to train the children, he most likely was instructing his leaders under the presumption that the "principle of grace" was given to these children in baptism. Furthermore, while most people that Wesley encountered had, in his estimation, "sinned away" their baptism, he did not think that such an occurrence was an unavoidable event. Instructing the baptized children was seen primarily as a pastoral act and not an evangelistic endeavor.

This same pastoral impulse is seen in his advice to parents that they train their children by restraining them from "outward sins," as well as positively instructing them "early, plainly, and frequently in the things of God."[63] He speaks even more forcefully in another passage about the spiritual duty of parents, saying that, for the child, the will of the parent is "in the place of the will of God."[64] Rather than merely observing a developmental model for child rearing, Wesley was, I believe, speaking once again in a sacramental vein.[65] He is, is essence, imploring his Methodist families to see themselves as "means of grace," as "sacramental gifts" and not just social units or blood relatives. All holiness is social holiness because even our lives, lived in social interaction, are meant to become a sacramental presence to each other.[66]

Wesley wanted baptized infants to be cared for. He required that they be trained in the rudiments of the Faith and led intentionally into conscious awareness of their privileged and blessed status before God. The "principle of grace" which was "infused" by the Spirit through the water as a divine potentiality in the infant was to be built on through the subsequent and on-going ministry of the church and Christian parents. God wants the children to "experience" divine presence and feel God's holiness in their lives.[67]


The doctrine of the new birth should not be abstracted from Wesley's rich soteriology if one is to understand the unity of Wesley's thought. When his understanding of sin, grace, and holiness are viewed as a single garment, it becomes apparent that both an experiential element and a sacramental commitment are required to do him justice. We cannot de-emphasize either and fully comprehend his thought on Christian life. Personal, conscious experience of the new birth-God's transforming presence-is a necessary component of any theology that wants to call itself Wesleyan. How can we not "feel" the change worked in us by God, if Wesley's theology is correct?

In a similar way his sacramentalism is imperative, for Wesley's soteriology is built on the foundation of God's initiatory work, providing for the personal presence of the Holy Spirit in human experience-even pre-regenerate experience-through the means of his incarnate Son. Because Christ, through his incarnation, preaching, death, and resurrection, is the means of all grace, the church's teaching/preaching about Christ, sacramental celebration of Christ, and fellowship in Christ are able, by God's design, to be conveyors of God's presence and grace. Even the lives of individual Christians become in Christ a sacramental presence to other Christians.

The practice of baptizing infants is not, therefore, a detriment to Wesley's experimental theology of holiness. Instead, this sacrament is an outward witness to our utter dependence on God's grace, a testimony that God's grace can only be had on God's terms, a reminder to us of our mutual responsibility for one another's spiritual flourishing, and finally a practice through with God gives us Himself.




[1] While not exhaustive, the following list is representative. One finds Wesley's baptismal theology regarding infant regeneration described as either a reluctance to depart from his Anglicanism or as a hopelessly confounded confluence of pietism and sacramentalism, as in William R. Cannon, The Theology of John Wesley (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1946), 125. Among the more generous, one discovers the claim that regeneration in infant baptism is the first stage of a two-step process of salvation in which baptism is a preparatory moment, but is not the new birth which must come in a subsequent experience of faith. This position is represented by Bernard G. Holland, Baptism in Early Methodism (London: Epworth Press, 1970), 58, 62, 65-66, 80, 130, 145. Robert E. Cushman "Baptism and the Family of God," in The Doctrine of the Church, Dow Kirkpatrick, ed. (Nashville, TN & New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1964), 83-85. Gayle Carlton Felton, This Gift of Water: The Practice and Theology of Baptism Among Methodists in America (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992), 34-42. Also found is the view, very similar to the previous, that Wesley's baptismal theology implies that infant baptismal regeneration is an initial new birth but not the new birth in the highest sense-Colin W. Williams, John Wesley's Theology Today (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1960), 119. A notable exception to the above is the view of Bishop Ole Borgen, John Wesley on the Sacraments (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1985). Bishop Borgen views Wesley's sacramental theology as a consistent thread in the tapestry of his soteriology. This article agrees with Bishop Borgen's assessment, but attempts to spell out concisely the theological worldview that provides the context for Wesley's sacramentology (as expressed in infant baptism) and his experiential emphasis on the new birth as a conscious act.

[2] The Works of John Wesley, Thomas Jackson, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978, 3rd Edition,) VI:54-64. Hereafter all references from The Works of John Wesley will be from this source, unless otherwise noted, and will be referred to as Works.

[3] Cf. Robert G. Tuttle, Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1989), 113 - 142. Tuttle argues that prior to Aldersgate "Wesley's primary concern was with imitating the suffering Christ. Like the Mystics, he stressed the Incarnation as the central fact in Christianity, not the Cross. After Aldersgate, however, he emphasized the triumphant Christ and the Cross as an atonement for sin...." 131. This is an important observation. I would, however, qualify it with the suggestion that Aldersgate is the experience which placed the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection in vital union in Wesley's subsequent musings. The reality of the Incarnation continues to play an important role in his theology even after Aldersgate, but one that is linked vitally to the work of Christ on the Cross. Thus, Wesley's "theory" of the atonement is one that is represented well, I believe, by Kenneth Grider's usage of the term "Governmental Theory." In this understanding Christ is more than a substitute, ransom, or moral influence. He is a "vicarious" agent. "[The Atonement] is done vicariously for us or on our behalf, so that its benefit can be transferred to us" (A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1994, 334).

[4] Robert Cushman, "Salvation for All: Wesley and Calvinism," in Methodism, William K. Anderson, ed. (Nashville, TN: The Methodist Publishing House, 1947), 114.

[5] Works V: 509.

[6] John Wesley's Fifty-Three Sermons, Edward H. Sugden, ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1983), 429. Hereafter Sermons.

[7] Works VII: 509.

[8] Works VII: 513.

[9] Works VII:512-513.

[10] John Deschner, Wesley's Christology: an Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Francis Asbury Press, 1985), 97. Apparently following the Westminister Confession, Article VII, he declares that no person since Adam has lived under a covenant of works and that "God, through Christ, hath established with men in all ages (as well before and under the Jewish dispensation, as since God was made manifest in the flesh) the covenant of grace" (Sermons, 89 ff.)

[11] John Fletcher interprets Wesley's doctrine of prevenient grace as an expression of God's irresistible sovereignty. "We believe that these benefits were, at first, as gratuitously and irresistibly bestowed upon us as ... the divine image and favor were at first bestowed upon our first parents.... I say irresistibly because God does not leave to our option whether we shall receive a talent of redeeming grace." (Quoted in Robert E. Chiles, Theological Transition in American Methodism 1790-1935 (Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1983), 149, note 16.

[12] Consider, for example: (1) Wesley's treatment of "natural conscience" as a supernatural gift of grace (Works VII:186-192); (2) his discussion of "free-will" in human beings as "a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light 'which enlightens every man that cometh into the world'" (Works X :130).

[13] Cf. Albert Outler, John Wesley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 33.

[14] Sermons, 723-724. The scandal of sinful unbelief that will not "yield" to the drawings of the Father is that the generality of human beings will, indeed, stifle the very gracious, unsolicited, and inevitable hungers that the Triune God works in them. In a sense, for Wesley, the prevenient presence of the Holy Spirit, rather than original sin inherited, is what creates the genuine possibility of unbelief. By original sin human beings are spiritually dead-unfeeling, insensible to God or our condition; and no one goes to hell, Wesley tells us, for Adam's sin. Prevenient grace, thus, enables not only real response to God, it also makes possible conscious rejection, since by grace God speaks to every heart and awakens each to some degree.

[15] Works VI: 509.

[16] Sermons, 723. Thomas Oden is correct where he observes that, for Wesley, "the beginning place for the Holy Spirit is personal conversion focusing on prevenient grace..." (John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, 223).

[17] Admittedly, Wesley does not speak of his "world-view" as sacramental. However, by expanding the definition of the term to include more than a notion of "sign" or "symbol" or even "outward sign of inward grace," I hope to point to the heart of Wesley's soteriology which emphasizes the real and objective presence of God in human experience. To think of sacramentality in a broader sense, we must recover what is present in Wesley in a rudimentary way-a vital linkage of the theology of the Incarnation and a theology of the Cross-one which sees the totality of Christ's life as redemptive.

[18] Outler locates Wesley in the tradition of St. Boneventura and Nicholas of Cusa in his interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He argues a point very similar to mine. He suggests that "Wesley's pneumatology begins with an awareness of the religious and ethical import of a valid integration of Christology, soteriology, and pneumatology; the vital linkage between theo-logy, Christo-logy, and pneuma-tology held together by a consistent emphasis on prevenience of all grace, and habituated awareness of the Holy Spirit as the Giver of all grace" The Wesleyan Theological Heritage, Thomas C. Oden and Leicester R. Longden, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 164-165.

[19] The nuances of Wesley's theological construct make his notion of prevenient grace very different from a Schleiermacherian "absolute feeling of dependence." For Schleiermacher faith in Christ is the fullest expression of the absolute feeling of dependence, but for Wesley faith in Christ and "the witness of the Spirit" are experiences that one receives only as a unique gift. Thus, to speak of prevenient grace as a "sacramental" presence through the means of the incarnate Son-a Christocentric and Trinitarian focus-is very different from any system that views our awareness of God as a "natural" capacity of human beings. I find a particular spacial metaphor helpful for clarification. The doctrine of prevenient grace places Jesus Christ at the center of human longing-as the producer of the longing and its fulfillment. Schleiermacher's universalism places Christ at the apex of the human religious quest. For Wesley there is no "intuition" of God prior to the new birth and witness of the Spirit; there is only awareness of our desperate plight. But for Schleiermacher, every "intuition" of the "universum" is a legitimate expression of the absolute feeling of dependence.

[20] I have Calvinist friends who challenge Wesley and thus Wesleyans on this point. Their concern is, as far as I can understand it, that even if one grants that prevenient grace is at work in all people, to speak of resisting or responding freely to God (even at this point) is to allow that we cooperate in our own salvation. The only answer to them is, "You are right!" However, what we must understand is that our disagreements with those Calvinists who still take such a high view of God's sovereignty are not over God's sovereignty. Indeed, we are allies at this point. Rather, our debate concerns how one understands or defines sovereignty. God's majesty is not diminished by insisting that it is through His sovereign power that He has re-established the possibility of human response-ability to the "drawings of the Father." To say that God has "sacramentally" (through the means of the incarnate Son) partially restored the imago in human beings to enable true universal freedom is to exalt the love of the Father and the self-emptying of the Son and the centrality of the Holy Spirit in human experience.

[21] Works VI:71. Wesley expresses the need for the new birth in this way: "Whereas prior to the transforming grace the fallen individual does not have knowledge of God, much less love for God or fear of God, after the Spirit of God works in the heart of that individual then the earthly, sensual, devilish mind is turned into the mind which was in Christ Jesus."

[22] Outler, Theological Heritage, 88.

[23] Sermons, 560-563.

[24] Works, VI: 64-71.

[25] Works, X: 348. Cf. Henry H. Knight, The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace (Metuchen, NJ & London, 1992), 195 ff. Hereafter Presence.

[26] It is almost trite to point out that we cannot choose what we do not in some way desire and that we cannot desire that which we cannot imagine or conceive. Yet, this is a pivotal observation for human psychology and Wesleyan theology. This is certainly the understanding that Wesley developed in his discussion of the process of salvation, from the human point of view. Knowledge of God and desire to please God are crucial gifts that must accompany if not precede the exercise of volitional faith. On this point Wesley shows significant concord with narrative theology and ethics. While he might take exception to the epistemology and ontology of certain "narrativists," he would certainly agree that a particular worldview is made possible by a specific story, which determines what our appetites can desire, and thus, our wills choose.

[27] Works, VI:64. In the sermon "Original Sin" Wesley emphasizes the malady of soul that we inherit, rather than bequeathed guilt. While the guilt of Original Sin is not questioned by Wesley, his theological concern lies in the human loss of capacity to know, fear, love, and respond to God. This is what necessitates his doctrine of prevenient grace as a "sacramental" gift through the humanity of Christ. Prevenient grace is what makes the "atheists" culpable for their blithe dismissal of God.

[28] Works, VI: 64.

[29] Works, VI: 68-71. Wesley sums up his discussion of how the new birth happens by describing what happens but not how it happens, because the knowledge of how it occurs is not within human comprehension. "God having quickened him by his Spirit, he is alive to God through Jesus Christ.... [The new birth] is the change wrought in the soul by the almighty Spirit of God when it is 'created anew in Christ Jesus..." (70-71).

[30] Oden, JWSC, 87. Being born from above is "like receiving a new sensory capacity, so that one can see with newly opened eyes that he has 'an advocate with the Father,' can hear the voice of one who is the resurrection, feel the love of God 'shed abroad in his heart'," 86.

[31] Sermons, 566.

[32] Sermons, 221. Cf. Outler, Theological Heritage, where he describes Wesley's understanding of the redeemed life as "participation in the divine life." "[Wesley] could interpret dikaiosune not only as the 'imputation' of Christ's righteousness to the repentant believer but also its 'impartation' as well" (p. 32).

[33] Works XI, 444. While the term "existential" in any of its forms is a woefully overused word and might even be considered by some anachronistic as a description of Wesley's views, I cannot think of a better word to employ as a qualifier for Wesley's understanding of the human consequences of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. It is our very existence that is changed first by the prevenient presence of the Holy Spirit, then by the Spirit's renewing presence and work, and finally in the Spirit's gifts of sanctification and glorification. While Wesley does not begin with human existence and experience as his epistemological and ontological foundation, it is certainly his focus for all the right Trinitarian reasons.

[34] This conviction keeps Wesley from falling prey to the "mystical" dangers inherent in his theology of participation in the life of God. Tuttle observes, in this regard: "He admired the mystical ethic that embraced a compassion for those who suffer, and a holiness of life consistent with the mind of Christ whose Spirit with and within, for and among, empowers and sanctifies" (Mysticism, 181).

[35] Sermons, 213.

[36] Works, VI:506-513.

[37] Works, VI:74.

[38] Sermons, 168.

[39] Sermons, 170-171.

[40] Sermons, 183.

[41] Sermons, 171 & 184.

[42] Sermons, 84.

[43] "Settle this in your heart, that the opus operatum, the mere work done, profiteth nothing; that there is no Power to save but in the Spirit of God, no merit but in the blood of Christ; that, consequently, even what God ordains, conveys no grace to the soul, if you trust not in Him alone" Sermons, 184.

[44] Sermons, 171-172.

[45] Henry H. Knight in Presence provides an excellent systematic discussion of Wesley's theory of mediation.

[46] Works, VI:74.

[47] Works, X:192 ff. The question of whether or not this revision of Samuel Wesley's treatise on baptism accurately reflects John Wesley's view is one that space does not permit us to address fully. However, it should be noted that Wesley rarely produced anything original in areas where he was not drawn into controversy, especially if he could find an extant source which adequately reflected his views. His sacramental theory never caused such conflict. Also, considering the other supporting statements that are found in Wesley's other writings, I find no reason to reject this revision as trustworthy of Wesley's own views.

[48] Above, p. 1, n. 1.

[49] Sacraments, 150.

[50] While Wesley uses the term "conversion" in a rather fluid way (which is true of other concepts, as well), Borgen's observations are correct. He writes that the new birth is never conflated with conversion as a doctrinal notion. Borgen goes on to note that Wesley does have a two-fold doctrine of conversion, but not of the new birth. First, conversion is understood as an instantaneous, or nearly so, "crisis" which usually includes "repentance, justification, the new birth, faith, and assurance." Secondly, the idea is "employed to denote the continuing process of change from sinfulness to perfection ... here 'conversion' is used as a synonym for 'sanctification'" Sacraments, 151.

[51] Even if one appeals to Wesley's famous Aldersgate experience, something is discovered other than the "Anabaptist" idea of decision and discipleship as the triggers which set saving grace in motion. Wesley went "unwillingly" to Aldersgate and once there did not make a decision but felt his heart "strangely warmed." He says he felt he trusted Christ alone for salvation, knowing that Jesus died even for him. It is not in the scope of this article to enter the debate about the significance of Aldersgate, but one observation is in order. Is it not strange that many commentators miss the fact that Aldersgate came as quite a serendipity to Wesley? He received something which he was of course desperately seeking, but he does not speak of commitment. Even more instructive is that Aldersgate did not alter Wesley's views on the regenerative efficacy of infant baptism.

[52] See Chiles for an outstanding survey of the transition of American Methodism's trek, during which the focus of Wesleyan/Methodist theology changed from a acknowledgment of the priority of God's grace to a preoccupation with human free will and ability (144-183). He states: "Repentance and, eventually, faith came to be considered essentially human acts, not God's gifts, and salvation proper became man's divinely assisted effort to moralize and spiritualize his life" (186-187).

[53] In this regard, the fact that Wesley does not make baptism of an infant "necessary" for salvation, because the prevenient grace of God cancels Adamic guilt through the righteousness of Christ, builds the case further that Wesley conceives of the new birth as a central focus in the sacrament of infant baptism. Although the righteousness of Christ cancels Adamic guilt the moment one is born into the world, baptism does place the child in a "privileged" relationship to God, full justification and full regeneration. The new birth is the moment of grace in baptism and the continuing nurture of the church is the process of salvation in ongoing sanctification.

[54] An Anglican friend once told me that he thought my use of the phrase "personal relationship with Christ" was unbiblical. It implies a mutuality, he argued, between the believer and God. This, of course, is a terrible caricature of the position that one finds in Wesley. Relationship is the only appropriate-and biblical-term one can employ, because the radical work of the Holy Spirit produces responsibility and possibility. It is righteous accountability that is denoted by the concept "personal relationship" with Christ.

[55] Works, IX: 48-49.

[56] Works, VI: 76.

[57] Works, V: 222.

[58] Works, V: 221-222.

[59] I utilize Luther as an example here because Colin Williams, one of Wesley's best interpreters, suggests that "we miss in Wesley's doctrine of assurance something of Luther's vigorous 'I am baptized': something of the reliance upon the promises of the Gospel, objectively symbolized by baptism, which is able to sustain us in the midst of the assaults of our emotional enemies" JWTT, 121

[60] Glorification as the teleological purpose of salvation has not received the attention it deserves in Wesleyan circles. Of course, Wesley does not develop this doctrine with the same rigor that he does other doctrines (e.g., prevenient grace and entire sanctification). Deschner, however, points to the pivotal position this idea has in Wesley's soteriology where he observes that "when Wesley thinks of the fall in the context of sanctification, a supralapsarian motif can suddenly appear.... God decrees, foresees, and permits the creation, fall, and incarnation in order to effect His overriding purpose, that man should be made holier and happier than Adam before the fall" Christology, 22.

[61] Knight, 5.

[62] The relationship which God establishes with an infant through baptism, is the result of God's grace first of all, but depends in the second place upon the action of other people, as well, i.e., those who bring the baby for baptism. Taking Deuteronomy 29:10-12 as a foundation, Wesley declared that infants are "capable" of being in covenant with God. They become "obliged to what they knew not: the same faith and obedience with Abraham. And so they are still, as they are still equally entitled to all the benefits and promises of it." F. Ernest Stoeffler has tied Wesley's baptismal theology closely to the Puritan understanding of "covenant" ( "Infant Baptism: Entry into Covenant," Christian Advocate, vol. VI, no. 11 (May 24, 1962, 10-11). However, to do so misses the distinctive theology of Wesley that separates him from Calvinism and thus makes his identity with the Puritans highly suspect. For Wesley the "personal" relationship with Christ of the baptized is central, where for the Puritan the emphasis was more on the obligations of the elect because of their election.

[63] Works, VII: 81-82.

[64] Works, VII: 92. This passage occurs in a section designed to address the "cure of self-will" in children. While Wesley's advice is not adequate across the board in this treatise (indeed some of it might be damaging), his concern for the "cure" of self-will causes me to believe that this advice is given as an aspect of his therapeia soteriology. Born again children, just as born again adults, must grow in grace and have self-will further and further extirpated from their lives.

[65] While not talking about sacramentality, Kenneth Grider speaks of the efficacy of "our present suffering on behalf of others" as provisionally redemptive" (p. 334). He explains this in relation to Christ's "provisional" suffering: "Since Christ's suffering on behalf of everyone is provisionally redemptive, our present suffering on behalf of others is also provisionally redemptive." Grider defends this claim by saying: "This might be the inmost kernel of truth of the Christian faith: that suffering is provisionally redemptive." While such a claim requires more exposition than Grider gives it, it can be defended in a Wesleyan construct on the basis of the emphasis one finds in the rootage of our tradition: God's sacramental presence in believers. Such Christian participation in Christ's ministry of suffering, Grider tells us, "means that our suffering for others can become a means of their turning to God to receive the benefits of Christ's suffering." The compelling beauty both of Grider's perspective on holiness theology and what I take to be Wesley's "sacramental" understanding of God's presence in and through believers on behalf of others is the way they weave our lives together in the tapestry of God's salvation in Christ. Holiness is not an individual endeavor, but one that, by its very nature, requires our unity in Christ.

[66] Wesley's concern for "social holiness" has, for the most part, been interpreted in the twentieth century as a seventeenth century equilivant of the "social gospel." However, this is another "interpretive" distortion of Wesley's views. Even more calamitously, this bifurcation of Wesley's theological vision for human life into the "evangelistic" impetus of the revivalist and the "justice" efforts of the social reformer has produced a woeful situation for contemporary theology in the Wesleyan tradition. Rather than speak of personal salvation/holiness and social salvation/holiness, as though these two things are different emphases, we should, instead, recover Wesley's conviction that all of human existence is called to participate in the life of God. By so doing, we hold together the vibrant homogeneity of Wesley's theological anthropology-which views us as whole persons (1) individually in need of God's personal saving, transforming presence in our lives and (2) who require, ultimately, social conditions which allow for human flourishing in the salvation of Christ. This places God and our need of His salvation-rather than the conversion vs justice debate - once again at the center of our dialogue. Evangelism and social action can be seen as vitally linked to one another. Recovering the vitality that is required by a Wesleyan practice of infant baptism can provide a necessary witness to this God-centered reality of our lives: our individual need of God's grace, combined with the testimony that our lives are created to be essentially social. The church, then, rather than serving as the mere conscience of our culture, becomes a witness in thought, word, and deed to what our world is meant to be, especially as we take seriously the most vulnerable of our culture-the children.

[67] The question that arises in any discussion of Wesley's views on infant baptism is how we apply his convictions to our denominations, now that we are no longer a renewal movement in the Church of England, but formal churches with structures and membership rolls. My tradition, the United Methodist Church, has been wrestling with this issue for eight years now: what should be the status of baptized children. Another paper is required to answer this fully, but I want to observe at this point, that infants, in a Wesleyan construct, ought to be full members of the church, once baptized. However, if we think this way as Wesleyans, we will need to recall that for us the central issue of infant baptism is regeneration, not justification, since prevenient grace covers infants from the quilt of Adam's sin. This should inform our thinking about the status of the baptized once "the age of accountability" has been reached. If we are to recover a practice of infant baptism that is truly faithful to the best insights of our tradition, we must provide measures for removing from membership those who make no profession of their "ownership" of their baptism, both by confession of faith and the "marks of the new birth," since such a situation would indicate that the grace of baptism had been lost. Not to do this will be to take the easy way out of the tension we feel in our contemporary practice of ministry. If the church is the sacramental gift through which God brings us to Himself-and not the executor of sacerdotal authority-then the church must take very seriously both the nurture necessary to produce conscious experience of God's presence and the discernment required in holding persons accountable for their response to God's renewing grace.



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