In this final installment, Jackson Presbyterian Examiner explores the birth of Methodism, Pentecostalism, and the significance of the 2nd Vatican Council.
8. The rise of Methodism in the 18th century, and its impact on global evangelicalism
Most of today’s Protestant traditions can be traced to the 16th century, but a particularly important exception is the Methodist Church, which originally began as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church.
The Wesley brothers—John and Charles—stressed the importance of personal conversion, marked by inward assurance from the Holy Spirit, or as John Wesley used to say, God’s Spirit testifying within our spirit that we are children of God. They also stressed personal holiness, dying to sin, and the need for “entire sanctification.” The Wesleys, both of whom were clergy in the Church of England, taught that sanctification is a second work of grace, subsequent to justification, wherein a person’s heart is purified from all vestiges of sin. After such purification, it’s possible, even in this life, to love God and neighbor with perfect love. This second work is sometimes referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact the Methodist movement has had on Christianity since the 18th century. Charles Wesley’s hymns are known and loved, throughout the Christian church today (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, “And Can it Be”, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, etc…). John Wesley’s approach to preaching set a precedent that has been following by generations since. When the pulpits of the Church of England were closed to him, Wesley took to preaching in the open fields. Ignoring Anglicanism’s strict structure of parishes, where clergy have a specific territory that they are responsible for, Wesley said, “The world is my parish.”
Wesley enlisted lay preachers to spread the gospel, thus elevating the status of laypeople in general, and breaking down some of the barriers that existed between clergy and laity. Methodism also helped to legitimize Arminian theology, which had been repudiated a century earlier by the Synod of Dort (which crystallized what are known as the Five Points of Calvinism). John Wesley’s theology was solidly evangelical, but decidedly non-Calvinistic. Read, for example, the Statement of Faith link at Jackson’s Wesley Biblical Seminary.
All of the early 20th century Pentecostals had a Wesleyan background, and it’s plausible to say that had it not been for the 18th century Methodist movement, we’d never have seen the 20th century Pentecostal movement. To learn more about the birth of Methodism, read The Complete Works of John Wesley.
9. The 2nd Vatican Council, which repealed the anathemas between East and West
Though Christianity is still divided between East and West, among other boundaries, Vatican II did more than any other modern day council to heal the centuries old rift. It didn’t formally unite the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church back into one body, as it had been prior to 1054, but it did remove the mutual anathemas. To that extent, East and West are closer to full reunion now than at any point since the 11th century.
Also, Vatican II grappled with and addressed a number of issues that had been heavy and Luther’s heart four centuries earlier. The use of the vernacular in the liturgy, rather than Latin only, was approved. The role of laypeople in the church, and their importance in the kingdom of God, was emphasized to an unparalleled extent. Giving both the cup, as well as the bread, to lay people during Holy Communion has become more common since Vatican II.
Finally, though not changing any actual doctrines that separate Protestants and Catholics, Vatican II did cause Rome to take a much more congenial disposition towards non-Catholics. This is evidenced by the council’s calling Protestants “separated brethren”—a vast improvement over 16th century polemical writings, when they were regarded simply as unbelievers.
Though there’s still a long way to go, it’s not an overstatement to say that the 20th century saw more reuniting of Christians than any previous century since the 16th and 11th century schisms. For more information about the progress made since the 1960s, read Mark Noll’s and Carolyn Nystrom’s Is the Reformation Over?
10. The rise of Pentecostalism in the 20th century
In the 1700s, John Wesley had taught that there is a second work of grace, which comes after one’s initial conversion, and empowers a person to live a more surrendered life. In the early 1900s, this belief was nuanced by the early Pentecostals who saw an indispensible connection between this second work of grace and the phenomena of speaking in tongues. Though many established churches taught that the gift of tongues was no longer operative, Pentecostalism taught that speaking in tongues was and still is the outward evidence of having been baptized with the Holy Spirit.
By mid 20th century, Pentecostalism saw its distinctive teachings become more and more accepted in the wake of the broader Charismatic movement, an interdenominational renewal movement, which emphasized the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues.
According to some estimates, Pentecostalism, though barely 100 years old, is the largest Christian tradition in the world today, next to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It is indisputably the fastest growing form of Christianity today, as it continues to explode, especially among the Global South—Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
In his 2002 book, The Next Christendom, Phillip Jenkins argues that the Pentecostal movement is no less significant than the Protestant Reformation, but because it is still so recent, its full impact has yet to be truly appreciated.