“I have never met the man I could despair of after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.”
~ Oswald Chambers
If you’re new to the “Shocking Beliefs” series, I’ll open this post by quoting from the preface to the first installment on the Shocking Beliefs of C.S. Lewis.
This explains why – precisely – I’m producing this series.
A well-known Christian author whom I greatly respect encouraged me to begin a series on the shocking beliefs of some of the great Christians who have impacted church history.
Every follower of Jesus is a rough draft. Over time, the great Editor – the Holy Spirit – shapes our lives and views. But until we see the Lord and “know even as we are known,” we’re are in process.
This is also true for those Christians who have gone before us.
Therefore, one of the mistakes that we must guard against is to dismiss a person’s entire contribution because they may hold (or have held) to ideas that we find hard to stomach.
Speaking personally, if I demanded that a person’s views on every subject under the sun be identical to mine as a condition to be helped by them, then if I had met myself 20 years ago, I’d have to disfellowship myself!
The truth is, my views on some topics have changed over the years.
And so have yours.
Point: we are all in process. None of us gets everything right all the time. That stands true for every Christian who has ever breathed oxygen.
So my purpose in highlighting some of “the shocking beliefs” of those upon whose shoulders we all stand is not to burn these folks in effigy. Nor is it to dismiss their positive contribution to church history.
Rather, it’s to demonstrate that even though they may have held to views that would raise the eyebrows of most evangelicals today, that doesn’t overturn nor negate the valuable ideas they contributed to the body of Christ.
Unfortunately, many evangelicals are quick to discount — and even damn — their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ over alleged doctrinal trespasses, even if those same brothers and sisters hold to the historical orthodox creeds (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.). Such discounting and damning can always be avoided and it serves no one on the Kingdom side of the aisle.
When diversity within orthodoxy is encountered, grace should be extended. Just as we would want grace extended to us, seeing that none of us sees perfectly (Matthew 7:12).
The words of Paul of Tarsus contain thunder and lightning for us all, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:9, NLT).
Note that these beliefs will be “shocking” to some evangelicals, but not all. Some evangelicals claim that they aren’t shocked or surprised by anything.
Since I’m not writing this for scholars, I’m intentionally not documenting each statement with page numbers. But the source books are listed so you can verify them yourself if you’re skeptical.
Today, we’ll be looking at some of the shocking beliefs of John Wesley.
Wesley was remarkable. He rode over 250,000 miles on horseback and preached over 40,000 sermons. Strikingly, he was only 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 128 pounds.
Wesley faced intense opposition from every quarter, and he had a boatload of enemies who tried to take him down in every way imaginable. Despite this, God’s hand was on the man. Wesley’s legacy has impacted hundreds of thousands of Christians in every generation, including ours.
Wesley habitually read the New Testament in Greek, and one of his most enduring legacies in the realm of Bible interpretation was his work on 1 John.
(Yes, 1 John — that’s the book that Christians read under their beds with a flashlight and lose their salvation after they’re finished!)
For Wesley, 1 John was the capstone of biblical revelation and the synthesis of all that had been written before. For that reason, some scholars call Wesley “the theologian of 1 John.”
That said, I’m aware that many Reformed Christians, both in the past and today, regard Wesley as a “dangerous heretic.” But to my Reformed friends, consider what these respected Reformed leaders had to say about him:
“If there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.”
~ Charles Spurgeon
“Whether we like it or not, John Wesley was a mighty instrument in God’s hand for good; and, next to George Whitefield, was the first and foremost evangelist of England a hundred years ago.”
~ J.C. Ryle
“I know of no one to whom I owe more as an instrument of divine grace.”
~ John NewtonInterestingly, Wesley’s teaching on “heart religion” was almost identical to Jonathan Edwards’ teaching on the “religious affections.”
Nevertheless, Wesley – like every other servant of God – had feet of clay. And he also held to some strange views.
Here are some surprising beliefs that Wesley advocated. If you are aware of more, add them in the comments section and I’ll fact-check them with the intention of adding them to the list.
1. Wesley believed that church buildings should be built in the octagonal form (with eight sides) and the interior should have a rail in the middle to divide the men from the women.
(How do you feel about that one, Ladies?)
2. Wesley believed in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.
There was even a ghost known as “Old Jeffrey” in the Epworth parsonage where Welsey grew up. The children thought of the ghost as almost a part of the family!
3. Wesley believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother.
In his Letter to a Roman Catholic, Wesley stated, “I believe that he [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.”
4. Wesley had a static electricity machine and thought it was a good idea for people to be “electrified daily” for their health.
He lived in the age of Ben Franklin and read everything Franklin wrote on electricity. Wesley’s electricity machine can still be viewed in his London home.
5. According to his Primitive Physick, some of Wesley’s prescriptions for medical ailments are strange.
Example: for sinus colds, Wesley recommended curling up an orange peel and inserting it into the nostrils. (Don’t try that at home.) Keep in mind that Wesley cared deeply for the sick and was a bit of experimentalist in that regard.
6. In his library, Wesley owned the “subversive literature” of Molinos, Guyon, Fenelon, and other Christian mystics.
Although he disagreed with the mystics’ tendency to draw away from the world, Wesley believed in a mystical quest for God.
7. Wesley believed that wearing jewelry and costly clothes was sinful and that Christians weren’t to engage in such behavior.
Specifically, he was strongly against women wearing rings, earrings, and necklaces. Consequently, the early Methodists were known for their plain dress and absence of jewelry. The Methodist Church upheld Wesley’s stance on apparel and jewelry until 1852.
8. Wesley was a big fan of the controversial early church figure Montanus.
Wesley regarded Montanus as being “one of the best men then upon earth” who “under the character of a prophet” had revived what had been lost in the body of Christ.
Montanus is regarded by many evangelicals as a “dangerous heretic.”
WARNING: The Blog Manager who moderates comments is a John Wesley fan. Therefore, if anyone wields accusations like “John Wesley is the mouthpiece of Satan” and other such sentiments, our beloved Blog Manager says he won’t approve the comment.
So to the both of you who found this post on the Web somewhere and are starting to march toward the comments box with pitch forks, blow torches, and blunt objects in order to delegitimize, castigate, or marginalize Wesley beyond repair, your remark will vanish into the electricity after he hits the DELETE key.
What other strange, odd, or shocking beliefs were held by John Wesley? Please provide source.
Other Posts in the Series – The Rest will Appear in the Upcoming “Shocking Beliefs” Book
The Radical Wesley by Howard Snyder. (Special thanks goes to Howard for extra information about Wesley beyond his book.)
Christian History, Vol. 11, No. 1 – “John Wesley: Revival and Revolution.”
The Works of John Wesley.
Wesley on the Christian Life by Fred Sanders.