HALLELUJAH

I rejoice in the work the Holy Spirit is doing among Pentecostals. I do not know all the ties between Methodism and Pentecostalism, but it is clear that we share emphasis on personal, transforming encounter with God—and I appreciate the way that Dr. J. Terry Todd describes the altar as a dynamic experience or encounter rather than a specific location. Methodist meetings were held outside Church of England buildings, even in open fields.

Early Methodism also manifested this encounter with overwhelming physical reactions, such as falling to the floor and crying aloud or moaning. This, of course, violated English propriety and Wesley did not encourage such behavior. He did, though, call people to powerful experiences, seeking the witness of the Spirit that would assure them of God’s love. This also put him at odds with English society as “private revelations” were highly suspect and were called “enthusiasm.” Wesley insisted that to avoid enthusiasm, Methodists needed to test the knowledge they thought they received, using Scripture, as well as examining how the experience changed their lives.

In a pair of sermons “The Witness of the Spirit: Discourses 1 and 2,” Wesley takes up the question of how to distinguish the witness of the Spirit from one’s own imagination. He turns to Scripture to find the marks of the children of God and his description (I quote from Discourse 2) is as Todd names, the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Gal 5:22: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness. In Discourse 1, Wesley explains the fruit is not only inner “tempers” but also outward fruit, namely doing good to all and evil to none. I recognize in the account that Todd gives of Pentecostalism both of these fruits (the latter evident especially in gathering people who are usually on the margins).

I think we share the idea that knowing God deeply through the Holy Spirit shatters the ego and transforms us to have the mind of Christ. For Methodists, the structure of the societies provided accountability so that one was not left to deal with this experience all on one’s own, but could understand and cultivate it in community. I would be very curious about what support Pentecostals typically receive in this regard.

Wesley described the purpose of Methodism as “to reform the nation and, in particular, the Church, to spread scriptural holiness across the land.” This stated purpose accords closely with Todd’s hope that personal transformation has potential for “the transformation of the Christian assembly, and indeed the community beyond.” Wesleyan Methodists have experience of disagreement over “real world effects.” Sadly, our “present American moment” shows that our different interpretations of what the Spirit is doing can lead to division rather than transformation. I long as Todd does for a “fresh wind” that invites and leads us together into “spiritual, emotional, material flourishing of all people.”

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