Wesleyan scholar Theodore Jennings has written, “Wesley was committed to the realization of  holiness of life…this was the aim of his life, the organizing center of his thought, the spring of all  action, his one abiding project. For Wesley, sanctification meant becoming a creature worthy of the  Creator, a finite representative and image of the divine subject.”

John Wesley believed that the process of sanctification – becoming more and more holy in one’s life  – should the main goal for those who followed Christ. Thus, the purpose which Methodism gained from its found was to “spread Scriptural holiness.” The means by which Wesley saw this as being achieved were complex. They involved:

  • bible study
  • regular, constant practice of the sacraments (God’s means of grace) – including prayer, worship, the Lord’s Supper, Bible reading and study, fasting or abstinence, and
  • regular, constant practice of Christian conference – meeting with other Christians for the purpose of conversation, teaching, accountability, mutual encouragement, and support for discipleship
  • acts of mercy (i.e., visiting those in prison and giving food or clothing to the poor and needy)
  • intelligence/reading
  • accountability
  • intentionality
  • class meetings
  • missionary work

When Methodism spread to colonial America, initially the focus on holiness remained central. However, when the Methodist Church in America experienced numerical growth beyond what Wesley might ever have dreamed, it was accompanied by an abandonment of the teaching of holiness and entire sanctification. During the 19th-century holiness movement, there was a revival of Wesleyan teaching, and as holiness denominations formed in the post-Civil War period, they shared Wesley’s desire to see holiness spread.

The Church of the Nazarene was founded in this period, and it is interesting to examine the methods that  the Nazarene Church founded by Phineas F. Bresee in 1895 used to spread holiness. Some of the primary methods were:

  • publishing
  • public preaching
  • neighborhood evangelism
  • increasing membership

This last bullet point should not be confused with the church growth movement of today, where a focus on “increasing membership” equates almost solely to increase in attendance numbers (usually without regard to committment to the Christian life). Rather, the early Church of the Nazarene identified with the early Church in the Book of Acts, and sought an increase in numbers of those truly committed to following Christ and living holy lives.

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)

What methods are we using to spread holiness today?

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