United Methodists don’t seem to pursue Christian Perfection as vigorously as their founder John Wesley did. That, or they are earnestly striving after perfection in love, but it’s not obvious because they don’t discuss it as much as Wesley did.
Maybe UMs avoid the subject because of how the word “perfection” makes them feel. They don’t want to give the impression that they are espousing perfectionism, so they drop the topic all together. Whenever I’ve brought up the goal of entire sanctification, the response is usually some form of “that’s not humanly possible and it’s detrimental to the psyche to suggest otherwise.”
Rather than debate the implications of a word, I would like to recover the concept. If that means no longer using “perfection” as a label for the goal of the Christian life, then I’ll drop the term in favor of a less loaded one.
E. Stanley Jones used the term Victorious Living for the maturest developmental stage of faith. His devotional by that title is a treatise describing that stage and all of the others leading up to it. In one section he listed general characteristics of someone at the Victorious Living stage--
“The victorious life means the heightening of all the powers of the personality. The mind becomes keener and more creative, the emotions become broader and more sensitive, and the will more active and decisive. The whole of life is outreaching. Lives begin to be changed, movements begin to be launched, a creative impact is made upon life.”
John Wesley would have described the heightening of the powers of the soul (the understanding, affections, and will) rather than the powers of the personality, but otherwise the concept is the same.
Along with the general characteristics, Jones also gave a specific example of someone who had experienced this transformation--
“A woman, who became one of the great missionaries of the world, was being taken in a sedan chair through the dirty, narrow, crowded streets of a Chinese city just after her first arrival. Everything in her revolted against the strangeness and the dirt. “O God,” she cried, “how can I live among these people without love in my heart?” An immediate answer came in the flooding of her heart with what was nothing less than divine love.”
The story concludes with the observation that this was not a temporary change of attitude but a lasting one--”Instead of being driven back upon herself, love drew her out of herself into an amazingly creative service for her beloved people.”
Jones emphasized the creativity of those at the advanced stage of faith. Creativity is a trait that appeals to me. I understand what it means, I can imagine what it would be like, and I can compare how creative I am now to how creative I’d like to be. Perhaps that is the secret to teaching about degrees of faith. Cast the ultimate stage in appealing examples that motivate listeners to desire it rather than settle into a stage of spiritual self-satisfaction and complacency.
What’s the story, theology, or example that motivates you to seek an expansion of your capacity to love?