A Debate with a Wesleyan Perfectionist

In this Facebook dialogue, the Wesleyan perfectionist reveals not only that he is Marcionite in that he pits the words of Christ against Paul’s words in Romans 7:14-25, but also that he is a Pelagian like Charles Finney and A. B. Simpson, both of whom denied the doctrine of original sin. He rejects the Baptist view of progressive sanctification, because he thinks it’s just another example of antinomians making excuses for their sinful behavior. He puts all Baptists in the cult category along with the Mormons! He redefines sin by saying that sin is only sin if done by personal outward actions. To him, sinful thoughts are not really sins. By taking this view of sin, it becomes easier for him to hold to a perfectionist view of the Christian life. He rejects creeds, and theologians, and Puritans, and reformers, and sets himself up as the only reliable interpreter of Scripture. Even though in the beginning of the dialogue, I told him my view of sanctification entails Romans 8, he soon lost sight of that, and thought my view of original sin and sanctification were one and the same doctrine. He saw no light at the end of the tunnel in the Baptist view: just one heaping mass of sinfulness. I propose a fight against sin, with sin and holiness warring within the Christian, as the apostle Paul and the Puritans did. He proposes that there is little to no fight against sin required, because he denies that sinful thoughts really are sins in the proper sense. So he can get away with saying he does not sin–even if he thinks about sinful things–so long as he does not outwardly do anything sinful. Such was the doctrine of the Pharisees: who did only “clean the outside of the cup” (Matt. 23:25).

Perfectionist: “STOP SINNING! You can do it!”

Wesley Gospel: “I agree to a point: Romans 7 and 8.”

Perfectionist: “I simply agree with Jesus; and know He doesn’t command the impossible. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” The same as saying stop sinning. That settles it for me.”

Wesley Gospel: “True, but there’s a lot more thought that’s been communicated in the Scriptures than just that one sentence. The whole Word of God harmonizes. I hold to this view:

1. They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Acts 20:32; Romans 6:5, 6; John 17:17; Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23; Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14).

2. This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 7:18, 23; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11).

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them (Romans 7:23; Romans 6:14; Ephesians 4:15, 16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1).”

–The 1689 Baptist Confession, ch. 13: “Of Sanctification”

Perfectionist: “This is a mere teaching of a denomination my friend and isn’t sound. Many teachings of the reformers are full of error. Thus their doctrines follow such error. Luther did some good things but was still no more than a reformed Catholic still in much of his practices. The 1689 Baptist Confession is full of Calvinistic theology. It’s filled with John Calvin’s false gospel my friend. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, also called the Second London Baptist Confession, was written by Particular Baptists, who held to a Calvinistic soteriology in England to give a formal expression of their Christian faith from a Baptist perspective. This is not a Biblical perspective but rather a biased one.

Aligning ourselves with man-made creeds is departing from our Biblical duty to follow Christ’s doctrines and the foundation in which He laid. So I cannot agree with the TULIP doctrine found in the 1689 Baptist Confession. From the false doctrine of the sinful nature to once saved always saved. Baptists are no different than Mormons, Catholics, etc…why? Because they follow tradition over the Scriptures.

The original post here is what Jesus said. And again it’s cut and clear. I believe any kind of reasoning away from the cut and clear words of Christ is departing from Biblical truth and just man’s attempt at explaining away conviction to hold to one’s sinfulness. As most Calvinists, Baptists, and reformers do.”

Wesley Gospel: “Partly I’d say, but we got to use our heads and common sense too, right. There are Bible verses in that statement, and those Bible verses are just as much the Word of God as “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:7). I’m sure you’d agree that all Scripture is inspired by God, and not just the words of Jesus (2 Tim. 3:16). Marcionism was the heresy that said only Jesus’ words are inspired. I believe that Romans 7 teaches that our bodies have a sinful nature (flesh, Gr. sarx)–and especially an inclination to sexual immorality and other carnal lusts. I believe that the Holy Spirit is needed along with free will to fight against sin and resist temptation, but I believe the Word of God consistently teaches that there are limits to holiness. Time will always tell the truth of this one by experience. Free will can only push you so far in the direction of righteousness, until you finally burn out and break down, and realize that you need the grace of God through the cross again. That is, unless you redefine sin. If you can redefine sin into something that does not affect the thoughts, or if sinful thoughts or sinful feelings are not properly “sins”–which would be totally unbiblical, because Jesus spoke of sins of the heart–then yes I guess you could get to the point of believing that sinless righteousness or entire sanctification is possible in this life, like the Methodists used to. I for one think it’s an extreme doctrine, usually based on passages from 1 John, and that it does not make any sense. Law and grace my friend. It’s not an either-or: it’s a both-and!”

Perfectionist: “Yes, I believe all Scripture is inspired by God. Which is Jesus! Amen! So I don’t agree with Marcionism. In Romans 7, Paul was speaking of an unconverted Paul. If what he was teaching there was the same as he was claiming in Romans 6 and 8, then he is contradicting himself. Which I do not believe that’s the case, so the problem must be with a person’s interpretation.

When you say law and grace. Let me say this as the Scriptures teach. I’m crucified with Christ. Dead to the law and under grace, because sin has no dominion over me. If it does then I’m under the law. The law of sin and death and in need of repentance. The law was only a schoolmaster to show my unconverted state before God. A ministry of death that cannot save.

So back to the original post. Does Jesus command the impossible? NO. I know He doesn’t and I know His grace given to the humble is power of God over sin. I’m dead to sin or dead in sin. Sin is always a choice we as free moral beings can make for ourselves. It’s not a sickness that we have no control over. There is just a curse on it. If we don’t walk in the light, sin will rule over us. That’s why we need to surrender to Jesus and repent. Then He gives us the Holy Spirit to overcome.

Greater is He that’s in me! Sin has no dominion over me because I’m under grace. If sin did, then I would need to repent. Can I still sin? I could. But don’t know why I would, knowing how God feels about it. Those who love the Lord now hate evil and sin. I want a blessing, not a curse. So I will never hold to a doctrine that teaches I can never have true victory. Especially knowing Jesus won and destroyed the works of the flesh: so I don’t have to walk in the flesh or be controlled by the flesh. Die daily and you too can walk in a worthy, perfect manner before the Lord. Especially because we are supposed to have His Spirit. So I don’t see any excuse for sin other than pride and choosing so.”

Wesley Gospel:

“In Romans 7, Paul was speaking of an unconverted Paul.”

“I disagree. I’ve heard J—- M—— and a number of holiness street preachers say this. If this were talking of Paul in his unconverted state, before he became a Christian, then apparently he hadn’t learned how to distinguish between past tense and present tense grammar. Because in the part on the sinful nature in Romans 7, Paul is using present tense language to describe the sinful nature that wars against his desire to be holy. It’s true that he refers to himself in the past tense in Romans 7:7-13, and this was clearly referring to him in his unconverted state, and he there says the Ten Commandments pointed him to God. But things change in Romans 7:14-25: he says all of this in the present tense (as he is writing): “I am unspiritual” (v. 14), “what I hate I do” (v. 15), “I agree that the law is good” (v. 16), “as it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (v. 17), “I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature” and “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18), “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19), “if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (v. 20), “although I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (v. 21), “in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (vv. 22-23), “what a wretched man I am!” (v. 25), “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (v. 26). All of this is in present tense language. If Romans 7:14-25 is not written in the present tense, then I do not know the meaning of words. It is because of this passage, and Paul’s present tense language of the sinful nature residing within him, alongside a desire to obey God’s law, is what makes me believe the Baptist view of sanctification is right, and the Wesleyan view–at least their sinlessness teaching–is wrong.”

Perfectionist: “Again my friend. Romans 6 and 8: there is a huge contrast to the letter that’s wrote. If you wanna believe you are like the Romans 7 Paul, that’s on you. I choose to agree with Jesus that it’s possible to go and sin no more. Especially having Christ’s Spirit within me. Baptists have many false doctrines that are not Biblical. And I’ve mentioned those above. The present tense sinfulness is all around us. Not in us! That’s false doctrine my friend, and a serious charge against God, making Him the author of our sin. Making Him unjust. Creating us in a way that we had no choice; and then punishing us for a nature we cannot control. You might wanna rethink your position.”

Wesley Gospel:

“In my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Romans 7:22-23), “what a wretched man I am!” (v. 25).

“Present tense…in him…in us…J—-, if you’re honest with yourself and God, you have sinful thoughts every week! The frequency of them is known only to you. I don’t need to rethink my position. I think like the Word of God thinks. I think what it tells me to. I also observe my experience. I use my common sense. Paul is not talking in the past tense. Paul is not talking about sin being around him, but inside of him, along with the desire for holiness. This is reality for a Christian. And I think it is pretentious–that it’s pretending, making a mockery out of Christianity–to think any Christian can constantly live above the sinful nature like the holiness people say. Some of them say there is no sinful nature, like Charles Finney. I look at these people and I shake my head. What a mass of nonsense and playing with words and semantics! When they know in their hearts how unclean they truly are, even as they fight and fight against their sinful inclinations. What a mass of dishonesty Wesleyan perfectionism truly is; and also a breeding ground for authoritarianism, because it makes people hold others, namely children, to unreasonable expectations. Neither does the doctrine of original sin require Supralapsarianism, as you suggest. God is not to blame for my sinful nature, Adam and Eve are: it is genetically inherited through the fall from our fallen ancestors. God created them innocent and sinless, but they sowed sinfulness into the gene pool after they ate the fruit. That’s why God warned them against it, saying they would “surely die” if they ate the fruit (Gen. 2:17). God did not create my sinful nature or yours. That would be Adam and Eve’s fault. Just like heart disease runs in my family. I need to eat healthy; and I need to be on guard against high blood pressure, because two of my grandparents had it. I have acid reflux because my mom had it. If sickness can be transmitted by genes, then of course the inclination to sin can be as well.”

Perfectionist: “Look man. If you are in Christ you should be dead to the law of sin and death. Dead to the flesh. Sin is always around us yes, in the actions of the lost, and the world. A sinful society and satanic influences. Yes temptation can come, but we have ways to escape, and do not have to give in. Sin is a choice. If you wanna believe you’ll always have sin in your life reigning inside you, then that’s on you. That’s not my experience, nor what I see being taught by the Scriptures. I cannot help you. If you can’t read right after Romans 7:25, and into Romans 8, to see the error in your interpretation, then I cannot help you. The carnal mind is at enmity with God; and those who walk in the flesh cannot please God, nor understand what the Scriptures are saying. A bad thought alone isn’t a sin until conceived. It should be taken captive unto the obedience of Christ and cast out. Set your mind on things above, and fill it with God’s Word, and you’ll find you have no room for such thoughts with the armor of God on. A helmet of salvation in which the fiery darts of Satan cannot control your mind. Forget Paul for a moment. WHAT DID JESUS SAY! GO AND SIN NO MORE. There really is nothing more to say. You either believe Him or not. Because I assure you that Paul believes Him. (Shaking my head.) The Scriptures say death passed on unto all men, not sin. You are in error my friend. Think wrong, live wrong. Sinners live sinful lives; and excuse their sin by believing in a false doctrine of the sinful nature inherited from Adam. The Scriptures don’t teach that unless you are reading a false translation. Again death passed on from Adam, not sin. The consequences for sin have always been death. No one inherits the guilt of another. The Baptists teachings have deceived you my friend. Perhaps you sent the wrong guy a Friend Request and this ain’t gonna work.”

Wesley Gospel: “You err by pitting Christ against Paul, making the Bible contradict itself, showing your position to be a confused one. I do read Romans 8, as well as 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15, etc, which are all about using the Holy Spirit to fight against sin. You said, “A bad thought alone isn’t a sin.” Oh yes it is! There are many references to this in the Bible, the most notable being Jesus’ teaching about adultery (Matt. 5:28). As I said previously, I agree with the Baptist confession on sanctification. Never minding whatever other things they said. I believe they have a truly honest and balanced view of all the issues involved in Biblical sanctification. I make no excuses for sinful behavior other than admitting all people have an inbred sinful nature from Adam. To deny the doctrine of original sin is Pelagianism. That is a heresy. Not even John Wesley did that; and he was the theologian that developed the doctrine of entire sanctification that you hold to (see his sermon “Original Sin” where he spends most of his time proving the sinful nature of man inherited from Adam, but on 3.5 he begins to suggest that entire sanctification is possible in this life as a cure-all for original sin: so unlike a Pelagian, who denies the existence of original sin, Wesley implies that the original sin nature can actually be extinguished by entire sanctification through Bible study and Holy Spirit regeneration). The sinful nature is not inherited guilt, but it’s an inherited inclination to do evil. My hope for you, in me saying all these things, is that you would change your mind. Although I’m an Arminian, I don’t think that holiness people are right about everything. Although I agree with the Baptists and Presbyterians on sanctification, I don’t think Calvinists are right about everything either. But I do believe that the Bible is always right; and we need to use our common sense when we’re using it.”

— 

CONCLUDING REMARKS.

After I published this debate on a Facebook group for street preachers, my debater made some concluding remarks. 

1. He stated that Romans 7 is an exhortation to holy living–not a justification for being sinful. I completely agree with this. How he lost sight of that in our debate shows me how unreasonable holiness people can be with their perfectionist doctrine; and how tunnel vision can make them dismiss all of the relevant issues bearing on the complicated subject of sanctification.

2. “You cannot be led by the Spirit of God following doctrines of Calvinism.” He then quotes 2 Peter 3:16 as support for this: implying that all Calvinists are unlearned and unstable and they twist the Scriptures to their own destruction. Even though I am not a Calvinist, and he knows that, my acceptance of the Puritan doctrine of sanctification was enough for him to put me in the same damnation category. The Scots Worthies by John Howie might contest with my debater’s view: all the Scottish reformers were Calvinists and the paranormal evidence of the Holy Spirit permeates their life stories. The Great Awakening, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there, all happened under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, who happened to be a Calvinist preacher. I am not a Calvinist. I am a Wesleyan-Arminian, but that doesn’t mean that I need to accept Wesley’s erroneous teaching on entire sanctification. The same can be said of the Free Will Baptists and the Assemblies of God.

3. He pits Romans 7 and Romans 8 against one another. It does not make sense to him in any way that a Christian can have conflicted feelings about holiness. For him, it’s like a light switch: it’s either on or off. You’re either good or evil. Even though I quoted Romans 7:7-13 in its entirety to him, showing plainly that Paul is struggling in the present tense, as of writing, with a combination of unholy and holy feelings inside of himself…my debater cannot come to this point for himself. It’s just too confusing for him to accept such a complicated view of the human condition as a saved Christian man. It has to be a Bible translation problem or an interpretation problem. Why would God command holiness if people have original sin in their bodies? He also sees this as a slight against God’s character. He says, “It’s clear reading comprehension isn’t your thing. As you have twisted words I said, into your own understanding, out of context. Much like you do the Scriptures. Shame on you.” Manners sir, manners! But I forgive him though. Theological debates aren’t easy to do; and they will test the tempers of anyone. But seeing that this is coming from a man who is claiming sinless entire sanctification, I would think his remarks would have had more of the character of “the love of God” which is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 5:5). Instead, I get a reaction of arrogant pride, obstinacy, lacking all grace, at the sight of exposure, being proven wrong, exposing circular reasoning tautologies and unreasonable thinking patterns. Debates can bring out the worst in all of us, which seem to prove the doctrine of original sin, as I have been asserting.

Front Cover Preview Image - 1 of 7 - Five Views on Sanctification4. He says I’m deceived and that I’m cherry picking with the denominational doctrine of Baptist sanctification. While I don’t think I’m deceived, he’s got a point by saying I’m cherry picking. When looking at different theological perspectives, we all have to pick the view that makes the most sense to us, don’t we? He has picked the Wesleyan view of sanctification, whether he’s aware of it or not. I have picked the Reformed view of sanctification, because it makes the most sense to me. There’s nothing wrong with that. For more about this, see Five Views on Sanctification edited by Stanley Gundry.

5. He resents the label of perfectionist and condemns me for saying so. I can understand that, for two reasons: 1. Nobody likes to be the recipient of name-calling, but in a theological debate, it is necessary to make distinctions for the sake of clarity. He says I am prideful for calling him this name; and that I am utterly a fool. 2. He says that I am bothered by his talk of holiness and obedience to Christ–that I hate holiness and obedience to God so much in fact, that now I have been moved to slander him, a fellow brother in Christ with the label of perfectionist. He then says that I am a sinner, unlike himself, and that by holding to the Reformed view of sanctification, and refuting his Wesleyan view, that I am only “seeking to justify myself.” He then says that he hopes that I repent from holding to the Baptist view of sanctification–clinging to their creed on sanctification–over and above the Word of God. What can I say to all of this? Only that I must have hurt his feelings with my perfectionist label, which I am partly sorry for, but not entirely: because as of the writing, that is exactly what he is: a perfectionist. He believes in sinless perfection. I am not bothered by talk of holiness, only by his perfectionist false doctrine of holiness. That I am bothered by. I am partially encouraged that he appears to be so zealous to obey the Word of God, but also disheartened that he has lowered the standard of righteousness by saying that sinful thoughts are not actually sins. In my view, the Baptists actually have a stricter view of holiness than this holiness preacher has, because they acknowledge the psychological conflict of sanctification. Whereas, this man makes it sound like its no problem. His arrogant boastfulness–of which I’ll admit I am guilty of ten thousand times more in matters of theology–is a sign to me that he has a sinful nature just like I do. The Holy Spirit has not eradicated or annihilated sin in his heart. He’s merely confused about the Bible teaching on holiness and how to understand his Christian life. I think his heart actually could be in the right place, and that he is probably saved–even though he doubts my salvation–but I see his main problem being an intellectual one. He is merely confused mentally about the nature of sanctification.

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