W. B. Fitzgerald once summarized British Methodists’ distinctive Wesleyan aspects of salvation with the “four alls:”
- All need to be saved
- All can be saved
- All can know they are saved
- All can be saved to the uttermost
The first “all” is a restatement of Paul’s words in Romans 3: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). No exceptions. This includes people ordering a Bloody Maria at 7:30 a.m. and people who seem to be living the dream of middle-class respectability. Nobody has their life in order. Everybody, whether they know it or not, needs Jesus.
The second “all” is an affirmation of Paul’s statement to Timothy that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Again, no exceptions. God has not predetermined to reject anyone. God loves “the world” (John 3:16), his entire creation and all his creatures. Christ was the “atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). There is no obstacle on God’s part to anyone’s redemption.
The third “all” is about faith as an experience. This statement affirms the definition of faith found in the letter to the Hebrews, as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is a direct awareness of supernatural reality. By faith we know experientially there is a God and that God forgives and loves us as children.
Finally, the last “all” articulates the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection. As we argued in chapter 3, God intends to “sanctify [us] entirely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), make us perfect “as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and give us “perfect love” (1 John 4:18). The content of this hope is reflected in the prayer at the end of the book of Hebrews:
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete [the Greek teleoteta can be translated as “perfect”] in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (13:20–21)
Yet again, the “you” is plural. God is “working among us that which is pleasing in his sight.” Being saved is becoming “complete in everything good” so that we may do God’s will, here and now, to the uttermost.
Salvation and Community in Methodism
Methodism’s preoccupation with full salvation in this life meant, as it did for Paul, planting community. One of the gifts of Wesleyan Methodism to the larger church has been our discipline (particularly how we have traditionally structured ourselves as church).
Through our discipline, we witness to this larger understanding of salvation and its communal nature. Christ came to build a “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5), not simply ordain individual priests. He came to create a community of people equipped to “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Methodism ordered itself to bring the gospel to people at every level of community. Methodism provided structures to facilitate deeper communion with God and each other, in order that all whom God loves might be “saved to the uttermost.” “What is the aim of any ecclesiastical order?” wrote Wesley to John Smith. “Is it not to snatch souls from the power of Satan for God and to edify them in the love and fear of God? Order, then has value only if it responds to these aims; and if not, it is worthless.”
In Joseph R. Myers’s book The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups, Myers discussed a communication theory by Edward T. Hall. Hall argued that, “there are four spaces we use to develop personalities, culture, and communication. Those spaces are: public, social, personal, and intimate.” (p. 20)
Myers suggested that these four spaces are “spaces of belonging.” In each, people connect, commit, and participate. And in each space, people find that connection significant and transformative. Public spaces and connections shape our public selves. In public, we are known as we present ourselves. We begin to know others and they us, as we want to be known.
Social spaces are where we are known among neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, even distant family. Social belonging, wrote Myers,
is the space where we connect through sharing “snapshots” of who we are. .. . it provides space for neighbor relationships…. a safe selection space for us to decide with whom we would like to grow a “deeper” relationship…. [and allow us and others space for] their own process of self-discovery and definition. (p. 46)
Personal spaces and connections, with friends and family, provide a still deeper level of knowing and being known. It’s “where we connect through sharing private—although not ‘naked’—experiences, feelings, and thoughts.” (p. 47) At this level our manicured self-presentations slip, at least occasionally. Finally, in intimate spaces, among true friends, sometimes our spouse, we know others and are known best. This is space where we can be “naked and … not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
All of these spaces provide a sense of belonging and develop our personalities. Each shapes our souls. We belong in different ways in different spaces, and each is significant. Early Methodism’s structure reflected this reality. The message of salvation was proclaimed in public, social, personal, and intimate spaces to bring about knowledge of God, self, and others at all levels of human need. As Methodists lived out our theological commitment to the “four alls,” we were present in each of these spaces to make sure people “heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21).
Do you long to engage in this life-transforming approach to discipleship that helps you experience salvation to the uttermost? Get your copy of The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transformational Community by Scott Kisker and Kevin Watson from our store now. As you read the book, you’ll: Discover a proven discipleship model for growing in love of God; (2) Learn a practical approach to accountability with same-gender groups; (3) Appreciate that richness of the early Methodist tradition of spiritual formation.