In the previous article, I proposed that Methodism today can begin to emerge out of its systemic decline by radically shifting its focus from tired denominational programs and culturally driven agendas to recovering a focus on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We also briefly examined our Spirit-filled DNA through John Wesley and his influence on the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement.
We cannot do justice to the full arguments for and against Wesley as a proto-Pentecostal in this limited space, but the following landmarks and signposts, as well as others not listed, seem to point at least one path from Wesley to Pentecostalism: John Fletcher’s contested Pentecostal concept and language of the baptism with the Spirit; the 19th century revival of Christian Perfection as a second work of grace in Methodist writers and leaders such as Timothy Merritt and his Christian Manual, Phoebe Palmer and her sister Sarah Lankford’s Tuesday Meetings, J.A. Wood and John Inskip and the National Campmeeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness; the shift to Pentecostal language and Spirit baptism for sanctification in early Methodism with John Fletcher, Hester Rogers and others and in the 19th century Holiness movement with Asa Mahan, William Arthur, Daniel Steele, H.C. Morrison, S.A. Keen, Martin Wells Knapp, B.H. Irwin, and others; and finally the Methodist connections held by early Pentecostals such as Charles Parham (once a licensed Methodist minister), Azusa St Apostle William Seymour (with God’s Bible School and the Church of God Evening Light Saints both Wesleyan holiness institutions), John G. Lake (member of a Methodist church), Smith Wigglesworth (member of the Wesleyan Methodist church in England), Minnie Abrams (Methodist missionary), Willis Hoover (Methodist minister) and many of the early Azusa St. leaders and members (who came from the ranks of Methodism). For more on this, see Dayton’s The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism.
Surely, there are other roots outside of Methodism that helped to give birth to Pentecostalism, including Keswick revivalism, and there are also counter arguments concerning Dayton’s thesis and some of the figures mentioned and their contribution to Pentecostalism, but it is apparent that there is some strong connection between Methodism and Pentecostalism, and that connection is the Holy Spirit. Methodists today need to recover their spiritual heritage and reconnect with the person and work of the Holy Spirit as a possible solution to our systemic decline and lack of spiritual vitality as opposed to retreating to the latest iteration of success or to our tired and powerless denominational programs or trending cultural ideologies. For example, I believe groups such as Aldersgate Renewal Ministries are making this type of reconnection, and they are seeing the results, as thousands are attending their events and courses with raving testimonies of salvation, sanctification, being filled with the Spirit, healing, deliverance, and signs and wonders. They are not driven by politics, social agendas, or cultural trends but seek to be about the person and work of the Holy Spirit above all. Much of the theology and experience of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries is reflected in the work The Supernatural Thread in Methodism written by Frank Billman, the Director of Equipping Ministries for ARM. Also see Robert Webster’s book, Methodism and the Miraculous as another example of United Methodists today who are reconnecting with early Methodism and specifically its pneumatological roots.
In many churches and places where I visit and minister all over the world, and even where I serve at United Theological Seminary, I am seeing ordinary people turning to the Holy Spirit and expecting and experiencing extraordinary results. The Holy Spirit can and is making the difference. Above, I referenced the Nicene Creed, as it calls the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life. Another definition I like to use for the person of the Holy Spirit is “God is real.” The Holy Spirit means God is real.
As Pentecostalism learned from 18th and 19th century Methodism, perhaps it is time for Methodism today not only to learn from Pentecostalism, but even from our own Methodist spiritual heritage. Remember, Pentecostals do not have a copyright on the Holy Spirit.