February 4, 1993
Dear Brother Vic,
Last week I received in the mail a copy of THE ARMINIAN containing your article, "The Spirit of Tolerance." I was pleased to receive the periodical, as I am deeply concerned to see a renewed and wide-spread appreciation of our Methodist roots.
Your plea for tolerance within conservative holiness ranks is, of course, desperately needed. Actually the issues which divide us are often of minuscule significance, but we are being shattered by them. It seems to me that our movement everywhere needs a dynamic recovery of the transcendent issues which gave us origin in the great Wesleyan Revival of the 18th century. A glowingly resurgent Wesleyanism would place the emphasis where it needs to be placed - upon the great themes of sin and grace, of "pardon, holiness, and heaven" which so warmed the hearts of our spiritual ancestors - rather than upon petty matters which deflect us from the central focus which God has committed to us. By "resurgent Wesleyanism," I do not mean a revived emphasis upon secondary and occasional opinions which Mr. Wesley and his colleagues may have expressed, but major attention upon the great over-arching emphases which are implicit in our birthright.
Methodism in its origin was truly the "old religion of the Bible" and of the primitive church, as Mr. Wesley stated. Never was it a petty exercise in sectarian preoccupation with exotic and cultic notions. Rather, it was - as you and I both believe - a renewed articulation of the central themes of New Testament Christianity. Wesley was ever cautious that his entire movement be based on Holy Scripture as it was interpreted by the ancient and universal "one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church" as expressed in its creeds and accredited spokesmen in the historic mainstream of orthodox Christianity.
In the "conservative holiness movement," of course, we have done just the opposite. Each "split" has carried us that much further from the "historic mainstream" of Christian Tradition until sadly we have become feuding, wrangling, embittered, schismatics, obsessed by all types of eccentric "pet issues," notions, and "hobbies." In a sense, we have drifted a long ways from our roots in either the Reformation or the ancient Catholic legacy. And our preoccupation with petty matters has separated us into warring and sometimes hostile camps. Surely a renewal commitment to the central issues of our Methodist heritage would reunite us on the basics, while allowing great charity for differences in opinion in other matters.
Like you, I have great problems with modern "fundamentalism," even though I am grateful to that movement for its commitment to the verity of Holy Scripture. I dislike its narrow mind-set, its frequent uncharitableness toward those who may differ from its limited vision, and its harsh negativism. Generally, fundamentalism's approach to the atonement, conversion, and eschatology is at odds with the historic Wesleyan view. Its usual rigid dispensationalism is certainly contrary to Wesleyanism's bright certainty in the ultimate triumph of the gospel.
Then fundamentalism's list of "fundamentals" is not enough. It has little or nothing to say of the church or sacraments or other means of grace. Mr. Wesley emphasized the sacraments as essential to the very nature of Christianity, referred to the Eucharist as the "Christian Sacrifice and Sacrament," taught the Real Presence in its celebration, required regular attendance at the Lord's Table in the "General Rules of the United Societies," and published Charles' hymns on sacramental worship. Indeed, I understand that Charles Wesley wrote more hymns about the Lord's Supper than any other subject! Probably the Wesleys would be as disturbed about the lack of continuing, effective, and reverent sacramental worship among us as anything else among contemporary fundamentalists or among us either, for that matter!
How I wish that a great number among us - old and young, clergy and laity, leaders and helpers - would remember Mr. Wesley's famous reminder that though we may not think alike, we still may love alike! God once shook the world through the burning witness of a vigorous and Spirit-anointed Methodism! It seems to me that we either must go back to being Methodists again or we will eventually disappear as a separate movement. Certainly, our roots in scriptural Christianity as we have received it from historic Wesleyanism are in desperate need of recovery. Here is our raison d'etre - the banner under which we must fight for Jesus, and it is a banner which is gloriously noble and an ensign of victory.
Yours faithfully in Christ, Larry D. Smith Pastor Old Salem Methodist Church, Axtell, Nebraska