I was raised in the Wesleyan Church. My family has been part of this denomination for generations. The church was a huge part of my upbringing and shaped me into the person I am today. However, as I grew older and learned more about the Wesleyan Church’s history and current trajectory, I began questioning whether it still aligned with my convictions. After much thought and prayer, I eventually made the difficult decision to leave the Wesleyan Church.
A Tradition Comfortable With Being Different
In many ways, the Wesleyan tradition has always been comfortable charting its course, separate from mainstream evangelicalism. For example:
Empowered Decision Making
Wesleyans believe God empowers us to make the crucial decision of faith for ourselves, leading to justification. This differs from Calvinist predestination.
Possibility of Apostasy
Wesleyans allow believers can reject God’s grace and fall away after being justified. We do not hold to “once saved, always saved.”
Optimism About Sanctification
Wesleyans optimistically believe God’s grace can progressively make us righteous in heart and action. We reject the notion that Christians must remain depraved.
So in key soteriological areas, Wesleyans diverge from predominant evangelical views. We’re comfortable being different, just as our founder, John Wesley, was.
Historically, Wesleyan activism centered on championing people, especially the disadvantaged.
For People, Not Just Against Sin
Early Wesleyan activism aided people rather than just opposing sin. The denomination often defended the oppressed.
Many Wesleyan offshoots started specifically to fight injustice. The Wesleyan Methodist Church protested slavery. The Free Methodist Church condemned economic privilege.
Breaking Down Barriers
Wesleyan groups empowered women in leadership early on and supported women’s rights causes. There was also a strong egalitarian spirit.
This advocacy was very much in line with John Wesley’s teachings. However, over time, things changed.
An Uncomfortable Reversal
In the 1900s, the Wesleyan Church began absorbing beliefs more common in mainstream evangelicalism. Certain distinctive emphases faded while reactionary attitudes emerged:
Social Gospel Rejection
As evangelicals distanced themselves from the “social gospel,” Wesleyans also grew suspicious of social concern, hurting engagement with issues like poverty.
Loss of Prophetic Voice
During the civil rights movement, much of the denomination failed to stand up for justice as it once had. The Wesleyans did not retain their boldness.
Mixed Record on Women
Despite official affirmation of women in ministry, local churches often oppose hiring female pastors. Complementarian rhetoric has also grown.
Disciple-making, once done relationally through small groups, has now largely defaulted to preachers during church services. The Methodist method has eroded.
There is greater atomization of Scripture now, with less appeal to overarching biblical principles. This reflects evangelical interpretive methodology.
So Wesleyan’s distinctive faded as other beliefs encroached. The blend has been an uncomfortable one for me.
My Personal Decision
I still appreciate so much of what the Wesleyan tradition stands for. However, the current church reality differs starkly from Wesleyan origins in critical ways:
Less Oriented Toward Social Justice
The fire for advocating self-sacrifice for the oppressed has dampened considerably over time. This greatly troubles me.
More Rigid Interpretive Lens
I resonate more with the early pneumatic approach to Scripture. Today’s strict constructionism quenches the spirit, I feel.
There is more groupthink and an us vs. them attitude visible in the church now. I long to recapture the original Methodist spaciousness.
Loss of Lay Empowerment
The clergy-laity divide has widened enormously, contrary to the priesthood of all believers lifted up by Wesleys. This must be reversed.
I cannot, in good conscience, remain part of a church drifting from its roots. So, with sadness, I recently took the step to withdraw my membership. My hope and prayer is that the Wesleyan Church rediscovers its first love for Christ and all people. I’ll rejoice greatly should this day soon come.
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