John Wesley's ecclesiology: A study in its sources and development
This dissertation investigates the sources of John Wesley's ecclesiology (or his understanding of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments) and its development under the influence of the sources. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a man of tradition. He inherited his rich legacy from various traditions, and the traditions were instrumental in shaping his ecclesiology. The major traditions on which he drew include primitivism, Anglicanism, Puritanism, and Pietism. He also, though not heavily, drew on the mystics of the Roman Catholicism and indirectly on the reformers.
Primitive Christianity offered Wesley an ideal of the church and a model for his personal religious life and Methodist movement. The medieval mysticism, with its stress on inward religion and self-discipline, was influential upon Wesley, and its influence lasted throughout his life. Although there is no evidence of medieval Catholicism's direct influence upon Wesley's ecclesiology, the character of Wesley's United Societies is akin to that of Tertiaries of medieval Catholicism in that they were both designed to be auxiliary to the parent body. Wesley drew certain themes such as sanctification and discipline from the reformers indirectly through the Anglican and Puritan traditions. The Anglican tradition was the initial influence upon and a lasting contribution to Wesley's ecclesiology. Particularly the early Wesley was attached to the High-Church Anglican churchmanship and was enthusiastic to share in its sacramental life and to induce others to do the same. His High-Church Anglicanism, however, clashed with the evangelical conversion of 1738, and later was overshadowed by the combined influence of Puritanism and Pietism. From the Puritans Wesley drew an image of the Christian disciplined life and the instructions in its practice. Puritanism was also a main contributor to Wesley's unorthodox churchmanship after he became a field preacher in 1739. From the Pietists Wesley learned the importance of the role and training of laity and was impressed by their discipline and enthusiasm for mission. The particular influence of the Pietists was most prominent in the creation and development of Methodist Church organization. Pietism also permanently influenced Wesley's soteriology, in relation to which he established the character and validity of his ecclesiology. In a sense, Wesley's ecclesiology was an amalgam of the multiple traditions that he inherited and sought to appropriate in a creative eclecticism.
Wesley's ecclesiology after Aldersgate, in general, was dictated by his desire for the salvation of souls or mission while the evangelical ecclesiology sometimes clashed with his Anglican background through his life causing him to act and speak inconsistently at times. Wesley responded to the situations according to the needs of mission and if there is an absolute necessity for mission, he accepted even irregularities such as field preaching, female preaching, and his ordination of Methodist ministers. Therefore, the denominational beginning of Methodism was the outcome of Wesley's decision to place soteriological concerns above those of institutional commitments.