In an article written for Commonplace Holiness Blog, Craig L. Adams asked, “What would have been John Wesley’s attitude toward the modern doctrine and practice of Speaking in Tongues? Pentecostal churches teach that this is a necessary initial sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (an empowerment experience subsequent to Christian conversion). Other churches teach that spiritual gifts and miracles were signs that ceased after the age of the apostles. Where would Wesley have stood on these issues?”
Rev. Adams goes on to explain that Wesley and Methodism gave birth to the movements we now know as Pentecostal and Charismatic. For some of us that grew up in the quiet worshipful version of the Methodist Church, that seems like a stretch, and there’s a reason for that. As Adams points out, Wesley may not have agreed with at least one aspect of those movements, and that is “speaking in tongues.”
Adams wrote, “Wesley distinguished between “extraordinary gifts” and “ordinary” graces of the Spirit. Speaking in Tongues would fall into the category of “extraordinary gifts.” Thus, he did not see the gift of Tongues as part of the abiding significance of the Pentecost event.”
Wesley did not see outward evidence — spiritual gifts or miracles — as necessary signs of the Spirit’s activity. At this point, he would not agree with Pentecostalism in its emphasis on these things. The evidence of the Spirit’s activity was love for God and love for others — that is to say, holy living. It was the “fruit of the Spirit” (as in Galatians 5:22-23 “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”) not the (extraordinary) gifts of the Spirit that were crucial to him.
In other words, where Pentecostals and Charismatics believe you have to speak in tongues in order to receive the Holy Spirit, Methodists do not. As Rev. Robert Stutes writes, “Methodists hold a sort of “middle ground” here. Some Christians suggest that the experience of “speaking in tongues” is the defining mark of having received the Holy Spirit. At the other extreme, some Christians suggest that speaking in tongues is no longer an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit. The “middle ground” holds that speaking in tongues is indeed an authentic gift of the Holy Spirit given to some, but that it is not a gift that is given to all believers – in other words, you can certainly receive the Holy Spirit without speaking in tongues.”
In an article for the Andrews University Seminary Student Journal, Dojcin Zivadinovic tells a story about an encounter Wesley had, “Already in 1739, at the earliest stage of the Methodist revival, Wesley was directed to meet some descendants of French Huguenots who spoke ecstatically in unknown tongues without interpretation and calling it “gift of tongues.” At first, Wesley did not want to hinder their enthusiasm but after several of his members lost taste of religion due to extravagancy of these prophets, Wesley concluded that these individuals were not sent by God and earnestly exhorted “all that followed after holiness to avoid as fire all who do not speak according “to the law and the testimony.
“Although Wesley was clearly in favor of manifestation of the Spirit, he did not renounce correcting the fanatics within his ranks. Wesley has seen those practices as counterfeit of the true work of God. One of the greatest trials for Wesley was the fanaticism introduced by two prominent Methodist ministers Thomas Maxwell and George Bell. Maxfield and Bell took the doctrine of sanctification to extremes. They claimed that the perfected Christian lived a life of angelic sinlessness on earth. Heitzenrater writes: “Their view led to a dangerous combination of assertive infallibility and blatant antinomianism; people began to imagine that they would not die or that they were immune from temptation. Some, like Bell, also began to practice faith-healing and speaking in tongues.” Many other congregations followed them in their extremes. Here is the report Wesley received from the enthusiasts of William Williams:
“It is common in the congregations attended by Mr. William Williams and one or two other clergymen, after the preaching is over, for anyone that has a mind to give out a verse of a hymn. This they sing over and over with all their might, perhaps above thirty, yea, forty times. Meanwhile, the bodies of two or three, sometimes ten or twelve, are violently agitated, and they leap up and down, in all manner of postures, frequently for hours together.
“This is how Wesley commented on this experience:
I think there needs no great penetration to understand this. They are honest, upright men, who really feel the love of God in their hearts. But they have little experience, either of the ways of God or the devices of Satan. So he serves himself of their simplicity, in order to wear them out and to bring a discredit on the work of God.”
Today, the UMC acknowledges Methodism’s part in the birth of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements but continues to stress as Wesley did that it is the ordinary gifts of the Spirit we should pray to receive. The following excerpts were taken from a larger article at https://www.umc.org/en/content/book-of-resolutions-guidelines-the-umc-and-the-charismatic-movement.
The Holy Spirit in the New Testament Period
The Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Luke 1:35), descended upon Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:22), and filled Jesus before the temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:2ff). Jesus claimed that the Spirit was upon him when he stood up to preach (Luke 4:18ff) and that the Spirit empowered him to cast out demons (Matthew 12:28). John the Baptist and Jesus both indicated the importance of the power of the Spirit (Luke 3:15-19; John 7:37-39; Acts 1:5, 8).
The coming of the Holy Spirit ushered in the beginning of the Church (Acts 2) and empowered the disciples to be witnesses (Acts 1:8, Acts 2:4ff). Paul writes about the gifts of the Spirit in his letters (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31; Ephesians 4:11) and describes his missionary outreach to the Gentiles as “by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18ff, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The Holy Spirit in John Wesley’s Life and Ministry
John Wesley and his followers were bearers of Scriptural Christianity. Their ministry testifies to the dynamic work of the Spirit in early Methodism.
To begin with, Wesley’s Aldersgate experience of the assurance of his salvation on 24 May 1738 was certainly a work of the Spirit. He relates in his journal how as he heard of “the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed . . . and an assurance was given that he had taken away my sins.” Some months later, he was at prayer with seventy others, including his brother Charles and also George Whitefield, on the night of 1 January 1739. In the early hours of the next morning, the Holy Spirit was poured on them in a most powerful manner. He writes: “About three in the morning . . . the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.'”
“On the basis of Scripture, Wesley taught that the Holy Spirit is present and active in every major stage of Christian experience.” (Stokes, 46) Careful study of Wesley’s writings shows clearly that spiritual gifts, including healing and deliverance of the demonized, were clearly manifested in his ministry and that of his coworkers. There were also reported cases of people falling to the ground under the power of the Holy Spirit due to a variety of reasons, including deliverance from demonization, deep conviction of sin and subsequent release, or simply being overcome by the Spirit. (Davies, Methodism, pp.60f; Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, pp.100f, 319.) One study has shown that ‘a careful study of Wesley’s Works and particularly of the lives of the early Methodist preachers reveals evidence that all the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 were exercised, with the one exception of the interpretation of tongues.“(Davies and Peart, The Charismatic Movement and Methodism, 2)
Finally, Wesley himself has noted that the spiritual gifts were not generally exercised after the first two or three centuries after Christ. But the reason for this was not that these gifts were not available. Rather, as he noted, “The real cause was ‘the love of many,’ almost all Christians, was ‘waxed cold,’ because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.” (Sermon LXXXIX, “The More Excellent Way,” Works, Vol. 7, 26-27) And Wesley wrote, “I do not recollect any scripture wherein we are taught that miracles were to be confined within the limits either of the apostolic or the Cyprianic age, or of any period of time, longer or shorter, even till the restitution of all things.” (“Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained,” Works, Vol. 8, 465)
Wesley’s theology of grace is in fact a theology of the Holy Spirit. He believed that Reformation theology was built upon the cardinal doctrine of original sin and that it is God’s sovereign will to reverse our “sinful, devilish nature” by the work of the Holy Spirit. He called this activity of God prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Bound by sin and death, one experiences almost from the moment of conception the gentle wooing of the Holy Spirit-prevenient grace. This grace “prevents” one from wandering so far from God that when a person finally understands what it means to be a child of God the Holy Spirit enables us to say Yes to this relationship. For Wesley, this Yes was a heartfelt faith in the merit of Christ alone for salvation. It allows the Holy Spirit to take the righteousness that was in Christ and attribute or impute it to the believer-justifying grace. For Wesley, this begins a lifelong movement from imputed to imparted righteousness in which the Holy Spirit moves the believer from the righteousness of Christ attributed through faith to the righteousness of Christ realized within the individual-sanctifying grace.
To understand Wesley’s experience of “entire sanctification” is to know how far the pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit falls short if there are not continuing works of grace. Grace is continual, though we may not always perceive it. It is essential that we do not confuse being “filled with the Holy Spirit” with Wesley’s mature doctrine of sanctification. The Spirit-filled life is, rather, a sustained journey of gifts, experiences, and divine support, beginning with conversion, constantly moving us toward the goal of sanctification.
Methodists throughout history have always worshipped God in a variety of styles-never more so than today. In addition worship itself-from openly free to highly liturgical-is now more broadly and correctly understood as a personal offering from the body rather than simply the service of worship that one attends. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Contemporary Christian music-a hallmark of the charismatic renewal-fills many of our churches each Sunday, enriches the spiritual life of individuals, and enhances small group meetings.
There are a variety of healing services offered in The United Methodist Book of Worship. In addition, the church offers a number of helpful resources for beginning and sustaining healing ministries within the local church.
Spiritual formation is now considered an integral part of planning for annual conferences and important in the continuing education for clergy.
The renewing work of the Holy Spirit within The United Methodist Church has supported the Lay Witness Movement, the Walk to Emmaus, and the Academy for Spiritual Formation. In 1978, Aldersgate Renewal Ministries (whose purpose is to “encourage United Methodists to be filled, gifted, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit in ministry to the world) became an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship. These ministries have been used by God to bring thousands of people around the world into a new or deeper relationship with the Lord.