Christian perfection

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Christian perfection (also known as perfect love; heart purity; the baptism of the Holy Spirit; the fullness of the blessing; Christian holiness; the second blessing; the second work of grace; the baptism of fire; and entire sanctification) is a doctrine of Methodism and its emerging Holiness movement. It holds that the heart of the regenerate (born-again) Christian may attain a state of holiness in which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and where there is a total love for God and others wrought by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Early Church[edit]

Polycarp, an early Church Father, wrote: "For if one be in this company he has fulfilled all righteousness, for he who has love is far from all sin" (III:3). This second century Bishop of Smyrna, and later, John Wesley, both espoused the concepts that (1) the Christian's deliverance from sin was from "all sin" (referencing 1 John 1:7), (2) love and sin are mutually exclusive, and (3) "that holy love produces a life that honors God."[1]

Wesley's teaching[edit]

The doctrine is chiefly associated with the followers of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, from Wesley's understanding of sanctifying grace. The doctrine is defined in Wesley's book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Perfection can either define the journey to perfection or the state of perfection. Christian perfection is commonly referred to as "going on to perfection".

Perfection is the process of sanctification which is both an instantaneous and a progressive work of grace. It may also be called entire sanctification, in which the heart of the believer is cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Christian perfection, according to Wesley, is “purity of intention, dedicating all the life to God” and “the mind which was in Christ, enabling us to walk as Christ walked.” It is "loving God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves".[2] It is “a restoration not only to the favor, but likewise to the image of God,” our “being filled with the fullness of God.”[3]

Wesley was clear that Christian perfection did not imply perfection of bodily health or an infallibility of judgment. It also does not mean one no longer violates the will of God, for involuntary transgressions remain. Perfected Christians remain subject to temptation, and have a continuing need to pray for forgiveness and holiness. It is not an absolute perfection but a perfection in love. Furthermore, Wesley did not teach a salvation by perfection, but rather wrote, “Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.”[4]

Wesley did not use perfection to describe sinlessness. Similarly, perfection is not the state of being unable to sin, but rather the state of choosing not to sin. Wesley's perfection represents a change of life, a freedom from willful rebellion against God, impure intentions, and pride. Wesley also did not view perfection as permanent.

As regarding the concept of sinless perfection, John Wesley himself did not use this term and noted in his book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection that "...sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself."[5] However John William Fletcher,Wesley's designated successor,[6] used the term "evangelically sinless perfection" or "evangelically sinless" but notes in his book The Last Check to Antinomianism that "With respect to the FIRST, that is, the Adamic, Christless law of innocence and paradisiacal perfection, we utterly renounce the doctrine of sinless perfection."[7]

Roman Catholic teaching[edit]

Medieval Christian philosophy held that the concept of perfection might describe creation, but was not appropriate to describe God.[verification needed] The Scholastic, Thomas Aquinas, indicating that he was following Aristotle, defined a perfect thing as one that "possesses that of which, by its nature, it is capable." Also (Summa Theologiae): "That is perfect, which lacks nothing of the perfection proper to it." Thus there were, in the world, things perfect and imperfect, more perfect and less perfect. God permitted imperfections in creation when they were necessary for the good of the whole. And for man it was natural to go by degrees from imperfection to perfection.[8]

Duns Scotus understood perfection still more simply and mundanely: "Perfection is that which it is better to have than not to have." It was not an attribute of God but a property of creation: all things partook of it to a greater or lesser degree. A thing's perfection depended on what sort of perfection it was eligible for. In general, that was perfect which had attained the fullness of the qualities possible for it. Hence "whole" and "perfect" meant more or less the same ("totum et perfectum sunt quasi idem").[9]

This was a teleological concept, for it implied an end (goal or purpose). God created things that served certain purposes, created even those purposes, but He himself did not serve any purpose. Since God was not finite, He could not be called perfect: for the concept of perfection served to describe finite things. Perfection was not a theological concept, but an ontological one, because it was a feature, in some degree, of every being. The 9th century thinker Paschasius Radbertus wrote: "Everything is the more perfect, the more it resembles God." Still, this did not imply that God himself was perfect.[dubious ][10]

El Camino de Perfección is a method for making progress in the contemplative life written by Saint Teresa of Ávila for the sisters of her reformed convent of the Discalced Carmelites. St. Teresa was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation in 16th century Spain. Christian Perfection is also the title of a book written by theologian Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange.

Perfectae Caritatis, the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, is one of the shorter documents issued by the Second Vatican Council. Approved by vote of 2,321 to 4 of the bishops assembled at the Council, the decree was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965. As is customary for Church documents, the title is taken from the Latin incipit of the decree: "Of Perfect Charity".

Lutheran rejection[edit]

Confessional Lutherans reject the teaching of Christian Perfectionism, [11][12] the Augsburg Confession of 1530 condemns "those who contend that some may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin."[13]

Lutherans, quoting Romans 7:14-25 and Philippians 3:12, believe that "although we will strive for Christian perfection, we will not attain it in this life". [14] Modern apologists further note that:

Our salvation is complete and is simply received by faith. Good works are the fruit of that faith. Good works show that we are saved, but have no part in saving us. Becoming more and more God-like in this life is the result of being saved. If we are saved by becoming more and more God-like, our salvation is in doubt because our being God-like is never perfect in this life. The troubled conscience will find little comfort in an incomplete process of theosis, but will find much comfort in God's declaration of full and free forgiveness. [15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Reilly, Matt. "Entire Sanctification in the Early Church". Incarnatio. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  2. ^ Wesley 2009, p. 176
  3. ^ The End of Christ’s Coming, 482
  4. ^ Wesley 2009, p. 115
  5. ^ Wesley 2009, p. 68
  6. ^ David Robert Wilson, "Church and Chapel:Parish Ministry and Methodism in Madeley, c.1760-1785, with Special Reference to the Ministry of John Fletcher" (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Manchester, 2010); Peter S Forsaith, "Wesley's Designated Successor", Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society 42 (December 1979), 69-74.
  7. ^ "Fletcher's Last Check, Section I". Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  8. ^ Tatarkiewicz, "Ontological and Theological Perfection," Dialetics and Humanism, vol. VIII, no. 1 (winter 1981), p. 189.
  9. ^ Tatarkiewicz, "Ontological and Theological Perfection," Dialetics and Humanism, vol. VIII, no. 1 (winter 1981), pp. 189-90.
  10. ^ Tatarkiewicz, "Ontological and Theological Perfection," Dialetics and Humanism, vol. VIII, no. 1 (winter 1981), p. 190.
  11. ^ "Entire sanctification". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 27 Sep 2009. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. 
  12. ^ "Other Religions". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 27 Sep 2009. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. Like Methodism and the other Holiness Churches, the Salvation Army teaches perfectionism or entire sanctification. Lutherans teach that the Christian will remain both sinner and saint until he dies. The Christian will struggle against sin until at death he is freed forever from sin and sin's consequences. 
  13. ^ Augsburg Confession, Article XII: Of Repentance, 1530
  14. ^ "WELS vs Assembly of God". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 27 Sep 2009. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. 
  15. ^ "Justification / Salvation". WELS Topical Q&A. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 27 Sep 2009. Retrieved 29 Jan 2015. 


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