“John Wesley and Martin Luther” – a question for scholars


A friend of mine just asked me a question about John Wesley. An encounter with Aldersgate Road in Springfield, MO, prompted he and his wife to seek some information on John Wesley. Their notes showed that Wesley’s conviction of faith was a result of his study of Luther.

The question asked is “why didn’t he pursue Luther further and possibly become a Lutheran?”

I responded in part by noting that Wesley was already an Anglican priest and so transferring may not have been 1) possible, 2) desirable, or 3) acceptable. I also made the conjecture that there may have been other aspects of Luther that kept Wesley in the Anglican church.

So I know turn to the Methoblog and wonder what you all think?

For those on Facebook, please come over to the blog to post your answers so that non-Facebook viewers can see your response as well.

Peace to all and have a pleasant and safe Labor Day while you ponder this question.

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4 thoughts on ““John Wesley and Martin Luther” – a question for scholars

  1. Luther was a rampant antisemite; I don’t know his view on slavery, but Wesley was rampant anti-slavery. Luther was a ‘protesting’ Catholic priest; Wesley was a ‘non-conforming’ Anglican priest. I don’t think they had too much in common. Hubert Boyd

  2. What an excellent question! I would propose three reasons: First, although Luther’s writings were used profoundly to bring Wesley into his Aldersgate experience, Wesley would certainly have seen it as more the Word of God impacting his life, and Luther’s commentary on Romans that provided the venue for him to hear and receive. He would have felt little interest or pressure to join that community in any formal way. Second, Wesley was a committed Anglican, and the Church of England was born out of resistance to Lutheranism nearly as much as to the Roman papacy. Henry VIII built much of his ecclesial creds clamping down on what was considered the Lutheran heresy. Englishmen may have come to the point where they could respectfully read Luther as a reformer, but Lutheranism was considered disruptive and fractious at a time when England was carefully avoiding the extremes and bloody conflicts that religious division had caused over the prior two centuries. Wesley was Church of England, and it would take a lifetime to loosen that hold only somewhat. Finally, and probably the most significant, Wesley’s journals in the years following his Aldersgate experience indicate that he had a deep-set, and in the end unbreachable tension with Luther over the very nature of grace, faith, and works. Wesley felt that Luther went too far into the full and immediate justification by faith that ignored the muscular, process-based work of grace that transformed all aspects of life and character unto full sanctification and perfection in Christ. He wrote in his journal (Works, V2) “…it is well known that Luther hImself complained with his dying breath, “The people that are called by my name, (though I wish they were called by the name of Christ) are reformed as to their opinions and modes of worship, but their tempers and lives are the same as before.” Wesley saw Luther, therefore, as incredibly pivotal and valuable, yet theologically confused and lacking in the critical points of sanctification that were indispensable for his highly accountable societies that were intensely transforming on both personal and societal levels in his mission to “spread Scriptural holiness throughout the land.”

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