I have sometimes wondered if our church members understand what it means to be a Methodist.
Recently, we have had many new members from South India added to our Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference churches. They come from many denominations and theological backgrounds.
As I went around our congregations to ask what Methodism means to them, these were some of their responses: “It was started by John Wesley. We do things very methodically. We love committee meetings. We follow strictly The Book of Discipline, extol Holiness and serve the poor.” These interesting conversations led me to reflect on which Methodist distinctive would help our members identify themselves in their faith.
We live in an era where our doctrine and theological distinctiveness are constantly challenged. Every now and then, we have members seeking clarification from the pastors about some new wave of “Christian teachings” or “spiritual experiences”.
Though most of them are just repeated ‘waves’ from the past and part of church history, they are foreign to younger and new Christians. This led me to consider the Methodist distinctive called the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’.
Albert C. Outler, a Wesleyan scholar, first coined the term ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ in his work entitled Simply John Wesley. This concept has since become a Methodist distinctive.
The ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ is a methodology that is used to help Methodists evaluate new teaching that informs the Christian faith. John Wesley was so interested in what God was doing in and around him that he formulated a system by which he could guard the faith as well as learn from what God was doing anew.
The ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ has four components. They are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Scripture, the primary source for all Christian doctrine, is followed by Tradition, which gives a wide range of resources to study by looking at church history.
As a learned man and critical thinker, Wesley was mindful in exercising careful Reasoning to understand and teach any doctrine of faith. And finally, he acknowledged the role of Christian Experience which is the assurance of one’s sins forgiven.
The Quadrilateral is not a distinct doctrine but a method for theological reflection that shapes our doctrine. This is surely one of the strengths of the Methodist people who are able to guard their faith in the midst of waves of popular teachings.
We will more readily allow these teachings to inform our faith and doctrine when they have been verified through the study of Scripture, Tradition, Reasoning, and the Christian Experience.
Perhaps the Quadrilateral is just the tool to help us to be better-informed Methodists as we face challenges to our faith today and beyond.
The Rev James Nagulan –
was elected President of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) in 2016 for the quadrennium. He is also Pastor-in-Charge of Tamil Methodist Church (Short Street) and Seletar Tamil Methodist Church.