At the 14th General Conference, delegates will consider a variety of important issues that contribute to the shared doctrine and practices of The Wesleyan Church. Among those issues will be a memorial titled, “Regarding the Gifts of the Spirit.” A suggested amendment to section 265:10 of “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church” the memorial specifically focuses on The Wesleyan Church’s (TWC) posture toward the miraculous use of languages.
The following question-and-answer format aims to offer insight into the language, nuances and implications of the “Gifts of the Spirit” memorial.
During 2016’s General Conference, proposals from the floor emerged, aiming to refresh TWC’s language around tongues and prayer languages. Recognizing the potential difficulty of a memorial being crafted on the floor of the conference, General Superintendent Emerita Dr. Jo Anne Lyon shared the possibility of creating a working group to write a memorial rooted in a longer process of Scriptural study and theological reflection.
What is the present language of “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2016” as it relates to the miraculous use of languages?
Section 265:10 states,
“To preserve the fellowship and witness of the Church with reference to the use of languages. The Wesleyan Church believes in the miraculous use of languages and the interpretation of languages in its biblical and historical setting. But it is contrary to the Word of God to teach that speaking in an unknown tongue or the gift of tongues is the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit or of that entire sanctification which the baptism accomplishes; therefore, only a language readily understood by the congregation is to be used in public worship. The Wesleyan Church believes that the use of an ecstatic prayer language has no clear scriptural sanction, or any pattern of established historical usage in the Church; therefore, the use of such a prayer language shall not be promoted among us.”
Who has been involved in building this memorial?
Chaired by Dr. Karl Eastlack, Northeast District superintendent, the working group consisted of theologians from around TWC, including each of our institutions of higher education: Dr. Bud Bence, Dr. Robert Black, Dr. Jonathan Case, Dr. Sarah Derck, Dr. Kenneth Gavel, Dr. Abson Joseph, Dr. Josh McNall, Dr. Ruth Anne Reese, Dr. Ken Schenck, Dr. Michael Tapper, Rev. Brittany Trafton, Dr. Jerome Van Kuiken and Dr. Mark Wilson. Seven voices representing the global Wesleyan Church more broadly were involved: Rev. Jose McKella, pastor and director of The Wesleyan Church of Panama; Rev. Dr. Alfred Kalembo, bishop, Pilgrim Wesleyan Church of Zambia; Rev. Thabisili Thwala, National Superintendent, The Wesleyan Church in Swaziland; Rev. Jarvis Ferguson, retired Global Partners area director, Iber-America; Rev. Thomas Hines, consultant for Hispanic ministries, Global Partners; Rev. Zach Coffin, director of NextGen ministries, The Wesleyan Church of North America; Rev. Dina Horne, Global Partners NEXT site developer, Vienna Austria. Two Wesleyan church pastors also participated: Rev. Moe Diggs, Healing Place, Waldorf, Maryland, and Rev. Jarod Osborne, Pathway Church, Warsaw, Indiana.
Contribution and biblical support were given from Dr. Stephen Elliott, National Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church of Canada, in addition to leadership from Dr. Wayne Schmidt, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church and Dr. H.C. Wilson, retired General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. District superintendents and General Board of Administration (GBA) members have also had opportunity to review and offer feedback around the proposed amendment.
What was the process of arriving at the proposed revision?
The committee underwent a thorough search; first, of Scriptural instances of the doctrine and practice of the miraculous use of tongues and languages, and then of Wesleyan Church theology, history and practice around this issue.
After evaluating the relevant texts, conversations and materials, the committee sought to clarify the factors that influenced the original writing of 265:10, understanding the background and history that led to the prior language (and all statements since).
The committee concluded historic factors influencing the original writing included cultural leanings in Christianity toward an excessive emphasis on this gift of the Spirit and the desire to preserve unity within The Wesleyan Church.
Dr. Eastlack states, “While there have often been excesses in any movement — including our own holiness movement — … we Wesleyans seem to have been able to marginalize the excesses without losing that which was authentic and biblical. … Part of the challenge and desire of this particular taskforce was to celebrate the good and invite the good — actually invite the way the Holy Spirit wants to work among us … and yet at the same time be able to handle the excesses.”
What opportunities does this revision create?
After thorough search, the committee found three motivating factors for change:
- The opportunity to more clearly align Wesleyan doctrine around the Scriptural injunction for prayer languages as edification.
- The opportunity to offer a lens of instruction and discipleship around our doctrine of miraculous languages.
- The opportunity to examine the cultural moment within which 265:10 was written and understand how concerns may have changed in our time.
What is the language of the proposed amendment?
“To promote love, the common good, and orderliness in Christ’s church with reference to the use of the spiritual gift of tongues. The Wesleyan Church believes in the gifts of the miraculous use of tongues and the interpretation of tongues. Speaking, praying or singing in tongues, whether done privately or publicly, is the divinely enabled ability some believers experience to communicate to God words of thanksgiving, praise, and adoration in a language not previously learned. While The Wesleyan Church recognizes that the gift of tongues is given to some believers, there is no single gift that is given to all as evidence of the Spirit’s infilling. The greatest expression of this work is a heart purified by the Holy Spirit and an empowered life of love and service to God and people.
If speaking in tongues occurs publicly in a church gathering, Scripture requires one person to speak at a time and an interpretation to be provided so all in attendance, especially unbelievers, may understand and be edified. Pastors and leaders are to exercise discretion in light of these instructions to ensure our gatherings bear the fruit of unity and order in a manner helpful and intelligible to those hearing the gospel.”
Memorials for the 14th General Conference of The Wesleyan Church will be publicly available at www.wesleyan.org/unleashed/memorials April 1, 2022.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.
 “The Wesleyan Church: The Discipline 2016,” Copyright © by Wesleyan Publishing House. USA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.