“Think and let think.“
– John Wesley
The Bible has wonderful teachings but interpreting it remains a challenge! What parts should we take literally? What parts are symbolic or parable? What is historical documentation of stone age people’s perceptions and dawning realisation of who God is, who Jesus and Holy Spirit are? How can we know that the Bible is God’s word while acknowledging things that seem to contradict each other! John Wesley encouraged his followers to study the Bible in detail and at length, combining study with prayer to help figure out its meaning. He himself got up early every morning to study and pray. If he had a particularly busy day ahead, he got up an hour earlier to set himself up for the work. This study and thinking about beliefs energised him.
Similarly, we can learn a lot from the tradition of the Church, but we need to discern what is gold and what is clay. The Holy Spirit is our guide but if we seem to be led away from Jesus’ teaching, we need to check that we’re hearing right!
God gave us brains to be used. We don’t leave them at the door when we go to church! Christians do not always come up with the same conclusions but John Wesley believed that “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature….in these, we may think and let think…..agree to disagree……but meantime, let us hold fast the essentials!”
Wesley had many theological disputes with others, particularly his friend George Whitefield, but these did not break the connection he had with them. He deemed it reasonable to stick to your convictions and “agree to disagree” with your fellow man!
We believe the kind of mistakes we make due to lack of understanding or knowledge will not upset the God who gave us both our ability to understand and our opportunities to know the gospel.