1. Under this term is understood the doctrine acc. to which freedom from sin is possible in this life. That such perfection is attainable was claimed by Franciscans, Jesuits, and Molinists, largely on basis of distinguishing bet. mortal and venial sin; Dominicans and Jansenists denied the claim.
2. Perfectionism was denied by M. Luther* and J. Calvin.* But Christian perfection of sanctification is part of Meth. doctrine. J. Wesley* based his view mainly on commandments and promises of Scripture concerning sanctification, but said he held neither an angelic nor an Adamic perfection but one which does not exclude ignorance and error of judgment, with consequent wrong affections; i. e., not perfection acc. to the absolute Moral Law, but acc. to the special remedial economy introd. by the atonement,* in which the sanctified heart fulfills the Law by love; its involuntary imperfections are provided for, by that economy, without the imputation of guilt, as in the case of infancy and irresponsible persons.
3. Wesley was influenced by Jeremy Taylor,* Thomas* à Kempis, and W. Law.* Perfectionism is found also in other writers, RC and Prot. The Soc. of Friends* holds a perfectionism that still admits of growth and leaves room for possible sin where the mind doth not most diligently and watchfully attend unto the Lord (The Confession of the Soc. of Friends, 1675, 8th Proposition).
4. Oberlin* theol. held that as virtue and sin belong only to voluntary action, and are contradictory in their nature, they cannot coexist in the soul; the soul is either wholly consecrated to Christ or has none of His Spirit; the 2 states may alternate: a man may be a Christian at one moment and a sinner the next, but he cannot be at any one moment a sinful or imperfect Christian.
5. A holiness movement developed in the US in the latter part of the 19th c. in reaction against the wave of immorality and spiritual indifference that followed the Civil War. See also Holiness Churches.
6. Perfectionism implies (a) that Jesus can keep from sin those who trust in Him; (b) that if one trusts Him completely he will be preserved from all deliberate sin; and (c) that unintentional wrong-doings will be regarded as error rather than sin. Some claim to have so lived in the presence of Christ as to have been unconscious of sin for weeks and months. But most who hold perfectionism admit more frequent failures. Opponents of perfectionism hold that it rests (a) on misinterpretation of the Bible regarding sanctification and justification; (b) on defective ethical standards; (c) on antinomianism (see Antinomian Controversy). Cf. Mt 26:41; 1 Ptr 5:8; 1 Jn 1:8.
See also Victorious Life.
W. E. Sangster, The Path to Perfection (New York, 1943); R. N. Flew, The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology (London, 1934); H. G. A. Lindström, Wesley and Sanctification (Stockholm, 1946); L. G. Cox, John Wesley's Concept of Perfection (Kansas City, Missouri, 1964).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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