Reading 10.3

Conversion and Sanctification in the Christian & Missionary Alliance*

Gordon T. Smith

The conservative, evangelical tradition within Christianity has yet to develop a comprehensive spiritual theology that effectively delineates the nature of Christian experience. Richard Lovelace broke new ground with his Dynamics of Spiritual Life (IVP, 1979). But this did not elicit the anticipated development of an Evangelical theology of the spiritual life.

This problem is particularly evident within the Christian & Missionary Alliance. The question of sanctification, and thus of spiritual experience in general, is a vital one within this denomination. But this theme, critical to the identity and character of the denomination, has not been adequately addressed by biblical exegetes, theologians and historians within the tradition. If anything, we tend to shy away from the subject. The standing impression one gets is that we want to avoid controversy or schism, or that we want to avoid alienating the denominational hierarchy. Sam Stoesz has made a notable contribution in his recent book, Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive (CPI, 1992). There have been other contributions as well, including Gerald E. McGraw's "The Doctrine of Sanctification in the Published Writings of Albert Benjamin Simpson" (unpublished doctoral thesis, New York University, 1986).

Yet, these are but a good beginning. What is still needed is a theology of the Christian experience from an Alliance perspective that can serve as a reference point for discussion, preaching, and spiritual formation. I also wonder if the development of a viable formulation of the spiritual life within the C&MA could provide a basis for a significant contribution by Alliance theologians to the spiritual theology of Evangelicalism. It seems to me that the time is ripe for some measure of a resolution between three distinct streams within the history of Christian spirituality: the Wesleyan-Holiness-Pentecostal, the Mystical-Catholic stream, and the Reformed.

But, more to the point, it is vital that within the C&MA a concerted effort be made to develop a theology of the Christian life because this is so central to our heritage and identity. Confusion about this component in our heritage seriously undermines our strength as a viable tradition within Christendom. If we are ambivalent about our understanding of sanctification, we will consistently find that we are unsure of our theological identity. Uncertainty on this question is as threatening to our identity as ambiguity on the sovereignty of God would be to the Dutch Reformed, questions on the authority of the church to the Roman Catholic, and uncertainty on adult, believer's baptism to a Baptist. To put it more directly, we cannot claim to be Alliance if we cannot develop a theology of the spiritual life that reflects two realities: a) continuity with our theological heritage; and, b) exegetical and theological integrity.

And that is our tension. We tend to have two kinds of people within the C&MA--the hagiographers and the iconoclasts. The iconoclasts see little if any good in the heritage of the C&MA when it comes to theology. Simpson and his contemporaries are viewed as incompetent in both biblical exegesis and in theological method, and thus as having little to contribute to a modern discussion. They are even, perhaps, a bit embarrassed by our founders. The unstated assumption is that the sooner we can move on and distance ourselves from Simpson, the better.

The hagiographers, on the other hand, feel the need to refer to the founder of the denomination as Dr. Simpson, which is the Alliance equivalent of saying Saint Simpson. In this perspective, Simpson did no wrong, especially when it comes to exegesis and theology. These folk would seem to have us defend every aspect and perspective that Simpson brought to the question of sanctification.

We need an approach to this discussion that affirms tradition along with the authority of Scripture. We need to affirm the strength and vitality of our theological and spiritual heritage, and the power and significance of Simpson's insights, while also acknowledging that Simpson was neither a good exegete nor a good theologian. He was a preacher, prophet, and leader. We can affirm his strengths, and recognize that he was a product of his age. He was a giant in the religious movements of the late 19th century. But he also had some glaring weaknesses, notably those that we find so difficult to accept: weak biblical exegesis and poor theological method.

Yet, it is possible to develop a theology of sanctification and of Christian experience in general, that reflects careful attention to Scripture while also affirming the insights of the heritage. This contemporary perspective on sanctification, then, will reflect the strengths, wisdom and insights of the denominational founders. We stand on the shoulders of giants. But it would also seek to formulate our theology with attention to biblical exegesis and theological method. Our contemporary statement will be with different language and probably a new paradigm by which we capture the biblical message and the insights of our heritage.

I. Conversion Reconsidered

There are different ways in which one could approach the doctrine of sanctification within a particular theological tradition. One could review the history of its development within the denomination, and suggest a contemporary expression of the doctrine. Or, one could compare the writings of the denominational founders to the insights gleaned from the exegesis of pertinent biblical texts. Or one could make a comparative study of the doctrine of sanctification with the C&MA and other traditions.

The approach taken here will include, in some respect, each of the above perspectives. However, the principal means by which the subject will be broached will be through a discussion of the meaning and experience of conversion. My interpretation of Simpson and the contemporary formulation of sanctification is based on a specific understanding of conversion.

There is not space or time here to develop fully the perspective on conversion that I hold as I approach this subject. To summarize this perspective briefly, the basic premise is that conversion must be viewed as a series of events in the life of a new believer. Conversion, so usually thought of as a single, dramatic event, is more accurately perceived of as a number of distinct occasions, distinct, but ultimately inseparable when it comes to appropriating all that it means to be a new Christian.

This understanding of conversion recognizes that the initiation into Christian faith is portrayed differently in the Synoptic Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul's epistles and the Gospel of John. When these four diverse perspectives are correlated, a case can be made that conversion represents seven distinct events:

  1. belief, the intellectual component;
  2. repentance, the penitential component;
  3. trust, the component of emotional dependency;
  4. water baptism, the sacramental component;
  5. surrender to the will of God and consecration in response to God's call, the volitional component;
  6. the reception of the gift of the Spirit, the charismatic component; and,
  7. incorporation into congregational life, the corporate component.

Others will certainly summarize the biblical notion of conversion differently. Some may well prefer to merge belief and trust, and identify this component as faith. But the basic premise remains the same: the New Testament notion of conversion is best portrayed as a series of distinct events in the life of the believer. And, what is noteworthy for our purposes here, these events are not necessarily experienced in a single, dramatic event in the life of a new believer.

In the context of a discussion of the Alliance doctrine of sanctification, what must be wrestled with more thoroughly, though, is the sixth component, the reception of the gift of the Spirit. I cannot but conclude that when the New Testament is considered, as a document read and heard, in isolation from the experience of the church, we can only come to the following conclusion: the gift of the Holy Spirit is received at conversion.

Those who come to Christ receive his Spirit. The promise of the Spirit is essential to the meaning of conversion. It is not an extra, over and beyond conversion. Rather, the gift of the Spirit was at the heart of the promise of the prophets regarding the redeeming ministry of the Messiah. He would baptize his people with his Spirit. How then can we speak of the salvation procured by the Messiah if it does not include this dimension? It is inherent to what it means to be a follower of Jesus, one who has been graced by his salvation. The promise of the Spirit was an essential component of the new covenant. The promise given to Abraham for the Gentiles included the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14). John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. Thus, the experience of the Spirit is a vital part of entering the kingdom of God. It is not in addition to conversion or incidental to the initiation into Christian faith.

Virtually all New Testament authors refer to the gift of the Spirit in some form or another. There are different expressions used to refer to the same reality. John speaks of rebirth by the Spirit. Luke in his Gospel and in the Acts refers to Spirit-baptism. In the Pauline letters the most common expression is the "filling of the Spirit." It is most likely that these expressions are diverse ways of describing the same reality, namely, the reception of the gift of the Spirit, however conceived. In John 20:22 Jesus exhorts his disciples to "receive the Spirit." Paul has one, and only one, occasion when he speaks of the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13); his general use is "filling by" or "walking in the Spirit." The Spirit, for Paul is someone to whom we are subject, rather than to the flesh, and someone who infills us, as the Spirit of Christ. Thus for Paul, submission and infilling go together. Indeed, submission to the will of God is the prerequisite for the infilling of the Spirit.

Luke does not use "baptism in the Spirit" language exclusively. In comparing Acts 1:5 and 2:4 we see that "baptism" and "filling" are both used and used synonymously, so that the expression "filling of the Spirit" can refer to an initial crisis of receiving the gift of the Spirit, as well as to a process, as we find it in Ephesians 5:18.

James Dunn (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Westminster, 1970), has effectively shown that the book of Acts, the only section of the New Testament that could conceivably support a distinction between conversion and Spirit-baptism, actually affirms that the gift of the Spirit is an essential dimension of conversion. He argues that Acts 2:37ff serves as a kind of paradigm of the nature and meaning of conversion. He writes: "Luke probably intends Acts 2:38 to establish a pattern and norm for Christian conversion-initiation in his presentation of Christianity's beginnings"(p. 90). The verse reads:

Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

To the degree that text does provide us with a norm or pattern, we can conclude the following regarding the nature of the conversion experience. Conversion includes belief in response to truth (they heard a sermon from Peter), repentance, water baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and, if we are prepared to recognize the significance of their next actions, as described in Acts 2:42, incorporation into a Christian community that is characterized by teaching, worship and fellowship.

The rest of the book of Acts is a history of the proclamation of the Gospel and the reception, by various communities, of the Gospel. It includes the preaching of the apostles as well as descriptions of the experience of the early Christians, as they discovered and appropriated their new faith. What we find, is that though the ideal may be Acts 2:38, the actual experience was not necessarily so neat. Cornelius was baptized after he received the gift of the Spirit. In his case the experience of the Spirit did not come automatically with belief, repentance, and water baptism, as is implied in 2:38. But this does not mean that the Spirit is not a gift that is an essential component of Christian conversion. At most, it implies that the reception of the Spirit may be potentially distinct from the acts of belief and repentance (distinct, though inseparable).

All of this means that we cannot support, from Scripture, the basic Wesleyan-Holiness paradigm of conversion and sanctification. To respond to the exegetical evidence by saying that the Spirit is with us, but not in us, at conversion, is merely to play language games. The New Testament itself makes no such distinction.

Romans 6, 7 and 8 are often used in support of the notion that the Spirit is received and known in an experience subsequent to conversion. The argument is that Romans 6 describes conversion, Romans 7 the struggle of the unsanctified believer, and Romans 8 the experience of the individual who is filled with the Spirit. But again, this apparent attempt at exegesis begs the question. The most obvious interpretation of these chapters is that the experience of Paul in Romans 7 is the experience of fallen humanity that longs for the consummation of the kingdom. Our actual experience is a continual tension between Romans 7 and 8.

II. The Experience and Doctrine of A.B. Simpson

A. The Question of Theological Method

As noted ealier, then, exegesis alone cannot be the basis for distinguishing the gift and experience of the Spirit from Christian conversion. But exegesis is not the end of the matter. Invariably, our theological formulation, and our experience, are informed by a spiritual tradition and a theological heritage.

The experience of the church shapes and informs the theology of the church. Whereas Scripture always must remain as the primary source of our theological formulation, experience (along with tradition and reason) will also have a formative influence in the beliefs, doctrines and teachings of the church. Biography informs our theology. Paul's conversion experience has shaped, in a canonical sense, the life and doctrine of the church. Invariably, the experience of the founders of theological movements has shaped the character and convictions of those who are part of those movements. Rather than bemoaning this fact, we can actually celebrate it and learn from it.

The purpose of theology is to edify the church. But more, theology also has the task of interpreting the experience of the church in the light of divine revelation. What we then discover, is that the theological task includes helping the Christian community make sense of experience while also recognizing that our experience of the Spirit will invariably influence the perspective we bring to divine revelation in Holy Scripture, while Scripture remains primary in the development of our theology.

This leads me to a subsidiary premise: the experience of Simpson was a primary factor in the formulation of Simpson's doctrine. We can say this without apology. Indeed, I will conclude that in the end critical aspects of Simpson's theology were determined not by exegesis but through his own experience. Only in recognizing this can we eventually come to a resolution of the tension many of us feel between the weaknesses in theological and exegetical method in Simpson, and his own experience, and the influence of both in the doctrine of the C&MA.

B. Simpson's Experience

A.B.Simpson was raised a Presbyterian, and though his mature theology cannot be termed "Reformed," we can conclude that in his theology he maintained a Reformed doctrine of sin, justification by faith, holding to the priority and sovereignty of grace in the lives of Christian believers. He acknowledged his faith in Christ as a young man (15 years of age) and eventually entered in public ministry as a Presbyterian pastor.

But, Simpson had a growing discontent with the level or depth of his spiritual experience that was made more acute when reading William E. Boardman's, The Higher Christian Life (1858 edition). Simpson, through this book, was impressed by two things: 1) that there is the potential, as a Christian believer, for a level and depth of spiritual vitality and inner strength far beyond what he was currently experiencing; and 2) that this more profound experience was found in no one other that Jesus Christ himself. And Simpson decided that he would be content with nothing but an experience of Christ comparable to what he had read of in Boardman.

At the same time, there was throughout North America, and to some degree in Britain as well, a variety of movements, under different designations, that were emphasizing in some form or another a similar message. Broadly speaking, these could be termed "holiness movements" in that despite some critical differences, all affirmed the possibility of an experience of grace and divine holiness in the life of the believer that was described as deeper or higher than normal Christian experience.

The conviction of this movement was that this more profound level of experience could be justified from Holy Scripture. Many, for example, believed Pentecost indicated that there are two phases of salvation--Calvary being the first. Some spoke of the experience of the Spirit as a baptism for each individual who would move into a greater depth of spiritual vitality. Others, especially those from a Wesleyan tradition, spoke of perfection as this deeper experience of grace and emphasized the possibility of being freed from sin for a perfect love.

Boardman's book was the primary influence in Simpson's life at this point. The holiness movement (particularly D.L.Moody) challenged and encouraged Simpson. Sometime between 1872 and 1875 Simpson had a dramatic and life-changing experience of divine grace that was for him a turning point in his experience with Christ. He was empowered for ministry and strengthened, in a marked way, in his desire to turn from sin and live in righteousness. This came about 15 years after his first experience of Christ as a young man.

Then there is also a third critical experience in the life of Simpson. In 1881, he experienced a complete emotional and physical breakdown. He heard teaching that led him to believe that he could be healed and he had a unique, miraculous healing which he recognized as the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, this third experience was also for him the occasion when he saw more than at any other time that the grace of God called him to a complete emotional dependency upon Christ as a moment by moment reality in his daily experience. This event was for Simpson the culmination of his spiritual journey because there was a critical and deliberate transfer of trust in himself to trust in Christ that came with a recognition of the all-sufficiency of Christ. He describes this experience and realization in his famous sermon "Himself." This experience seems to have been the most significant as far as the formulation of his own theological convictions. But, it very much was the culmination of the motivations and insights he had received through the reading of Boardman's book.

B. Simpson's Doctrine

Simpson adopted a basic Wesleyan-holiness paradigm to explain the nature and goal of Christian experience. Though his own pilgrimage was marked, if anything, by three distinctive moments, he was deeply immersed in the broader holiness movement of the late nineteenth century, and adopted in his teaching the notion of conversion followed by a crisis of the Spirit.

He differed in some notable ways from the teachings of his contemporaries: he rejected the perfectionism of the Wesleyan-methodists; he did not accept the suppressionism of the Keswick movement. And it is probably an overstatement to call him a pre-Pentecostal. He was none of these, but he was definitely part of the broader movement that accepted, adopted and encouraged a two-step approach to Christian sanctification, referred to as either the "second blessing" or the "baptism of the Spirit", but, by whatever term, as enabling the Christian believer to experience the "deeper life".

Simpson's doctrine would include the following notable features. First, sanctification is not optional, but essential; election is for sanctification. Simpson would even say that the experience of sanctification is inherent in salvation. He spoke of salvation as conversion plus the baptism of the Spirit, and on more than one occasion raised doubts about the genuineness of the spirituality experience of the unsanctified.

Secondly, Simpson stressed the centrality of Christ--that sanctification is nothing more than the indwelling Christ, made possible by the Spirit, whereby we are enabled to live in holiness and serve Christ effectively. Sanctification is not, then, merely the imitation of Christ; it is a state of dynamic union with Christ wherein the life of Christ empowers the believer.

There is a tension within the theology of the Christian life between an affirmation of the life in Christ that denies self-centredness, and the life in Christ that is a negation of self-identity, which is a denial of the true self. Simpson would, it seems, stress the former, but he often does not nuance his comments as carefully as one would like.

Thirdly, sanctification is both a crisis and a process. It is a crisis in that we appropriate sanctification by faith as a distinct and separate act from our justification. Both justification and sanctification are experienced in Christ, are each appropriated by faith and though distinct, are inseparable. This crisis of sanctification was normally referred to as the baptism of the Spirit. In this, he seems to have adopted the language of D.L.Moody.

Fourthly, the root of sin is self-centredness; the primary need of our lives is surrender to Christ and consecration for his service. Thus, sanctification is for Simpson a crisis of the will, not of the emotions. It is, fundamentally, not a matter of passively waiting for the Spirit. Rather, it is a gift that is known and experienced by an act of the will through faith. Obedience does not earn or even serve as a means of our sanctification. But, it is a necessary precondition and act by which we co-operate with the grace of God.

Fifthly, the fruit of the sanctifying grace of God is two fold: the believer is enabled to be holy, and empowered for Christian service. There is a direct relationship between sanctification and Christian mission in the writings of Simpson.

Simpson had a more Augustinian/Reformed doctrine of sin that distinguished him from the Wesleyans. But, he was more Wesleyan in his notion of grace, and this distinguished him from the Keswick movement. He was more life affirming and more Christ-centred than Keswick preachers.

III. A Contemporary Formulation of the Sanctification in       the C&MA

A. B. Simpson was not a biblical exegete; neither was he a theologian. He was a preacher and prophet who adopted the accepted means of interpreting Scripture and formulating faith of his generation. A century later we rightly protest that in terms of biblical exegesis and theological method, Simpson's work is not acceptable. We fail The Christian & Missionary Alliance when we do not acknowledge the limitations of the founder.

But can we not affirm that Simpson had a vision of the Christian life that was biblical, that was pertinent to his era and which enabled him to effectively serve his generation? And can we not ask how this same vision can be affirmed in our generation while at the same time seeking to exegete Scripture and develop, with integrity, a theological understanding of the Christian life?

We can, but we must recognize the power and significance of our spiritual heritage and theological tradition. What follows is based on the premise that God does speak through tradition and inform our theological formulations by the experience of others. Further, it will mean that we will not quickly reject Simpson's doctrine simply because his exegesis was faulty. This, by definition, means that we will not need to adopt the language and even the basic paradigms of Simpson's doctrine. His language was based, in part, on his exegesis. Further, his language and the structure of conversion-sanctification arose in a unique period in the history of the church. It could well be that the language of sanctification and the basic paradigm he adopted are not appropriate today.

Recognizing, this, I would suggest that we would do well to incorporate four fundamental features into a contemporary doctrine of sanctification within the C&MA.

1. The Gift of the Spirit, Received by Faith

Central to the Alliance doctrine of sanctification is the affirmation that Christ is known and experienced in full through a definitive act wherein the believer, by faith, receives the gift of the Spirit.

I have argued that the gift of the Spirit is an essential dimension of Christian conversion. There is no exegetical basis for a two-step paradigm to Christian sanctification. We cannot justify, on purely exegetical grounds, separating conversion from the filling or baptism of the Spirit.

A. B. Simpson is typical of other writers of the late nineteenth century in building his case for this second crisis of sanctification on texts such as Acts 19, where we have an example of Christians who were baptized with water, but had not experienced the baptism of the Spirit. He uses this example to show that the one does not automatically lead to the other, that it is possible to have one without the other. Simpson concludes that they are distinct and must each be appropriated as separate acts of faith.

In one respect, I agree with Simpson. They are different and each needs to be appropriated by faith. But, the question that must be raised is whether the act of receiving the gift of the Spirit is a subsequent crisis following conversion or an inherent dimension of conversion.

We can affirm the reception of the gift of the Spirit as a distinct moment, wherein the believer acknowledges and receives the gift. But this event is inherent in what it means to become a Christian believer; it is not something that represents a second stage or blessing or step in our experience. It may come as a second step, but it is not, inherently, a second step.

I am convinced that Simpson himself, if he were still teaching and preaching, would be formulating his theology differently now than he did a century ago. My suspicion is that he would have moved on from the Wesleyan-holiness paradigm, which was appropriate in the late 19th century with the urgent need to bring renewal and revitalization to a dead church. There are two seeds in the thought of Simpson that lead me to this conclusion.

  1. He had definitive reservations about the status of those who had been regenerated but not sanctified. He called them half-saved. He recognized that justification and sanctification, though distinct, are inseparable.
  2. Simpson agreed that if new believers were properly taught, they would have no significant amount of time between their conversion and the reception of the gift of the Spirit.

Ideally, he believed, these would be part of the same, single event in the life of the believer. His only insistence was that the gift of the Spirit was received as a separate and distinct act of faith. Of interest is his comment that it was quite acceptable if the two were received in the same prayer(!), just so that there were two distinct acts of faith receiving both regeneration and sanctification. In commenting on the place of water baptism in the initiation into Christian faith, Simpson wrote:

In the divine plan, santification is closely connected with justification, and assumed as immediately following it. The fact is, that in the Christian life of many persons, it comes at a later period. But this is not God's intention, and this assumes that sanctification is to accompany, or immediately follow, the first action of faith . . . . In [Romans 6, sanctification] is spoken of as something immediately connected with their baptism, and to which that act committed them.

(Simpson, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 137-8)

And, elsewhere:

We are willing, however, to concede that the baptism of the Holy Ghost may be received at the very same time a soul is converted. We have known a sinner to be converted, sanctified and saved all within a single hour, and yet each experience was different in its nature and was received in proper order by a definite faith for that particular blessing.

(Simpson, Living Truths, Dec. 1905; quoted by Stoesz, p. 63)

This then, led George Pardington to conclude the following:

Indeed, where there is right Scriptural teaching no interval of time need occur after conversion before the Holy Ghost is received. Unfortunately, however, this is seldom the case. Generally an interval of time--and often it is a long period--does occur . . . We cannot refrain from saying that we believe God never intended that there should be a barren waste of Christian experience between regeneration and sanctification, but that conversion should be immediately followed by a life of victory over sin and self in union with the indwelling Christ and through receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

(Pardington, Outline Studies, p. 163; quoted by Stoesz, p. 63).

In other words, Simpson himself did not insist on the two-step paradigm, a crisis "subsequent to conversion." Rather, we have hints that he would have been quite prepared to see the reception of the Spirit inherent in the act of coming to Christ, receiving Christ and consecration for the service of Christ. The Wesleyan-Holiness paradigm, then, is not in itself an essential component of the Alliance doctrine of sanctification. What is essential to the Alliance heritage is the fact that the gift of the Spirit is received as a distinct act of faith, distinct from belief and repentance.

If this formulation is valid, the implication would be two-fold:

  1. we would teach and preach that in coming to Christ we can and must receive the gift of the Spirit, a gift which is known by faith as we submit our lives to the lordship of Christ; and,
  2. we would, as part of our ministry to those who are coming to Christ, lead them through a simple act of consciously receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.

My suggestion is that all new believers, perhaps on the occasion of their baptism, should have hands laid on them, and a prayer offered on their behalf that they would know and receive the Spirit. This event would not of necessity be marked by an outward sign or evidence, emotional or otherwise. It would simply serve as an ongoing benchmark for the believer. They would be charged to walk in the Spirit, for by faith we believe as they do, that they have been granted the gift of the Spirit.

It would also mean that we would not require that a person have a distinctive "second crisis" or definitive moment before we are assured that they are filled with the Spirit. We do not require that a person have a definable moment when they were justified or knew that their sins were forgiven before we acknowledge that someone is our brother or sister in the faith. Our heritage only affirms that there is value in affirming the role and ministry of the Spirit and receiving the Spirit through a specific and intentional act of faith. What counts is not past events or crises, but the current experience of the Christian. If a Christian doubts that they have been forgiven, then we lead them to an assurance that their sins have been forgiven. I am only suggesting that if a believer doubts that they are filled with the Spirit, then we lead them to a conscious appropriation of the gift of the Spirit.

2. Affirming the Call to Walk in the Spirit (not the Flesh).

Within the C&MA, we can confidently affirm an interpretation of Romans 6, 7 and 8 that recognizes that the basic reference point for sanctification is, for the Apostle, the act of baptism, as per chapter 6. Those who are baptized are those who have made the definitive choice to live as slaves of righteousness.

Chapter 7 affirms that in our spiritual walk we will not be sinless. We will, for the whole of our lives, live in the flesh and live as men and women who continually face the darkness in our own souls. Our experience, as maturing believers, will be characterized by Romans 7 as much as Romans 8. But, we mature in our faith as we consciously choose to walk in the Spirit, thus enabling the Spirit to bear his fruit in our lives. There is no inner tension between an old man and a new man. The challenge of Christian experience is one of either submitting to the flesh or submitting to the Spirit.

True spirituality, then, has both a passive and active dimension. It is not "letting go and letting God." The spirituality of the C&MA cannot be termed "quietist". We are not true to our heritage when we downplay the significance of our actions in the world, or speak of the grace of God as merely needing us to "allow God to work through us." We are not "channels only." Yes, it is passive, in that we acknowledge and gratefully receive a gift from God. Further, it is passive in that we affirm that the transformation of our lives happens by grace in the timing of God. But, there is also an active dimension that includes the following aspects:

  1. Our work in the world is significant and meaningful; in the service of Christ, we are not negated through the inward ministry of Christ in our lives. Rather, in the fullness of the Spirit, we are, to use words borrowed from Simpson, granted wisdom, motivation, encouragement and inner strength to effectively serve. But, it is we who serve. Our agency is profoundly significant.
  2. Sanctification is a consecration of our lives and service for God and His kingdom. In this sense, sanctification is profoundly linked with service and activity in the world. We are, in some sense at least, sanctified for service. The Spirit enables us to grow in sanctifying grace; the Spirit empowers us for ministry. These divine acts are distinct but inseparable.
  3. Sanctification is a process of continual surrender to the Word and will of God. Our lives are transformed insofar as we are filled with the Spirit and the Spirit bears fruit in our lives. But, this happens as we submit the to the Word and surrender our lives to the will of God. Consecration and transformation are invariably linked. Thus the call to walk in the Spirit. In no respect is the reception of the gift of the Spirit a substitute for walking in the Spirit.

In these respects, the C&MA is distinct from the Keswick movement. The Alliance heritage is more life and work affirming. Our actions in the world do make a difference and are meaningful. Further, Alliance theology emphasizes more fully the positive presence of Christ in our lives rather than viewing the ministry of the Spirit in negative terms as subduing the flesh. Further, spirituality is an active choice of surrender to the word and will of God; this dimension is at the heart of Simpson's notion of sanctification.

3. A Christocentric Spirituality

Simpson and his successors could almost be accused of being Christomonic. The zeal with which Simpson's biblical expositions could find Christ in every book and virtually every chapter of the Bible, and his hymnology which without hesitancy affirms that "Jesus Only is our Message" reflects this commitment. Alliance spirituality unequivocally affirms that Christ is sufficient for Christian faith and life. There is no sense in our notion of sanctification that having received Christ, we now need more, perhaps an experience of the Spirit. All we need is found in Christ.

Further, Christ is only known and experienced by the Spirit. We reject any kind of a polarization between Calvary and Pentecost. Christ can only be known by the Spirit; the Spirit glorifies Christ in our lives.

The Christian & Missionary Alliance is often viewed as having two distinctives: the deeper life and missions. But it is more accurate to affirm that the C&MA is radically Christ-centred, and the denomination is a tradition that understands Christ as one who by His Spirit enables us to know His life and empowers us to be His servants.

4. The Priority of Sanctification

Simpson accurately affirms the biblical notion that though justification and sanctification are distinct, they are inseparable. We cannot be sanctified without justification; but, justification of necessity must be followed by sanctification. We are justified that we might be sanctified. Sanctification is not a unique privilege for a few; it is the very purpose of our salvation.

As such, Simpson, while maintaining an Augustinian notion of sin, essentially affirmed a Wesleyan optimism when it came to the possibilities of grace. With the entire holiness movement (broadly conceived), he affirmed that in this life we have the potential to become mature in our faith--not only seeking joy, but experiencing joy as the fundamental emotional centre of our lives; not only seeking righteousness, but knowing freedom from sin and the enabling of God to love neighbour as self; not only longing for courage and inner strength, but actually knowing a freedom from fear and spiritual ineptitude; not only working for God, but actually bearing fruit for the kingdom.

But, this affirmation of the possibility of spiritual maturity while dependent on the gift of the Spirit was, for Simpson, complemented by a process of spiritual growth. We could not grow in grace without the gift of the Spirit. But the gift itself does not make us mature. It rather frees us and enables us to grow in faith. The process needed the crisis, but the crisis of necessity must be followed by the process. As such, it is eminently appropriate for us within The Christian and Missionary Alliance to affirm the need for spiritual discipline, programs of spiritual formation, and the crucial place of the means of grace for spiritual vitality.

In this respect, also, there is a distinction from the Keswick movement and contemporary revivalism. Keswick writers would seem to imply that if there is spiritual immaturity, the solution is one of surrender and consecration. The Keswick movement comes dangerously close to affirming that we are sanctified by a decision of our will. If we are spiritually weak, then the solution is simple: surrender and consecration. This is a similar emphasis to that found in North American revivalism where we find the continued use of "altar calls" as the means by which people might know God's grace--as though the altar call itself, as a forum for the act of the will in surrender, will somehow sanctify and liberate.

While surrender is imperative, it is only part of the picture. Surrender must be complemented by discipline; consecration is good only insofar as it is followed by an active response to the means of grace.

Simpson's emphasis on the process, as equally critical as the crisis, is a strong indication within our own heritage that while the crisis may be important, the focus of our energies is not the altar calls and the acts of surrender, but rather the slow, incremental, disciplined growth wherein the individual is enabled to know the grace of God, respond to the prompting of the Spirit and be transformed by the Word of Christ.

But Simpson, for all his optimism, never accepted the perfectionism of the Wesleyans. His Wesleyan optimism regarding the possibilities of grace was always complemented by his recognition of the power of sin and the flesh. We are sinners and our lives are not transformed in a moment. Rather, it is through the gift of the Spirit that we are enabled to know the grace of God that transforms. This is followed by a process of growth and maturity. But, in this life we will never know a total freedom from sin; that freedom awaits consummation of the kingdom.


Any study of A. B. Simpson's doctrine of sanctification is selective. He was not a systematic theologian; he was not consistent in his use of terminology and there were developments in his thought that led him in later years to abandon positions he held earlier. This has been but one attempt to affirm the heritage we have within the C&MA but also I do so as one who recognizes the primacy of Scripture in theological formulation. But it is selective, and no doubt another's interpretation of Simpson will come to different conclusions. But, this study has sought to address several critical tensions in the development of a contemporary theology of sanctification within the C&MA:

  1. the tension between Scripture and tradition;
  2. the tension between crisis and process in sanctification;
  3. a tension between an Augustinian notion of sin and the more optimistic, Wesleyan view of grace that is at least implied in Simpson's writings.

* © Gordon T. Smith 1992. Please do not photocopy without permission.