The Celebrated Church of Thessalonica
Joseph D. McPherson
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted July 4, 2013
The New Testament church of Thessalonica as described by the Apostle Paul was a most unusual and illustrious body of believers. Adam Clarke summarizes the apostle's description:
That the church at Thessalonica was pure, upright, and faithful, as we scarcely find any reprehension in the whole epistle: the Thessalonian converts had FAITH that worked, a LOVE that labored, and a HOPE which induced them to bear afflictions patiently and wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to Clarke, the apostle Paul acknowledges the miraculous influences of the Holy Ghost (1:5) upon the hearts of these Thessalonian believers, "in changing and renewing them; and by the testimony which [they had] received from him, that [they] were accepted through the Beloved, and become the adopted children of God." This same "Holy Spirit which was given [them] left no doubt on [their] minds, either with respect to the general truth of the doctrine, or the safety of [their] own state. [They] had the fullest assurance that the Gospel was true, and the fullest assurance that [they] had received the remission of sins through that Gospel; the Spirit himself bearing witness with [their] spirit, that [they were] the sons and daughters of God Almighty." No, these Thessalonian believers were not entirely sanctified, for we find Paul praying in chapter five, verse twenty-three that "the very God of peace sanctify [them] wholly" [Clarke's Commentary, Introduction to the Thessalonian Epistle].
Here we find the New Testament model for truly regenerated believers. Paul extols them as "ensamples," explained by Clarke as "types, models, or patterns; according to which all the Churches in Macedonia and Achaia formed both their creed and their conduct." The fame of the Thessalonians' faith and adherence to the Gospel spread far and wide.
What a wide difference we find between the glorious description of this New Testament church and the state of Christ's disciples while He was yet with them prior to His ascension. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus once asked, "How is it that ye have not faith?" (Mark 4:40). With selfish motives two of His disciples asked Jesus on another occasion: "Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory" (Mark 10:37). With a spirit of intolerance these disciples once spoke to Jesus saying, "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us" (Luke 9:49). With a spirit of revenge, they even asked Jesus that they be permitted to call fire down from heaven in His name and consume the Samaritan villagers who refused to show them hospitality (Luke 9:54).
According to Mr. Wesley,
The faith through which we are saved [in this Holy Ghost dispensation]... is not barely that which the Apostles themselves had while Christ was yet upon earth; though they so believed on him as to "leave all and follow him;" although they had then power to work miracles, to "heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease;" yea, they had then "power and authority over all devils;" and, which is beyond all this, were sent by their Master to "preach the kingdom of God."
And, herein does [our saving faith] differ from that faith which the Apostles themselves had while our Lord was on earth, that it acknowledges the necessity and merit of his death, and the power of his resurrection. It acknowledges his death as the only sufficient means of redeeming man from death eternal, and his resurrection as the restoration of us all to life and immortality; inasmuch as he 'was delivered for our sins, and rose again for our justification.' Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our 'wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption,' or, in one word, our salvation [Wesley's Works, 5:9].
Were the Apostles saved before Pentecost? Yes, they surely were, but saved according to their inferior dispensation. The church in Thessalonica and those saved on and immediately after Pentecost are proper models of regenerated believers in this Holy Ghost dispensation.
Referring to the superior blessings of this Holy Ghost dispensation, John Fletcher reminds us of a few promises: "All shall know me from the least to the greatest: they shall be taught of God; for I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and my servants and my handmaids shall prophecy, i.e., speak the wonderful works of God." Accordingly, says he, "This blessing, which under the Jewish dispensation was the prerogative of prophets and prophetesses only, is [now] common to all true Christians. The four evangelists and St. Peter, our Lord and his forerunner, agree to name it 'the baptism of the Holy Ghost.' St. Peter calls it 'the Spirit of promise,' Christ terms it also 'power from on high, and the promise of the Father'" [Works of Fletcher, 2:49].
Although the Thessalonian believers had not as yet experienced the advanced state of entire sanctification, they were nevertheless, basking in God given faith, assurance, divine love and "joy of the Holy Ghost" (1:3-6). Such is the biblical and most desired standard for regenerated believers of this day and dispensation.
Editorial Note: For over twenty years Joe McPherson has contributed articles to a denominational magazine which claims to be Wesleyan Methodist. The previous article was the third one rejected by its editor because he did not find it to be scriptural, although he conceded it was Wesleyan. As you re-read the article, I believe you will find it to be both scriptural and true to Wesleyan teaching. For it to be rejected by a leader who is supposed to know and uphold Wesleyan doctrine illustrates why so much confusion exists today within the "holiness" movement.