is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant
Christianity. The Methodist movement traces its origin to the
evangelistic teaching of John Wesley. It originated in 18th century
Britain, and through vigorous missionary activity, spread throughout
the world. Originally it appealed especially to workers, agricultural
workers, and slaves. Theologically Methodists are Arminian or some say
mildly Calvinist. They hold that Christ accomplished salvation for
everybody, and that everyone must actually have the will to be saved
(as opposed to the Calvinist doctrine of monergism). Methodist worship
has two strands: low church (Primitive Methodists) and the more
liturgical (Weslyan Methodists); the Wesleys themselves (John and his brother Charles) greatly valued
the Anglican liturgy and tradition - probably because they were
Anglican priests! There are also a number of Calvinistic Methodists in
Wales. In 2006 there were seventy-five million Methodists worldwide.
began in England began when a group, lead by John Wesley and his
younger brother Charles, formed a society within the Church of England
in Oxford in 1729. Focused on Bible study, and a methodical approach to
scriptures and Christian living. They ended up being called
"Methodist". They were accustomed to receiving communion every sunday
in their parish (Anglican) church, fasting regularly, and abstaining
from most forms of amusement and luxury. They also visited the sick,
the poor, and prisoners.
The early Methodists reacted against
perceived apathy in the Church of England, became open-air preachers
and established Methodist societies wherever they went. These societies
were made up of individual classes - intimate groups where individuals
were encouraged to confess their sins to one another and to build each
other up. They also took part in love feasts which allowed for the
sharing of testimony, a key feature of early Methodism.
preachers were notorious for their enthusiastic sermons and often
accused of fanaticism. In those days, many members of the established
(Anglican) church feared that new doctrines promulgated by the
Methodists, such as the necessity of a New Birth for salvation, of
Justification by Faith, and of the constant and sustained action of the
Holy Spirit upon the believer's soul, would produce ill effects upon
weak minds. Theophilus Evans, an early critic of the movement, even
wrote that it was "the natural Tendency of their Behaviour, in Voice
and Gesture and horrid Expressions, to make People mad." In one of his
prints, William Hogarth likewise attacked Methodists as "enthusiasts"
full of "Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism." But the Methodists
resisted the many attacks against their movement.
John Wesley came under the influence of the
Moravians and Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, while George Whitefield
adopted Calvinistic views. Consequently, their followers separated,
those of Whitefield becoming Calvinistic Methodists. Wesleyan
Methodists have followed Arminian theology.
Missions to America
the time of the late 1760s, two Methodist lay preachers emigrated to
America and formed societies. Philip Embury began the work in New York.
Soon, Captain Webb from the British Army aided him. He formed a society
in Philadelphia and itinerated along the coast. By 1770, two Methodist
missionaries arrived from the British Connexion. They were Richard
Boardman and Joseph Pilmoor. Francis Asbury arrived shortly after.
Asbury reorganized the mid-Atlantic work in accordance with the
Wesleyan model. Internal conflict followed. Missionaries displaced most
of the local preachers and irritated many of the leading lay members.
Due to the war of independance and a call from Wesley, all the
missionaries left the mid-Atlantic work. By 1778, the mid-Atlantic work
was reduced to one circuit. Asbury refused to leave. He remained in
Delaware during this period.
Robert Strawbridge began
Methodist work in Maryland at around the same time as Embury began his
work in New York. They did not work together and did not know of each
other's existence. Strawbridge ordained himself and organized a
circuit. He trained many very influential assistants who became some of
the first leaders of American Methodism. His work grew rapidly in
numbers and in geography. The British missionaries discovered
Strawbridge's work and annexed it into the American connection.
However, the native preachers continued to work side-by-side with the
missionaries. Plus, they continued to recruit and dispatch more native
preachers. Southern Methodism was not dependent on missionaries in the
same way as mid-Atlantic Methodism.
Up until this time, with the
exception of Strawbridge, none of the missionaries or American
preachers was ordained. Consequently, the Methodist people received the
sacraments at the hands of ministers from established Anglican
churches. Most of the Anglican priests were Loyalists who fled to
England, New York or Canada during the war. As such, a group of native
preachers ordained themselves. This caused a split between the Asbury
faction and the southern preachers. Asbury mediated the crisis by
convincing the southern preachers to wait for Wesley's response to the
sacramental crisis. That response came in 1784. At that time, Wesley
sent the Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke to America to form an independent
American Methodist church. The native circuit riders met in late
December. Coke had orders to ordain Asbury as a joint superintendent of
the new church. However, Asbury turned to the assembled conference and
said he would not accept it unless the preachers voted him into that
office. It was done. From that moment forward, the general
superintendents received their authority from the conference. Later,
Coke convinced the general conference that he and Asbury were bishops
and added the title to the discipline. It caused a great deal of
controversy. Wesley did not approve of the title.
By the 1792
general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the controversy
related to episcopal power boiled over. Ultimately, the delegates sided
with Bishop Asbury. However, Primitive Methodists and Republican
Methodists split off from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the early
1790s. Both operated in the Southeast and presaged the episcopal
debates of later reformers. Regardless, Asbury remained the leading
bishop of early American Methodism and did not share his "appointing"
authority until Bishop McKendree was elected in 1808. Coke had problems
with the American preachers. His authoritarian style alienated many.
Soon, he became a missionary bishop of sorts and never had much
influence in America.
Belief and Practices
Traditionally, Methodism has believed in
the Arminian view of free will, via God's prevenient grace, as opposed
to absolute predestination. This distinguishes it, historically, from
Calvinist traditions such as Presbyterianism. However, in strongly
Reformed areas such as Wales, Calvinistic Methodists remain, also
called the Presbyterian Church of Wales. Also, more recent theological
debates have cut across denominational lines, so that theologically
liberal Methodist and Reformed churches have more in common with each
other than with more conservative members of their own denominations.
Wesley was not a systematic theologian, though Methodist ministerial
students and trainee local preachers do study his sermons for his
theology. The popular expression of Methodist theology is in the hymns
of Charles Wesley. Since enthusiastic congregational singing was a part
of the Evangelical movement, Wesleyan theology took root and spread
through this channel.
Methodism affirms the traditional
Christian belief in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well
as the orthodox understanding of the con-substantial humanity and
divinity of Jesus. Most Methodists also affirm the Apostles Creed and
the Nicene Creed. In devotional terms, these confessions are said to
embrace the biblical witness to God's activity in creation, encompass
God's gracious self-involvement in the dramas of history, and
anticipate the consummation of God's reign.
within Methodism tends to follow the historical interpretations and
liturgies of Anglicanism. This stems from the origin of much Methodist
theology and practice within the teachings of John and Charles Wesley,
both of whom were priests of the Church of England. As affirmed by the
Articles of Religion, Methodists recognize two Sacraments as being
ordained of Christ: Baptism and Holy Communion. Methodism also affirms
that there are many other Means of Grace which often function in a
sacramental manner, but most Methodists do not recognize them as being
Methodists, based on John Wesley's
own practices of theological reflection, make use of Tradition as a
source of authority. Though not on the same level as Holy Scripture,
tradition is a lens through which Scripture is interpreted. Theological
discourse for Methodists almost always makes use of Scripture read
inside the great Tradition of Christendom.
It is a traditional
position of the church that any disciplined theological work calls for
the careful use of reason. By reason, it is said, one reads and
interprets Scripture. By reason one determines whether one's Christian
witness is clear. By reason one asks questions of faith and seeks to
understand God's action and will.
This church insists that
personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the
world. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of
God is always linked with love of neighbour, a passion for justice and
renewal in the life of the world.
In liturgical matters, whereas
most Methodist worship is modelled after the (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer, a
unique feature of the American Methodist Church is its observance of
the season of Kingdomtide, which encompasses the last 13 weeks before
Advent, thus dividing the long season after Pentecost into two discrete
segments. During Kingdomtide, Methodist liturgy emphasizes charitable
work and alleviating the suffering of the poor.
distinctive liturgical feature of Methodism is the use of Covenant
services. Although practice varies between different national churches,
most Methodist churches annually follow the call of John Wesley for a
renewal of their covenant with God. It is not unusual in Methodism for
each congregation to normally hold an annual Covenant Service on the
first convenient Sunday of the year, and Wesley's Covenant Prayer is
still used, with minor modification, in the order of service. In it,
Wesley avers man's total reliance upon God, as the following excerpt
...Christ has many services to be done. Some are
easy, others are difficult. Some bring honour, others bring reproach.
Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and temporal interests,
others are contrary to both... Yet the power to do all these things is
given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
...I am no longer my
own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put
me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid
aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full,
let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely
and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal...
British Methodism does not have bishops, though a
report, "What Sort of Bishops?", to the Conference of 2005, was
accepted for study and report. This report considered if this should
now be changed and if so what forms of episcopacy might be acceptable.
It has however always been characterised by a strong central
organization, the Connexion, which holds an annual Conference (note
that the Methodist Church retains the 18th century spelling "connexion" for many
purposes). The connexion is divided into Districts in the charge of a
Chair (who may be male or female), except the new London District,
created in September 2006, which has three chairs with a "Lead" chair.
Methodist districts often correspond approximately, in geographical
terms, to counties - as do the dioceses of the Church of England. The
districts are divided into circuits governed by the quarterly Circuit
Meeting and led and administrated principally by a "superintendent
minister", and ministers are appointed to these rather than to
individual churches (though some large inner-city churches, known as
Central Halls, are designated as circuits in themselves - Westminster
Central Hall, opposite Westminster Abbey in central London is the best
known). Most circuits have fewer ministers than churches, and the
majority of services are led by lay local preachers, or by
supernumerary ministers (ministers who have retired, called
supernumerary because they are not counted for official purposes in the
numbers of ministers for the circuit in which they are listed). The
superintendent and other ministers are assisted in the leadership and
administration of the Circuit by lay Circuit Stewards, who collectively
with the ministers form what is normally known as the Circuit
within the original Methodist church,
and independent revivals, led to the formation of a number of separate
denominations calling themselves Methodist. The largest of these were
the Primitive Methodist church, deriving from a revival at Mow Cop in
Staffordshire, the Bible Christians and the United Methodist Church
(not connected with the American denomination of the same name, but a
union of three smaller denominations). The original church became known
as the Wesleyan Methodist Church to distinguish it from these bodies.
The three major streams of British Methodism united in 1932 to form the
current Methodist Church of Great Britain. The Wesleyan Reform
Union and the Independent Methodist Connexion still remain
The Primitive Methodist Church (which is non-episcopal) had branches in
the USA which still
In the 1960s, the Methodist Church made ecumenical
overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. Formally,
these failed when they were rejected by the Church of England's General
Synod in 1972; conversations and co-operation continued, however,
leading in 2003 to the signing of a covenant between the two
churches. From the 1970s onward, the Methodist Church also started
several Local Ecumenical Projects (LEPs, later renamed Local Ecumenical
Partnerships) both with the Church of England and with the United
Reformed Church, which involved sharing churches, schools and in some
Traditionally, Methodism proved particularly
popular in Wales and Cornwall, both regions noted for their
non-conformism and distrust of the Church of England. It was also very
strong in the old mill towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire, where the
Methodists stressed that the working-classes were equal to the
upper-classes in the eyes of God.
The Methodist Council also
helps to run a number of schools, including two leading Public Schools
in East Anglia, Culford School and The Leys. It helps to promote an all
round education with a strong Christian ethos.
Methodist bodies around the world see the British Methodist Church as
their parent church. Some strong groups include the Methodist Church
Ghana and the Methodist Church Nigeria.