Intro

“Methodists” was originally a nickname applied to a revival movement in eighteenth century Britain, based within the Church of England and led by, among others, the brothers John and Charles Wesley.

The Methodist Church is part of the whole Church of Christ. It claims no superiority or inferiority to any other part of the Church. All those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and accept the obligations to serve him in the life of the Church and the world are welcome as full members of the Methodist Church.

History and Development

Founding brothers John and Charles Wesley studied at the University of Oxford (at Christ Church) and John went on to become a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. The ‘Methodists’ in Oxford were a short-lived group, but they set a pattern for the ‘Evangelical Revival’.

In 1735 the Wesleys responded to an invitation to serve as chaplains to American colonies; this was unsuccessful, and both had returned to Britain by 1738. Although neither returned to America, some 50 years later their followers (such as Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke) did, and so Methodism spread in the ‘New World’.

Influenced by the Moravians the Wesleys joined in a “Religious Society” in London, and in May 1738 both underwent a profound “spiritual experience.” John was the organiser who turned the movement into a structured body which became the origin of today’s world-wide Methodist Church.

In 1739 Whitefield invited John Wesley to preach to crowds of working classes in Bristol in the open air. Since such people were often excluded from the churches, ‘field preaching’ became a key feature of the Revival, and Wesley recorded addressing gatherings of many thousands. His published Sermons became and remain the doctrinal standard of the Methodist Church.

Wesley formed converts into local societies, originally modelled upon the ‘Religious Societies’ and his Oxford Group; they were also subdivided into ‘classes’ which met weekly. Every year, John Wesley travelled the country to visit and preach to the societies. He insisted that Methodists regularly attend their local parish church as well as Methodist meetings.

Although Wesley declared, “I live and die a member of the Church of England”, the strength and impact of the movement, especially after John Wesley’s ordinations in 1784, made a separate Methodist body virtually inevitable.

In the nineteenth century Methodism in Britain flowed in several channels, including Primitive Methodism which began with ‘camp meetings’ in 1807 and was organised into a separate body in 1811. The Methodists grew to be a large, respectable and influential section of society; characterised by the ‘nonconformist conscience’ and also the ‘temperance movement’ and many members with poor origins became prosperous. The missionary movement also spread the Methodist message around the world.

In 1932 the three main Methodist groups in Britain came together to form the present Methodist Church. As the Methodist societies grew at a fast rate, some way of keeping in touch and organising them was needed. John Wesley had held what became an annual conference of Methodist preachers. In 1784 he made provision for the continuance as a corporate body after his death of the ‘Yearly Conference of the People called Methodists’. He nominated 100 people and declared them to be its members and laid down the method by which their successors were to be appointed.

After his death the leadership passed to the Methodist Conference, and instead of one person exercising leadership for a length of time, the President of the Conference became for the year of office the representative of the Conference and leading minister of the church. During the nineteenth century there were many factions in the church. Gradually most of these were re-united, the last union being in 1932.

The Methodist Church has a Connexional structure rather than a congregational one. This is where the whole church acts and decides together. It is where the local church is never independent of the rest of the Connexion. Everyone who becomes a member through confirmation is a member of the Methodist Church as a whole, not just their local church.

Doctrine

Methodism endorses many dimensions and methods of the “Christian mission.” In particular it affirms that the mission includes:

• telling the good news of Jesus
• calling people to faith in Jesus Christ and to Christian discipleship
• caring for individual people and communities
• sharing the task of education and social and spiritual development
• struggling for a just world
• being alongside the poor
• becoming friends with people of different cultures and faiths
• caring for the earth
• building partnerships with other churches and other groups who share some of our mission aims.

Methodist Today

The Methodist Church today numbers about 70 million people worldwide. It is now the second largest Protestant denomination in the USA, with 15.5 million members; 29 million worldwide.


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