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About The Methodist Church

By Kelly Mcray

Today, the Methodist church is about as mainstream and Main Street as a denomination can be in the United States. In its early days in England, however, Methodism was considered extreme and its leaders radical.

Led by John Wesley, George Whitefield and others, the first Methodists started out merely to reform the Church of England, but wound up riding the wave of a movement. It began between 1729 and 1735 with a group of students at Oxford and slowly spread outward.

From A Brief history of the Methodist Denomination, by Mary Fairchild:

“The beginning of Methodism as a popular movement began in 1738, when both of the Wesley brothers, influenced by contact with the Moravians, undertook evangelistic preaching with an emphasis on conversion and holiness. Though both Wesley brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England, they were barred from speaking in most of its pulpits because of their evangelistic methods. They preached in homes, farm houses, barns, open fields, and wherever they found an audience.

“Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the “United Societies.” Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion when the first conference was held in 1744.

“George Whitefield (1714-1770) was a minister in the Church of England and also one of the leaders of the Methodist movement. Some believe that he more than John Wesley is the founder of Methodism. He is famous for his part in the Great Awakening movement in America. As a follower of John Calvin, Whitefield parted ways with Wesley over the doctrine of predestination.”

Methodism (so called because of their advocacy of “rule” and “method” in their teachings) was characterized one thing, and that was its inclusiveness. In particular, Whitefield traveled across the English countryside preaching in open-air venues, to anyone who would listen. A forerunner of 20th century spellbinders, his style was like Billy Sunday.

Later, Whitefield came to America to ignite the Great Awakening with his robust oratory.

There was no appreciable difference between Methodists and the older church from which they sprung as far as core doctrine, however. The Methodists believed in the trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the necessity for grace from God to achieve salvation (as opposed to good works).

Wesley’s three precepts of Methodism could hardly have been argued with by any Christian:

1. Shun evil and avoid partaking in wicked deeds at all costs,
2. Perform kind acts as much as possible, and
3. Abide by the edicts of God the Almighty Father.

Finally, Whitefield convinced Wesley that it was not disrespecting God to preach outside of a church. Wesley would follow the path of Arminianism, while Whitefield gravitated toward Calvinism in time, however.

Regarding Methodists as fanatics, both of those paths were frowned upon by the staid Church of England.

Itinerant preachers came to America soon after Methodism began to bubble in England, finding a ready reception along the early frontier.

The best and most dynamic of those tended to accumulate their own followings, because Methodism was preacher-oriented. Methodism began to splinter, consequently, both in England and in the colonies.

Rekindling zeal for Methodism and other Protestant denominations, the Second Great Awakening in America took place from 1817 to 1843. A debate inside the Methodist church about slavery, which John Wesley had adamantly opposed, coincided with that movement. Slaveholders were ejected, eventually, from membership.

Usually, Methodists reaffirm their covenant with God in a Covenant service to begin the New Year. Wrote John Singleton in The Roots of Methodism:

“On many occasions, Wesley urged that an opportunity be provided for Methodists to make, or renew, their “covenant” with God. His first formal covenant service was held in 1755 at the French Church (borrowed for the occasion to accommodate large numbers), situated in the Spitalfields area of east London.”

This is what Wesley wrote in his journal about the event:

“I mentioned to the congregation another means of increasing serious religion which had been frequently practiced by our forefathers, namely, the joining in a covenant to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul. I explained this for several mornings, and on Friday, many of us kept a fast to the Lord, beseeching him to give us wisdom and strength, to make a promise unto the Lord our God and keep it.

“On Monday…I explained once more the nature of such an engagement and the manner of doing it acceptably to God.

“At six in the evening we met for that purpose. After I had recited the tenor of the covenant proposed, all those who desired to give testimony of their entrance into this covenant stood up, to the number of about 1,800 persons. Such a night I scarce ever saw before. Surely the fruit of it shall remain forever.”

The Spitalfields building in which the historic covenant service took place still stands.

The primary Methodist representative in the United States, The United Methodist Church, was founded in 1968. Tracing their origins back to John Welsey, other groups include the Free Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

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categories: religion,christianity,spirituality,Christian,family,churches,Methodist religion,Methodist church,Methodist church history,theology,society

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Mcray, Kelly "About The Methodist Church." About The Methodist Church. 18 Jul. 2010. uberarticles.com. 4 May 2016 <http://uberarticles.com/religion/a-history-of-the-methodist-church/>.

APA Style Citation:
Mcray, K (2010, July 18). About The Methodist Church. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from http://uberarticles.com/religion/a-history-of-the-methodist-church/

Chicago Style Citation:
Mcray, Kelly "About The Methodist Church" uberarticles.com. http://uberarticles.com/religion/a-history-of-the-methodist-church/


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