The Methodist Church

A brief history

The Methodist Church was never really supposed to become a separate denomination in its own right; instead it began as a religious society at Oxford University in the 1730's. The brothers John and Charles Wesley, along with some others, as ordained clergy of the Anglican Church, attended these so-called "Holy Club" meetings for Bible study, prayer and communion, and also undertook charitable works. Their methodical way of doing things soon earned them the nickname of "Methodists".

In 1735, John and Charles were sent as chaplains to the New World, but this undertaking proved to be a disaster and they returned, dissillusioned, a few years later. It was on this trip, however, that they first discovered the Moravian movement from Germany and became fascinated by their spirituality. On returning to England, they joined a Moravian religious society. It was in May 1738 that John, attending one of these meetings at Aldersgate in London, famously felt his heart "strangely warmed" and rushed home to discover that Charles had just had exactly the same experience.

This was the beginning of John and Charles' ministry, and while Charles concentrated on writing and translating hymns, John travelled Britain preaching to the masses in the open air. Although his intention was to revive and reform the Church of England, by the mid-1780's a clear division had occurred and the Methodist Church began to take shape.

Later on, Wesleys' followers brought Methodism to America. British and American-style Methodism, while remaining closely linked, developed along separate lines, the American Methodist Church appointing bishops, while the British Methodist Church called them District Chairmen. Methodism was brought to Germany by former immigrants to America returning, and so the German Methodist Church has inherited more of the American tradition.

The Methodist Church in America is now known as the United Methodist Church.

Doctrine and belief

The Methodist Church is a free Protestant church; its most distinctive feature in terms of beliefs is that of the so-called "social Gospel": while recognizing that nobody is saved by works alone (Ephesians 2:8+9: For it is by grace you have been been saved, through faith … not by works, so that no-one can boast), faith without works is dead (James 2:17: … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead).

The primacy of Scripture is recognized, but without discarding the words of truth and wisdom spoken by many other men and women inspired by the Holy Spirit throughout the ages.

The imperative to preach the Gospel to all and the Methodist Church's policy of welcoming anyone into the church regardless of background can be summed up in this way:

  1. All need to be saved.
  2. All may be saved.
  3. All may know themselves saved.
  4. All may be saved to the uttermost.

Another concept important to Methodists is that of the priesthood of all believers. While certain rites, in particular Holy Communion, can normally only be carried out by ordained clergy, everyone can have a personal relationship with God, and also the contribution to the life of the church, through pastoral care, preaching and other ways, which the (non-ordained) laity can make is vital to the structure of the church.

Alcohol

In John Wesley's day, alcohol was a major cause of social problems in Britain, and so Methodist clergy were asked to refrain from drinking and to encourage their congregations to do the same. Today, alcohol is still not allowed on British Methodist property, but it is not true to say that Methodists are not allowed to drink; rather, it is considered a matter of personal morality. In the American and German traditions, this is not so much of an issue.

Although we are more relaxed about alcohol than many people suppose, one strict rule we do adhere to is that the wine used at Communion should be non-alcoholic. Those struggling with alcohol-related problems, or who do not take alcohol for any reason, can therefore fully and freely receive Communion.

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