Methodism facts

Chapel-athlone
A Methodist chapel in Athlone, opened in 1865.

Methodism, or the Methodist movement, is a group of Protestant denominations. The movement started in Britain in the 18th century and spread to the United States and the British Empire. Originally it was popular with workers, poor farmers, and enslaved people. The founder of Methodism was Mr. John Wesley who was a priest of the Church of England. His brother Charles Wesley was a famous writer of Church music.

Theology

A traditional summary of Methodist teaching

All need to be saved.
All may be saved.
All may know themselves saved.
All may be saved to the uttermost.

Catechism for the Use of the People Called Methodists.

Methodist churches do not adhere to a single definitive statement or "confession" of belief, unlike the Westminster Confession used by Reformed churches or the Augsburg Confession used by Lutheran churches. Many Methodist bodies, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church, base their doctrinal standards on Wesley's Articles of Religion, an abridgment of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England that excised its Calvinist features. Some Methodist denominations also publish catechisms, which concisely summarise Christian doctrine. Methodists generally accept the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as declarations of shared Christian faith. Methodism also affirms the traditional Christian belief in the triune Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as the orthodox understanding of the consubstantial humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Methodism is evangelical in doctrine and is characterized by Wesleyan-Arminian theology. John Wesley is studied by Methodists for his interpretation of church practice and doctrine. At its heart, the theology of John Wesley stressed the life of Christian holiness: to love God with all one's heart, mind, soul and strength and to love one's neighbour as oneself. One popular expression of Methodist doctrine is in the hymns of Charles Wesley. Since enthusiastic congregational singing was a part of the early evangelical movement, Wesleyan theology took root and spread through this channel.

Salvation

Sankt Georgen am Laengsee Launsdorf Kreisverkehr Bildstock Kreuzigung Christi 02122015 2428
Methodists believe Jesus Christ died for all humanity, not a limited few: the doctrine of unlimited atonement.

Wesleyan Methodists identify with the Arminian conception of free will, as opposed to the theological determinism of absolute predestination. Methodism teaches that salvation is initiated when one chooses to respond to God, who draws the individual near to him (the Wesleyan doctrine of prevenient grace), thus teaching synergism. Methodists interpret Scripture as teaching that the saving work of Jesus Christ is for all people (unlimited atonement) but effective only to those who respond and believe, in accordance with the Reformation principles of sola gratia (grace alone) and sola fide (faith alone). John Wesley taught four key points fundamental to Methodism:

  1. A person is free not only to reject salvation but also to accept it by an act of free will.
  2. All people who are obedient to the gospel according to the measure of knowledge given them will be saved.
  3. The Holy Spirit assures a Christian of their salvation directly, through an inner "experience" (assurance of salvation).
  4. Christians in this life are capable of Christian perfection and are commanded by God to pursue it.

After the first work of grace (the new birth), Methodist soteriology emphasizes the importance of the pursuit of holiness in salvation, a concept best summarized in a quote by Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer who stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy." Thus, for Methodists, "true faith...cannot subsist without works". Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification", emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith." John Wesley taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensible for our sanctification".

Sacraments

Methodists hold that sacraments are sacred acts of divine institution. Methodism has inherited its liturgy from Anglicanism, although American Methodist theology tends to have a stronger "sacramental emphasis" than that held by Evangelical Anglicans.

In common with most Protestants, Methodists recognize two sacraments as being instituted by Christ: Baptism and Holy Communion (also called the "Lord's Supper", rarely the "Eucharist"). Most Methodist churches practice infant baptism, in anticipation of a response to be made later (confirmation), as well as believer's baptism. The Catechism for the use of the people called Methodists states that, "[in Holy Communion] Jesus Christ is present with his worshipping people and gives himself to them as their Lord and Saviour". The explanation of how Christ's presence is made manifest in the elements (bread and wine) is a "Holy Mystery".

Methodist churches generally recognise sacraments to be a means of grace. John Wesley held that God also imparted grace by other established means such as public and private prayer, Scripture reading, study and preaching, public worship, and fasting. These constitute the Works of Piety. Wesley considered means of grace to be "outward signs, words, or actions ... to be the ordinary channels whereby [God] might convey to men, preventing [i.e., preparing], justifying or sanctifying grace". Specifically Methodist means, such as the class meetings, provided his chief examples for these prudential means of grace.

Traditionally, Methodists declare the Bible (Old and New Testaments) to be the only divinely inspired Scripture and the primary source of authority for Christians. The historic Methodist understanding of Scripture is based on the superstructure of Wesleyan covenant theology. Methodists, stemming from John Wesley's own practices of theological reflection, also make use of tradition, drawing primarily from the teachings of the Church Fathers, as a source of authority. Though not infallible like holy Scripture, tradition may serve as a lens through which Scripture is interpreted. Theological discourse for Methodists almost always makes use of Scripture read inside the wider theological tradition of Christianity.

It is a historical position of the church that any disciplined theological work calls for the careful use of reason. By reason, it is said, one reads and is able to interpret the Bible coherently and consistently. By reason one asks questions of faith and seeks to understand God's action and will. Methodism insists that personal salvation always implies Christian mission and service to the world. Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbours and a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.

Worship and liturgy

Methodism was endowed by the Wesley brothers with worship characterised by a twofold practice: the ritual liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer on the one hand and the informal preaching service on the other.

This twofold practice became distinctive of Methodism because worship in the Church of England was based, by law, solely on the Book of Common Prayer and worship in the Non-conformist churches was almost exclusively that of "services of the word", i.e. preaching services, with Holy Communion being observed infrequently. John Wesley's influence meant that, in Methodism, the two practices were combined, a situation which remains characteristic of the movement. The Lovefeast, traditionally practiced quarterly, was another practice that characterized early Methodism as John Wesley taught that it was an apostolic ordinance.

Methodistcommunion6
United Methodist minister consecrating communion

In America, the United Methodist Church and Free Methodist Church, as well as the Primitive Methodist Church and Wesleyan Methodist Church, have a wide variety of forms of worship, ranging from high church to low church in liturgical usage. When the Methodists in America were separated from the Church of England because of the American Revolution, John Wesley himself provided a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer called The Sunday Service of the Methodists; With Other Occasional Services (1784). Today, the primary liturgical books of the United Methodist Church are The United Methodist Hymnal and The United Methodist Book of Worship. Congregations employ its liturgy and rituals as optional resources, but their use is not mandatory. These books contain the liturgies of the church that are generally derived from Wesley's Sunday Service and from the 20th-century liturgical renewal movement.

The British Methodist Church is less ordered or liturgical in worship, but makes use of the Methodist Worship Book (similar to the Church of England's Common Worship), containing worship services (liturgies) and rubrics for the celebration of other rites, such as marriage. The Worship Book is also ultimately derived from Wesley's Sunday Service.

A unique feature of American Methodism has been the observance of the season of Kingdomtide, encompassing the last 13 weeks before Advent, thus dividing the long season after Pentecost into two distinct segments. During Kingdomtide, Methodist liturgy has traditionally emphasised charitable work and alleviating the suffering of the poor.

A second 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 common, at least in British 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:

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.

As John Wesley advocated outdoor evangelism, revival services are a traditional worship practice of Methodism that are often held in churches, as well as at camp meetings and at tent revivals.

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